Overtime gravy train for public sector back
Govt. MPs make contradictory statements on state of economy
By Shamindra Ferdinando
UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena on Sunday (26) disclosed the issuance of a circular by the Finance Ministry to restore overtime and other payments in the public sector.
The declaration was made in Galle soon after Transport and Media Minister Bandula Gunawardane lamented that the government was short of billions of rupees to pay public sector salaries, pensions, Samurdhi payments and meet recurrent expenditure.
Minister Gunawardena and UNP National List MP Abeywardena addressed the local media after the handing over of several buses to the Galle SLTB depot.
Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena said that the government needed as much as Rs 196 bn before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and its projected revenue was Rs 173 bn. In addition to that Rs 500 mn was required to settle what Minister Gunawardena called bilateral debt.
Minister Gunawardane said that a part of the first tranche of USD 333 mn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be utilised to pay public sector salaries.
Of the USD 333 mn received so far, USD 121 had been used to pay the first installment of USD 1 bn credit line secured from India early last year, according to State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in the second week of August last year revealed as much as Rs 3 bn had been paid as overtime to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers for several months. This disclosure was made in response to a query raised by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.
One of the major demands of the public sector trade unions on the warpath over the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new tax formula is the restoration of overtime.
Scientists say world’s oldest-known burial site found in South Africa
Palaeontologists in South Africa said they have found the oldest-known burial site in the world, containing remains of a small-brained distant relative of humans previously thought incapable of complex behaviour.
Led by renowned palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger, researchers said on Monday that they discovered several specimens of Homo naledi – a tree-climbing, Stone Age hominid – buried about 30 metres (100 feet) underground in a cave system within the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Johannesburg.
“These are the most ancient interments yet recorded in the hominin record, earlier than evidence of Homo sapiens interments by at least 100,000 years,” the scientists wrote in a series of yet-to-be-peer-reviewed and pre-print papers to be published in eLife.
The findings challenge the current understanding of human evolution, as it is normally held that the development of bigger brains allowed for the performing of complex, “meaning-making” activities such as burying the dead.
The oldest burials previously unearthed, found in the Middle East and Africa, contained the remains of Homo sapiens – and were around 100,000 years old.
Those found in South Africa by the research team led by Berger, whose previous announcements have been controversial, date back to at least 200,000 BC.
“Homo naledi tells us we’re not that special,” Berger, a United States-born explorer, told AFP news agency. “We ain’t gonna get over that.”
Homo naledi, a primitive species at the crossroads between apes and modern humans, had brains about the size of oranges and stood about 1.5m (5 feet) tall.
With curved fingers and toes, tool-wielding hands and feet made for walking, Homo naledi was discovered in 2013 by Berger, helping upend the notion that our evolutionary path was a straight line.
The species is named after the “Rising Star” cave system where the first bones were found in 2013. The oval-shaped interments at the centre of the new studies were also found there during excavations started in 2018.
The holes, which researchers say evidence suggest were deliberately dug and then filled in to cover the bodies, contain at least five individuals.
“These discoveries show that mortuary practices were not limited to H. sapiens or other hominins with large brain sizes,” the researchers said.
The burial site is not the only sign that Homo naledi was capable of complex emotional and cognitive behaviour, they added.
Berger’s earlier discoveries won the interest of National Geographic, which named him “explorer in residence” and featured his work in television shows and documentaries.
The latest research has not been peer-reviewed yet and some outside scientists think more evidence is needed to challenge what we know about how humans evolved their complex thinking.
“There’s still a lot to uncover,” said Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program, who was not involved in the research.
(Aljazeera / News Agencies)
Opp. alleges Prez intends to bring media under his thumb, roll back election map
‘Broadcasting Authority a political mechanism led by Media Secretary’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Top Opposition spokesman Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (05) alleged that President Ranil Wickremesinghe intended to silence television and radio stations through the proposed Broadcasting Authority Bill (BAB).
The former External Affairs Minister asserted that the BAB was part of a destructive political strategy meant to neutralise the media against the backdrop of the President’s bid to roll back the election map. He said so, referring to President Wickremesinghe’s recent declaration at the Bar Association event in Nuwara Eliya that the primary interest of the public was nothing but the revival of the economy. The UNP leader downplayed the importance of elections.
Addressing the media at the party office of Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa, Prof. Peiris explained how the President planned to rein in free media through the five-member Broadcasting Authority Commission, and a three-member committee tasked with inquiring into complaints. The MP questioned the suitability of the President naming three persons to the Commission, in addition to appointing the Secretary to the Media Ministry who would be ex-officio head of the five-member Commission.
Urging the media to be vigilant of President Wickremesinghe’s game plan, rebel SLPP lawmaker said that the proposed committee would have the power to initiate inquiries on its own and conduct raids on ‘offending’ media institutions. The MP discussed the possibility of the committee taking hold of documents and other data in the hands of journalists while threatening them with imprisonment unless they revealed their sources.
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, in a separate statement, vowed to oppose the proposed Bill, both in Parliament and outside. MP Premadasa said that the decision-making body of the Opposition political parties, led by the SJB, resolved to campaign against the controversial Bill.
The first salvos against the Bill were fired by one-time Media Ministry Secretary Charitha Herath, and SJB stalwart Dr. Harsha de Silva last week. In response to their criticism, Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse PC announced that they were still in the process of discussing proposals pertaining to the proposed Broadcasting Authority Bill.
Prof. Peiris emphasized that contrary to such claims the relevant Bill was in the public domain. The former minister said that there couldn’t be any doubt over whether the government would finalize the Bill and, if enacted, would automatically silence the media.
Describing the Bill as seriously flawed, Prof. Peiris questioned the competency of those who prepared it. It couldn’t have been done at the Legal Draftsman’s Department, the ex-minister said, alleging that responsibility had been outsourced.
Prof. Peiris said that the Supreme Court would be definitely moved against the proposed law. The academic said that the government was engaged in a desperate bid to consolidate its position. Comparing the Broadcasting Authority Bill with the Bill on the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Prof. Peiris said that the former wouldn’t receive the go ahead from the Supreme Court. The proposed Bill as a whole was contrary to the Constitution, lawmaker Peiris said, asserting that democracy couldn’t survive the death of the media.
Referring to President Wickremesinghe’s speech to the National Law Conference at the Nuwara Eliya Grand Hotel, Prof. Peiris said that just because the UNP was in a pathetic state and couldn’t do well at elections, at any level, the UNP leader shouldn’t try to justify his bulldozing actions.
Prof. Peiris accused the President of putting off Local Government polls as he feared facing the electorate. The UNP is represented in Parliament by just one National List seat, earlier held by the President.
Osaka immigration doctor may have worked after drinking – Kin of late Lankan detainee decry
TOKYO —The bereaved kin of a Sri Lankan woman who died while detained in a Nagoya immigration facility in 2021 despite her pleas for medical treatment have expressed their dismay over recent news that a female doctor at the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau is suspected of having worked under the influence of alcohol.
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo on the evening of 04 June, the family of Sri Lankan woman Wishma Sandamali, who died in March 2021 at the age of 33, protested that unless the medical system for immigration facilities is improved, the same thing could happen again.
The Osaka doctor worked full time at the immigration facility. Alcohol was detected on her breath on 20 January this year. She has since been removed from medical examination work. Information about the doctor was conveyed to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan in January, but not reported to the Diet, where deliberations are underway on an amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that would strengthen measures to deport foreign nationals without a valid status of residence.
Participating in the June 4 news conference were Wishma’s sisters Wayomi and Poornima. Wayomi, 30, criticized the stance of immigration authorities, saying, “My older sister died because a medical system was not properly established (at the detention facility). It’s so wrong that an incident like this can happen in spite of that. Without a proper medical system in place, I think it will be a matter of course for more people to fall victim like my sister.”
Poornima, 28, added, “It is only recently that the information (about the Osaka case) came to light, and the immigration agency had been hiding the information. I think this may be because they haven’t accepted responsibility for my sister’s death.” (Japanese original by Yukinao Kin, Digital News Group)
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