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SJB MP Kabir Hashim appointed Chairman of Committee on Public Accounts

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SJB MP Kabir Hashim has been appointed Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA).

Chief Government Whip and Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told Parliament yesterday (6) that MP Hashim had been appointed to the post unanimously.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, too, have approved the appointment of Hashim as the COPA Chairman.

On Monday (03), Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced a 27- member COPA.

Other members of the COPA are MPs Mohan Priyadarshana de Silva, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, K. Kader Masthan, Dr. Suren Raghavan, Diana Gamage, S. B. Dissanayake, Tissa Attanayake, Rear Adm. (Ret.) Sarath Weerasekera, Wimalaweera Dissanayake, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, J. C. Alawathuwala, Ashok Abeysinghe, Buddhika Pathirana, Jayantha Samaraweera, Hector Appuhamy, Hesha Withanage, Major Pradeep Undugoda, Isuru Dodangoda, Wasantha Yapabandara, Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam, M.W. D. Sahan Pradeep Withana, D. Weerasingha, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Prof. Charitha Herath and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya.



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US shoots down airship over Atlantic

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BBC reported that the United States has shot down a giant Chinese balloon that it says has been spying on key military sites across America.

The Department of Defense confirmed its fighter jets brought down the balloon over US territorial waters.

Three airports were shut and airspace was closed off the coast of North and South Carolina as the military carried out the operation on Saturday.

Footage on US TV networks showed the balloon falling to the sea after a small explosion.

An F-22 jet fighter engaged the high-altitude balloon with one missile – an AIM-9X – and it went down about six nautical miles off the US coast at 14:39 EST (19:39 GMT), a defence official told reporters.

US President Joe Biden had been under pressure to shoot the balloon down since it first appeared in US airspace last week.

The discovery set off a diplomatic crisis, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling off an imminent trip to China over the “irresponsible act”.

The Chinese authorities have denied it is a spying aircraft, and instead said it was a weather ship blown astray.

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NHSL narcotics mafia: DG points finger at SLFP union, blames govt. for inaction

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Director of the National Hospital, Dr. Rukshan Bellana, who had to be rescued by the police recently as an unruly minor staff laid siege to his office and threatened to cause him bodily harm, yesterday (03) alleged that he was under threat subsequent to the exposure of what he called a narcotics mafia operating in government Hospitals.

In a brief interview with The Island the beleaguered President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) found fault with the government for its lethargic response to threats emanating from a trade union affiliated to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Responding to queries, Dr. Bellana alleged that a section of the minor staff was trying to force him out of the National Hospital at the behest of trade union leader Roy de Mel. “Contrary to reports and claims, I’m still here,” Dr. Bellana said, warning the government of dire consequences unless action was taken to discipline National Hospital staff.

Dr. Bellana emphasized that the SLFP trade union, under any circumstances, couldn’t be allowed to dictate terms to the health administration. The outspoken official said that the situation was so bad the National Hospital seemed to be in the hands of ruffians in the garb of trade unionists.

The Island raised Dr. Bellana’s accusations with the SLFP trade union leader De Mel who strongly defended their response to what he described as a wholly unnecessary issue caused by the Deputy Director.

There could be some drug addicts as well as drug pushers among the minor staff of the National Hospital, De Mel said, while referring to the recent reportage of the arrest of a minor female employee carrying heroin with a street value of Rs. 250,000 by the Katunayake police. However, Dr. Bellana for some reason only known to him had repeatedly slandered the entire minor staff, de Mel claimed, challenging the Deputy Director to prove his accusations.

Both Dr. Bellana and De Mel accused the Health Ministry of failing to address the issues at hand. Dr. Bellana said that for want of clear instructions from the Health Ministry, the SLFP union was trying to terrorize him. The official demanded that the ministry initiate a no holds barred investigation into the conduct of the SLFP union.

De Mel said that the Health Ministry owed an explanation as to how Dr. Bellana repeatedly exploited mainstream and social media to propagate his accusations whereas other doctors faced disciplinary measures. Reference was made to cases involving doctors at Kataragama and Karapitiya hospitals.

The trade union leader said that it wouldn’t be fair to declare the entire minor staff of the National Hospital drug addicts on the basis of a few cases or unsubstantiated allegations. De Mel pointed out that there had been cases of security forces and police personnel, including an SSP being arrested with narcotics. But such arrests didn’t justify calling the services and police drug addicts, de Mel said, urging the Health Ministry and law enforcement authorities to investigate Dr. Bellana’s accusations.

“We are ready to face investigations, at any level,” De Mel said, claiming that actually he took up the alleged drug issue among minor staff before Dr. Bellana went public with it. De Mel claimed that he appealed not only to minor staff at the National Hospital but other health sector institutions as well.

Dr. Bellana said that de Mel commanded about 200 minor employees whereas the total strength of National Hospital minor staff was approximately 3,200. The total staff consisted of 11,500 including 1,500 doctors and 3,000 nurses.

Referring to a recent appeal made by Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to police officers not to accept hampers from drug dealers, Dr. Bellana said that he expected law enforcement authorities to restore normalcy at the National Hospital. The police seemed to be hesitant to rein in unruly minor staff against the backdrop of a weary political response, Dr. Bellana said, adding that he briefed Minister Alles of the developing situation.

Dr. Bellana said that workers shouldn’t be allowed to threaten disruption of services. Alleging that some minor staff went to the extent of disrupting surgeries, Dr. Bellana said that the Health Ministry couldn’t turn a blind eye to the developing situation.De Mel claimed Dr. Bellana was practicing what he knows best. “He is causing chaos as he did under previous administrations.”

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Seven million Lankans in need of humanitarian assistance:UNICEF

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UNICEF has said seven million people in Sri Lanka are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the economic crisis.In its Sri Lanka Humanitarian Situation Report, issued on 02 February, the UN agency said essential services for children such as health, nutrition, and education have been severely impacted by shortages of medicine, food insecurity, lack of fuel and long power cuts.

In 2022, UNICEF reached over 1.3 million people, including 750,000 children with humanitarian assistance through humanitarian interventions.Over 800,000 people in urban areas have access to safe drinking water, 285,403 children in rural and estate areas were provided with educational materials, and 205,000 adolescents benefited from mental health and psychosocial support services in communities and in schools through UNICEF initiatives, the report said.

UNICEF also piloted a humanitarian cash transfers program which reached 3,010 mothers with young children for three months in the Colombo municipal area in 2022.

This is to be further scaled up to reach 110,000 mothers and caregivers in 2023, the report said.It said that in 2022, UNICEF appealed for 25 million U.S. dollars to provide life-saving humanitarian services to nearly 2.8 million Sri Lankans, including 1.7 million children affected by the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

UNICEF received USD 34 million, however there is uneven distribution of funding received, it said.

UNICEF said: “Some sectors (Education, WASH and Child Protection) remain significantly underfunded, while others (Nutrition and Social Protection) have received almost triple the asked amount. This situation highlights the need for fresh funding into 2023 particularly for the underfunded sectors. In addition, the generous contribution to the cash-based programming was only made available in the fall.

UNICEF Sri Lanka Country Office launched its Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) on 10 June 2022 aligned with the UN inter-agency Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) appeal for Sri Lanka. The HAC has been funded thanks to the generous contributions of bilateral, public, and private donors. UNICEF expresses its sincere gratitude to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, USAID, the Central Emergency Response Fund, UNICEF USA, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (UK) and Global Thematic Humanitarian Funds and many others for their generous contributions, without which UNICEF could not meet the most pressing needs of woman, children, and most vulnerable populations affected by the worst economic crisis the country has experienced since independence. While the HNP expired in December 2022, the need for continued funding to sustain prevailing humanitarian needs post-HNP is critical.”

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