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Senior UNPer Amaratunga says party did not deserve to be defeated

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by Zacki Jabbar

The UNP was a national party with sound policies and through the historic 19th Amendment to the Constitution strengthened democracy in the country, but was defeated in last week’s General Election, mainly because it had shun propogating racism as a means of capturing power, says senior UNPer and former Minister John Amaratunga.

Asked to analyse the UNP’s shocking electoral performance, Amaratunga said that the UNP did not deserve to be defeated in such a manner, considering the extent of work it had done whilst in government between 2015 and March this year, despite droughts, floods and the negative impact on the economy resulting from the April 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bomb explosions by the National Thowheed Jamaat, which had publicly enunciated its policies since 2005.

“Those who defected from the United National Party (UNP) to contest on the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) ticket, benefitted from the work, we as a UNP government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe did between 2015 and 2019, but the current  UNP leadership  was left with unfairly taking the blame for not preventing the Easter explosions, when the person who had the power to stop it, slept on the intelligence warnings received well in advance “, he noted, pointing out that the people had been provided substantial relief and public servants given a Rs.10,000 salary increase, despite having to repay the massive high interest commercial dollar loans that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had obtained between 2010 and 2014 – the majority of which were pumped into ego boosting projects that had turned out to be white elephants.

Amaratunga said that the UNP was a party that represented all races in the country and was identified with the birth of an Independent Sri Lanka. Such a grouping he stressed “cannot and will not unashamedly resort to racism to capture power”.

Asked about reports that among the 744,373 spoilt ballots at the General Election, was a sizeable number of UNP votes, due to UNPers being disappointed with the split in the party and not wanting to support either faction as a mark of protest, the seasoned politician said “Yes, that’s possible.”

Asked if the UNP would now opt for a new leader, Amaratunga said that Ranil Wickremesinghe was not keen on hanging on, but to desert the party at the present juncture would also not be advisable. “The future lies with the youth. So, the process of grooming them has to begin now. For that, the seniors  have to remain at least in the short term “, he explained stressing that the UNP and the ” Elephant”, which rose majestically after the 1970 debacle to capture a five-sixth majority, would once again re-emerge as a strong force – as certain as the rising Sun in this transient world of politics.

Ameratunga hoped that the UNP and SJB would leave their insignificant differences aside and unite because their policies were similar and most importantly neither propagated racism as a means of capturing power.

Analysing the SJB’s electoral performance, he said it was cock-a-hoop, but in reality had helped the Podujana Peramuna obtain a two-thirds majority, which could have been prevented, if the SJB headed by Sajith Premadasa, had contested as a UNP-led alliance. 

The veteran UNPer pointed out that the party winning the Presidential Election, had always gone on to win the Parliamentary polls that followed. “Sajith knew he cannot become the Prime Minister this time. So the next best thing he should have done was to ensure that the Rajapaksas did not get a majority that would enable them to reverse all the democratic gains achieved through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The SJB was meant to be a UNP – led alliance with Sajith as its Prime Ministerial candidate, but he made it his alliance and in the process divided the UNP.”

It was evident at the general election that political parties based on policies were overtaken by political movements, Amaratunga noted, warning that it could lead to an unstable political situation in the years to come.

 



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PMB declines to release Rs 1.2 bn FD for paddy purchasing

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Treasury forced to bear responsibility for Rs 2 bn in loans

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said that the State Banks weren’t in a position to release funds to the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) as the enterprise owed them a staggering sum, running to over Rs 20 bn.

Due to the failure on the part of the state enterprise to settle previous loans, the Treasury has been compelled to accept the responsibility for repaying them, the State Minister said.

The Kegalle District lawmaker said so on the live political programme, Salakuna, telecast on Hiru on Monday night. The State Minister was responding to interviewer Chamuditha Samarawickrema’s query regarding the inordinate delay on the part of the government to implement the paddy purchasing scheme.

Referring to Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera’s abortive efforts to obtain the required funding, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that the Treasury was helpless.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya said the PMB couldn’t be faulted for the crisis as successive governments had directed the state enterprise to purchase paddy at a higher price, then ordered it to sell at a much lower price, thereby causing staggering losses.

The State Minister also acknowledged management level shortcomings and political interventions caused the ruination of the PMB.

The PMB owed the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank Rs 1,600 mn and Rs 690 mn, respectively.

The State Minister acknowledged that the issue couldn’t be resolved in spite of interventions made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Dinesh Gunawardena. Referring to a subsequent discussion he had with the Secretary to the Treasury Mahinda Siriwardana, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that the BOC has asked for Rs 1.2 bn fixed deposit as security though the PMB declined to do so. According to the State Minister the PMB asserted that it couldn’t forgo the fixed deposit as the

interest received was utilized for day to day running of its operations.

The State Minister said that the banks could release the required funding on the basis of a guarantee given by the Treasury. The lawmaker explained the inability on the part of the Treasury to give such a guarantee as further deterioration of public finance could have a devastating impact on the banking sector. Such an eventuality couldn’t be allowed, the SLFPer said.

The Minister acknowledged that the failure on the part of the government to launch a paddy purchasing scheme would dishearten the farmer community.

Chamuditha Samarawickrema pointed out that the private sector had managed their ‘operations’ in a much better way.

The State Minister said that the situation was so bad that of the recent Rs 93 mn public sector salary bill, the government could meet Rs 82 mn. The government had no option but to ask those state enterprises to pay salaries from their funds, pending repayment, the MP said, reiterating the Treasury couldn’t help the PMD at the moment.

Responding to further questions, the State Minister said that the government would definitely give priority to the PMD issue once they finalized public sector salary payments. The Minister urged the media not to pursue an agenda detrimental to the government’s recovery efforts. Asked to explain, the State Minister said that there had been accusations the government didn’t purchase paddy to clear the field for the private sector. The Hiru team pointed out that the banks had released substantial amounts to the private sector to purchase paddy. The Minister explained the banks tried their best to help but circumstances were such the government couldn’t help at the moment.

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PSC proposes amendment to Children and Young Persons Ordinance

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A meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure gender equality in progress. Among those present were lawmakers Rohini Kaviratne, Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Dr. Seetha Arambepola and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera (pic courtesy Parliament)

The Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure gender equality has decided to propose amendments to the Children and Young Persons Ordinance to consider all those below 18 years as children.

The PSC presided by its Chairperson Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle that met in the Parliamentary Complex last week also decided to replace the reference ‘young persons’ in the Ordinance and to rename it as the Children’s Ordinance.

As per the amendments every reference to “Children and Young Persons Ordinance”, “children and young persons”, “child or young person” and “age of sixteen years” in any regulation or rule made under the principal enactment or notice, notification, contract, communication or other document issued under the principal enactment shall be read and construed as a reference respectively, to “Children’s Ordinance”, “children”, “child” and “age of eighteen years.

Section 71 of the Ordinance will be amended, by the repeal of subsection (6) of that section establishing that “nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the right of any parent, teacher or legal guardian to punish a child or youth”.

The purpose of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance Clause 23 is to make orders for the establishment of Juvenile Courts for the supervision of juvenile offenders for the protection of children and young persons.

State Minister Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Members of Parliament Thalatha Atukorala, Rohini Kaviratne, Eran Wickramaratne, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Manjula Dissanayake, Secretary to the Committee and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera and senior officials representing the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms were present at the PSC meeting.

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80 houses destroyed in fire at Thotalanga

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The scene of the fire(pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

At least 80 houses were destroyed due to a fire that broke out in a highly congested area in Colombo on Tuesday (27) night. Around 220 people had been displaced, the police said.

The fire broke out at Kajeemawatte in Thotalanga at around 8 pm on Tuesday and it took firefighters several hours to bring the fire under control. Twelve fire engines were deployed, but many of the dwellings had been burnt out as approach roads were not wide enough for the vehicles to reach the fire.

Those who are affected are now housed in community centres and places of worship.

No casualties were reported in the incident. The police are yet to determine the cause of fire and the total damage to property has not been estimated still.

Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is on an official visit to Japan, has instructed Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake to take steps to provide immediate relief to all victims of the fire.

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