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Possible disruption in fuel supplies as claimed by trade unionist symptomatic of far bigger economic crisis – former Governor



‘Why not arrest Minister Gammanpila for predicting collapse of banking sector’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Governor of Uva, Southern and Central Provinces Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon says the arrest of UNP trade union leader Ananda Palitha over his disputed claim that the country would soon run out of both diesel and petrol unless fresh orders were placed immediately highlighted the economic crisis.

The SLPP government couldn’t solve the impending fuel shortage or suppress the truth by taking Ananda Palitha into custody, Tennakoon told The Island. Although the statement had created panic buying, he stood by Palitha’s statement, Tennakoon said.

The civil society activist pointed out that Ananda Palitha highlighted the daunting challenge in ensuring uninterrupted fuel supplies whereas the overall situation was far worse. “The crisis highlighted by Ananda Palitha is just one factor or symptom,” Tennakoon said, urging the government and the Parliament to examine the situation thoroughly or face the consequences.

Ananda Palitha’s statement actually meant that the country was in dire straits due to USD shortage, Tennakoon said.

Responding to another query, Tennakoon said that those who had lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) against Ananda Palitha owed an explanation as regards the government’s failure to settle oil import bills during the past 16 months.

The former Executive Director of an independent polls monitoring body Caffe claimed that Sri Lanka couldn’t attract suppliers for the last two crude oil tenders. Subsequently, about three weeks ago a ship carrying crude oil had to be anchored outside the Colombo harbour due to the government’s failure to make necessary payments. Tennakoon said that fuel stock was unloaded after the government made what he called other arrangements with the supplier.

Citing the fact that a significant 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s total import bill was for fuel, Tennakoon pointed out how the government conveniently forgot the recent crisis caused by shortage experienced by Laugfs customers. If the CID arrested Ananda Palitha on a complaint lodged by the Energy Ministry as regards warning of an impending fuel shortage, Laugfs Chairman W.K.H. Wegapitiya, too, should be taken into custody, Tennakoon said. Wegapitiya repeatedly declared there would be a gas shortage unless the government agreed to an immediate increase in gas prices, Tennakoon said. Having inconvenienced Laugfs customers by delaying the price increase the government finally gave in, Tennakoon said.

Tennakoon pointed out that the government owned Litro Gas, too, had asked permission from the government to increase price of its domestic and industrial products though some ministers repeatedly vowed to maintain the current price levels regardless of Laugfs increasing its prices. Then Litro Chairman, too, had to be arrested for seeking a price revision, Tennakoon said, adding the government owed an explanation regarding its response to milk importers threat to stop importers unless the government granted them a price increase. Noting that instead of granting price increase the government slashed duty on milk food imports, Tennakoon said that the SLPP government’s biggest blunder was slashing the entire range of taxes and duties immediately after forming the government.

Tennakoon said that SLIC owned Litro suffered nearly Rs 1.4 bn losses by selling gas at a loss.

Tennakoon alleged that the Treasury lost well over Rs. 500 bn due to a controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes, including PAYE (Pay As You Earn), NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). Tennakoon pointed out the 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019. According to him the decision was taken at the first cabinet meeting of the incumbent government held on Nov 27, 2019.

As a result of foolish government decisions taken without proper study, revenue plummeted drastically, Tennakoon said.

Referring to the Central Bank Report 2020, Tennakoon said that the total revenue for 2018 and 2019 had been Rs 1,950 bn and Rs 1,900 bn, respectively, whereas it dropped to Rs 1,373 in 2020. “The SLPP is responsible for this situation,” the civil society activist said, urging the Opposition to take up the issue both in and outside parliament.

Tennakoon said that if Ananda Palitha could be arrested for warning of a fuel shortage, Energy Minister attorney-at-law Udaya Gammanpila too should be taken into custody for predicting the collapse of the entire banking sector unless the government increased fuel price. Minister Gammanpila repeatedly warned of catastrophe due to disparity in world market and local prices.

Referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statements to the nation in late June and last Friday, Tennakoon said that no less a person than the President admitted the difficulty in making loan/interest payments amounting to USD 4 bn annually.

Tennakoon said that the SLPP government couldn’t suppress the truth. Referring to a press conference organized by the President’s Media Division (PMD) a couple of weeks ago, Tennakoon said that Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle refrained from responding to The Island query on the Treasury losing over Rs 500 bn due to tax and duty slash. Did the SLPP consult the Treasury Secretary before slashing taxes and duties? Tennakoon asked.

Tennakoon reminded the government how it suffered massive revenue losses by slashing duty on sugar in Oct last year. That racket was followed by slashing of duty on milk food imports recently, Tennakoon said, pointing out Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera accused a section of the government of facilitating milk food import scam.

“Take the public into confidence. Tell them the truth. Ask people to cut down on consumption. We are in a messy situation,” Tennakoon said, calling for review of fiscal policies. Tennakoon urged the parliament to address issues raised by watchdog committees COPE, COPA and COPF before formulating its response to the rapid deterioration of the economic situation. Tennakoon emphasized that the government should consult the parliament. Remedial measures should depend on consultations as unilateral decisions could worsen the situation further, Tennakoon warned.

Tennakoon said that the government should address the crises without further delay. The recent cabinet reshuffle revealed the government lacked even the basic understanding of the current crisis and still believed people could be deceived by utterly stupid actions.


President instructs officials to vaccinate kids with Pfizer



Health Ministry still deliberating pros and cons

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed health officers to inoculate children between the age 15 to 19 with Pfizer vaccine, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said yesterday.

General Silva added that the President had also instructed officials to inoculate children with special needs above the age of 12, with the Pfizer vaccines. He there are around 50,000 children with special needs.

General Silva said Sri Lanka would receive adequate Pfizer vaccine doses in the coming weeks. During the Presidential Task Force meeting, on Covid-19, it was decided to allow the Department of Motor Traffic, and the Land Registry to operate during the lockdown, which was extended until 01 October. However, a few hours before this statement was made, Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath told the media that no decision had been taken on vaccinating children.

He, however, said that discussions were ongoing about vaccinating children.

“There are a number of discussions on this because this is a serious matter. We have also decided that when we vaccinate the priority will be given to children with comorbidities. Then the rest will be vaccinated based on age groups. But we have not decided on anything else,” he said.

The dates, the brand and other details would be announced once the Health Ministry was done with consultations with experts. Once the decisions were taken the Ministry would prepare guidelines which would then be made available to the public, he said.

“So, I urge the parents not to worry or panic. They can vaccinate their children once we issue guidelines. We will ensure that this will be done safely and with virtually no side-effects or shortages,” Dr. Herath said.

The Deputy Director General of Health Services also urged people not to be misled by claims that those who had been double jabbed and being treated at home were dying in increasing numbers. Some people with serious underlying issues could die even if they were double jabbed, he said.

“However, as we vaccinate an increasing number of Sri Lankans, the deaths and those who need ICU treatment will decline rapidly. Don’t be fooled by various unscientific claims. We are a nation that has universal vaccine rates and we should maintain that tradition with COVID,” he said.

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Sumanthiran demands immediate due process against Lohan



Immediate legal action including arrest and prosecution must be taken against Lohan Ratwatte and others who were involved in the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said on Thursday. He said Ratwatte’s mere resignation from one portfolio would not do.

“The Presidential Secretariat has issued a statement that Lohan Ratwatte has taken responsibility for the incidents that transpired at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. Although Ratwatte is said to have resigned from his post as Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he continues to be a minister in charge of other subjects. This is not something we can accept,” he said.

The TNA MP said that the State Minister should be removed from all his positions immediately and the pistol he carried with him should be taken away from him.

“Otherwise, it’s a grave threat to the public at large,” Sumanthiran said. There had been other incidents where Ratwatte brandished his weapon in public spaces, he added.

The TNA MP said that an independent investigation should be held with regard to those incidents and Ratwatte and others involved in entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons should be arrested and charged.

“The police have still not taken any action in this regard. The question that must be posed is how he was able to carry his personal firearm inside the prison premises. Prison officials must answer these questions,” he said.

MP Sumanthiran said that given that the prisoners were wards of the state, their security was in the hands of the state.

“Therefore, this is a very serious incident. Action must be taken accordingly,” he said.

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Taking contradictory stand on 2015 Geneva Resolution



‘Govt. seeking credit for accountability mechanisms set up by previous administration

UNHRC 48th sessions:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena has alleged that the government’s stand on accountability issues at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is contradictory to its much publicised opposition to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the previous administration.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015. The then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that the UNP-led government had President Maithripala Sirisena’s consent to go ahead with the co-sponsorship.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media spokesperson Gunawardena yesterday (17) pointed out that the government, at the ongoing 48th sessions of the UNHRC, has reiterated its commitment to key accountability mechanisms set up in terms of the Geneva Resolution.

Civil society activist Gunawardena, who also functioned as the Director General, Information Department during the previous administration said that the assurance given by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last Tuesday (14) should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from 30/1 resolution.

Prof. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena announced Sri Lanka’s withdrawal at the Feb-March 2020 sessions.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation, Gunawardena stressed, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Stop playing politics at the expense of our international relations,” Gunawardena said, underscoring the need for what he called a national consensus on the post-war reconciliation process.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that FM Prof. Peiris in his address to the Geneva sessions discussed the progress in what he described as a domestic process in respect of accountability issues. Reference was made to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). However, the FM conveniently failed to acknowledge that the OMP, OR and ONUR had been established in keeping with the 2015 Geneva Resolution that covered broader understanding of transitional justice.

The SLPP, while taking credit for the ongoing transitional justice process, continued to publicly reject 30/1, the very basis of the solution, Gunawardena said. “In other words, the SLPP’s actions are very different from their pledges before the electorate in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Referring to the assurance given by Prof. Peiris at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka Human Rights Council was carrying on its mandate, Gunawardena challenged the government to prove its sincerity by allowing no holds barred investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons on Sept 6 and 12, respectively.

The announcement made by the HRCSL regarding its decision to initiate an inquiry of its own in the absence of police investigation received public attention and appreciation, Gunawardena said.

Commenting on the declaration that Sri Lanka was engaged in an integrated process to bring the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with international norms and best practices, lawyer Gunawardena urged the government to study the work done by the previous government in that regard. Referring to statements made by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in that regard, Gunawardena said that the then Joint

Opposition quite maliciously rejected the move. “They should be ashamed of theirconduct,” relevant ministers and the Attorney General Department couldn’t be unaware of the agreement on new anti-terrorism law.

Gunawardena said that the SLPP administration shouldn’t hesitate to appreciate the previous government’s achievements. “We are quite pleased that mechanisms accepted by the previous government continue to be in operation even though the progress seems slow. However, the SLPP cannot deprive the UNP-led administration of the credit it deserved,” lawyer Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena urged the government to examine the report of the Committee appointed by then Premier Wickremesinghe to develop what he called the policy and legal framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka. He said that a politically motivated campaign derailed that effort whereas the Opposition propagated the lie the yahapalana government intended to deprive Sri Lanka of anti-terrorism law.

Asked to comment on the revelation of the SLPP government having talks with a group of civil society activists to explore ways and means to strengthening the reconciliation process, Gunawardena said that a 13-page Foreign Ministry note dated Aug. 31, 2021 addressed to Colombo-based diplomatic missions acknowledged the pivotal role played by the civil society. Having always accused the civil society of being part of a Western strategy, the same lot exposed their duplicity by meeting a group of civil society activists.

Gunawardena was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ministers, Basil Rakapaksa, Prof. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ali Sabry, PC, and Namal Rajapaksa having separate meetings with SLCC (Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus) in the run-up to the Geneva confab. SLCC comprises 16 individuals.

Gunawardena noted the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, too, in her hard-hitting Sept 13 statement on Sri Lanka referred to President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the SLCC.

Gunawardena said that in addition to the SLCC, another group styled itself as the Civil Society Platform (CSP) in a statement issued on Sept. 13 made its position clear on a range of accountability issues as well as stepped up pressure on the civil society. CSP consists of 30 organizations and 36 individuals.

Responding to declarations by FM Prof Peiris and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that external investigations wouldn’t be acceptable, lawyer Gunawardena said that instead of rejecting the investigation the government should furbish whatever information in its hands or had access to the new investigative mechanism. The government couldn’t ignore the fact that the UNHRC authorized the fresh investigative mechanism at the 46th session with an overwhelming majority with 22 countries voting for the resolution, 11 against and 14 missing the vote.

Gunawardena urged the government to take a realistic view as Sri Lanka didn’t have time and space to engage in silly maneuvers. The bottom line was that the March 2020 announcement that Sri Lanka withdrew from 30/1 was nothing but a farce, Gunawardena said.

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