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President orders immediate halt to Rs. 15bn cross-country oil pipeline

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Following the exposure by The Sunday Island

The controversial move to build a cross-country oil pipeline at a whopping cost of Rs. 15 billion has been halted on a presidential directive.

“The proposed project has been scrapped on an order by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa”, industry officials said.

The presidential intervention was triggered by The Sunday Island lead story headlined “Moves to kick-start Rs.15bn mega pipeline project comes under fire” in the December 13, 2020, edition.

Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila, has intimated that the proposed project has been called off, the officials said. “A memorandum is expected to be submitted to the Cabinet on the cancellation”.

The cross-country project was first proposed during 2013-14 but was shelved with the construction of the Muthurajawala oil tank farm, which was augmented by a new oil pipeline at the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery by the CPC (Ceylon Petroleum Corporation) engineering team.

However, moves to revive the dormant multi-billion rupee initiative emerged during the previous government, with then Minister Kabir Hashim presenting to the Cabinet a bid by Langfang-based China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau to push ahead with the costly initiative.

Attempts to implement the proposed project under the present dispensation ran into a storm with industry players slamming the move as a “criminal waste of public funds” in the backdrop of the anticipated long-term slide in fuel consumption for thermal energy with three key Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) projects poised to enter Sri Lanka’s energy market.

In addition, the Mannar wind power plant has already been commissioned, with a solar power project at Siyabalanduwa also on the cards.

CPC engineers have assured that the project, if deemed necessary, can be completed under a Rs. 5 billion investment – one third of the estimated cost quoted by the Chinese bidder.

If not for the President’s intervention, billions of rupees would have been dumped on a white elephant, which would have ultimately been rendered redundant with alternate sources of power supplementing the national demand for energy, the officials noted.

With their hopes of riding the gravy train shattered following the presidential directive, some ‘local Sherlock Holmes types’ have been unleashed to snoop around to identify possible “sources” behind leaking the detailed story to The Sunday Island, they said.

They are out with daggers drawn, the officials laughed. “After all, letting 10 billion bucks slip through their fingers is no joke!”.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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