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SJB flays Prez for proroguing during worst-ever crisis

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By Saman Indrajith

The President should not have prorogued Parliament and left the country, which is faced with the biggest ever economic crisis since independence, the main opposition SJB says.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office, in Colombo, yesterday, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella said the President had been given powers by the Constitution to prorogue Parliament, but he should not have done so when the country was confronted with a crisis of this enormity.

“Given the severity of the crisis, the number of days of Parliament meeting should have been increased so that the MPs could discuss means and ways out of resolving this crisis. Parliament prorogation comes to us from the British Westminster tradition. During the period between 1940 and 1945 while World War II was prevailing, the British parliament was bombed 40 times by the Germans. Yet the British did not close their parliament. On some occasions during that period the British parliament met in a church nearby, because they needed to meet so often to discuss solutions for the crisis.

“When Parliament is prorogued, all committees stand dissolved except for three. Important committees including the COPE and COPA are dissolved. When the House meets again, we have to reappoint them anew and the government could delay that process too. This government has delayed for two years appointing a Sectoral Oversight committee introduced by the 19th Amendment. Whenever the matter is raised at the party leaders’ meeting, the Speaker does not respond.

“The COPA and COPE had been functioning well, exposing massive waste and corruption. For example, when the recent sugar scam had been exposed, the COPA asked for a report on the matter from the Treasury which duly submitted it to the committee so that everybody could learn that the loss of the scam was Rs 150,000 million. The committee chairman asked for a forensic audit report on the matter but even after months that report was not submitted. Now that investigation process would have to be started all over again.

“There is another issue of bringing a fertiliser ship from China. There is neither fertilizer nor money at the end of that deal. There is no committee to discuss this issue. The matter could be raised in the House but the government could evade it without giving a proper response. During the budget debate we raised many questions but none of them was answered by the government properly.

“There are reports that the government has commenced talks with New Delhi to obtain a loan of USD 1.4 billion to buy food, medicine and fuel. In return the government is going to give remaining oil tanks and some islands in the northern sea to India.

“Because of the prorogation around 1,500 motions and questions included in the Order Book would be dumped.

“The country is in a crisis. There is no collective responsibility in the Cabinet itself. We see ministers making their own statements and some have even opposed the government’s deals with foreign companies. Some Ministers even have issued affidavits against them. How a government could move forward in this manner?

“This government has no vision. For example, they created the fertilizer issue by expediting organic fertilizer use in the country which was promised in their manifesto to be done in 10 years. Later they attributed the failure to Covid-19. But everybody knows that the Covid-19 is not the cause of shortage of food, medicine, rising of the prices of essential goods, gas leak explosions etc.

“There is no price control. The rice prices are decided by the miller mafia. The government’s control of prices is the best indicator to show that it has lost control of the country.

“We think that the government should go for an election so that it could test the public opinion. Every democratic country holds an election every two years. We urge the government to hold the local government or provincial election soon.

“The media too should be blamed for the present crisis. It was the media that projected Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a super hero during the election campaign. For example, there was a press conference after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was named the SLPP Presidential candidate. He could not even answer some questions including those about the economy. He dodged and referred them to Mahinda Rajapaksa. The media should have highlighted that. They did not do so. If that happened in a presidential campaign in another country that candidate would have been forced to resign by people. How could one who cannot answer a question on the economy can run a country? What happened here is that the candidate got the chance to answer the question from someone else. That is similar to a contestant of the Sirasa Lakshapathi getting a lifeline. Now everybody sees the results and the media who covered that up too should be responsible for the present predicament the county is faced with,” Kiriella said.

Puttalam District SJB MP Hector Appuhamy also addressed the press.



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Booster shots: Poor public response makes GMOA contemplate legal remedy

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Lack of enthusiasm among the public to receive the booster dose was disconcerting, given that Sri Lanka had a long-established and highly functional immunisation programme, the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

By 20 January 2022, 64.56% of Sri Lankans had been fully vaccinated, but only 22.47% had received the booster dose, the GMOA said.

“At the early stages of vaccination against Covid-19 the public response was favourable. However, the current waning of interest might be driven by the myths and rumours regarding the vaccines. It is important to take measures to counter such misinformation by raising public awareness of the ongoing vaccination programme.”

“Legal action against those responsible for the spread of communicable diseases can be taken under the Penal Code”, GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said. “Provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance can be used against persons who do not comply with directions given by the proper authorities under the Quarantine Ordinance,” he said.

The GMOA said that several countries had made it mandatory to have proof of vaccination for entry into public places. The same thing could be done in Sri Lanka to ensure that more people got vaccinated.

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Govt., SJB haggle over procedure to rescue country

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB on Sunday said that it was wrong for the President and the government to seek the assistance of the Opposition to steer the country out of the present crises without creating a proper forum to obtain such assistance.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the latter’s third Policy Speech in Parliament last week had sought the assistance of the Opposition. “His speech is full of excuses. He sought our assistance but there is no forum to offer our assistance. The government too has asked for the same several times. If the government needs the Opposition’s assistance, what it should do is to declare a state of national disaster situation so that the Opposition could make use of Parliament as the forum for our contributions. That has not been done so far. The President and the government could make use of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act No 53 of 2005 to form a disaster management committee comprising the government and opposition MPs.

The President is the ex-officio Chairman of the committee, the Prime minister and the Opposition leader are there with 24 government ministers and five opposition MPs. In addition to that there are provisions to the involvement of the Chief Ministers of Provinces in the committee. If the government genuinely needs our support it should have started forming that committee. There are laws enabling the formulation of mechanisms to help people the government does not make use of them. We have been repeatedly asking the government to appoint that committee.

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Lord Ahamad plants kumbuk tree sapling during visit to Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

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By Ifham Nizam

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK, planted a Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna) sapling at the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary last week.

The Department of Wildlife said Lord Ahmad had been joined by the British High Commissioner in Colombo Sarah Hulton, Hasanthi Urugodwatte Dissanayake, Acting Additional Secretary of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry, Saman Liyanagama, Wildlife Ranger of the Colombo Wildlife Range, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Professor Sevvandi Jayakoddy, Senior Lecturer of the Wayamba University.

The planting activity was followed by a brief visit to the wetland and Prof. Jayakoddy, and Liyanagama explained the importance of wetland ecosystems as well as challenges in conservation and maintenance, while Dissanayake briefed him on the Sri Lanka’s pioneering work related to mangrove restoration and conservation, both at policy level as well as at the ground level.

Hasini Sarathchandra, Publicity Officer, Department of Wildlife Conservation said British High Commission in Colombo with the International Water Management Institute Headquartered in Sri Lanka, had already launched a project under the Darwin Initiative at the Baddegana Wetlands.  Similar collaborations are envisaged involving the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary.

Wetlands play an important role in our natural environment. They mitigate the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. Colombo is a city built on and around wetlands. Despite progressive loss and degradation, wetlands still cover some 200 km2 of the Colombo metropolitan area and suburbs.

The wetlands are fundamental to the well-being of the people of Colombo and its suburbs. The wetlands can reduce extreme air temperatures and make the city more live able due to evaporative cooling. The wetlands provide a critical land-mass which helps to maintain the richness of Colombo’s biodiversity.

The Bellanwila-Attidiya wetlands was declared as a bird sanctuary on 25 July 1990, due to biodiversity of the area and its contribution to controlling floods. The wetlands, which span over 930 acres, host endemic species and is a paradise for migratory birds. 44 species of fish including 06 which are endemic to the country have been identified in the Bolgoda River which flows through the wetlands. The wetlands are also home to 21 reptilian species, 17 species of mammals and 10 butterfly species. Bellanwia-Attidiya sanctuary falls within the upper catchment of the Bolgoda river basin. The Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary.

Selection of the location was also due to the close collaboration that Sri Lanka has with the Government of the UK on conservation of mangroves and wetlands.

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