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SJB accuses govt of keeping university academics in the dark when preparing National Defence University Bill



By Saman Indrajith

The SJB yesterday alleged that the government had kept the university academics in the dark when preparing the draft of the General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University Bill.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and SJB Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said: “There are around 4,000 university teachers in this country. None of them has been consulted by the government when drafting the KDU Bill. This is outrageous. The university teachers should have been consulted first. This bill has been prepared by the Defence Ministry officials. None of the academics have been informed or asked for their opinion in this matter.”

Kiriella said that if the proposed draft bill was passed the KDU would become a fee-levying university and it could open its branches countrywide. That would be the privatisation of university education. It would create a network of private universities countrywide.

“At present, the state universities are under the University Grants Commission. The proposed bill is planning to set up a similar mechanism to manage private universities.”

MP Kiriella said that apart from the privatisation, the higher education sector faced the threat of militarisation. “We see nothing wrong with the KDU training and providing education for the military personnel. In other countries, there are similar colleges which offer courses for the defence forces. They could train and educate individuals to become military doctors, lawyers and administrators. But the institute proposed by the controversial bill is different. It offers 15 to 20 courses which would pass out graduates for the jobs in the civil sector. That is totally against the original concept of the KDU. The UGC the decision makers are PhD holders. The KDU draft bill proposes a management committee for the same purpose. More than 80 percent of that committee are military personnel. Our question is whether the army officers have intellectual or academic qualifications to run universities”.

Asked to comment on remarks made by government ministers that the draft bill was a product of the previous government, the chief opposition whip said, “That is a lie. As far as I know the defence ministry was in the process of making such a draft but we did not bring it to Parliament.”

Asked whether the SJB was against amending the Universities Act of 1997 to suit the present-day needs, MP Kiriella said: :We are not against amending the existing universities act. We know that some of the provisions are obsolete and out of date. But when amending an act of parliament a government cannot do it according to its whims and fancies. It has to be discussed with all stakeholders. During our government we set up a parliament oversight committee system to create forums for such discussions. This government has done away with them. When drafting a bill affecting the universities, the government should discuss it with at least the university teachers. The process of drafting the KDU bill was wrong. It was made by the Defence Ministry and then sent to the Cabinet, which had it presented to Parliament. It should have been discussed with university teachers and their opinions should have been considered on the matter.”

Former Chairman of the Weligama Urban Council Rehan Jayawickrama also addressed the press.

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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE



Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm



By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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