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SJB accepts SLPP’s A’pura challenge

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‘Hold LG polls as previously scheduled for March’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman says that Wednesday’s SLPP propaganda rally in Anuradhapura had contradicted their much disputed claim the Local Government polls couldn’t be held due to the threat still posed by Covid-19 epidemic.

Pointing out that the SLPP has launched a countrywide campaign regardless of repeated warnings that such gatherings could be super spreader of Covid-19, lawmaker Rahuman said therefore LG polls could be held as scheduled.

“We are contemplating seeking the Election Commission’s response to the ruling party’s Anuradhapura move,” the Colombo District MP told The Island.

Referring to the recent issuance of a gazette regarding the postponement of the LG polls previously scheduled to be held by the third week of March, 2022, lawmaker Rahuman challenged the SLPP to reverse it.

Now that Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the presence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at the Anuradhapura rally, had declared that the government was ready to face the Opposition challenge, the LG polls could be re-scheduled, he said.

Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon handles Provincial Council and Local Government portfolio in the absence of State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe who is overseas.

Lawmaker Rahuman said that State Minister Ranasinghe was on record as having said that Covid-19 epidemic had compelled them to postpone elections. Against the backdrop of the Anuradhapura rally, the government couldn’t skip scheduled LG polls on the false pretext of Covid-19 threat, the former UNPer said.

The Island sought an explanation from Chairman of the Election Commission Attorney-at-Law Nimal Punchihewa as regards the postponement of LG polls citing Covid-19 threat. Civil society activist Punchihewa emphasized that the gazette issued in that regard didn’t give any specific reason for the polls postponement. Punchihewa said that the EC was ready to conduct the election depending on the government decision. Responding to another query, Punchihewa said that postponement of polls was in line with the relevant constitutional provisions.

Lawmaker Rahuman said that the SLPP quite conveniently failed to address any of the contentious issues -ranging from ruination of Maha season due to hasty ban on fertilizer and agro-chemicals and the growing foreign currency crisis that had caused countrywide shortage of essential items, including medicine.

He pointed out that the absence of any of the ministers representing constituent parties of the SLPP indicated that recent issues, such as a section of the cabinet challenging the government in the Supreme Court over Yugadanavi deal as well as sharp differences over the economic crisis had affected the ruling coalition. Senior SLFPer Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva’s declaration against the move to tax ETF and the EPF couldn’t have happened at a worse time, the SJB MP said.

The SJB spokesperson said that cabinet minister Udaya Gammanpila’s admission that the country is in a debt trap contradicted the current dispensation’s stand on the present crisis. The government recently stripped Susil Premjayantha of his ministerial portfolio for criticizing the SLPP’s agriculture policy, MP Rahuman said. How would they tackle ministers Gammanpila, Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and now Nimal Siripala de Silva? MP Rahuman asked.

The government parliamentary group comprises145 lawmakers with the main constituent having 117 members. The second and the third largest political parties are the SLFP (14 members) and the NFF (??????members), respectively.

Lawmaker Rahuman said that if the SLPP was confident it could reverse its decision and pave the way for LG polls. However, if the SLPP continued to avoid LG polls on the false pretext of the covid-19 threat, it would underscore the crisis the government was in.

“Let the electorate decide,” the MP said, adding that the SJB remained confident of attracting the vote. He also dismissed claims of turmoil within the SJB.

Of the 54 member SJB group in Parliament, several have voted with the government on two controversial votes-on the 20th Amendment on Oct 2020 and the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill in May 2021.SJB dissidents ensured 2/3 majority for the government on both occasions.

MP Rahuman said that though the SLPP boasted of having a 2/3 in Parliament, it couldn’t have at least leaders of the constituent parties at the Anuradhapura meeting. “That is the reality. Their much touted 2/3 didn’t reflect in the current political environment,” the former UNPer said.



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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code

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by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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