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Petitioner demands explanation over change of LPG composition

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‘Govt. cannot remain silent over Prof. Walpolage contradicting Litro Chairman’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-Law Nagananda Kodituwakku says the government owes an explanation as regards recent gas explosions, especially in the wake of the declaration made by Prof. Shantha Walpolage, the Chairman of the Committee, appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to probe the recent gas-related incidents, that the change in the composition of gas in 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinders was the cause of the continuing blasts.

Kodituwakku, who has moved the Court of Appeal, in his capacity as the General Secretary of the Vinivida Foundation seeking a series of immediate measures to prevent further harm to the public, told The Island yesterday Prof. Walpolage had not only confirmed the basis for his petition but also contradicted Litro Chairman Theshara Jayasinghe.

The civil society activist pointed out that Prof. Walpolage made the Committee’s position clear at a media briefing held at the Government Information Department on Dec 21, the day after he handed over the report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Responding to another query, Kodituwakku said what really shocked him was that on the day Prof. Walpolage handed over the report, the Litro Chairman told a media briefing arranged by the President’s Media Division the gas composition hadn’t been changed.

Lawyer Kodituwakku has moved the Court of Appeal in terms of Article 140 of the Constitution. Among the 10 respondents are gas suppliers, SLIC owned Litro and private enterprise Laugfs Gas PLC and trade minister Bandula Gunawardena and Consumer Protection State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna.

Chaired by Prof Shantha Walpolage of the University of Moratuwa, the committee comprised Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG) Deshabandu Tennakoon, Prof. Ajith de Alwis of University of Moratuwa, Prof. W.D.W. Jayathilaka of University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Prof. Pradeep Jayaweera, Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission Prof Narayan Sirimuthu, Additional Director General of Technical Services Dr. Sudarshana Somasiri and Senior Deputy Director of the Sri Lanka Standards institute Sujeewa Mahagama.

The committee also obtained the assistance of Dr. Saliya Jayasekara of the University of Moratuwa.

Lawyer Kodituwakku pointed out that Senior DIG Tennakoon, who had been a member of Prof. Walpolage’s team was present at the PMD media briefing where the Litro Chairman insisted the original composition remained. Secretary to the Ministry of Technology Jayantha de Silva who had been present at the handing over of the committee report to the President also participated at the PMD media briefing, Kodituwakku said. He said that the PMD website still carried a comprehensive report titled ‘No change in Litro gas composition and no need to have any unnecessary fear.’

Public litigation activist Koditiwakku alleged that a major fraud had been perpetrated by those responsible for ensuring safety and security of the people. The petitioner said that subsequent to the handing over of the report to the President, Secretary to the Ministry of Technology Jayantha de Silva acknowledged on ‘Hiru’ that he was not aware who ordered the change in gas composition in the domestic cylinder.

Petitioner questioned the failure on the part of the Secretary to the Ministry of Technology to establish the circumstances under which the composition was changed.

The Court of Appeal bench comprising Justice Dr. Ruwan Fernando and Justice Sampath K.B. Wijeratne on Dec 17 delivered judgment in respect of the petition filed by lawyer Kodituwakku.

Kodituwakku challenged gas suppliers’ claim they retained 80 percent Butane and 20 percent Propane composition. The activist asserted that the lives of consumers were at serious risk due to the change of the composition.

Asked whether the petitioner had obtained information that could prove the Litro management might still resort to change of gas composition, lawyer Kodituwakku said that he submitted to Court of Appeal a document issued by the Director, HSE & Quality Assurance, Litro Jayantha Basnayake with regard to the claimed comparative advantages of the gas composition new premium hybrid 18 liter gas cylinder due to the increase in the Propane content. Kodituwakku said that the official compared the advantage of the new product due to the change of the composition with that of 12.5 kg cylinder.

Kodituwakku said that the change of composition by increasing the Propane content resulted in sharp reduction of the period consumers were able to use a cylinder. In other words, the change of composition was meant to enhance sales at the expense of foreign exchange, he pointed out.

Kodituwakku said that the happenings at the Litro should be investigated. The government couldn’t turn a blind eye to the shocking revelations at the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) the previous Litro management blocked the government audit for two years before Theshara Jayasinghe was brought in July 2021 in place Anil Koswatte.

Kodituwakku said that the Opposition as well as the media should have vigorously campaigned against gas-related explosions. There hadn’t been previous such instances that affected consumers in all parts of the country simultaneously, Kodituwakku said.

How could the government remain silent when SLIC owned 99 percent of Litro shares? Kodituwakku asked, urging civil society organizations to take up the case.

In spite of repeated assurances given to the public, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) and suppliers hadn’t complied with the Court of Appeal directives issued on Dec 17, Kodituwakku said.

The Court of Appeal directed:

Preventing and/or prohibiting the 4th (Laugfs) and 5th (Litro) Respondents from releasing gas cylinders meant for domestic use without (i) displaying on the gas cylinders the gas composition as may be prescribed by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (2nd Respondent); (ii) the required level of Ethyl Mercaptan in the gas cylinders as may be prescribed by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (Mrs. Siddhika Senaratne, DG, Sri Lanka Standards Institute 2 nd Respondent); and (iii) the shrink wrap in the respective colours as stipulated by the Consumer Affairs Authority (Maj. General Shantha Dissanayake, Chairman, CAA 1st Respondent), until proper investigations are carried out by the 1st and 2nd Respondents.2.Directing the 4th and the 5th Respondents to recall all full, sealed and unused gas cylinders meant for domestic use that are either available in the market or with the consumers (if such consumers so wished to return), and replace those recalled gas cylinders with new full gas cylinders on a free of charge basis until the above order is satisfied.

The case will be taken up again on Dec 31.



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“Foreign bond holders more important to govt. than hard-pressed people”

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SJB slams GR’s policy speech

The main opposition SJB says that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Policy Speech delivered in Parliament on Jan 18 failed to provide solutions to the crises faced by the country.

Addressing a press briefing held at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo on Thursday, SJB MP Eran Wickremaratne said that the crises with regard to economic management and governance had gone beyond the control of the government subjecting the masses to severe hardships without essential goods and services.

Wickremaratne said that  there had been no increase in the value of  GDP supporting the domestic and foreign borrowings by this government during the last two years.

He accused the government of giving priority to paying off debts of foreign cronies while  starving the people without essential foods inclusive of fuel for electricity generation.

“People who could not afford to basic necessities despite having cash in hand due to the shortage of dollars and foreign exchange now had to stay in the dark for several hours a day without electricity due to lack of fuel as the govt has not been able to maintain a supply chain properly. But the government, having crossed its wires, gives priority to repaying the loan to its cronies while mounting pressure on its citizens,” Wickremaratne said.

“President Rajapaksa’s Throne Speech did not provide answers to any of  the current problems  facing the country. Although the country faced two major problems, there was no answer to either of them in the President’s policy statement.

“First, rising commodity prices push up inflation increasing  vegetable prices. Secondly, the import of essential commodities has come to a complete standstill due to the foreign exchange deficit. There is a shortage not only for  food and fuel but also for  medicines for the people.”

He said only 25% of the country’s essential medicines are produced locally and the rest are imported. There is also a shortage of essential medicines due to lack of dollars for imports.

At a time when the people are under so much of  pressure, the government is  boasting of servicing   international sovereign bonds on time. People need to be told the secret of why foreign debtors are more important to the government than the citizens of the country, Wickremaratne said.

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Prevention, cooperation, mutual assistance essential to counter connected nature of terrorists in South Asia – Army Chief

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Prevention, cooperation and mutual assistance in controlled measures at international borders are essential to counter the transnational and connected nature of terrorists and criminal activists in the South Asian region, said Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva on Thursday, emphasising on the need of law enforcement’s institutional reforms based on common and agreed policies.”

“In the legitimate government efforts to fight terrorism or organised crimes, in this regard, a possible South Asian regional treaty could promote counter-terrorism and anti-crime measures by promoting institutional structures and decision-making processes to promote cooperation, coordination, shared expertise and common legal approaches,” said Silva while virtually addressing the “Countering use of Crypto Currencies to Finance Terrorism” event on Thursday.

“Due to the transnational and connected nature of terrorists and criminal activists in our region, prevention, cooperation and mutual assistance in controlled measures at international borders are essential,” he added.

The General also said that there are avenues for collaboration by establishing information exchange at customs, imposing immigration barriers and commonly agreeing on the regulation of transporting and stockpiling of weapons and drugs, dangerous goods or potential warlike equipment.

Emphasising that mutual assistance can be enhanced by extending measures for collecting evidence of suspects, exchange of wanted personnel and etc, Silva said that enhancing the capacities of regional countries to handle terrorism and criminals would depend extensively on the training of law enforcement agencies.

“Apart from training for military personnel, of a particular country, it is also essential to carry out joint training for various armed forces of the South Asian region. Conducting counter-terrorism operations at a regional scale would also require regional funding. It is understood that funding counter-terrorism campaigns in recent times has become quite expensive due to the sophistication of insurgence,” Silva added.

The General also said that “this is where we need cooperation as very experience armies, who have long been engaging in counter-terrorism operations, we have specialities, therefore we can share each other’s specialities to counter each other’s imitations.”

“Law enforcement’s institutional reforms based on common and agreed policies and principles in the regional countries feel enhanced the compatibility between the countries in fighting transnational crimes and terrorism,” he added. (ANI)

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COVID-19 on the rise again; 800+ new cases a second day running

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(Economynext) New COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in Sri Lanka, with health authorities detecting over 800 new infections on Thursday (20) for a second consecutive day.

With the 827 new cases, total cases in the country have gone up to 599,363, official data showed.

Around 15,279 patients are currently receiving treatment in hospital or at home.

With 12 deaths reported in the last 24 hour period, the island nation’s COVID-19 death toll has reached 15,243.

Health authorities warned that the sector could face challenges managing new patients if daily cases continue to surge.

Officials are also concerned about an apparent hesitance for the booster dose of the vaccine that was largely absent in the initial rollout.

“We have provided the opportunity to get the booster countrywide. But because the fatality rate is now low people may think taking it is no longer necessary,” State Minister of Pharmaceutical Production Channa Jayasumana said speaking to journalists on Friday (21).

“Sri Lanka will go back to the previous state with people not taking the booster dose,” he warned.

The booster rate is very low compared to Sri Lanka’s otherwise impressive vaccination numbers, said Jayasumana.

“Only 4.8 million have taken the booster so far, and only 26,796 came forward yesterday to get it.

“With the increase of patients, even though the fatality rate is low, it can be overwhelming for the health sector if patient numbers in hospital wards and ICUs go up.”

Sri Lanka has so far vaccinated 16.3 with the first dose while 13.8 have received both doses.

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