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National Agriculture Policy to be formulated  soon

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Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage says that a National Agriculture policy would be formulated within the next three months.

The Agriculture Ministry has, in a media statement, said that an expert committee appointed to formulate a National Agriculture Policy met for the first time on Saturday (18) at the Gannoruwa Horticultural Crops Research Institute.

The 13-member committee consists of experts in various fields, including experts in the field of agriculture. The committee is chaired by Dr. Ajantha de Silva, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Its other members are: Director General of Agriculture Dr. W.M.W. Weerakoon, Agrarian Development Commissioner General W.M.M.B. Weerasekara, Sabaragamuwa University Professor P.I. Yapa, Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, University of Peradeniya, Prof. Palitha Weerakkody, Vice Chancellor of Wayamba University, Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe, University of Peradeniya, Professor M.B. Rathnathilaka, Dr. B.V.R. Punyawardena, Dr. D.S. Kuruppuarachchi, Dr. Yasintha Mapatuna and Dr. Rizvi Sahid.

This committee includes the Chairman of the National Federation of Farmers’ Organizations SMG Samarakoon to represent the farming community.

Minister Aluthgamage requested the committee to formulate the National Agriculture Policy in the interest of the nation within three months disregarding political differences or any other influence.

Pointing out that during his tenure as the Minister of Sports in 2010, he had introduced a national policy for sports and that it had brought about a tremendous positive change in the field of sports in the country.

The Minister pointed out that the National Agriculture Policy was essential for the development of a productive economy as well as a self-sufficient economy from non-toxic food mentioned in the Vision of Prosperity instead of an import economy.

Pointing out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also has a keen interest in implementing a national agricultural policy that doesn’t change with governments, Minister Aluthgamage requested the expert committee to provide the necessary support to the government.

The Vice Chancellor of the Wayamba University Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe stated that the National Agriculture Policy was formulated in 2003, 2007 and 2010 also but it did not become a reality.

Instead of downloading an agricultural policy in Canada, Israel or any other country through the internet and presenting it as ours, a national agricultural policy that suits the country, including localism, environment, health, our farming people, new technology, and making the farmer an entrepreneur, was essential, Prof. Jayasinghe said.

He pointed out that the expert committee should meet once a month or at an appropriate time interval to take decisions on agriculture and not just limit to formulating a national agricultural policy

Prof. P.I. Yapa noted that a large portion of money from the farmer’s production is spent to buy fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides as well as seeds and suggested that the new policy should include the local production of those needs.

He said that such measures should be taken in the national interest of the country in order to save a large amount of money leaving the country and to enrich the hands of the farmer.

SMG Samarakoon, Chairman of the National Agrarian Federation, representing the committee on behalf of the farmers said that throughout history there had been a problem in directing the views, suggestions and problems of the grassroots farmer to the administration.

Minister Aluthgamage instructed the Chairman of the National Agrarian Federation to file the views of the farmer and present to the committee and said  that all relevant assistance would be provided.

The expert committee pointed out to the Minister that building an agro-based economy was a timely need. The Committee of Experts was of the view that a National Policy on Agriculture should be formulated with an understanding of the chain from producer to consumer.

The Minister said that a number of programmes including the establishment of an Organic Fertilizer Authority, arming the country with seed production, making the country self-sufficient in 16 crops, enriching the farmer with agro-technology and agro-export villages were already in operation.

He said that before the Committee of Experts appointed to formulate a National Policy for Agriculture that his sole objective was to expedite the adoption of the National Agriculture Policy in the national interest for a common purpose and that he was ready to provide the necessary government intervention and assistance.

The Expert Committee agreed to gather and discuss information covering all sectors and to formulate a successful National Agriculture Policy for the future of the country and stated that it was ready to finalize it expeditiously.

Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Retired Major General Sumedha Perera was also present at the special discussion.

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SL hopeful of getting first stock of Covid-19 jab within weeks

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by Suresh Perera

The first consignment of 200,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 is expected to reach Sri Lanka by the end of January or early February, a senior health official said.

The stock of the newly developed US vaccine, now being administered in many countries across the globe, will be channeled to Colombo through the World Health Organization (WHO), he noted.

The WHO has agreed to provide around 4.2 million qualified vaccines to Sri Lanka to inoculate about 20 percent of the population.

“We are optimistic that the vaccination pledged by Pfizer/BioNTech will be the first lot to arrive so that we will able to initiate the Covid-19 inoculation campaign at least by next month (February)”, the high-ranking official said.

Though March was initially looked at to kick-start the vaccination drive, the possibility of it happening earlier is on the cards with access to the jab now virtually in sight, he noted.

“The sooner the vaccinations are administered, the better”, the official remarked, referring to the surging pandemic, which has so far killed 247 patients and infected 50,901 in Sri Lanka.

Asked about the Chinese and Indian products, he opined that it will possibly take time as the accepted practice is that all drugs have to be registered with three different regulatory bodies and approved by at least five referral countries before they are used in Sri Lanka.

“We have to work according to WHO guidelines”, he commented.

“We are comfortable with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it has already been approved by the US Food & Drugs Administration, TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) of Australia and regulators in Japan and Singapore among others”, he said.

The vaccine has been given the green light by regulators in the UK, US, EU and more than 40 other countries.

BioNTech said it had shipped almost 33m doses of the vaccine so far from six manufacturing sites in the US and Europe.

“We had originally pledged to make 1.3bn doses in 2021 but now intend to provide as many as 2bn”, BioNTech said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government has informed the WHO that it has initiated the process of improving cold chain requirements for the storage of doses ahead of inoculation.

With the country laying the groundwork to receive the Covid-19 vaccines, infrastructure facilities are being improved to accommodate the stocks, which have to be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius.

At hospital level, they will have to stored at minus level temperature, if the need arises.

The WHO says that at present there are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in trials.

“We are working in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries”, the world body said on its website.

“People most at risk will be prioritized. While we work towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine fairly, we must continue the essential public health actions to suppress transmission and reduce mortality”, it stressed.

In a bid to stem the deadly Covid-19 surge, Sri Lanka is also exploring the possibility of importing the Oxford-AstraZeneca product from the United Kingdom or the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

The Sinovac vaccine manufactured in China and the Indian AztraZeneca are also being looked at, officials said.

Beijing has responded positively to a request by President Rajapaksa to Chinese President Xi Jinping for assistance in accessing the vaccine developed by China to curb the coronavirus threat.

International media reports spoke of nine million people in China already receiving the jabs. The vaccines were being used in 10 countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

According to Army Commander, Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Center for Prevention of Covid-19, all options on the table are being considered to procure a proven global vaccine to set in motion the inoculation initiative in Sri Lanka.

Lalith Weeratunga, senior Adviser to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who heads a committee on the procurement of the vaccines, will oversee the coordination process of importing the jabs to Sri Lanka. Medical expertise towards this end will come from Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Secretary to the Health Ministry, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID Disease Control and Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, President of the GMOA amongst others.

Meanwhile, a group of corporates headed by Brandix Lanka Limited has pledged Rs. 7 billion (US$ 50 million) to the government to procure vaccines against Covid-19.

Brandix Lanka Chairman Ashroff Omar has already discussed the modalities of the financial commitment with State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and senior health officials.

On an understanding reached, priority will be accorded to Brandix employees in administering the first doses of the vaccines procured with the funds provided by the corporate for this purpose.

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State Minister wants SD&CC to make profits and contribute towards the economy

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A discussion on streamlining the operations of the State Development and Constructions Corporation (SD&CC) and turn it around into a profit-making institution to contribute towards the country’s economy was held on Wednesday.

State Minister for Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure, Nimal Lanza, chaired the meeting at the institution in Ratmalana.

Under the President’s ‘Vision of Prosperity’ concept, the SD&CC will be entrusted with future development work. It will be tasked with the development of 100,000km of roadways and rural bridge projects aimed at replacing old bridges and vine bridges.

Established in 1971, the SD&CC has contributed towards many government development projects, including building roads, bridges, irrigation, water supply, precast concrete products, road signs and other construction activities.

The State Minister said the physical and human resources of the institution should be properly managed and action taken to make it a profitable institution by minimizing the cost of the projects implemented.

He said the company should work towards achieving high efficiency by submitting new plans based on the recommendations of its officials.

Lanza instructed the officials to pay more attention to the high priority and profitable sectors in the implementation of various projects and to submit new plans and proposals for the development of the institution and the implementation of new projects expeditiously.

R. W. R. Pemasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Highways and D. P. M. Chandana, Chairman, State Development and Construction Corporation, were also present.

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Senior ASG Sarath Jayamanne retires after 32 years as a top prosecutor

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Senior Additional Solicitor General Sarath Jayamanne, PC, retires from service on January 16 after 32 years as a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s Department.

As a counsel, he figured in the prosecution of many landmark cases including the Hokandara murder, Katuneriya double murder, Tony Martin case, Kobeigane beauty queen case, Murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya and Mirusivil massacre.

Jayamanne also served as the Director-General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) at one time.

He is a lecturer in Evidence and Criminal Procedure at the Sri Lanka Law College, Faculty of Law University of Colombo and the Open University of Sri Lanka. The many top positions he has held in the public service reflects his versatility as a legal luminary.

Jayamanne has a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Oxford, as well as a Bachelors in Science from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Chevening and the Fulbright scholarships.

Many people are familiar with evidence relating to DNA, telephone and voice recordings in criminal trials. However, what remains largely unknown is that it was Jayamanne who was instrumental in introducing them to Sri Lanka, and making them a part of evidence led at trials.

With his background in both maths and science as well as law, he is known to look at every case from every angle. He has therefore been able to conclusively establish how a crime was committed, and why an accused is guilty by recreating the crime in the mind of the Trial Judge.

He has thus earned the reputation of being the master of cases involving circumstantial evidence, i.e. cases where there are no eyewitnesses. He shared his experience and expertise in this regard in his well-received maiden book, “Yali Mawena Aparadayak” (Crime Recreated) in 2015. The book launch was unique as it was done in Jayamanne’s signature style of combining law, arts and science.

Asked how he was at the forefront of conducting controversial and complicated trials, which ended up as landmark cases in Sri Lanka’s legal history, Jayamanne’s humble reply was that it was not because of any influence he had, but simply because he never says ‘no’ to an opportunity. This attitude was put to the test when he was asked to take on the role of Director-General of CIABOC, which he accepted with an open mind.

Within his three-year tenure there, he was able to launch Sri Lanka’s first ever National Action Plan for Combating Bribery and Corruption, which was a result of intense research and dialogue with public servants and the general public across Sri Lanka. This is not only a ‘must-have’ for any nation that wishes to eradicate bribery and corruption, but was also influential in Sri Lanka regaining the GSP+ concession.

This Plan was accompanied by four handbooks on the topics of Integrity, Gift Rules, Conflict of Interest, and Law Reforms (the Plan and the handbooks can be downloaded from the CIABOC website: www.ciaboc.gov.lk).

Jayamanne was the focal point for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is the body tasked with implementing the UN Convention Against Corruption. This period was also used to foster and develop relationships with anti-corruption agencies in nations which have made great strides in the field, as well as create new posts in CIABOC for much-needed investigating officers and prevention officers.

He was also able to spearhead the drafting of a new law to govern Asset Declaration, and a Composite Law covering all areas of bribery and corruption; these are now with the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

Despite having so much on his plate, Jayamanne is an individual who is always willing to teach and impart all he can to society at large. His teaching was not limited to his time as a lecturer, where he taught thousands of students who are now lawyers, and he continues to do even now.

He has conducted numerous lectures for the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and Provincial Bar Associations, as well as the Police, and is a sought-after presenter of online lectures and media interviews.

One can be certain that he will be as much as a catalyst for legal development as he was while in the public service, or even more so.

Jayamanne’s last case before retirement was when he appeared for the Attorney General in the contempt of the Supreme Court case against SJB parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court sentenced Ramanayake to four years of rigorous imprisonment after he was found guilty of contempt of Court under 105/3 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

Asked about his plans after retirement, Jayamanne said that he will continue to be involved in the criminal justice system.

“There are many options”, he added, without elaborating.

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