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SLFP tells major partner how to resolve crisis

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Kotelawala Bill rallying point for Opposition

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has offered to support the proposed Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Act if the government met its four conditions primarily meant to ensure KNDU remained within the State University system.

The SLFP, in a missive dated Aug 3 addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made the following amendments to the KNDU Bill, namely (i) the KNDU should be under the University Grants Commission (UGC) (ii) those outside the military to be admitted on the basis of Z-Score rankings (iii) taking into consideration undergraduates had to pay for receiving education at the KNDU and making arrangements to provide them with loans payable later and (iv) civilians should be in the majority in the unversity governing bodies.

The SLFP parliamentary group consists of 14, including one National List member, Dr. Suren Raghvan. The SLPP with 116 seats on its own enjoys a simple majority in Parliament.

Office of former President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday (4) made available a copy of its letter to the President signed by Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, MP, Chairman of the SLFP committee that inquired into the simmering KNDU controversy.

The SLPP decision to go ahead with KNDU Act has triggered protests in Colombo and several other areas, including Jaffna.

Acknowledging the pivotal importance in addressing issues pertaining to University level education, particularly those who couldn’t enter State universities seeking entry into Universities even in developing countries, the SLFP has recommended the setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to examine the issue at hand within a specific period would be the most suitable measure. However, if the government wanted to move the matter expeditiously in Parliament, the SLFP believed the above mentioned four amendments should be included.

Lawmaker Siyambalapitiya told The Island that the party consulted the SLFP parliamentary group as well as several other stakeholders before reaching consensus on the KNDU Act. MP Siyambalapitiya said that the SLFP expected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pay special attention to the suggestions made.

Senior Vice President of the SLFP Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa told The Island that if there had been proper mechanism for consultations among constituents of the SLPP led alliance issues such as the KNDU Bill could have been easily avoided. Prof. Piyadasa emphasized that those in political authority should have consulted all constituents before it finalised the KNDU Bill and presenting it to Parliament. Responding to another query, Piyadasa pointed out why SLPP should do away with the practice of taking major decisions without consulting constituents. The academic cited the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct 2020 and the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill as two glaring examples.

Prof. Piyadasa pointed out how some sections of the Opposition exploited mishandling of the KNDU issue to such an extent that now trade unions affiliated to political parties brought dozens of groups under one banner. They had managed to cleverly mix teachers’ salary issue with the KNDU controversy, Prof. Piyadasa said, alleging the government allowed the situation to get out of hand. Tuesday’s violent protest on the road leading to Parliament highlighted the deterioration of the situation and the failure on the part of the government to address the issue at hand, prudently.

Prof. Piyadasa said that the government couldn’t ignore concerns expressed by the Government Medical Officers’ Association and the Association of Medical Specialists in that regard. Pointing out the government could easily resolve the issue by following the SLFP’s recommendations, Prof. Piyadasa said urging the government to respond to the developing situation swiftly and decisively.

Referring to a spate of statements issued by the Defence Ministry in that regard, Prof. Piyadasa said that the government should seek the backing of all political parties represented in parliament to expand capacity of State Universities.

He said that the SLFP recently discussed the matter with breakaway JVP faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP). Except perhaps for some pursuing agendas of their own, vast majority of lawmakers wouldn’t back the proposed KNDU Bill in its present form, Prof. Piyadasa said.

Piyadasa emphasized unnecessary trouble caused by the government’s shortsighted strategy couldn’t be resolved by resorting to police crackdowns.



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Inter-provincial travel ban to be lifted on Oct. 31

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Flagrant violations largely ignored during restrictions

ECONOMYNEXT – The ongoing inter-provincial travel ban will be lifted on October 31, the national COVID-19 prevention task force said, despite social media accounts – and sometimes pictures – of people openly flouting the ban.

The restriction was imposed in conjunction with an island-wide lockdown, officially known as a quarantine curfew, that the government declared on August 20 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Despite the lockdown being relaxed on October 01 as cases began to drop, the inter-province travel restriction has remained, at least on paper.

Critics, however, claim that people have been traveling – some even going on trips – around the country blatantly ignoring the ban, despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering the authorities to strictly enforce it from October 21.

“After a discussion among the task force on Friday (23), with the permission of the president, it was decided to lift the travel ban from 4am October 31,” Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva told reporters on Friday.

Silva, who heads the national COVID-19 task force, said all public transportation services will also restart on October 25 and will operate according to health guidelines.

Health officials have joined the chorus of voices lamenting the apparent lax nature of the inter-provincial travel ban. The public does not seem to follow health guidelines increasing the risk of another wave of the epidemic, they have said.

“The behaviour of the public is not satisfactory,” Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa told the privately owned Derana network in an interview.

“The public did not follow the guidelines in the first long weekend after restrictions were relaxed. It can again increase the number of patients to a level the health sector cannot cope with,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Gen Silva said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be administered as a booster dose for frontline workers in the health, military, police and tourism sectors starting November 01.

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North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: Dinesh

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ECONOMYNEXT – Northern and Eastern provinces saw the highest attendance of students, teachers, and principals when schools were reopened for the first time in six months, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Friday (22).

Classes from grades 1 to 5 recommenced at 5,059 schools with fewer than 200 students on Thursday (21) amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

Minister Gunawardena said the government was able to open around 98 percent of the targeted schools.

“Sixteen percent of students attended schools across the country, while 26 percent of teachers who signed their attendance,” Minister Gunawardena told parliament.

Principals showed up to work at 69 percent of schools with fewer than 200 students, in the island’s north, while 52 percent of teachers and 21 percent of students were present on Thursday, he said.

In the Eastern province, 67 percent of principals, 45 percent of teachers, and 39 percent of students went back to school on Thursday, he added.

In contrast, schools in the Southern and Western provinces saw lower levels of attendance from principals, teachers, and students, the minister said.

“We believe everyone will support the reopening of schools without any party or colour difference,” Minister Gunawardena said.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies.

The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

It is still uncertain if all principals will report to duty on Monday as some principals’ trade unions have said some of their demands including car permits and a mobile phone allowance have not been addressed yet.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day running on October 15 when they said they would start work from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

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Foreign Minister to launch Lanka-UK chamber of commerce in London

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by Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Foreign Minister Prof G. L. Peiris is scheduled to be in London this week starting from tomorrow (25) for a series of events including the launching the Sri Lanka-UK Chamber of Commerce, diplomatic sources said

During his stay in London from Monday to Thursday (28), Prof Peiris is to meet his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss and Members of the Houses of Parliament and Lord Naseby.

Sources said that it would be Prof Peiris’ first visit to London after assuming the duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The launch of the Sri Lanka – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to be presided over by HSBC bank. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Sri Lanka and a host of invitees including the representatives of the London Stock Exchange and De La Rue. The new Chamber is to be registered with both British Chamber of Commerce and the UK Companies House.

Prof Peiris is expected to complete his London visit on Thursday (28) and then to proceed to Glasgow to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to begin next Sunday (31).

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