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PC polls should be held as early as possible – LSSP

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As the pandemic will continue for considerable time

In the context of the global economic recession and the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone is looking forward to an economic, social and political revival that would usher in an era of peace, unity and equity with the dawn of the New Year.

A new SLPP-led Government was swept into power with a near two-thirds majority in the August 2020 general election. This was to support President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was elected in 2019 with a commitment to restore stability and with it a period of clean efficient governance. This should enable the country to emerge from the crisis. It will pave the way to put an end to poverty, hunger and malnutrition, unemployment and underemployment, and the uncontrolled rise of prices.

It would also put an end to the disruption and fear generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. But most of all to prevent the biggest danger of Sri Lanka’s economy being taken over through the MCC agreement.

With the closing of the MCC office in Colombo and the departure of the US staff, it would appear that the USA has given up its objectives, at least temporarily. This is a great victory for the people of Sri Lanka. The move by the Government to stop the import of what can be produced here, including luxury and non-essential items, is most welcome. It will help to reduce the loss of foreign exchange which has led to the depletion of our foreign reserves leading to massive borrowing and debt.

The long-term foreign debt crisis reached its peak during the 2015–2019 UNP Government period, and in 2019, the debt repayment amounted to US$ 4,500 million. This ate into our foreign reserves, which was only US$7,000 million. It also increased the pressure to borrow through the IMF and also look to the MCC grant, with unacceptable conditions.

While congratulating the Government for overcoming these problems without giving into these pressures, it would appear that this achievement is being undermined by various dodges and tricks being used to bring in banned imports with the connivance of some crooked officials and some others. This must be stopped as it will lead to further borrowing and Sri Lanka getting deeper into the debt trap.

It violates the Government statement that it will not borrow from abroad, and only accept foreign investment (FDI). For the latter to succeed a proper planning and investment environment has to be created, and in the plan FDI should complement our total development plan only where necessary.

For the development of the national economy, stress is correctly being placed on agriculture and food self-sufficiency. But this also requires industrial development, specially with value addition to local raw material. Unfortunately the foundation that I laid when I was Minister of Science and Technology from 2005 to 2015 is now in poor shape.

By getting back on the correct path of developing a national economy in the real interest of our country and the people, and resisting foreign imperialist pressures, the Government has paved the way to overcome some of our major problems. But sadly, some sectors that have an economic impact like the Covid-19 pandemic are being mishandled or even causing problems.

I am sorry the Minister of Health did not accept my proposals at the Health Advisory Committee Meeting in Parliament. Among others they were (a) the setting up of an All Party Leaders Committee to rally the whole country into a national movement to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and, (b) that as the Covid-19 virus had gone beyond the “cluster” stage and was spreading within the community, it was necessary to establish a community- based approach with the emphasis on intensive health education, so that everyone is protected by observing the three health rules.

As the virus cannot multiply on its own, and soon dies out unless it gets into the live cells in the human respiratory tract, if this can be effectively prevented by everyone observing the three health rules with a proper understanding, the virus would even eventually die out in Sri Lanka, unless introduced again from abroad. I hope that the rapidly spreading new variants which have appeared abroad are not allowed to enter Sri Lanka on the basis of correct policy decisions.(c) A new lifestyle based on understanding and community action, supported by digital technology, can overcome the Covid-19 problem, provided all policy decisions are science based.(d) The Government must give the lead in organizing society to operate so that crowd gathering is avoided.

The Centre/Left Governments in Sri Lanka have by and large respected democracy. Constitutionally the sovereignty rests with the people and between elections it is expressed through chosen representatives in Parliament, in the Provincial Councils and in Local Government institutions. The LSSP would like to see this extended to real empowerment of the people through Village Councils with provisions for Constitutional protection (like the Panchayats in India), and through legally empowered Workers Advisory Councils and Village Committees (chosen by secret ballot).

It is sad to see that efforts are being made to delay the Provincial Council elections on one pretext or another. Some even want to do away with them. Neither Covid-19 nor allegations of lack of funds has any validity. The officials are profiting at the expense of the people who are being deprived of their right to elect their representatives and are being oppressed, without any representatives to act on their behalf at the provincial level. The Provincial Council elections should be held as soon as possible, as the Covid pandemic will continue for considerable time.

Tamil-speaking people, after the defeat of the LTTE, see the Provincial Councils as an adequate sharing of power, given some minor modifications that were acceptable to them at the APRC, within a single unitary state. More and more of them are learning Sinhala of their own free will. Despite efforts by some politicians to rouse a sense of grievance among Tamil speaking-people, it is losing ground. Unfortunately, Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianist tendencies are providing the sense of fear that can be exploited by extremists in the Tamil-speaking society. These must stop. Let wisdom prevail.

Prof. Tissa Vitarana

 

 

 

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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