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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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Aircraftsman sets swimming record with flying colours

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Leading Aircraftman Roshan Abeysundara of the Air Force yesterday set a new Asian record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in Rameshwaram. During his preparation for the event, Abeysundara renewed the national open water swimming record twice. He has also created a new record by swimming a 25 km distance from Matara to Koggala on 03 Jan, clocking 10 hours and 37 minutes, and went on to surpass the record by swimming a distance of 49Km from Matara to Hikkaduwa and back to Unawatuna on Feb 27 in 23 hours and 10 minutes.

He started swimming from Talaimannar at 2 am on Saturday and reached Dhanushkody and returned to Talaimannar around 7 am yesterday by completing 59.3 km in 28 hours 19 minutes and 43 seconds, breaking a 50-year-old Asian record set in 1971 by V.S. Kumar Anandan’s, who took 51 hours to swim across the Palk Strait. Abeysundara also set a new Lankan record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in 19 hours and 31 minutes.

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JVP women raise fears about cost and safety of food for New Year

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By Saman Indrajith

The JVP women’s wing led by Women for Rights says that exorbitant prices of food and fears over their safety will make the forthcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year a miserable affair.

“The prices of essential food items are at unprecedented highs. In addition, there are fears in the minds of the people about the quality and safety of food items being sold in the market. There were no such fears and doubts whether the food items in the market were fit for human consumption in the past as it is now,” Secretary of the WFR Samanmalee Gunasinghe said addressing a press conference held at the party headquarters in Pelawatte Friday.

Gunasinghe said that all those issues with regard to food prices and their standards and safety were about food security of the country. “Food security is a prerequisite for national security which this government promised to achieve. Food security no longer exists in this country and, worse, people are worrying about food safety.”

She said that social media was full of posts expressing people’s concerns about food safety.

“They are afraid because the government is putting their lives in danger not only by permitting coconut oil imports with high levels of aflatoxin but also allowing the adulteration of other food items. Some months ago, they brought down container loads of canned fish past shelf life and released them to the market. There are fears that milk, chilli powder and packaged food items contain various toxins. Scientists make statements to the effect that the fertilizers being used for paddy cultivation contain huge amounts of arsenic.”

President of the WFR Saroja Savithri Paulraj said that children of the country had not been able to celebrate the last Sinhala and Tamil New Year because of the COVID pandemic and now the people were gripped by fear of toxic food and their prices. Price of kilo of green grams is now Rs 850-1000, cowpea Rs 1,200, Undu (urid) Rs 1,700, chicken Rs 800, Chillies nearly Rs 1,000.

“This government has no answers for the problems created by the Easter Sunday terror attacks even after two years. The forests are being cleared and no responsible action is taken to prevent them. Women who become victims of micro-credit schemes are staging protests. Farmers staging protests in various places in the country. It is with those problems that people this time are compelled to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.”

Exco member of WFR Prabhashini Wickramasinghe also addressed the media.

 

 

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Govt. claims SLPP-SLFP relations remain strong

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… admits Easter Sunday carnage a contentious issue

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (11) strongly denied reports that a section of the ruling party coalition, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was on a collision course with it. Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage insisted that in spite of some minor disagreements among coalition members there was absolutely no threat to the government.

Participating in a newly launched live SLBC programme, the Kandy District MP accused the bankrupt Opposition, that was struggling both in and outside Parliament of propagating lies.

Acknowledging that a section of SLPP lawmakers had met at the SLFP Office at Darley Road, under former President Maithripala Sirisena’s chairmanship last Thursday (8), Minister Aluthgamage said that members of a coalition administration could hold diverse positions on a particular issue.

The Minister was responding to interviewers, Himananda Rajapaksa and Inusha Weebedde on ‘Kannadiya’ produced by Sudarmika Wijeratne. Rupavahini and The Island were represented by Vijaya Dissanayake and Shamindra Ferdinando, respectively.

Referring to what he called a contradictory position taken by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa in respect of some contentious issues, Minister Aluthgamage said that the stand taken by the former JVPer on the East Container Terminal (ECT) proved right. Minister Aluthgamage appreciated the cancellation of the proposed agreement on the ECT following protests by a section of the government. Earlier the government announced plans to transfer ECT’s controlling shares to India’s Adani Group.

The minister said that the consensus on the ECT should be compared with the previous administration handing over the controlling shares of the strategic Hambantota port to China.

Minister Aluthgamage also dismissed claims that the SLFP led group was planning to conduct a separate May Day rally. The minister insisted the coalition was still strong regardless of issues – a situation experienced by coalition administrations in the past. Aluthgamage asserted that divergent views among coalition members were helpful in facilitating a better stand on a particular issue.

The programme was told difficulties experienced by the government should be examined against the backdrop of former President Maithripala, one of those named by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday carnage now being a member of the SLPP led government.  The SLMC and the ACMC flayed over the Easter Sunday massacre switched their allegiance from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the breakaway UNP faction recognized as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

It was also told that the break-up of the coalition was unlikely though in political turmoil.

Top SLFP spokesman and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera confirmed the stand taken by his ministerial colleague, Aluthgamage. Declaring the role played by the SLFP in helping wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa win the 2019 presidential election, Minister Amaraweera reiterated their commitment to the government.

The SLFP group in the government consisted of 14 lawmakers. The government parliamentary group comprised 145 members.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (ret.) Sarath Weerasekera explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government handled the Easter Sunday issue.

Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera, Presidential Secretariat Director General – Legal Affairs said that the government’s response was three-fold. “We provided relief, punishment to those responsible and remedial measures to prevent similar attacks,” Rohanadeera said.

Dismissing accusations as regards the ongoing investigations/process, Rohanadeera pointed out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having consulted the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith retained the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.  The lawyer underscored the government determination to implement the CoI report along with the recommendations of the Sectoral Defence Oversight Committee.

The Presidential aide explained the need to address issues without being diverted by political factors. The official rejected assertions that the CoI was meant to delay justice to those killed and their families.

The interviewers raised issue over SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera reiterating concerns that the person recently named as the mastermind wasn’t so and there were other powerful interested parties bent on destabilizing the country.  The programme was reminded of former UNP lawmaker and one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, warning of Western destabilization projects as long as the Hambantota port remained in Chinese hands.

The previous UNP led government finalized the deal on Hambantota port in 2017.

The programme was told the high-profile Western intervention at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) largely influenced by the ongoing battle for supremacy between the US and China. However, almost all political parties represented in parliament had been in one way or another implicated in the Easter Sunday violence.

Near simultaneous Easter suicide attacks claimed the lives of 270. Over 500 received injuries.

The mystery of India infiltrating the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), too, was raised though there was consensus Sri Lanka should be grateful for intelligence provided by India in the run-up to Easter blasts. The interview was asked of the need to be wary of foreign intelligence services operating in Colombo.

 

PIC SAVED AS MAHINDANANDA

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