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PCR lab built at cost of USD 5 mn at BIA idling!

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Ministers Keheliya Rambukwella and Prasanna Ranatunga at the opening of newly built PCR facility at the BIA, on Sept 23 (file picture)

Unexplained sudden abolition of mandatory PCR testing on arrival makes Cabinet approved project irrelevant

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A state-of- the- art PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing facility built at a cost of USD 5 mn at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) recently is idling due to a government decision to do away with the requirement for the inbound passengers to undergo Covid-19 testing.

The AASL- Hospinorm PCR Laboratory has the capacity to conduct approximately 7,000 tests a day.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga declared opened the facility located outside the BIA on 23 Sept.

Aviation Minister Ranatunga is on record as having said that the opening of the new facility will end corrupt practices in the mandatory hotel quarantine process.

Sources said that though a private company wholly in the project, it is owned by the Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka Private Ltd. The laboratory is managed by Airport and Aviation Services under a two-year management contract. The lab charges $ 40 for a PCR test for travelers. A sizeable share of that fee goes to the investor.

Responding to a query, sources said that the Aviation Ministry obtained cabinet approval for the project in July, 2021. Having swiftly handled the process, the Aviation Ministry paved the way for the setting up of the operation by late September, sources said.

These sources said that the fate that had befallen quite unexpectedly on the private investment had placed the ministries concerned at an embarrassing position.

The disruption of the BIA project occurred close on the heels of the Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) seeking an opportunity to partner the government in similar ventures. APHNH secretary Dr. Sunil Ratnapriya, in a letter addressed to the health Minister of underscored the private sector laboratories performed approximately 60% of the total PCR workload of the country, and almost all the PCR requirements of the tourism industry, BOI (Board of Investment) and quarantine centres in hotels, with results being released within 24-36 hours.

Dr. Ratnapriya, a one-time GMOA firebrand expressed surprise at the government reaching an agreement with a foreign investor at their expense. The statement quoted Dr. Ratnapriya as having requested that the government prioritize and consider local healthcare investors as a partner in efforts such as this, given the expertise and international standards upheld by our member hospitals over the past two years.

With the abolition of mandatory PCR testing, the possibility of infected passengers, both locals and foreigners entering the society couldn’t be ruled out. Earlier, all those arriving at the BIA regardless of their vaccination status were subjected to hotel quarantine, in some instances at exorbitant room rates. At one point, the hotel quarantine got quite controversial due to shady deals, sources pointed out recalling no person less than Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva had to intervene in January this year.

Addressing hoteliers in his capacity as the Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), Gen. Silva acknowledged there had been attempts to extort money from hotels assigned the quarantine task. Sources said that it was the responsibility of the government to prevent unscrupulous elements from exploiting both foreigners and locals arriving in the country.



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Two-year reconciliation project spurns Lord Naseby’s disclosure

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EU, Germany funded scheme costs Rs. 8 mn

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Peace Council (NPC) says war-related matters hadn’t been discussed at the nearly two-year-long reconciliation project that brought together students from Eastern, Jaffna, Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa Universities.

More than 160 students have participated in the project that culminated with a conference on the theme of ‘Plural Sri Lanka: Paths to reconciliation.’ Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris delivered the closing address and responded to questions from the audience.

Pointing out that post-war reconciliation efforts had been badly hampered by allegations that the Sri Lankan military killed over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front, The Island sought clarification as regards measures taken by the NPC to improve relations among the communities, and the following questions were raised:

The Island:

During your two-year long project did participants discuss specific war crimes allegations and disclosure made in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 that contradicted unsubstantiated accusations pertaining to 40,000 civilian deaths.

Executive Director NPC Dr. Jehan Perera:

“No, we did not discuss these war-related matters. The project was titled “Creative Youth Engagement for Pluralism” and it focused on the nature of Sri Lanka as a plural society and the value framework that should guide it.  The research papers highlighted the diversity within Sri Lankan society that goes beyond ethnicity and religion.  They included topics such as “Attitudes of Society on Education and Transsexuality: A Comparative Study on the Ideologies of a Community with Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Education,” and “Pluralism and University Subculture: An Ethnological Study on Young Behavior towards Social Cohesion,” and “An Investigative Study of the Challenges Posed by the Changes in the Aboriginal Society.”

The Island:

What is the total cost of the project?

The NPC

: Rs 8 million was spent to train and mentor the writers of the 30 research publications in four universities, translate, review and publish their findings in book form and for the conference which brought the students to Colombo.

Question 3:

What is the GoSL’s contribution?

The NPC:

There was no direct financial support by the government. Four state universities supported through their faculty members and students.

The Island: What is the NPC’s stand on accountability resolution and announcement made in Geneva that the Sri Lankan military would be subjected to a fresh inquiry?

The NPC:

In order to get out of these allegations, there is a need for a credible and independent investigation. Our preference is for a national mechanism that is acceptable to all sides.  Accountability will need to be a part of the reconciliation process.  NPC favours the restorative justice approach which focuses on ensuring justice to victims. This includes an acknowledgement of wrongs done and reparations and institutional reform to ensure that there is non-recurrence. 

 The Island: Are you also engaged in post-war reconciliation projects funded by Norway?

The NPC:

NPC hasn’t obtained funds from Norway for the past five years.

The recently concluded project has been funded by a project called Strengthening Reconciliation Process here jointly funded by the European Union and the German Federal Foreign Office and implemented by Deutsche Gesellsschaft Fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the British Council in partnership with the Sri Lankan Government.

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Speaker promises to appoint bi-partisan committee to look into incidents in Parliament

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Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced in Parliament yesterday (06) that a committee consisting of senior members from the Government and Opposition would be appointed within the week to look into the incidents that took place in Parliament last Friday and Saturday and submit a report.

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High Court Trial-at-Bar orders release of several accused from 11 charges in CB bond auction case

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By AJA Abeynayake

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar yesterday ordered the release of several accused, including former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayke and former Central Bank former Governor Arjuna Mahendra, from 11 charges out of 22 in connection with the Central Bank bond auction held on 31 March, 2016.

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar held that public property charges against the accused could not be maintained. Indictments had been filed against Perpetual Treasuries Private Ltd (PTL), former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayke, CBSL former Governor Arjuna Mahendran, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) beneficiary owner Arjun Aloysius, PTL Chief dealer Kasun Palisena, Chairman of PTL Jeffrey Joseph Aloysius, Chitta Ranjan Hulugalle, Muthuraja Surendran, Ajahn Gardiye Punchihewa and Badugoda Hewa Indika Saman Kumara in connection with bond auction held on March 31, 2016.

The case against seventh accused Ranjan Hulugalle was dismissed on preliminary objections raised.

President’s Counsel Anil Silva, Counsel Asela Serasinghe, Hafeel Farisz, Sahan Kulatunga and Vishwaka Peiris appeared for the seventh accused.

The Attorney General’s stance regarding the future cause of action to be informed on 26 Jan. 2022.

The Attorney General had alleged that the PTL had been using the Central Bank’s important undisclosed information to alter the final outcome of the Treasury bond auction and it had a huge impact on the overall national economy as a result of the subtle; the systematic conduct of the offences related to the fraud and had caused injustice to other primary sellers in the bond market, and the PTL had acted cunningly and made a huge profit and conspired to cause a huge loss to the government.

The case was postponed until 26 Jan. 2022.

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