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Sajith accused of fishing in troubled waters

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by Saman Indrajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa was told in Parliament yesterday not to play the race card with the sensitive issue of cremating Muslim COVID-19 victims to score political points by rousing communal disharmony.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry said that the issue had been very sensitive to Muslims as cremation was in violation of Islamic burial rights, and asked the Opposition Leader not to play politics with such issues.

Minister Sabry said so after Opposition Leader Premadasa raised the issue of cremating Muslims, during the debate on two new regulations under the Medical Ordinance.

Opposition Leader Premadasa: “While other countries united in their battle against COVID-19, we got divided. The World Health Organisation permitted both cremation and burial of COVID-19 victims. The Health Minister has repeatedly stated that she followed WHO guidelines. Muslims were cremated here. That is a sin. Not only that there was a rumour being circulated that COVID-19 was spread by the Muslims,”

Health Minister Pavithra Wannirachchi:

That is a technical term in health science. We are ready to change some practices within the guidelines.

 Opposition Leader Premadasa:

Minister Ali Sabry should know that there was a committee of three experts Profs Vajira Dissanayake, N. Sherif and Ravindra Fernando. They were asked to give an impartial decision on the matter. It is not there yet. The issue had been used to create a communal and racist wave. That is the truth.

 NFF MP Mohamed Muzammil:

You should not raise communal issues. There is no such statement by any.

 SLPP Kurunegala District MP Shantha Bandara:

People have faith in this Parliament. You should not raise communal issues here. That is ugly.

 Minister Ali Sabry: COVID-19 is a challenge not only to this country but to the entire world. We are facing the challenge. There is anguish among the Muslims about cremations. Yet, it is not good to politicise the issue.  A group of very senior doctors was sent by the government to the WHO and made a request to amend their guideline on cremations. That was six months back. They did not go there for political reasons and the WHO pointed out that there was nothing political but they viewed the issue from scientific perspective only. They identified it as ‘fear of unknown’ and told our delegation that the matters related to COVID-19 were actually an evolving science. They promised us to consider the amending of guidelines in six months. We are working towards that purpose. Please look at this issue in a humanitarian perspective and have patience.

 SJB Colombo District MP Mujubur Rahman: Six months have lapsed since the call to appoint that committee. It is not appointed yet. Please appoint that committee and allow the Muslims to bury their kith and kin. Already nine Muslims have been cremated. This number will increase in the coming days. This is a sin. Minister Sabry if you die from COVID-19 you would be cremated; if I died of COVID-19, I would be cremated. This is a serious issue. We should change this without further delay.

Minister Wanniarachchi:

We conducted several rounds of discussions with experts. As Minister Sabry pointed out we were asked to wait for six months. That waiting time is now over. The committee is scheduled to meet this week again. We adhered to scientific guidelines and gave priority to them over cultural norms. But as soon as there is no danger we are ready to amend those guidelines if the experts tell us so.

 

 



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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