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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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LIOC seeks to expand operations

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by Ifham Nizam

Power and Energey Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday revealed that Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) had asked for permission to set up 50 new filling stations in the country and take over a certain number of petrol sheds currenlty under the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The government had asked the LIOC to increases the supply of fuel, in case Sri Lanka agreed to the Indian proposal,Wijesekera added.

Sri Lanka was facing daunting challenges as regards fuel distribution and it might not be able to get rid of fuel queues anytime soon, Minister Wijesekera said.Speaking to journalists yesterday, in Colombo, Wijesekera said that plans were underway to introduce a token system for fuel dispensation.He said the new scheme could come into effect from today (27) and the Police, and the armed forces will help implement it.

He also said that four separate groups from the Ministry were working on petrol, diesel, crude / furnace oil, and jet fuel imports. “We asked Lanka IOC to increase fuel supply and CEYPETCO to purchase diesel from them. But they asked for a price revision before that according to the pricing formula. That’s why we revised the price in a situation where there was no fuel in the country.”

The moves came as the government increased fuel prices with effect from the wee hours of Sunday wee hours. Petrol (Octane 92) now sells at Rs 470 per litre and Octane 95 at Rs. 550 per litre. Auto Diesel sells at Rs 460 per litre and Super Diesel at Rs 520 per litre.The Minister said they were working on 130-plus proposals for fuel delivery to Sri Lanka.

“USD 500 million is something that Sri Lanka cannot afford at this juncture. Therefore, consumption will have to be slashed, and fuel for public transport prioritized. Two ministers will fly to Russia today for discussions on fuel and related matters,” he said.The Minister said that bunker suppliers had been granted permission to deliver fuel for industries that deal in US currency.

He also said that overseas fuel companies based in countries that produce fuel, would be invited to set up business in Sri Lanka, as the CPC alone could not import fuel.

He said the CPC would become a more service-provider-based institution to facilitate fuel imports, and it had 9000 MT of diesel and the IOC 10,000 MT while the CPC had about 6000 MT of Petrol and the IOC about 8000 MT, of petrol.He said the IOC was issuing about 300 MT a day and their next shipment was due only after 10 July.

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Economic crisis: Govt. MPs slam Cabinet, Finance Ministry

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‘How come SLPA paid to Treasury just a faction of massive revenue earned in six years?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

T wo SLPP MPs, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Madura Vithanage have, at different forums, lashed out at the government for the rapidly deteriorating status of the public sector finance. Godahewa has warned that economic recovery will not be possible unless the government restructured nearly 400 loss making public sector enterprises or at least take tangible measures to cut down on recurring losses.The former Media Minister, who represents the Gampaha District, said so addressing a group of Gampaha-based professionals and entrepreneurs recently.

Alleging that the failure, on the part of the government to establish an all-party government, contributed to the further deterioration of the situation, Dr. Godahewa emphasized the urgent need to curb, what he called, unbridled corruption as part of the efforts to revive the economy.The Gampaha District MP asked whether the current dispensation has addressed the issues at hand with a sense of responsibility.The MP questioned the composition of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, especially the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier, in spite of his party having just one seat in Parliament, against the backdrop of even the government parliamentary group not being properly represented.

Dr. Godahewa warned that SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) would deny the country an opportunity to recover as they remained a massive burden on taxpayers. The One-time top level private sector executive said that the Cabinet-of-Ministers lacked the strength to take crucial decisions. But, the situation would have been different if the Cabinet-of-Ministers included representatives of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other political parties. Dr. Godahewa declared that the government couldn’t take decisions on sensitive matters as long as it didn’t command political power.

Meanwhile, Colombo District MP Vithanage has questioned the responsibility, on the part of the Finance Ministry, in the overall deterioration of public sector finance with the focus on the handling of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) at a recent meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The lawmaker alleged that the Finance Ministry had conveniently failed to make required intervention on behalf of the government, thereby deprived the opportunity to utilize SLPA profits.

Prof. Charitha Herath chaired the meeting. Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne attended the meeting whereas Ports and Shipping Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra led the SLPA team.Both MP Vithanage and Prof. Herath asserted that the Finance Ministry should have intervened on behalf of the people. The COPE examined how the SLPA continuously refrained from paying the Treasury at least the minimum amounts in spite of receiving massive profits over the years.  The Director General Public Enterprises, who has received that position recently, struggled to explain their failure to take up the non-transfer of SLPA profits to the Treasury. The COPE was told of Rs 69,686 mn revenue earned from 2016 to 2021, only 600 mn had been transferred to the Treasury.

Lawmaker Vithanage yesterday told The Island that the recent examinations of various enterprises and the Central Bank, by the COPE, as well as other watchdog committees, disclosed how the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and the Monetary Board contributed to the developing crisis. MP Vithanage pointed out even after the Covid-19 eruption devastated the economy, the SLPA had been able to withhold funds required by the Treasury for want of Finance Ministry intervention.Responding to queries, MP Vithanage said that the Parliament should act without further delay to ensure the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board acted responsibly.

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Ceylon Chamber distributes dry rations

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The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Diwiyata Diriyak’ social initiative provided emergency relief, in the form of 10,000 essential dry ration packs, to vulnerable families in the Kegalle and Colombo districts.

A press release from the Chamber said: Mobilising the Chamber’s Membership to assist low-income families that are struggling to survive the current crisis, the initial distribution, which took place at the Kegalle District Secretariat, was the first phase of Diwiyata Diriyak, which aims to provide 5,000 relief packs.

Containing essential items such as rice, lentils, sugar, wheat flour, canned fish, etc., costing Rs. 5,000 each, vulnerable families, identified by the respective District Secretaries in the Warakapola, Galigamuwa, Mawanella and Rambukkana DS divisions, were among the initial beneficiaries.

CEO and Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber Manjula de Silva said that the Chamber was committed to supporting the public during this immensely challenging time, and would always strive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.

Home Garden Starter Packs, sponsored by the CIC Group, were also distributed among the families, in order to assist and encourage home garden cultivation as a viable option to address the rapidly rising costs and predicted shortage of food items, the release said.

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