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Prez talks of referendum, rules out ‘national’ govt., slams Premjayantha

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… Says he doesn’t serve with eye on elections

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has claimed that a youth recently inquired from him why a referendum couldn’t be conducted to ascertain whether the electorate approved him extending his first term by two years as Covid-19 deprived him of 2020 and 2021.

President Rajapaksa said so addressing an event to mark the naming of Siyambalanduwa Maha Vidyalaya, Moneragala, as a national school last Friday.

The last presidential election was held in Nov 2019. In terms of the 19th Amendment, enacted in 2015, the next presidential election is scheduled for 2025. The 19th Amendment restricted both parliamentary and presidential terms to five years each whereas they were six years previously.

A statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD) quoted President Rajapaksa as having told the gathering that the youth had approached him when he recently visited the Dalada Maligawa. President Rajapaksa has told the youth that he should be appointed an advisor to the President.

Declaring that the people realised difficulties, President Rajapaksa has emphasised the responsibility on the part of the government to explain the real situation to them.

Reiterating his commitment to fulfiling his promises at the presidential election, President Rajapaksa vowed to achieve his targets during the next three years.

Sri Lanka has had only one referendum (1982).

Referring to stripping of Susil Premjayantha of his portfolios on 04 January, two days after the veteran politician flayed the government over severe difficulties experienced by the public, President Rajapaksa stressed that the lawmaker concerned couldn’t absolve his responsibilities by blaming others.

The sacked Colombo District MP found fault with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage as well as those who took utterly irresponsible policy decisions. MP Premjayantha declared that the situation was so bad that it was too late to take remedial measures. The one-time SLFP General Secretary asserted that the government had caused irreparable damage.

Commending the armed forces for what he called the constructive role played by them, President Rajapaksa strongly criticized both officials and members of Parliament. The President said that when inquiries were made as regards responsibility pertaining to some work, some conveniently pointed the finger at the State Minister, who in turn claimed it was in the sphere of the cabinet minister. The President said: “Sometimes, they say the issue at hand came under Provincial Councils. Officials say they are hindered by laws.”

President Rajapaksa said that he had to strip Premjayantha of his portfolios as he faulted the government. “If the lawmaker alleged that the government was wrong, he, too, should accept responsibility,” President Rajapaksa said, declaring that all ruling party members of Parliament were collectively responsible for the government.

The government parliamentary group consists of 145 members, including National List MPs. Of whom, 117 represent the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the main constituent of the ruling coalition.

Premjayantha was sworn in as State Minister of Education Reforms, Promotion of Open Universities and Distance Learning on August 26, 2021. President Rajapaksa offered the ministry to Premjayantha after Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa rejected it.

President Rajapaksa said that he wouldn’t form a government with a section of the Opposition to overcome the restrictions imposed on the number of ministers and State and Deputy Ministers. Pointing out that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution limited the number of cabinet and State/Deputy Ministers to 30 and 40, respectively, President Rajapaksa said that though all wanted cabinet portfolios he was not in a position to appease them.

There is provision for breaking the limits in case the ruling party forms government with the Opposition.

President Rajapaksa said that those who really wanted to serve the people didn’t require portfolios. Urging both members of parliament, including the Opposition and the public service to support good work undertaken by the government, President Rajapaksa emphasized that he didn’t serve with an eye on elections.

President Rajapaksa called for the steady support of the public service during the remaining three years.

Commenting on what he called the successful fight against the Covid-19, President Rajapaksa declared that there was no alternative but vaccination. The President appealed for those who hadn’t received the booster jab to visit the nearest vaccination centre.

President Rajapaksa claimed that since the last presidential election Sri Lanka hadn’t obtained any foreign loans. Whatever the reasons, the previous government had obtained loans for, his government was now faced with the daunting task of repaying USD 6.3 bn, annually.

The President expressed the hope that tourism could achieve 400,000 visitors this year thereby doubling earnings in USD to 10 bn. The President said at the time of 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, Sri Lanka received nearly 200,000 visitors. Commenting on the extremely difficult economic conditions, President Rajapaksa explained the steps taken by him to ease pressure on the foreign reserves. The President said that he ordered a ban on vehicle imports, importation of luxury goods as well as a range of food items to save foreign exchange.



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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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