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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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JVP, too, moves court against deal with US company

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By Chitra Weerarathne and A.J.A. Abeynayake

The JVP yesterday (26) filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal requesting it to declare null and void a Cabinet decision to transfer 40 percent of the Yugadanavi Power Plant to US Company, New Fortress Energy Inc.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ceylon Electricity Board, West Coast Power (Pvt) Ltd, Lakdanavi Limited, the Monetary Board of the Central Bank, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have been named as respondents among 43 others.

The JVP’s petition has come in the way of Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven Elle Gunawansa, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya and the Federation of National Organisations (FNO) moving the court against the controversial deal with US energy company,The application has also sought a writ of mandamus on the respondents preventing them from taking any action with regard to the matter until the application is taken up and its examination is concluded.

Former JVP MPs Sunil Handunnetti and Wasantha Samarasinghe are the petitioners.

The petitioners state that the Cabinet decisions undermine the rule of law, the Constitution and democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and several other statutes, and conventions of democratic governance and Cabinet of Ministers exercising executive powers.

The petitioners state that LTL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., is the largest power sector engineering company in the country. It was first incorporated in the 1980s as a joint venture of the Ceylon Electricity Board and a multinational group – ABB of Norway.

The Petitioners state that Lakdanavi (Pvt) Ltd., is a fully owned subsidiary of LTL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., and is a company specialised in engineering, procurement and construction and operations and maintenance in the energy and power generation sector.

They assert that the government has not properly explained particulars of the deal even to the Cabinet of Ministers when transferring the shares of the power plant to the American company.

They have also alleged that the government has not obtained the approval of Parliament for the agreement in question and that the relevant share transfer process has not been carried out in accordance with a formal tender procedure.

They have sought the Appeals Court to issue an order rescinding the decision taken to transfer the shares to the American company and the agreement signed by the government.

In addition, the General Secretary of the SJB MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court on 21 Oct., challenging the government decision to transfer 40 per cent of the Kerawalapitiya Power Plant to the US firm.

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Ex-Indian HC in Colombo during turbulent 1989-90 will be featured in next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar

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Ambassador Lakhan Mehrotra, former High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, will be featured in the next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar scheduled at 2.30 p.m. IST/SLST on Thursday 28th October.

Mehrotra will be interviewed by Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation. They will discuss the guest speaker’s publication ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’, which features his experience during the period 1989-1990, when he served as High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, during a politically turbulent era coupled with the separatist war in the north-east and an insurrection in the south.

His book, ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ touches on the beginnings of the conflict, briefly follows on its evolution until it reached its peak in the early 1990s, and then takes the reader in detail through the author’s own experience in the country, nearly two years after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement was signed and the Indian Peace Keeping Force had been inducted at the invitation of President J. R. Jayewardene, while President Premadasa, who succeeded President Jayewardene considered the presence of an Indian military contingent on his nation’s soil as an affront to its sovereignty. Soon after his election, the President issued an ultimatum for the IPKF to leave its shores by 29th July 1989 and threatened military action against it if it failed to do so, which brought the two nations to the brink of a military confrontation.

The High Commissioner’s intensive consultations and tireless interaction with the political leaders of Sri Lanka, the warring factions in the country’s north-east, and the governments in New Delhi and Colombo helped signing of the joint communique on 28th July 1989 on arrangements for phased withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990 with due recognition of its contribution and sacrifices made to preserve the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country. ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ provides information that has never been divulged before. The “In Conversation” webinar will delve into these experiences of the High Commissioner; whose rather brief assignment was from April 1989 to June 1990.

Following his assignment that covered the most turbulent period of Sri Lanka in modern times, Ambassador Mehrotra served as Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs and as Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Africa before his retirement in 1992. Later, he served as UN Secretary General’s Personal Representative in Cambodia from 1997 to 2000 and as Head of the UN Diplomatic Mission in Jakarta for Peace Talks between Indonesia and East Timor.

Those who are interested in retracing the history of Sri Lanka should register in advance for this webinar through the link below:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0nxJI2dPR8SCKK7k4hqDpg

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Cardinal lashes out at Minister known as Ten Percent

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His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith visits Sarakkuwa in the Pamunugama area where clearing of X-Press Pearl debris continuinues.Pic by Nishan S .Priyantha

By Norman Palihawadane and Nishan S. Priyantha

Monies taken in the form of commissions by forfeiting people’s welfare will never do any good to those who take them, says His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

“The biggest malady our society is afflicted with is the commissions earned by politicians through various deals. They take commissions from companies by depriving the people of their dues. Such money has blood on them and they would not do any good to those who take them,” the Cardinal said yesterday.

Speaking to journalists at the Sarakkuwa beach in Pamunugama during an inspection tour to witness the progress of cleaning work of the MV X-Press Pearl wreck the Cardinal said: “We have a Cabinet minister who is notoriously known as Mr. Ten Percent. Imagine the shame on this nation when there is such a minister taking ten percent of commission from every project he passes. The monies collected in that way would never bring out any good.”

The Cardinal said that the President, the Prime Minister and government institutions including the Ministry of Fisheries, coast conservation department, marine environment protection authority and urban development authority were duty bound to remove the wreck, clean the beach and the ocean. “In doing so, the government should be concerned about the interests of people, and not about the shipping company, its local agents or agents of the insurance companies. We demand that the government take this case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and get full compensation for the people. We have information that the agents of companies have come down and are staying in Colombo exerting influence on various political leaders and officials. Their objective is getting out of this by paying a paltry sum. If the politicians and officials permit that we will take to the streets with people.”

The Cardinal said that there was information that Urban Development Authority officials were making plans to give away Muthurajawela to foreign companies. “Muthurajawela is a national asset and belongs to the people. The politicians have no right to sell them off to Korean or Chinese companies. We would not let that happen,” he said.

Associated with the Cardinal were Ven. Pahiyangala Ananada Thera, Chairperson of Marine Environment Protection Chairperson, bishops and other religious leaders.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Colombo in May and sank while transporting 1,486 chemical containers from the Middle East with stops in India and Sri Lanka during its voyage to Singapore.

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