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SJB flays SLPP over appointments to commissions

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) yesterday (11) questioned the composition of various commissions with the focus on the Police Commission, Public Service Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office, at No 30, Marcus Fernando Mawatha, SJB lawmaker Mujibur Rahman alleged that the commissions had been packed with those near and dear to ‘pohottuwa’ administration.

The Colombo District MP said that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution touted as the panacea for all our ills paved the way for politicization of commissions. Lawmaker Rahman said that the government owed the public an explanation why 80-year-old former Minister Jagath Balasuriya was named the Chairman of the HRCSL.

MP Rahman said that the new HRCSL Chairman’s wife Kumari served as the Governor of the Southern Province during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency and their son, Tharaka is the current State Minister for Regional Cooperation.

Rahman said that a near 2/3 majority received by the SLPP at the parliamentary election last August shouldn’t be abused. It would be a grave mistake on the part of the government to reward henchmen at the expense of the integrity of the commissions.

Referring to various other appointments to the commissions, the MP said that those who backed the SLPP at the 2019 presidential election and the parliamentary poll last August were accommodated much to the disappointment of those who really appreciated the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015.

The SJB member frowned on the appointment of former IGP Chandra Fernando as the Chairman of the Police Commission. Fernando served as a member of the PCoI that recently concluded the probe into political victimizations during the yahapalana regime.

Responding to another The Island query, lawmaker Rahman said that the Muslim community had been deprived of representation in the HRCSL. Recollecting the establishment of HRCSL in 1997 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presidency, lawmaker Rahman said that the body always included a representative from the Muslim community. However, the appointments made in terms of the 20th Amendment deprived the Muslim community their entitlement, the MP asserted.

Rahman said that he raised the issue in parliament recently in the presence of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC. The former UNPer claimed that Minister Sabry refrained from responding when he urged him to take up HRCSL matter et al with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Lawmaker Rahman pointed out that new HRCSL had been constituted when the one in place was yet to complete the stipulated five year period. If the SLPP administration desired to replace HRCSL or any other commission before they completed the assigned period, a motion should have been moved in parliament to pave the way for new appointments, the MP said.

MP Rahman alleged that the SLPP got rid of the 10-member Constitutional Council to pave the way for five-man Parliamentary Council which was nothing but a rubber seal therein to endorse President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s strategy. The SJB spokesperson also found fault with the SLPP for depriving civil society an opportunity to represent what he claimed was a well-balanced Constitutional Council chaired by the Speaker.

The Constitutional Council included three civil society members.

Former UNP Minister and one-time Chairman of that party Kabir Hashim, MP represents the Muslim community in the recently constituted Parliamentary Council. PC comprises Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Douglas Devananda and Kabir Hashim, who represent Tamil and Muslim communities, respectively.

Asked whether the SJB would request MP Hashim to take up denial of a Muslim representation in the HRCSL with the Parliamentary Council, MP Rahman said that the member did. “We’ll continue to raise this issue. Parliamentary Council cannot turn a blind eye to our just demand,” MP Rahman said.

The MP compared the HRCSL appointed by the Constitutional Council headed by Karu Jaysuriya and the incumbent body. Responding to another query, Rahman acknowledged that by the time he raised the HRCSL issue during debate on justice ministry, the appointments had already been made.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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