Wijeyadasa takes it up with Saudi-based outfit
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Government MP Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, says the Muslim World League owed families of those who had perished or suffered injuries in the Easter Sunday terror attacks USD 5 mn.
One-time Justice Minister and ex-President of the BASL Rajapakse said that Dr. Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa had, on behalf of the Muslim World League, given an assurance in that regard, at a National Peace Conference, at Nelum Pokuna under the patronage of the then President Maithripala Sirisena on June 30, 2019.
Rajapakse told The Island he had taken up the issue with Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa recently.
In a letter dated March 22, 2021, MP Rajapakse urged the Muslim World League to carry through its widely reported promise made in the presence of President Sirisena and former Presidents, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Dr. Rajapakse emphasised that there couldn’t be any justification in further delaying the payment. “Let us hope those who organised the Nelum Pokuna event, too, will take up this matter with the Muslims World League and finalise the transfer of funds before the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.”
Responding to another query, Rajapakse said the failure on the part of the Muslim World League to make the payment had been raised at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the Easter Sunday attacks.
The MP said that as the families of the victims hadn’t received the promised financial assistance, he had raised the issue with the Office of former President Sisisena and his successor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Dr. P. B. Jayasundera had recently confirmed that funds hadn’t been received yet, the MP said.
Referring to a letter received by the then Western Province Governor A. J. M. Muzammil from Dr. Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdul Kareem Al-Issa in the wake of accusations relating to the mysterious disappearance of USD 5 mn, Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind the Muslim World League holding up the payment pending Sri Lanka providing information relating to the spate of suicide attacks.
Samira De Silva, Secretary to former President Sirisena yesterday told The Island that the Muslim World League had held up the payment claiming the group was yet to receive response from the Nelum Pokuna event organisers to the following questions (1) the number of dead and wounded (2) their faith (religion) (3) list of the dead and the wounded (4) collateral damage to public property (5) number of widows and orphans (6) other relevant information and (7) account number of the President’s or Prime Minister’s charitable fund.
According to a missive received from Dr. Jayasundera, the Muslim World League was to directly get in touch with the Prime Minister’s Office to finalise the matter.
The former Justice Minister said that those who organised the event had to ensure that compensation was paid as promised. “They had the President and two former Presidents on stage at Nelum Pokuna when the assurance was given to Easter Sunday victims,” MP Rajapakse.
MP Rajapakse took up the issue with the World Muslim League amidst ongoing debate in parliament on PCoI report on the Easter Sunday attack.
Was six-week delay in using Chinese vaccine deliberate asks State Minister
‘Who accepts responsibility for deaths due to delay in inoculation’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr Nalaka Godahewa yesterday (13) questioned the failure on their part to administer 600,000 Chinese Sinopharm vaccines while the ground situation deteriorated.
Addressing the media at his ministry, Dr. Godahewa said that delaying the use of the stock donated by China was an unfortunate lapse.
Sri Lanka received the stock on March 31 whereas the government finally gave the go ahead to use it only on May 8.
Responding to media queries, Dr. Godahewa said that stakeholders had been engaged in a debate without using the available vaccines. The State Minister questioned the rationale in delaying tactics while asking whether the delay was deliberate.
The State Minister asked who would accept the responsibility for the deaths of people who were deprived of available vaccines with the government. If those responsible for the entire vaccination process used Sinopharm, the country could have secured additional stocks from China. The State Minister addressed the media in the wake of the country recording cumulative death toll of nearly 900 with over 2000 new cases being reported on a daily basis.
AstraZeneca and Sputnik procured from India and Russia, respectively, were administered within 24 hours after receiving them whereas the Chinese vaccine stock was held up for six weeks.
Acknowledging the delay on the part of the government, Dr. Godahewa said that the vaccination drive was underway.
Blaming the delay on those who found fault with the Chinese vaccines, Dr. Godahewa claimed that strong critic and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Harin Fernando was among the recipients of Chinese vaccine. According to the State Minister over 280mn doses of Chinese vaccine had been used so far as the world struggled to cope up with the raging pandemic.
Dismissing Opposition allegations of political interference in Covid-19 strategy, Dr Godahewa emphasized that the health authorities should take final decisions. The government wouldn’t interfere with health authorities, the Minister said, alleging that the Opposition played politics with the Chinese vaccine.
Dr Godahewa said that Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa sought meetings with representatives of countries soon after he received information on the government of Sri Lanka receiving assistance from those countries.
The State Minister explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a significant role in the overall government effort to procure much needed assistance from overseas.
Acknowledging shortcomings in the government response to the daunting Covid-19 challenge, Dr. Godahewa questioned the Opposition strategy. Challenging the Opposition response to the pandemic, Dr Godahewa asked whether they built up public opinion against the vaccination programme.
Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of the setback suffered by the vaccination project, the government was able to secure vaccines from China and Russia.
The State Minister said that the fast spreading epidemic was quite a challenge and efforts were being made to bring the situation under control.
The State Minister said that countrywide lockdowns would help control the situation. However, there was no consensus on the matter. Those who earned daily wages opposed lockdowns, the State Minister said, adding that whatever the outcome the final decision on such matters should be taken by health authorities.
Authoritative sources said that while Chinese vaccine stock remained unused, the government administered 927,000 of 1,264,000 covishield (500,000 doses free, 500,000 paid for and the rest through UN’s covax facility) till April 6. Sources pointed out if the Chinese vaccine was used, the country wouldn’t have to experience a shortfall of over 600,000 covishield doses for those who received the first jab.
The National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) is the authority for approving the use of medicine.
Controversy surrounds the government decision not to administer Sputnik V and Sinopharm for those over 60 though covishield was made available without any age-related restrictions.
Customs seize 200 mn sticks of foreign cigarettes hidden in 21 containers
By Prabhath Withana
Customs officials had seized over 200 million sticks of foreign cigarettes worth over nine billion rupees hidden in 21 containers, Customs Department sources said.
The Compliance and Facilitation Division of the Customs Departments investigated the 21 containers that had been marked as ‘Ceylon Black Tea’ and sent from the United Arab Emirates. The containers had been marked for re-exporting to countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, customs sources said, adding that the investigators found that forged shipping documents had been made for the containers. A name and address of a Sri Lankan tea company had been mentioned in the documents as the re-exporter.
It has also found that 12 other containers had been re-routed using similar documents from Colombo Port to countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Bangladesh, the customs sources said.
The Customs officials had contacted the names of foreign companies included in the documents but found that they were not aware of the fact that their names had been forged. The customs officials are planning to further investigate the matter with the assistance of international customs officials.
Further investigations are in progress under the guidance of Customs Director General Maj Gen (retd) G.V. Ravipriya by Customs Director Harsha Jayatilake, Deputy Customs Directors Dappula Arewatte and Wijearatne Bandara.
Kiriella calls for suspending development projects and channeling funds to buy vaccines
By Saman Indrajith
Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella yesterday called on the government to accelerate procuring Covid-preventing vaccines, and if the latter could not find money it had to channel funds allocated for development projects by suspending them for six months.
Addressing the media, at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo MP Kiriella said that the pandemic situation in the country was worsening by the day, and the health experts had issued warnings that Sri Lanka found find itself in the same predicament as India.
“Bodies are floating in the Ganges. The bodies are salvaged and dragged ashore using fishing nets there. We hope and pray that such a calamity may not befall this nation. We are ready to support the government to come out of this crisis and save the country from catastrophe. Yet, the government is not ready to listen. For example, our leader Sajith Premadasa who issued the first warning in Parliament and asked the government to take actions against the pandemic. The government did not listen to him but sough to ridicule us.
“We are telling the government to accelerate the inoculation process. That is the best way out. The government did not take the vaccination process seriously. Instead, it turned to alternatives such as throwing pots into the rivers, drinking herbal concoctions and ritualistic ceremonies such as Bali and Thovil. Even the Speaker in Parliament drank the Dhammika Peniya (syrup) in front of the media and recommended it as the medicine for the coronavirus. We must learn from such mistakes. We must expedite the procurement of vaccines. The government purchased only 500,000 doses. It received a donation of 900,000 vaccines. We have 22 million people. Suppose we use only the vaccines that require double doses, then we need 44 million vaccines. We still have only 1.3 million. The government should make purchases now. If it does not have funds, it should suspend the development projects for six months and use the funds so saved to buy vaccines. We know that the government has no funds. The same happened for the fertiliser relief. The government did not have funds to make purchases so it could not give the fertilisers to farmers and their solution was to ban chemical fertilisers and promote alternatives.
“We call on the government to permit the private sector to import vaccines under a regulated mechanism without letting the importers earn unreasonable profits capitalizing on the misery of people.
“At a discussion the President had with a group of villagers, he was requested to provide a PCR machine to their hospital. The president then said that the PCRs would not be needed as the vaccination had started and all people would be vaccinated. Now, three months have lapsed, and the people are without either a PCR machine or the vaccine. People in the Kandy District have not got the vaccine yet. There is only a single PCR for the entire Central Province – that is the one at the Kandy Hospital. We do not know what has been done with the funds allocated for the health sector procurement. We repeat that vaccination is the only solution.
“There was a presidential task force to formulate a strategy to tackle the pandemic. Its chief went overseas two days ago. Are these the examples set by the rulers to people? Now, it is said that he went abroad for treatment. What about the doctors in this country? What’s wrong with them? When Lalith Athulathmudali was wounded severely by a bomb attack the then government offered to take him to the US and made arrangements to treat him there. Yet, Lalith rejected that offer and said that he trusted Lankan doctors.”
Matale SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne also addressed the press.
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