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SLPP caused media furore over Ranil’s re-entry into parliament to divert public attention – SJB leader

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Kiriella: ‘Who wants to switch allegiance to one-man parliamentary group?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa says an increasingly unpopular Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is making a desperate attempt to divert attention from its growing woes.

A near two-thirds majority for the SLPP in parliament does not reflect the actual ground situation, Colombo District MP Premadasa, who is also the Opposition Leader says.

“Let me tell you. The government cannot overcome challenges by causing turmoil in the main Opposition. The SLPP seems to have conveniently forgotten how such despicable strategies failed in the past,” lawmaker Premadasa told The Island. The SJB leader said so when The Island raised the challenge he was facing with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s forthcoming re-entry into parliament as declared by the ruling party.

In spite of UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena declaring that Wickremesinghe would be nominated through its only National List slot, the party is yet to submit his name to the Secretary General of Parliament.

Noting the statements made by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and State Minister of Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment, Business Development Shehan Semasinghe in parliament on June 8, SJB leader emphasized the government was hell bent on diverting public attention. 

Lawmaker Premadasa responded to The Island from hospital, where he along with wife, Jalani are receiving treatment for  Covid-19.

Former Deputy UNP leader Premadasa said that the SJB absolutely had no issue with the UNP filling its National List slot. Pointing out that that vacancy hadn’t been filled for 10 months much to the disappointment of those who exercised their franchise for the party at the last parliamentary election in August 2020, the SJB leader emphasized the importance of the UNP being represented in parliament.

The UNP secured one National List slot at the 2020 general election, whereas the SJB secured 54 seats, including seven National List slots. One of its National List members, Dayana Gamage has already switched her allegiance to the SLPP.

Lawmaker Premadasa recalled how the SLPP boasted the passage of the 20th Amendment in Oct 2020 would restore political stability. The same lot repeatedly assured the enactment of the Bill on Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCECB) would be the panacea for the troubled economy.

SJB Leader Premadasa also pointed out the pathetic handling of what he called X-Press Pearl incident. Lawmaker Premadasa pointed out that the UNP missed an opportunity to take a stand on the dictatorial 20th Amendment and the CPCEC.

He warned the government that it couldn’t overcome challenges by propaganda efforts against the Chief Opposition party. Of course, some short-term political advantage could be achieved through such efforts, including social media offensives but contentious issues wouldn’t go away, the SJB leader said.

Having failed to fulfill aspirations at least of those who voted for the SLPP at 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, a desperate government was now looking for excuses. For the SLPP leadership, the Covid-19 seemed to be the panacea for its failure to address problems, Premadasa said.

The SJB leader questioned the rationale in having an online investment forum in the wake of the country’s worst ecological disaster triggered by mishandling of X-Press Pearl incident several nautical miles away from the Colombo Port City. The amateurish handling of the container carrier exposed the SLPP in spite of big boasts of professionalism, the lawmaker said.

The Opposition Leader urged the SLPP parliamentary group to mind its own business. “Why should they worry about the SJB? Have they forgotten the recent trouble among its ranks in the wake of a constituent party seeking a role for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the SLPP?” MP Premadasa asked.

The SJB leader queried whether the SLPP successfully addressed at least one contentious issue, instead creating additional problems for itself. There couldn’t be a better example than the unprecedented ongoing countrywide fertilizer shortage experienced by farmers, the SJB leader said.

MP Premadasa said: “What is of paramount importance is to ensure the wellbeing of the people. There is absolute policy paralysis that has taken place in the government structure. Absolute incompetence has become the order of the day, economic distress, loss of employment and livelihoods, environmental and  fertilizer issues bungling of the inoculation process, lack of government focus, and  governance by default. These are the real issues and SJB will represent the interests of those struggling to make ends meet as well as other sectors affected by bungling SLPP.”

The SJB leader said that the Opposition wouldn’t be distracted by SLPP strategies. The lawmaker said that it would be a grave mistake on the part of the government to believe it was a victim of social media. The media couldn’t be suppressed today because the public always took advantage of the social media platforms to express their views, the SJB leader said, urging the SLPP administration to review its policies or prepare to face the consequences.

Responding to what he called a fresh SLPP propaganda drive, both in and out of parliament, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella alleged that the government was in such a desperate situation it would do anything to distract public attention. “We were quite amused to see a Minister and a State Minister taking up the issues related to the SJB when the government is in turmoil over Covid crisis. The Shangri-La mess exposed so called much touted One Country one Law,” Kandy District lawmaker said. MP Kiriella denied there being a crisis within the party over Wickremesinghe’s possible reentry into parliament.

Ongoing social media campaign backed by some print media coverage was nothing but a ruse to cause trouble, lawmaker Kiriella said. Responding to another question, the MP asked who would switch allegiance to a party with one National List MP and no realistic hope of staging a comeback. “The UNP group in the last parliament comprised 106 members. Now the once mighty party with a 5/6 majority is down to just oner MP and we have no doubt it will remain so,” Kiriella said.

Both Messrs. Premadasa and Kiriella said that the public could ascertain the situation for themselves once the UNP filled its National List slot.



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MONLAR: Govt. has fallen for millers’ ruse

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Farmers would be harvesting their paddy by the time the government imports 100,000 tonnes of rice and it would lead to a decrease in prices they received from millers, Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) warned yesterday.

Addressing a post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday, co-Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the Cabinet had approved the import of 100,000 tonnes of rice to increase competition in the market.

Rajapakshe commented that successive governments had been importing large quantities of rice close to the harvesting period.

“Several large mill owners create an artificial shortage of rice when the harvesting season nears. The government responds by importing large quantities of rice, often of dubious quality.  The paddy prices collapse, allowing mill owners to buy paddy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and then the mill owners release some of the stocks they have to the market. Given that Sri Lankans prefer to eat Sri Lankan varieties and that the imported rice is of poor quality; no one buys the imported rice,” Rajapakshe said.

 The MONLAR moderator said that there was an assumption that the Yala harvest would be low because of the impact of fertiliser shortages on rice production. There had been reports that rice plants were yellowing and their growth was retarded due to a shortage of nitrogen.

 Commenting on the allegations that there was a shortage of fertiliser, Minister of Plantation, Ramesh Pathirana told The Island that by the next paddy season the government would be able to provide adequate amounts of compost fertiliser. “There will be some difficulties in the next few months. We must work together to face them. Everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good, but some think the government’s decision was too hasty. However, by the time the Maha season starts we will have enough fertiliser stocks. We are also ready to compensate farmers if there are issues in the current season.”

In response,  Rajapakshe said that it was not too late to address the issues that had arisen from nitrogen shortages and questioned how the government had decided that it needed to import 100,000 tonnes of rice, given that it had not studied the impact of fertiliser shortage on the paddy harvest.

“How on earth did they come up with this number? Obviously, this is a scheme to enrich a few businessmen, politicians and some officials. The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wants to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages experienced by the people,” he said.

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Wijeyadasa no longer considers himself govt. member

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, says he no longer considers himself as a member of the ruling party.

Asked to comment on his present status, the Justice Minister, in the previous UNP regime, said that he had stopped participating in SLPP group meetings since the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct last year.

Dr. Rajapakse, who entered Parliament from the Colombo District on the SLPP ticket at the August 2020 general election, voted for 20th Amendment despite his criticism of it. In the previous Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse represented the UNP.

Responding to another query, Rajapakse said that the SLPP had refrained from appointing him to any committee though he had in the past served and in some instances headed important outfits, such as the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

 The former minister alleged that the SLPP had caused so much turmoil that the country was now in a bind. Instead of taking the people into confidence the incumbent administration adopted strategies meant to suppress dissent.

 Commenting on what he called a severe economic crisis against the backdrop of the worsening Covid-19 epidemic, Dr. Rajapakse alleged that those at the helm lacked basic understanding to rationally address issues.

The former minister said that the government appeared to have ignored the growing threat of the EU going the whole hog in the wake of its parliament adopting a resolution against Sri Lanka.

The resolution expressed the concern of the European Parliament regarding the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka. It highlighted that the GSP+ status is linked to the implementation of 27 international conventions by Sri Lanka. The GSP+ monitoring process is conducted on a regular basis by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, the EU mission in Colombo told The Island.

The following is the relevant section from the EU resolution: “…Underlines that the GSP+ scheme offered to Sri Lanka has made a significant contribution to the country’s economy, from which exports to the EU have increased to EUR 2.3 billion, making the EU Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market; highlights the ongoing monitoring of Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status and stresses that the continuance of GSP+ trade preferences is not automatic; calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take into due account current events when assessing Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status; further calls on the Commission and the EEAS to use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA, to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.”

For want of a cohesive strategy, the SLPP hadn’t been able at least to rationally assess external and internal threats and take remedial measures, the MP said.

Referring to the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, MP Rajapakse alleged that the government was on an extremely dangerous path. The EU resolution reflected the Western thinking and the current leadership acted as if China was our main buyers. How could they ignore the fact that the US and EU countries remain major contributors to the Sri Lanka economy though our decision-making process was aimed at satisfying China.

 

 

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Geneva concerned about deaths in police custody, Shani’s safety

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The Sri Lanka Core Group has joined the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in calling for what it calls independent and impartial investigations into deaths in police custody. The six-member grouping led by the UK has also stressed the need to ensure security of former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, who recently received bail.

Abeysekera had been interdicted. The ex-CID Director has also figured in taped conversations with former MP Ranjan Ramanayake now serving a jail sentence for contempt of the Supreme Court, discussing how to fix certain court cases then being heard, especially against political opponents.

The following is the text of statement issued by Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi,

Montenegro and the UK at the 47th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): “Council resolution 46/1 called upon the Sri Lankan Government to address the harmful legacies of war and to protect human rights, including for those from religious minorities. We regret the lack of progress on these issues, with a number of further concerning developments.

The Sri Lankan Government has attempted to dismiss a number of emblematic cases and to initiate criminal proceedings against individuals pursuing some of these cases. This counters the Council’s call for prompt, thorough and impartial investigations. We call for former CID director Shani Abeysekera’s safety to be ensured.

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the recent intention to introduce a rehabilitation process lacking adequate judicial oversight. Human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, and poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem, remain detained without trial and further arrests under this Act have continued, including among minority communities and the political opposition.

We remain concerned about the restrictions on memorialization . We join the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in requesting independent and impartial investigations into recent deaths in police custody

We are concerned over appointments to the Office on Missing Persons and reiterate the importance of ensuring independent and credible institutions to achieve justice.

We encourage Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Council and OHCHR in relation to resolution 46/1 and stand ready to support this.”

 

 

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