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Ranil tells govt. how to tackle pandemic

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Former Prime Minister and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has said the Cabinet headed by the President should formulate a common policy to control the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the country.

The former Premier has, in a media statement, said Sri Lanka has not passed any legislation to control the pandemic while other countries in the world are making the necessary laws and enforcing them and urged the Cabinet to prepare a draft law to control the pandemic and to sustain the country and the economy

Following is the statement in full: “First of all, I would like to extend a special thanks to the doctors, nurses, researchers, public health inspectors, junior staff as well as the Grama Niladharis including the Armed Forces and the Police who have dedicated themselves to the people of Sri Lanka since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

We will never forget these people that have worked so hard during the disaster. I urge all citizens to express their gratitude to this group.

Our health workers are exhausted today because they have continually worked for the past year. It is dangerous to continue this way. The Health Sector has reached its tipping point. The only way to protect them is to set a common set of principles that everyone will accept. Only through such a plan can we halt this situation.

First of all, follow the doctor’s instructions. The government still does not accept medical advice. However, Malaysia decided to close the country for 14 days as soon as it received medical advice.

Also, our country has not yet received the required number of vaccines. As soon as the Minister of Health announced that she would sign an agreement to obtain the vaccine last November, the Pfizer Vaccine Company submitted its proposals. But it did not work. Unfortunately, it was not until seven months later that the government focussed seriously on the vaccination program. This is a great crime.

If we buy the vaccine now, it will have to be done by an authorized representative of the company. Other groups are waiting to earn extra money from the vaccine sales. I urge the Government not to use the vaccination programme as an opportunity for middlemen to make money.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved vaccinations for children over 12 years of age. If we also vaccinate children over 12 years of age, the number of vaccines required for Sri Lanka will increase from 30 million to 35 million.

Countries that had a surplus of vaccines have decided to donate the surplus to the World Health Organization’s COVAX surplus. The number of vaccines given to COVAX will be further reduced as these countries will now give their doses to children over 12 years of age. With this current situation it is predicted that the vaccination of all of our citizens will be completed by the end of next year.

The second dose should be completed as well as the first dose.

Thus, a system should be developed to control the spread of the disease until the vaccination is completed. The government must have a proper program for that.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines for controlling the spread of the virus. We have not fully implemented those instructions.

We can take the example of how South Korea controlled this and how England controlled the disease after their second round. We have to work according to such plans.

We must look to the future. No drugs have yet been found to suppress COVID-19. Some experts predict that it will be around 2024 when a permanent cure for COVID will be found. We must be prepared to face that situation. We also need to think about the money needed to sustain people’s lives during this time.

There are a large number of people in the country who cannot afford to buy food. Also, there are a large number of people who have lost their sources of income. That too needs to be addressed.

We have to increase the number of treatment centers. The Medical Research Institute for COVID Research should further strengthen the research arm of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Another laboratory needs to be built for virology research. The existing equipment and facilities in the medical laboratories of the Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya, Ruhuna, Jaffna and Ragama should be further improved. This will enable us to create programmes for the suppression of COVID.

India is the largest researcher on the regional status of the COVID virus. In addition, several countries, including Great Britain and China, are conducting research on the world situation. We have to work with all these research institutes. The University of Sri Jayewardenepura has partnered with the University of Oxford in England to conduct this research.

The Cabinet, headed by the President, should now prepare a draft with a set of common policies to control the pandemic. No one else should be allowed to coordinate this. Discuss this Cabinet-led draft with non-government party leaders and the Opposition in Parliament and seek their views. All opposition parties should submit proposals and help. I think it is important to discuss this with those in the medical field and with experts, including business people.

An agreement should be drafted and agreed upon by all within a month and presented to the country once all the discussions have taken place. Legislation to control pandemic can be passed under this.

To date we have not passed any legislation to control the pandemic. Other countries in the world are making the necessary laws and enforcing them.

I urge the Cabinet to prepare a draft law to control the pandemic and to sustain the country and the economy. Let us all work together to formulate a common policy. Then the noble goal of protecting Mother Sri Lanka will be fulfilled.



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People to get fuel price shock soon

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The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes  would be revealed soon.

The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.

“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.

Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.

The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.

The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody

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Report called by June 13

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.

In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.

HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.

Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.

Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.

Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause  in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.

Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and  March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.

Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.

In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.  

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.

The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.

 

 

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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.

Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions  too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.

“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.

College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.

“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.

“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said

President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.

Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.

“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely  to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.

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