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Origin of second corona wave remains a mystery

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SLAF clears Ukrainians here to inspect AN 32s

Ramada Hotel responds to allegations

Probe not taken out of CCD in spite of AG’s intervention

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Contrary to various claims as regards the origin of the Minuwangoda covid cluster that could have resulted in a catastrophic coronavirus eruption at the Peliyagoda Central Fish Market, the Health Ministry is yet to announce its conclusive findings.

Well informed sources said that the top health administration remained silent when Health Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi recently inquired whether they were able to ascertain the origins of the second wave now into its fifth week.

Gampaha hospital made the first chance detection on Oct 2 when a 39-year-old Brandix worker was tested positive during a random test.

Minister Wanniarachchi has raised the issue at a top level meeting held at the ministry to discuss ways and means of countering the threat. Senior representatives of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), too, were present at the meeting.

Authoritative sources said that the government probed primarily two possibilities, namely repatriation of 341 Brandix workers and their families from India in three separate batches and a Ukrainian air crew causing the unprecedented crisis. Sources described the Ukrainians as an eight member crew of a civilian cargo plane that arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Sept 11 and a five-member Ukrainian technical crew here on May 9 on the invitation of the SLAF.

The Island sought an explanation from Asoka Jayamanne, Manager of Ramada Seeduwa where the Ukrainians stayed as regards accusations pertaining to the second wave. Declaring that hotels allowed to accommodate foreign airline crew were under government supervision,

Jayamanne said that the five-man Ukrainian technical crew never stayed at Ramada. “However, we accommodated the eight-member Ukrainian crew in terms of specific health guidelines issued,” Jayamanne said, adding that the crew arrived at the hotel on Sept. 11 after being subjected to PCR tests at the BIA. “We were informed on the morning of Sept. 13 of one of them being tested positive. Those responsible for evacuation of covid patients swiftly moved in, and the Ukrainian was taken to Infections Diseases Hospital, Angoda,” Jayamanne said.

Responding to another query, Jayamanne said that two days later (Sept. 15) the Captain of the crew sought their assistance as another member was in pain. Fearing the worst, the Captain sought immediate medical attention and once the situation was brought to the notice of relevant authorities, the second Ukrainian received immediate medical attention, Jayamanne said. “They moved him to the government hospital at Negombo where PCR tests cleared him.”

Jayamanne said that both Ukrainians after being discharged from hospitals were given accommodation at Ramada before they left the country. Six remaining members of the crew who stayed at Ramada during the 14-day quarantine period left the country on Sept 25, the hotelier said.

Jayamanne said that as part of the overall measures in place to curb spreading of coronavirus, they had set up a six-man special team to serve foreigners arriving in the country. “Of them, three were assigned to look after the Ukrainians. None of them were affected,” Jayamanne said, appreciating efforts made by health and military authorities to sustain hotel services in an extremely difficult situation.

Declaring that they were continuing services, Jayamanne emphasized that wouldn’t have been the case if Ukrainians caused the second wave.

 Asked again whether the Ukrainian technical team had at least visited Ramada hotel, Jayamanne alleged that deliberate attempts were being made to divert attention. “All visitors regardless of nationality are accommodated under government supervision. We follow a set of tough rules and regulations, including uninterrupted CCTV monitoring,” Jayamanne said.

The hotelier said that five out of a group of 15 hotel employees were tested positive in the second week of Oct. All of them were quarantined at the government facility for two weeks and subsequently directed to undergo home quarantine for two more weeks, Jayamanne said.

SLAF spokesperson Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe yesterday told The Island that the five-member Ukrainian technical team was here to inspect three AN 32 transport aircraft before they were flown to Ukraine for overhauling. “They arrived at the BIA on May 5 and left on July 5 having completed their task,” GC Wijesinghe said, emphasizing that the group never stayed at Ramada or used private transport throughout this period.

According to the SLAF spokesperson, the Ukrainian team were subjected to three PCR tests, first on arrival at the BIA on May 9, the second at the Jetwing Hotel, Pitipana where the group was quarantined (May 9-22) and the third at the Katunayake air base on July 2, three days before their departure. Group Captain Wijesinghe said that during the period (May 22-July 5), the foreign team inspected the aircraft, the group stayed within the base till their departure. Responding to another query, the senior Air Force officer said that the SLAF flew the three aircraft to Ukraine, underwent stipulated quarantine there before returning home. The SLAF team assigned to work with the visitors, too, underwent quarantine in terms of health guidelines, GC Wijesinghe said.

The SLAF officer said that a high priority project was undertaken having obtained necessary approvals from relevant ministries and they followed stipulated guidelines. The official emphasized that the visitors were accommodated at the Jetwing hotel as per the relevant directives and the whole process completed without jeopardizing measures in place to counter corona.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (4) told The Island that the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) was inquiring into the second eruption. Asked whether police headquarters appointed a new team following the directive of Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, to appoint a new team as the CCD was crippled by many officers being tested positive for the virus, attorney-at-law Rohana said the CCD remained in charge of the inquiry.

DIG Rohana said the CCD would conduct the investigation. AG de Livera directed Acting IGP C.D. Wickremaratne on Oct 27 to submit a progress report on an inquiry into alleged negligence on the part of Brandix management and government officers resulting in the crisis.

Well informed sources said that there had been lapses on the part of MoH, Dompe who had been asked to look after Minuwangoda area following the transfer of the MoH there. However, the failure on the part of the medical facility within Brandix premises, Minuwangoda as well as the BoI to detect large numbers of workers reporting sick should be inquired into, sources said. Sources explained that against the backdrop of the first wave, factories couldn’t have afforded to ignore basic precautions.

Against the backdrop of hospitals and quarantine facilities overflowing, the government recently decided to quarantine first and second/third level contacts of corona positive persons at their own homes. DIG Rohana yesterday placed the number of home quarantined persons in the Western Province at 5,715 and 6,199, respectively. The police spokesperson said that 14 ASPs had been tasked to constantly monitor the home quarantine process.



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PM: Sri Lanka negotiating with IMF as a bankrupt nation

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Challenges JVP Leader to present his miracle six-month recovery plan for consideration

By Saman Indrajith

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament yesterday that Sri Lanka was currently negotiating with the IMF as a bankrupt nation. Briefing Parliament on the government’s road map for economic recovery, he said the government had been able to complete several rounds of negotiations with the IMF successfully.

 The PM made the special announcement following the previous day’s challenge by Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella to the government to inform the House of progress in the talks with the IMF because the media had reported that the talks had failed.

 The Prime Minister said: “Once a staff-level agreement is reached, this will be submitted to the IMF Board of Directors for approval. But due to the state of bankruptcy our country is in, we have to submit a plan on our debt sustainability to them separately. Only when they are satisfied with that plan can we reach an agreement at the staff level.”

Full statement by the Prime Minister:

Today, in front of this Assembly and the citizens of this country, I am ready to outline the roadmap that we are following which will revive the economy that has collapsed.

We were able to successfully proceed with the round of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Our country has held talks with the IMF on many occasions before. But this time the situation is different from all those previous occasions. In the past, we have held discussions as a developing country. In such a case, both parties have only to reach an agreement on the EFF or Extended Credit Facility. It is like moving along a straight line.

But now the situation is different. We are now participating in the negotiations as a bankrupt country. Therefore, we have to face a more difficult and complicated situation than in previous negotiations. Once a staff-level agreement is reached, this will be submitted to the IMF Board of Directors for approval. But due to the state of bankruptcy our country is in, we have to submit a plan on our debt sustainability to them separately. Only when they are satisfied with that plan can we reach an agreement at the staff level. This is not a straightforward process.

But we have been able to end the round of discussion effectively despite these difficulties. According to the IMF’s official announcement, “Positive and productive discussions were held on supportive economic policies and reforms. Significant progress was achieved.”

Now the next step is to submit to them the plan on debt restructuring and sustainability, which is being prepared by financial and legal experts Lazard and Clifford Chance. We hope to submit this report to the IMF by August.

Once this is done we will be able to reach an agreement. However, even after this agreement, it must be presented to the IMF Board of Directors for approval.  After approval for this plan is provided, a comprehensive loan assistance program will be prepared for a period of 4 years. We are now on that path.

After obtaining the staff-level agreement, we will organize a donor-aid conference by bringing together the friendly countries that provide us with loan assistance, such as India, China, and Japan. We hope to create a system where we can get loan assistance through a common agreement.

Among the problems we are facing today, the primary problem is the fuel crisis. At the same time, we are also facing the problem of food availability. In terms of fuel and food, our country was going to have to face this crisis at some point in time. Fuel was scarce. Food prices went up.

Due to the recent global crises, this situation has become more acute and we who were in the frying pan fell into the oven. Due to the Ukraine-Russia war, our problem has been made worse. What has happened now is the addition of an international crises on top of our crisis. This situation is not unique to us. This affects other countries as well. India and Indonesia are also affected by this global crisis. Therefore, India has had to limit the loan assistance that they have given to us.

This situation affects the whole world equally. As a result of this, the United Nations Secretary-General has warned that the gap between developed and under-developed countries will increase. He also warns that the gap between the upper class and the lower class within a country may increase. No country in the world can isolate itself from this world crisis. We all have to face this.

We have prepared this road map considering all the domestic and global challenges that are facing us. We can refuse to change our ways. But if things do not change, the whole country will collapse.

Therefore, we should strive to move forward on this path. It is not an easy journey. I have reminded you of that from time to time. This will be a difficult and bitter journey. But we can get relief at the end of this journey. Progress can be made.

Our economy is currently shrinking. We are trying to reverse it. According to central bank statistics, our current economic growth rate is between negative four and negative five. According to IMF statistics, it is between negative six and negative seven. This is a serious situation. If we make a determined journey along this road map, we can achieve an economic growth rate of a negative one by the end of 2023.

By 2025, our aim is to create a surplus in the primary budget. Our effort is to raise the economic growth rate to a stable level. Our expectation is to establish a stable economic base by 2026.

I would like to give you an idea of the debt we have to pay off so far. $3.4 billion between June and December this year.  $5.8 billion in 2023. $4.9 billion in 2024. $6.2 billion in 2025.  $4.0 billion in 2026. $4.3 billion in 2027.

The total debt burden of the government at the end of 2021 was Rs 17.5 trillion and by March 2022 it has increased to Rs 21.6 trillion.

This is the real situation. In addition, we are facing the effects of many problems that have worsened in the past two or three years.  These are not problems that can be solved in two days.  We are suffering from the effects of certain traditional ideas that have been followed in our country for many years. Therefore, as I mentioned earlier, we will have to face difficulties in 2023 as well. This is the truth. This is the reality.  Some may try to cover up this reality by showing the people a false image. But this reality will be confirmed in time.

Our plan is to control inflation. By the end of this year, inflation will rise to 60%. This is mainly due to the increase in the prices of goods in the world and the fall in the value of the rupee.

Due to the current inflation, the depreciation of the rupee has reduced the value of the money in the Employees’ Provident Fund and the Employees’ Trust Fund by 50% and the real value of pensions has also decreased by 50%. Think about how this situation affects our senior citizens. Poverty is spreading among all of them. The value of the money they receive has decreased by 50%. Their purchasing power has decreased by about 50%.  Presenting positive ideas is easy. But it is difficult to find answers to these problems.

What is the solution to this?  Stabilizing the rupee as soon as possible, strengthening the rupee without letting it fall. For that purpose, we have implemented a plan to limit the printing of money in the future.

In 2023, we will have to print money with restrictions on several occasions. But by the end of 2024, it is our intention to stop printing money completely.

We aim to reduce the inflation rate to between 4 and 6 percent by 2025.

Another top priority for us is to protect the banking and financial system. The pressure on these systems during an economic crisis does not need to be explained to this House. But due to this pressure, we will not allow the banking system to be pressured by poor policies.  The government has given priority to strengthening the banking and financial system.

Meanwhile, we pay special attention to state banks. They have been beaten from both sides. On the one hand, the economic crisis, on the other hand, the huge amount of loans they have given to state enterprises.

As of March 31, 2021, SriLankan Airlines owes Rs. 541 billion as of May 31, 2022, the Electricity Board owes Rs. 418 billion.  Petroleum Corporation owes Rs. 1.46 trillion.

When public enterprises continue to incur losses, the entire citizenry suffers.  People who have never traveled on a plane in their lifetime are suffering from the loss of SriLankan Airlines.  The people who have paid money for fuel all their lives are suffering from the loss of the petroleum corporation.  After hours, days, and days of waiting in queues to get fuel, they pay compensation to the oil company to cover the loss of the company. The people who get electricity by paying money all their life, sit in the dark for several hours a day and suffer from the loss of the electricity board.

Excuses have been used for a long time to cover up the sufferings, persecutions, and troubles of the people and the compensation paid for the losses of the institutions.  People’s resources, people’s property as well as the failure of the respective institutions are covered up by this mask. If these are real people’s properties and people resources, they should provide relief, convenience, ease, and profit to the people. But the people have inherited sufferings, troubles, and losses from these institutions.

Therefore, we have to think anew about such institutions which have become a burden to the country and the people. Is it fair to burden people like this for thirty or forty years? Should we continue to burden the people and run these institutions? Why can’t the services provided by these institutions be provided without burdening the people? Are there no other options for providing these services? Considering all these facts, we are taking immediate steps to restructure these institutions.  It will be ensured that they are maintained in a manner that does not burden the country.

There are a number of other issues that need to be addressed in our journey forward to overcome the current challenges.

One is to prepare the background of getting food without shortages and keeping the increase in food prices under control.

On the other hand, taking steps to increase food availability. We have now prepared the necessary background for the successful harvest of the next season. All measures have already been taken to provide chemical fertilizers without shortage. Provisions for seeds and planting materials are allocated through the interim budget.

Also, we have started a program to increase food availability in collaboration with the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization.  Currently, their delegation is studying the food crisis in Sri Lanka. At my invitation, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization will visit Sri Lanka next week.

No matter how much we are in the middle of a huge economic crisis, we cannot forget the problems faced by the poorest sections of society regarding food. The upcoming interim budget will allocate money to provide short-term relief to the highest sections of society. This relief will be given to the people under the Social Welfare Benefits Act.

We are also launching activities to prevent malnutrition caused by a lack of food.

In parallel to these activities, necessary incentives are being provided for cultivation. Facilities are being provided. An island-wide cultivation program is being launched with the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office along with the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant ministries. The aim of this program is to increase food availability at a decentralized level. In this regard, the responsible institutions meet weekly and take necessary actions. We hope to increase overall food production in the next six to seven months.

We are taking steps to take a number of policy decisions to boost the export economy. The upcoming Interim Budget will include detailed information about it.

If we continue on this planned path, we can have hope for a brighter future. All of us should shoulder that task unitedly. We must all come together to lift the net we are tangled in and fly.

If we do so, we will be able to fulfill the expectation of reaching the situation we were in 2019 by 2025. This journey cannot be stopped from there. We have to continue this journey until we create a new economy.

We hope to prepare the necessary background for this progress through the interim budget.

When I assumed the responsibility of the Prime Minister, I made a written request from the opposition parties to come forward to work together for the country in this difficult and crisis situation. You all know about the responses received at that time.

The importance of this unity, the importance of getting out of this difficult time together, has been pointed out by a number of our Parliamentarians from time to time.

Remembering that, I once again request all party representatives in this House to come together to overcome this challenge.

Our ultimate goal is to create a highly competitive social market economy. Here we also have examples to take from countries like China and Vietnam. They are countries that successfully maintain competitive socialist market economies.

As far as I know, there are no shortcuts to achieving our goals. There is no magic or panacea.  Dr. Harini Amarasuriya MP also emphasized that the other day.  She said:  “We get an empty pot. This is not easy. We don’t think that everything will be solved once we come to power. Everything will not be solved just by coming to power. There are several things that need to be done. It will take time to get this right. It will be a difficult time for all of us.  You have to make commitments. You have to work very hard.”

As MP Harini Amarasuriya said, this crisis is not one that can be resolved in a few days or a few months.  A more serious one.

But if there is a more effective plan than the one we have presented, if there is a faster plan, then present it.  We can discuss it. Run it if it is the most effective path to recovery.

MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake has stated that if he is handed over the country, it will be restored in six months. Indeed, it would be a very good thing if it could be done. Taking a country whose economic growth has fallen from a negative six or seven to a positive economic growth rate in six months is an action that has never happened in any country in the world. But we cannot rule out Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s opinion that it has not happened so far. It would be great if he has a plan to restore the country within six months. With such a plan, we will be able to restore the economy in a short period of time. Not only that, but it also sets a good precedent for the world.

That is why I am asking MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake to submit this plan to the President. If you don’t want to go to the President, present it to this Parliament.  Let us discuss it in this Parliament. If that plan is better and more effective than the plan we are implementing now, we will implement it. Such a plan would be brilliant enough to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.

So if there is such a plan, I am ready to resign and let him take up this position. I am ready to give up my position and support that program. Because the positions I hold are not new to me. At a time when the country has become anarchic and no one has taken responsibility, I have not accepted this position out of a desire for the chair.

At that time the country was in an anarchic and dangerous situation. If that situation had developed further, the country would have turned into a sea of blood. There would have been an environment where no country in the world would look at us with friendship.

I accepted this position with the aim of saving the country from that situation. I took up the responsibility for the country, using my experience and connections to help the country recover from its fallen state. That’s why I took over this anarchic country without any conditions and now we were able to prevent the country from falling into the abyss.  Now we have to slowly raise the country again.

The main thing for me was not the power, but the country. Therefore, I have no desire or need for power. I only have a need to see this country recover. I would like to let this House know that we are moving forward in a planned and steady way towards meeting that need.

The journey we are on is a good opportunity to change the system that we followed in our country previously.  Past experience has shown us that no victory or progress can be achieved by changing persons or characters. The importance of implementing a common national plan has been confirmed through past experiences.

So if there are better ways than the method we are following now, please point them out, and put them forward. Let us all join in the effort to lift the country up. Let’s join together as one people to rise again from this place.  Let’s make this journey more acceptable through collective ideas and suggestions.

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Mahinda attends Parliament

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Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended Parliament on Tuesday (05). His eldest son, Namal Rajapaksa recently denied social media reports that the former leader was receiving treatment at a private hospital. (Pic courtesy PMD)

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Navy says it has enough fuel for patrol

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Navy headquarters yesterday (05) said that in spite of a crisis situation, the Navy had sufficient fuel stocks to maintain sea patrols.

 A senior official said so when The Island sought their response to SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera, MP’s, allegation that sea patrols had been suspended for want of fuel. Lawmaker Jayasekera warned that suspension of sea patrols posed a major security threat. (SF)

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