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Professionals’ National Front opposes MILCO appointment

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… questions rationale behind Basil’s actions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Professionals’ National Front (PNF) has questioned the appointment of Renuka Perera as the Chairman of MILCO at the expense of Lasantha Wickremasinghe, a senior member of the outfit as well as an associate of the patriotic civil society outfit ‘Yuthukama’ organisation.

The ruling SLPP accommodated ‘Yuthukama’ leader Gevindu Cumaratunga on its National List whereas Anupa Pasqual also of the civil society grouping successfully contested the Kalutara district.

PNF Secretary and its spokesperson Kapila Renuka Perera told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to why Wickremasinghe who transformed the loss making public sector enterprise in spite of severe difficulties, was removed.

At the time Wickremasinghe received the appointment following the 2019 presidential election, Milco was reported to have suffered losses amounting to Rs. 2,000 million, the PNF spokesperson said. Thanks to Wickremasinghe’s interventions and the tireless efforts of the management team, MILCO earned annual profit of Rs 400 mn regardless of significant increase in the revenue received by milk farmers, Perera said.

Responding to another query, Perera pointed out that no less a person than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had also served as the Finance Minister till July last year emphasized the pivotal importance in transforming the public sector. Therefore, the recent removal of Wickremasinghe to accommodate Renuka Perera, the Administrative Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was contrary to the government position articulated by the Premier, the PNF official said.

Renuka Perera received his letter of appointment from Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the afternoon of January 20 at the Finance Ministry.

Acknowledging that public campaigns undertaken by the PNF since its inception in 2016 helped the then Joint Opposition (JO) now represented in Parliament as the SLPP, PNF Secretary Perera said they were quite horrified by the way the powers that be behaved at a time the country was experiencing severe economic difficulties. Declaring the public had lost faith in the parliamentary system, those who were skeptical of the concerns expressed by professionals should inquire into the sharp increase in the number of families, individuals, particularly the youth seeking to migrate.

Asked whether the PNF questioned the Milco appointment as Lasantha Wickremasinghe happened to be a member of the organization as there had been a number of other controversial appointments since Nov 2019 though they largely remained silent, the official pointed out their opposition to the appointment of Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India. “We raised the issue with the Parliamentary High Post Committee and campaigned vigorously against the former minister given such a crucial diplomatic posting. However, the political leadership thought otherwise,” the PNF spokesperson said.

Amidst the controversy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a statement defending Moragoda’s appointment.

The PNF official said that the SLPP Administrative Secretary being appointed as the Milco Chairman should be examined against the backdrop of a failed attempt to appoint him as Chairman and the board member of Litro Gas. However, an irate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rescinded a letter issued by the Secretary to the Finance Ministry S. R. Attygalle in respect of the top Litro appointment. Having done so, President Rajapaksa went to the extent of inspecting the Litro’s main facility at Kerawalapitiya in the company of Theshara Jayasinghe, the incumbent Chairman.

It would be pertinent to mention that Renuka Perera lost his position as Chairman, NHDA (National Housing Development Authority) last July when former lawmaker and convict Duminda Silva moved in soon after he received presidential pardon.

President Rajapaksa brought in Theshara Jayasinghe in July last year following the controversy over Litro successfully blocking government audits even after the Auditor General and the then COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) emphasized the need for state-owned Litro to undergo state audit.

Litro hired Romesh de Silva, PC and Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, who is also member of the Monetary Board to represent Litro in the controversial as well as unprecedented case, parliamentary sources told The Island.

Sources said that the government audit resumed after Theshara Jayasinghe replaced Finance Ministry appointee Anil Koswatte, who called Treasury Secretary Attygalle to inquire into allegations directed at him by Theshara Jayasinghe.

The PNF official said that during yahapalana administration the grouping strongly opposed ETCA (Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement) with India as well as SLSFTA (Sri Lanka Singapore Free Trade Agreement) and high profile US MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) project as they were inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests.

In a statement issued on January 20, the PNF also raised the appointment of Gamini Senarath as the Secretary to the President in spite of accusations as regards his culpability over the disastrous Chinese carbonic fertiliser deal that ended up with cash-strapped Sri Lanka having to pay USD 6.7 mn regardless of the rejection of allegedly contaminated fertilizer stock. The PNF spokesperson pointed out that a close relative of Gamini Senarath managed the Chinese exporter, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd’s local agent Chelina Capital Corporation (CCP).

However, following allegations in this regard, both in and outside Parliament late last year, Senarath issued a statement denying his involvement whatsoever in the transaction while declaring his readiness to cooperate fully in case of an investigation.

The PNF noted that the former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, too, had allegedly interfered in liquid fertilizer imports from India and a CID investigation was underway following him complaining against the reportage of the developments.

The PNF Secretary said as many others, they, too, were disappointed with the way appointments were made under controversial circumstances at different levels. Asked whether the PNF ever contemplated moving court against unacceptable actions of the government, the spokesperson pointed out that the creation of more than 30 separate ministries in violation of the Constitution was challenged and the case was pending in court.



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More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients

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The Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) has disclosed that Rs. 6,259 million worth of drugs faced a quality failure from 2011 to 2020 due to improper storage. The COPA report has further revealed that 99% of such drugs had already been dispensed to patients when the condition was brought to attention. In that situation, it was not possible to recover the cost of substandard drugs from the suppliers, the Parliament said.

The Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to expedite the process of facilitating better storage of drugs to ensure their safety.

It has also been observed that the temperature in the warehouses, owned by the Medical Supplies Division, is maintained properly and that the medical supplies are stored in the corridors of the central drug warehouses and hospitals.

Furthermore, the Secretary to the Ministry has pointed out that if there is a system to detect the failure of drugs as soon as they are received, the loss can be recovered from the suppliers and if the quality testing of 60 drugs can be done by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, this situation can be avoided to some extent.

These concerns and observations were contained in the first report of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament on COPA, which was tabled in Parliament recently (20) by Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The report contains information about the investigations of seven state institutions summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts and one Special Audit Report during the period from 04.08.2021 to 19.11.2021.

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CBSL Chief: Economy could be stabilised in year or so if …

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The prevailing Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis could lead to a major social crisis as the available foreign reserves were only sufficient for a few weeks’ imports, Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned on Monday.

“The economy can be stabilised in the next 12 month if the IMF negotiations and debt restructuring are finalised within the next seven to eight months. Until then we have to support the poor people,” Dr. Weerasinghe said, addressing a seminar on the “State of the Economy and Talks with the IMF”. It was organised by the Press Club, together with the Press Institute, at Colombo Hilton.

The CB Governor said the current BoP crisis would worsen and, therefore the economic pain could only be minimised if essential policies and measures were implemented in an expeditious manner. But “IMF technical level virtual meetings are likely to conclude this week, and thereafter further discussion will take place to finalise everything,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Dr. Weerasinghe suggested that the monetary and fiscal authorities tighten the monetary policy by higher margins and fiscal policy by restoring tax rates to pre-2020 levels.

The Governor said, “We have three categories of creditors namely International Sovereign Bonds, which raise short term funds from global markets, which account for 35 percent of the government debt, while other two creditors are Paris Club and non-Paris Club (India and China).

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the country’s debt needed to be brought to a sustainable level. “For that purpose a debt sustainability analysis needs to be drafted with a fiscal policy for the IMF bailout”, he said.

Speaking about the country’s worsening economic fundamentals, Dr. Weerasinghe said: “The nation is currently experiencing a historically low economic growth and falling trend of per capita GDP since 2017 with rising levels of poverty. It is also running the highest fiscal deficits since 1988 with the lowest ever government revenue as a percent of GDP.

“Amid those developments Sri Lanka’ poverty level will increase, unemployment level soar and local industries will have to shut down due to restriction of importation of raw material. Therefore, we have to seek humanitarian assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral and multilateral agencies”, the Governor said.

“We are seeking short-term bridging facilities from official creditors until an agreement is reached with creditors on restructuring,” he said.

In his presentation, Dr. Weerasinghe analysed the links between banking and the currency crises. He pointed out that the problems in the banking sector typically precede a currency crisis with the currency crisis deepening the banking crisis, thus activating a vicious spiral.

Sri Lanka also had the highest-ever government debt which was unsustainable at the moment. Debt dynamics might be worsening in the next few years unless the debt was restructured, he said.

Sri Lanka also recorded the highest rate of inflation in 12 years which was increasing sharply and was experiencing the highest-ever levels of money printing by the CBSL, he added

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Dragonfly thought to be extinct found again

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By Ifham Nizam

Scientists have rediscovered Sri Lankan Clubtail (Anisogomphus ceylonicus), one of the rarest species of dragonflies in the country. The team that made the discovery comprised Amila Sumanapala of the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo, T. Ranasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, and D. Sumanapala of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to lead scientist Amila Sumanapala Sri Lankan Clubtail is one of the rarest species of dragonflies.

First collected in 1859, it was only known from the original collection and another collection record made a century after in 1962. This species had not been found anywhere in Sri Lanka for close to 60 years until the team encountered a larva during a survey conducted in 2021.

Anisogomphus ceylonicus is one of the few Odonates of Sri Lanka with no photographic records of a living specimen available hitherto.

The present observation provides the first photographs of a live A. ceylonicus larva and the most recent documentation of the species. These observations, coupled with previous work (Lieftinck 1971, Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013), provide an improved understanding of the species, which might enable further targeted surveys to be made

It was first discovered from Ramboda over 140 years ago based on a female specimen, which was originally described as Gomphus ceylonicus and later assigned to the genus Heliogomphus by F.C. Fraser (Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013). Almost a century later, Lieftinck (1971) collected an immature male and its exuvia of a clubtail dragonfly from Rambukpath Oya, 10 miles northwest of Hatton in 1962 and described it as Anisogomphus solitaris. However, Bedjanič & van der Poorten (2013) recognized that H. ceylonicus is conspecific with A. solitaris, and thus reassigned it to the genus Anisogomphus. Since the discovery of the species, only these two records have ever been documented (Bedjanič et al. 2014), despite odonatological surveys and numerous biodiversity explorations conducted countrywide.

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