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SLFP leader issues veiled threat to govt. in Parliament

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By Saman Indrajith

Former President, and Polonnaruwa District MP Maithripala Sirisena yesterday reminded the government in Parliament that it had a two-thirds majortiy because the SLFP members of the SLPP parliametnary group were with it.

Participating in the third reading debate on Budget 2022, MP Sirisena said that there had been many instances in the past where some governments caused their own dowfall by attacking their coaltion partners. “I would like to stress that it is with the 14 SLFP MPs that the government has a two-thirds majority.

Responding to an allegation levelled by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, MP Sirisena said: “The Agriculture Minister has told this House that I live in a luxury house made by amalgamating three houses. I challenged him to prove it and promised to resign from my MP post if he would do so.

So far he has not been able to prove his allegation. What he said was a lie. When the expenditure heads of the President were taken for debate in this House last Tuesday, Mahindananda stated that the former President had used 200 vehicles. He also said that the expenditure of the Presidential Secretariat at that time was around Rs. 3.5 billion. Even if one uses a single vehicle a day, it would take a person 200 days to use them all. That allegation too was a lie. I had been allocated only four vehicles. They sling mud at me.

“I was accused of spending extravagantly when I was the president. During my tenure as the President, there were seven major projects under the Presidential Secretariat. None of those projects has been continued. Money was spent on those projects, which included national environment project, anti-narcotics project, national project to safeguard children and project to prevent chronic kidney disease, etc., those projects were very successfully implemented throughout the country.

“I too am an MP of this government. It is wrong to level baseless allegations of this nature against me. Do not let these issues drag long. All 14 SLFP MPs met on Tuesday and decided that I should make this speech, today. I also call on the Speaker not to allow MPs to use this House for mudslinging and spreading falsehoods,” MP Sirisena said.

State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera: It is not easy for us to remain silent when they sling mud at the former President in this manner. Mahindananda today is like a dancing peacock which does not know that its back is exposed when it performs dances raising its tail feathers. I call upon Mahindananda to dig deep further because he would find more to his own detriment.

“We have always protected this government as its members. If you want to hit us, do so but if you think you can get away by attacking our party leader this would not end without a major crisis. Maitripala Sirisena is a former President. He obtained the highest number of votes from the Polonnaruwa District. He did not come to this House from the national list.

Leader of the House Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: If an MP makes a serious statement which is wrong, then it should be clarified in his presence. It is the tradition that those who make the clarification inform beforehand the particular MP who made the wrong statement that he should be present in the House when the clarification is done so that he would get a chance to rectify his error. It is our belief that we can clarify any such doubt amicably. I do not think that former President Sirisena’s name was associated with any of these allegations. On Tuesday the way the financial allocations have been made to the Presidential Secretariat under incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was appreciated.

“There is no problem between the SLPP government and the SLFP. It is not right to interpret any misunderstanding as a problem between the two entities. The incumbent president has set a very clear and transparent example on his expenses and he is entitled to be praised. Whenever he went abroad, he took only the least number of officials. If he took with him any of his family members, he met those expenses out of his personal money. This is not a matter for a clash between two parties.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage: Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera made a statement while I was not in this Chamber. He had warned that if we dig deep in this pit there would be more smell of wrong doings. I too admit that. There could be exposures of many wrong doings if we dig deeper. There would be more uncovering of wrongdoings such as accepting cheques from Arjun Aloysius. Therefore I do not resort to talk of dirt digging.

I made a speech on the expenses of the former President and the incumbent President in this House. I spoke of the differences between the expenses. I spoke of the example set by the incumbent President to the country by spending less. We have a right to speak about the incumbent president. If the incumbent president has saved 17 billion rupees to the government coffers compared to the former president, then we have a right to talk about it and appreciate it. That was what I spoke about on that day. I table those expenditure reports in this House.

I obtained details about the official residence of the former president. I was not to speak about this. Since I was accused of lying, I table these documents too. We have no need to attack any party leader. I was called an agriculture minister who could not walk on a ridge (niyara) of a paddy field. We have walked on the ridge as well as the field. We have no need to attack you. But if we are attacked, we too are ready to respond. We have done nothing wrong. We are also not ready to act as eunuchs without a backbone. It is wrong to speak about this in my absence. I am not afraid of setting effigies in my shape on fire. Come what may, I will stand by this government’s decision.

MP Maitripala Sirisena: Mahindananda made a very emotional speech. As the former President I too have a right to respond to what he had said. We do not hit. Even if we are attacked we would not resort to counterattack but we look at the attackers with sympathy and equanimity. If we resort to attack we would not come down to your level. I must add that if we attack, we would attack in a different way.

“There is no problem with regard to statements made by Mahindananda on presidential expenditure heads. Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that the incumbent President has set an example. There is no problem pertaining to that. A comparison between my expenses and the current expenses was made to show that I spent more. I call on you not to throw stones while you are in glass houses. I too have set an example compared to the expenses incurred by the presidents prior to me. I set an example from 2015 with regard to the way the helicopters and airplanes had been used by the presidents prior to me. I must state that.

There is a question about what would be the wounds if we resort to attacks and who would receive them. . Today the government commands two thirds majority with the help of 14 SLFP MPs. We have seen many instances and their results when parties within a government clash with each other. There are examples since 1947. The first government formed after independence later broke into pieces because of enmity between allied parties. Sirimavo Bandaranaike faced the same in 1964. Her government suffered a similar predicament in 1975 again. JR Jayewardene continued in power enjoying five-sixths power in the House with the help of a referendum but the UNP too faced a split with Lalith and Gamini breaking away. It dealt the grand old party with a debilitating blow that the UNP cannot stand up even today. There had been another instance of a split during the times of Chandrika Bandaranaike. That led to the downfall of her government. In 2014 I left the party on many reasonable grounds to contest the presidential election as the common candidate. The then government lost. Governance and managing two thirds power in the House are matters that should be considered seriously and taken with a more open mind with more intelligence and experience.

This too is an alliance government. We too can make fiery speeches. But we do not resort to fisticuffs since we are very innocent people. Mahindananda Aluthgamage spoke to our Minister Duminda Dissanayake yesterday. When Minister Dissanayake had asked about this row, Aluthgamage told him that he made such statements to give some marks to the incumbent president. We do not give two hoots if you want to give marks to the president, but do not attack us. You may find many other ways and means to give marks to the president without attacking us. Remember we too are under the same president. We must act with restraint without creating problems within the government. We must keep our friendship. Mahindananada is a cabinet minister. I am a former President. Dayasiri Jayasekera is a former Chief Minister. We must address each other keeping our positions in mind.

“If you talk about my houses, it is better to talk about the houses of others too. I view the example set by the incumbent president in using houses is a good one.

Minister Mahidananda lied to the Cabinet. He lied to the President. He lied to parliament. He lied to people. He lied to farmers. He lied to consumers. It is owing to those lies that agriculture today is suffering from a crisis. That was the reason for the government losing its popularity.

Minister Aluthgamage: It was said that I made statements to curry favour with the incumbent president. That is a lie. I was also accused of being the reason for the crisis. I implemented the government policy. I too can talk about the Easter Sunday attacks. But I would not talk about that since it would hurt the former president. I do not lie. I am not a person who leaves my prime minister after promising him not to leave. It is not good for a former president to lie in the House.



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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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Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis passes away

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Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis passed away yesterday, while being treated at a private hospital. He was 90. He received his primary education at St. Bendict’s College, Kotahena, and at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. He was ordained in 1958 and was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, in 1968. He was appointed as the Bishop of Anuradhapura and as Archbishop of Colombo in 2002.

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