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SJB irked by football tournament held in contravention of Covid-19 guidelines

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Mujibur Rahuman says the Director General Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena owed an explanation as to how Football Sri Lanka (FSL) recently conducted the inaugural quadrangular invitation soccer tournament, at the Race Course grounds with the participation of over 2,000 spectators, in violation of Covid-19 guidelines.

Colombo District MP Rahuman asked whether the DGHS felt that mega events, organised by the government, wouldn’t pose a threat, though the Opposition was repeatedly advised against public gatherings. Congratulating the Seychelles team for winning the four-nation tournament, 3 to 1, in penalties, lawmaker Rahuman quoted Dr. Gunawardena as having told him when inquired that his Office was not asked for permission nor informed of the tournament.

MP Rahuman said: “We understand the DGHS’s dilemma as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the final along with Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa. If the Health Ministry is unable to properly implement guidelines, it should stop blaming the public for irresponsible conduct.”

MP Rahuman said that it would be interesting to see whether spectators would be allowed at the Sri Lanka vs West Indies cricket matches. Did FSL receive special status due to the direct involvement of Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa in this endeavor, MP Rahuman asked.

Responding to another query, MP Rahuman pointed out the recent unveiling of Sandahiru Seya built to invoke blessings on the armed forces, that took place amidst a large gathering in Anuradhapura.

The top SJB spokesperson said that the much touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept was nothing but a joke when the government flouted its own guidelines. The MP alleged that after the unveiling of Sanda Hiru Seya, several hundred persons were invited to the President’s House, Anuradhapura for Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa’s birthday celebration.

MP Rahuman emphasized that there couldn’t be a different set of guidelines for the SLPP and another for the rest of the country. The former UNP said that police headquarters issued daily statements of preventive measures taken by law enforcement authorities to curb the epidemic. However, the police provided security to the inaugural quadrangular invitation soccer tournament and facilitated the gathering of VIPs.

The Covid-19 Task Force, too, should look into this matter, the MP said, urging the government to set an example. Asked whether the SJB protests undermined current health guidelines, MP Rahuman said that the SLPP could not exploit the epidemic to suppress political dissent. The government and the Opposition could agree on a moratorium on major public activity, the MP said, alleging that the SLPP seemed only interested in curbing the Opposition whereas it continued with public events.

Health authorities have repeatedly warned of a fresh outbreak of the epidemic unless the people followed health guidelines. They point out that the daily average of about 500-600 new cases indicate a possible major threat.

MP Rahuman said that recently State Minister Dr. Jayasumana declared that the December could be quite dangerous against the backdrop of expert reports that weakening of efficiency of some of the vaccines administered here.

MP Rahuman said that those above 60 received a booster dose as all realized Covid-19 posed. The MP said that the government also considered making vaccination mandatory for all those entering public places. If the government was aware of the danger of another wave, it shouldn’t have allowed gathering of crowds at the Race Course for soccer matches, MP Rahuman said.

The SJB MP recalled how the government ordered inoculation of a selected group of Hambantota voters (20-30 years) with Pfizer much to the dismay of youth in other districts. The government went ahead with its plans regardless of GMOA’s opposition, the MP said.



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Collective Cabinet responsibility won’t be at country’s expense

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Udaya: We are ready to face consequences of revolting against backdoor Yugadanavi deal

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila says that in spite of being members of the Cabinet, he along with National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara, have supported the petitions filed against the government entering into a framework agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy in respect of Yugadanavi Power Plant, etc., as they strongly felt that collective Cabinet responsibility should not be at the expense of national security.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila emphasised they had challenged the Cabinet over the controversial agreement following careful examination of what he called a politically charged situation.

The Colombo District MP said that they were ready to face the consequences of legal measures they had resorted to. Minister Gammanpila said so in response to The Island query whether they could continue as members of the Cabinet after having objected to an international agreement, finalised by the government.

Gammanpila said that they had never tried to hide their intentions and they felt embarrassed by the way some in the government manipulated the very process that was meant to ensure transparency and accountability.

Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle, on behalf of the government, entered into an agreement with New Fortress Energy, a company listed in the NASDAQ, on July 7, 2021, two days after Cabinet decided on the matter.

Gammanpila said they had tried to settle the issue at the Cabinet level and at the government parliamentary group. “Finally, we were left with no alternative but to denounce the New

Fortress deal and then throw our weight behind those who moved the Supreme Court against it,” Minister Gammanpila said.
The SLPP repeatedly demanded that whatever the issue the constituents should settle it within the government parliamentary group and the Cabinet.
Minister Weerawansa told Parliament on 11 November that an Attorney-at-Law would represent the trio at the Supreme Court proceedings.
Responding to another query, Minister Gammanpila questioned the rationale behind bringing in a company that hadn’t been involved in the tender process in respect of a high profile project involving the West Coast Power Limited (WCPL). The minister said that the US firm had spurned the tender process as it received an assurance as regards the contract.

The US government pushed for the deal meant to secure 40 percent shares of the WCPL at a cost of USD 250 mn, Minister Gammanpila said.
The Cabinet memorandum as regards the sale of WCPL shares, in addition to the floating storage regasification unit, mooring system and the pipelines and the supply of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) is dated 06 Sept., 2021, months after Sri Lanka entered into FA with New Fortress Energy.

Asked whether the NFF, PHU and DLF would receive the support of other parties including the SLFP, Minister Gammanpila said that those who had pledged support for their cause remained committed and confident.

In addition to the NFF, PHU and DLF with a combined strength of eight MPs, the grouping against the New Fortress deal included the SLFP (14 members), CP (1 MP), Yuthukama (2 members) and Tiran Alles. Over two dozen elected and appointed members of the SLPP are against the New Fortress deal.

Of the smaller constituents in the government, the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) has distanced itself from the campaign against the energy deal.
Minister Gammanpila said that in his current capacity as the energy minister he had been compelled to struggle against the energy project as it posed a threat to the country. Referring to the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa sacking ministers, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayaka and G.M. Premachandra in 1991, Minister Gammanpila said that the UNPers sought the Supreme Court intervention. The SC ruled that in case ministers had been deprived of an opportunity to discuss some matter at the cabinet, they could do so with the public, Gammanpila said, adding that they pursued a strategy based on that SC position.

Minister Gammanpila said that Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to create a foreign monopoly in the gas supply to the country. The situation would be far worse as the proposed monopoly would be American, Gammanpila said, noting that in spite of entering into a spate of other agreements with foreign partners under controversial circumstances, the incumbent government seemed to have perpetrated an unpardonable act.

Minister Gammanpila said that the US energy deal would deliver a knockout blow to Sri Lanka’s efforts to tap gas in the Mannar seas. The consequence of this arrangement would be far reaching and devastating as far as Sri Lanka was concerned, the minister said. If the New Fortress deal was carried pit. Sri Lanka wouldn’t be able to bring in other investors to extract gas from the Mannar basin, the minister said.

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State and private sector union members on sick leave demanding Rs 10,000 pay hike

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Protesting workers blocking the entrance to the Presidential Secretariat yesterday morning (pic by Nishan S. Priyantha)

Members of several state, semi-government and private sector trade unions took sick leave yesterday (08) as part of their trade union struggle to win a number of demands including a 10,000-rupee pay hike and the cancellation of the questionable New Fortresss deal.

Unions of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Ports Authority and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) have pledged solidarity with the protesting workers.
The unions held demonstrations near the Parliament Roundabout and the Fort Railway Station.

They opposed the government decision to raise the retirement age to 65.
“There are over 25,000 postal workers and about 80% of them have joined the union action. This is the case in other sectors too,” President of Sri Lanka Postal Services Union Chinthaka Bandara said.

He demanded that the government increase their salaries through the budget 2022. “Otherwise, we will resort to sterner trade union action. The cost of living has gone through the roof and the Central Bank has admitted that inflation has risen sharply. Most companies in the private sector have reduced the salaries of employees and the allowances in the government sector too have been slashed. People will have to starve at this rate, “Bandara said. (RK)

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Contaminated fertiliser: Case to be taken up on May 09

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By Ifham Nizam and Chitra Weerarathne

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)’s lawsuit to stop unloading here of allegedly contaminated organic fertiliser, CA WRIT 476/2 was taken up yesterday before Court of Appeal Justices Achala Wengappuli and Dhammika Ganepola.

Taking the facts into account the Court ordered that the case be recalled on May 9, 2021.

At a previous hearing the court questioned the Attorney General whether the Government was in a position to assure that they would not allow the controversial load of fertiliser to be unloaded. In response to that request Deputy Solicitor General Nirmalan Wigneswaran, who appeared on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture informed the Court yesterday that the vessel carrying the controversial fertilizer belonging to the Chinese company has left Sri Lankan maritime space.

Senior Counsel Ravindranath Dabare, Ms Nilmal Wickramasinghe (AAL) and Ms Thushini Jayasekara (AAL) appeared for the petitioners on the instructions of Ms. Samadhi Hansani Premasiri (AAL).

In the petition. CEJ argued that organic fertiliser from any country could not be imported into Sri Lanka, under any circumstance, according to the regulations of the Plant Protection Ordinance imposed in 1981 and Plant Protection Act No. 35 of 1999 as it prohibit the import of soil particles, living organisms, any virus, bacteria or fungus cultures into the country, given that organic manure/compost is made of decomposing animal and plant parts, which could consist of pathogens.
However, when the samples collected from this controversial shipment were tested Sri Lankan authorities found harmful organisms. As a result, National Plant Quarantine Service did not issue any import permit particularly for this bulk stock of so called “Organic Fertilizer”, the petitioner pointed out.

It also said that based on those facts the Director General of Agriculture had issued a letter dated 22.10.2021, addressing the Chairman, Sri Lanka Port Authority, requesting him to prevent the berth of the vessel carrying this stock of Fertilizer at the Colombo Port and not to discharge any of its organic fertilizer into the Sri Lankan territory claiming it carried a huge phytosanitary risk to Sri Lanka.

In addition to this Ceylon Fertilizer Company also obtained an enjoining order (on 22.10.2021) from the Commercial High Court of Colombo against Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd; the supplier and the People’s Bank, preventing the latter from making any payment under the Letter of Credit opened in favour of Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd which has entered into a contract with Ceylon Fertilizer Company.

However, in spite of all these Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd officially informed The Director General of Agriculture that its consignment of fertilizer which was shipped from China on 29th September 2021 would reach Sri Lanka as scheduled.

The Center for Environmental Justice therefore had to file an urgent motion CA WRIT 476/21 on (25.10.2021) to prevent the stock of fertilizer from entering the country owing to political or public pressure.

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