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Row over Ukranian tourists deepens as visiting English cricketer also tests corona positive

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British Airways flight allowed in regardless of ban

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday (4) intervened in a simmering dispute over those handling high profile Ukrainian tourists ignoring the health regulations in place to prevent possible community transmission of COVID-19.

Soon after the arrival of two groups of Ukrainians, on Dec 28 and 29, 2020, three of those visitors tested Covid-19 positive. Yesterday, a member of the visiting England cricket team Moeen Ali was found to be Covid-19 positive.

Minister Ranatunga stepped in after Sri Lanka Tourism (SLT) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando alleged that neither the promoter of the Ukrainian project, former Sri Lanka Ambassador to Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga, nor the travel agents concerned, had provided the required information.

In a letter dated January 2 addressed to Minister Ranatunga, copied to Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva, who heads the Covid-19 Task Force, Nimesh Herath, member, Tourism Advisory Committee, Dr. Hemantha Herath, Ministry of Health and Ms Dhammika Wijayasinghe, Kimarli Fernando said that SLT had been informed that the project promoter worked with the Presidential Task Force.

Fernando raised questions about the Ukrainians going on excursions to Mirissa for whale watching and Yala safari without following proper procedures. The SLT Chief warned of dire consequences unless necessary protocols were followed.

Amidst growing concern over further deterioration of the Covid-19 situation, Minister Ranatunga instructed the relevant officials to prevent a recurrence of the situation similar to that of Ukrainians visiting Yala. Among those present at the discussion were Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa and State Aviation Minister D.V. Chanaka. The Minister emphasised the pivotal importance of following health guidelines in place in support of the ongoing pilot project ahead of the opening of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) later this month.

The government has announced those arriving in the country could visit Dalada Maligawa, Yala, Minneriya National Park, Sigiriya, Dambulla temple, Uda Walawa, Horton Plains, Sinharaja forest, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Pinnawela elephant orphanage, Salu Sala and places where they could engage in whale watching.

Before the commencement of the Ukranian project, under the leadership of the Tourism Ministry, relevant bodies reached agreement on tour organisers providing, well in advance, detailed itineraries, including drivers and guides to arrange proper screening and quarantine purposes.

A member of the visiting English cricket team all-rounder Moeen Ali tested Covid-19 positive immediately after arriving at the Mattala airport on Sunday, January 3. All members of the English team were subjected to PCR testing. Authoritative sources said that in addition to Ali, who was placed under quarantine for 10 days, another Englishman, Chris Woakes, identified as a close contact, too, had been quarantined and expected to undergo PCR test along with other members today (5).

The two countries went ahead with the two test match series despite the UK struggling to cope up with the rapid spread of a new virulent variant of Covid-19 virus that compelled the UK to impose tougher restrictions.

Sri Lanka suspended flights from the UK though the English team was allowed in. They arrived in British Airways flight to resume a tour which was cancelled at the onset of the first Covid-19 wave.

The first Test is scheduled to start on January 14.

Meanwhile, Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Patali Champika Ranawaka yesterday (4) flayed the government over the Ukranian tourism project. The former minister alleged that the government had risked a major disaster by allowing Ukranian tourists, particularly at a time the Europe was struggling to cope up with a new variant of Covid-19 virus.

Ranawaka questioned the SLPP government’s strategy in trying to boost tourism by bringing in people from Ukraine, a country in a far worse situation than Sri Lanka. The former yahapalana heavyweight said that visitors from Europe could open Sri Lanka to grave danger due to the new Covid-19 variant. The MP pointed out that the government was on record as having said that the second Covid-19 wave had been caused by a Ukranian.



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CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials

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‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’

Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.

“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.

“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.

“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.

“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.

The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.

“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)

(See related stories in the business section)

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CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini

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By Norman Palihawadana

Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.

SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.

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Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289

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ByShamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.

Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.

In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.

The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.

It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.

Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & G.de Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.

Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.

At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.

Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.

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