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SJB: Why has CID baulked at probing Litro Gas?

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… even after revelation of change in LPG composition

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) says that even after the top Litro management has been caught lying as regards the main cause of the LPG gas-related explosions, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has not conducted a probe.

Top SJB spokesperson Mujibur Rahman yesterday (6) alleged that the CID hadn’t at least recorded the statements of the top Litro management as regards a complaint he lodged with the CID on 03 Dec., with regard to gas-related incidents.

He said so at a media briefing at the Opposition Leader’s Office after having met a senior law enforcement officer attached to the CID. The former UNPer said that on behalf of the SJB he sought a clarification from the CID as to why no action had been taken against the top Litro management.

“Actually, we believed the report submitted by an expert committee appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would prompt a swift response from the government. Instead, that report has been shelved. Otherwise, how can one explain the CID’s failure at least to record the statements from senior Litro management,” the MP asked.

He said that Litro Chairman and CEO Theshara Jayasinghe had on 20 Dec., declared at a media briefing arranged by the President’s Media Division (PMD) that the Propane and Bhutane composition hadn’t been changed whereas on the following day the President’s committee asserted the primary reason for countrywide blasts was nothing but the change of the gas content formula.

Chaired by Prof Shantha Walpolage of the University of Moratuwa, the committee comprised Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG) Deshabandu Tennakoon, Prof Ajith de Alwis of the University of Moratuwa, Prof W.D.W. Jayathilaka of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Prof Pradeep Jayaweera, Prof Narayan Sirimuthu, Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission, Dr Sudarshana Somasiri, Additional Director General of Technical Services and Sujeewa Mahagama, Senior Deputy Director of the Sri Lanka Standards institute.

MP Rahman asked whether the government higher-ups had directed the CID not to inquire into the conduct of Litro management. Responding to another query, the MP said that the CID never bothered to record his statement though he lodged a complaint over a month ago.

The MP pointed out that the gas-related blasts erupted a couple of months back after the change of the top Litro management. The government brought in Viyathmaga activist Theshara Jayasinghe in place of Anil Koswatte. Recalling how Jayasinghe lambasted his predecessor at a hastily arranged media briefing at the Litro main office, MP Rahman asked whether the Treasury initiated a probe as requested by disgraced Koswatte.

MP Rahman emphasized the responsibility on the part of Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (retd.)Sarath Weerasekera to inquire into the CID’s conduct. The CID couldn’t ignore the fact that attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku has successfully moved the Court of Appeal against the two gas suppliers, Litro and Laugfs. In addition to the court action, several other organizations have lodged complaints in this regard with the CID though the country’s premier investigation unit remained inactive.

The SJB official said that it would be raised in Parliament later this month. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the advice of the SLPP prorogued the Parliament at the conclusion of the budget debate as the government was under tremendous pressure over a spate of issues. The MP pointed out that though the CID launched a high profile inquiry into allegations in respect of liquid fertilizer imports from India following explosive revelations in Parliament about Secretary to the President Dr. P. B. Jayasundera’s intervention in that mater, no one knew the outcome. The police even recorded a statement from Mahinda Illeperuma, the editor of ‘Aruna.’ There was another inquiry about an aide to the Public Security Minister and another aide of Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda hunting for LTTE gold, MP Rahman said.

The government and the police owe an explanation, the MP said, adding that similarly the public would like to know what the government did with a retired judge’s report on State Minister Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons. MP Rahman asked whether the CID at least recorded the Sate Minister’s statement in spite of a directive given by Minister Weerasekera to inquire into the incidents. However, that case had now ended up in the Supreme Court, the MP said.



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Professionals’ National Front opposes MILCO appointment

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… questions rationale behind Basil’s actions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Professionals’ National Front (PNF) has questioned the appointment of Renuka Perera as the Chairman of MILCO at the expense of Lasantha Wickremasinghe, a senior member of the outfit as well as an associate of the patriotic civil society outfit ‘Yuthukama’ organisation.

The ruling SLPP accommodated ‘Yuthukama’ leader Gevindu Cumaratunga on its National List whereas Anupa Pasqual also of the civil society grouping successfully contested the Kalutara district.

PNF Secretary and its spokesperson Kapila Renuka Perera told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to why Wickremasinghe who transformed the loss making public sector enterprise in spite of severe difficulties, was removed.

At the time Wickremasinghe received the appointment following the 2019 presidential election, Milco was reported to have suffered losses amounting to Rs. 2,000 million, the PNF spokesperson said. Thanks to Wickremasinghe’s interventions and the tireless efforts of the management team, MILCO earned annual profit of Rs 400 mn regardless of significant increase in the revenue received by milk farmers, Perera said.

Responding to another query, Perera pointed out that no less a person than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had also served as the Finance Minister till July last year emphasized the pivotal importance in transforming the public sector. Therefore, the recent removal of Wickremasinghe to accommodate Renuka Perera, the Administrative Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was contrary to the government position articulated by the Premier, the PNF official said.

Renuka Perera received his letter of appointment from Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the afternoon of January 20 at the Finance Ministry.

Acknowledging that public campaigns undertaken by the PNF since its inception in 2016 helped the then Joint Opposition (JO) now represented in Parliament as the SLPP, PNF Secretary Perera said they were quite horrified by the way the powers that be behaved at a time the country was experiencing severe economic difficulties. Declaring the public had lost faith in the parliamentary system, those who were skeptical of the concerns expressed by professionals should inquire into the sharp increase in the number of families, individuals, particularly the youth seeking to migrate.

Asked whether the PNF questioned the Milco appointment as Lasantha Wickremasinghe happened to be a member of the organization as there had been a number of other controversial appointments since Nov 2019 though they largely remained silent, the official pointed out their opposition to the appointment of Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India. “We raised the issue with the Parliamentary High Post Committee and campaigned vigorously against the former minister given such a crucial diplomatic posting. However, the political leadership thought otherwise,” the PNF spokesperson said.

Amidst the controversy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a statement defending Moragoda’s appointment.

The PNF official said that the SLPP Administrative Secretary being appointed as the Milco Chairman should be examined against the backdrop of a failed attempt to appoint him as Chairman and the board member of Litro Gas. However, an irate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rescinded a letter issued by the Secretary to the Finance Ministry S. R. Attygalle in respect of the top Litro appointment. Having done so, President Rajapaksa went to the extent of inspecting the Litro’s main facility at Kerawalapitiya in the company of Theshara Jayasinghe, the incumbent Chairman.

It would be pertinent to mention that Renuka Perera lost his position as Chairman, NHDA (National Housing Development Authority) last July when former lawmaker and convict Duminda Silva moved in soon after he received presidential pardon.

President Rajapaksa brought in Theshara Jayasinghe in July last year following the controversy over Litro successfully blocking government audits even after the Auditor General and the then COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) emphasized the need for state-owned Litro to undergo state audit.

Litro hired Romesh de Silva, PC and Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, who is also member of the Monetary Board to represent Litro in the controversial as well as unprecedented case, parliamentary sources told The Island.

Sources said that the government audit resumed after Theshara Jayasinghe replaced Finance Ministry appointee Anil Koswatte, who called Treasury Secretary Attygalle to inquire into allegations directed at him by Theshara Jayasinghe.

The PNF official said that during yahapalana administration the grouping strongly opposed ETCA (Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement) with India as well as SLSFTA (Sri Lanka Singapore Free Trade Agreement) and high profile US MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) project as they were inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests.

In a statement issued on January 20, the PNF also raised the appointment of Gamini Senarath as the Secretary to the President in spite of accusations as regards his culpability over the disastrous Chinese carbonic fertiliser deal that ended up with cash-strapped Sri Lanka having to pay USD 6.7 mn regardless of the rejection of allegedly contaminated fertilizer stock. The PNF spokesperson pointed out that a close relative of Gamini Senarath managed the Chinese exporter, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd’s local agent Chelina Capital Corporation (CCP).

However, following allegations in this regard, both in and outside Parliament late last year, Senarath issued a statement denying his involvement whatsoever in the transaction while declaring his readiness to cooperate fully in case of an investigation.

The PNF noted that the former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, too, had allegedly interfered in liquid fertilizer imports from India and a CID investigation was underway following him complaining against the reportage of the developments.

The PNF Secretary said as many others, they, too, were disappointed with the way appointments were made under controversial circumstances at different levels. Asked whether the PNF ever contemplated moving court against unacceptable actions of the government, the spokesperson pointed out that the creation of more than 30 separate ministries in violation of the Constitution was challenged and the case was pending in court.

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Udaya sounds dire warning

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Sri Lankans would have to experience daily power cuts up to four hours a day, if Sri Lanka could not secure a substantial USD loan by March 2022, Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila said yesterday.

Gammanpila said that the country should brace for any eventuality and politicians should lead by making sacrifices. The country was facing a forex crisis and a lot of other sectors would have to suffer if large amounts of fuel had to be imported to generate electricity.

“Monsoons will begin in April. When that happens we may be able to reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. It will be a struggle until then,” he said.

The only way for the country to have an uninterrupted supply of electricity is to secure a large foreign loan, the Minister said. If the country does not start enforcing daily power cuts now, there will be a crisis in the coming months, he said.

“Is it not better that we implement one and a half hour cuts from now itself rather than moving onto four-hour power cuts later? Should we starve for 28-days after stuffing ourselves from star-class hotels for two days? Or should we rather cook the meals at home?” the Minister asked.

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PHIs threaten to pull out of duties at BIA

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) yesterday threatened to withdraw from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) because a large number of foreigners arriving in the country do not adhere to health guidelines.

PHIs’ Union head Upul Rohana said that six of their members who were working at BIA had tested positive for coronavirus recently.

“A lot of foreigners and Sri Lankans who come from abroad seldom adhere to health guidelines. Often they do not wear masks. Thus, they are putting health workers and other staffers at risk. PHIs are compelled to communicate with almost everyone. This is a dangerous situation and we had repeatedly told health superiors about this,” he said.

Rohana said that PHIs at the BIA operated with minimal facilities. They did not have adequate restrooms and some powerful health sector unions had ensured that PHIs had to work under difficult circumstances.

“They have to stay in cramped spaces. So, if one PHI gets COVID, a lot more would be infected. This is a serious development. We again urge health officials to look into this. If nothing is done, we will leave our stations at the BIA,” he said.

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