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Speaker, Opposition Leader cross swords over special statements

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, on Saturday, asked Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to refrain from causing an affront to the dignity of Parliament. The Speaker said so when the latter attempted to make a special statement after the former denied permission.

The Speaker said that the Opposition Leader had once made a similar statement and raised very similar questions and the Minister of Health and other ministers from the government had responded to them, and therefore it could not be permitted in the House. “In addition the same matter has been raised in various forms in the form of oral questions and as adjournment debates. The most recent instance was on Nov 13 when a debate was held on the same matter and the ministers have responded in detail.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Standing Order 36-O states that the same matter should not be raised again and again. I am not raising questions about COVID-19 but problems pertaining to lack of PCR machines and ventilators and antigen tests. I have never spoken about them here. So I have to state the ruling given by the Speaker is wrong. The Speaker deprives us of our right to speak. In addition the Speaker has limited the number of special statements we can make under the Standing Order 27-2 to two a week.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“The questions raised by the Opposition leader pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccines were answered by Minister Channa Jayasumana. Apart from the similar questions raised by him were responded to on Friday by Minister Namal Rajapaksa. You are trying to disregard the process and procedure in the House. I cannot let you denigrate the dignity of the House.”

The Opposition Leader:

“The Speaker’s opinion is completely wrong. This could be checked with the Secretary General. This is limiting the freedom of speech in the House. Please allow me to make the statement.”

Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena:

“The Opposition Leader should learn that a Speaker’s rule is not a matter for debate or questioning. The Speaker has given his ruling on the matter the Opposition Leader intended to raise. His actions cause the time of the House to be wasted. Therefore, I request the House should move on to the debate on the final day of the second reading of the budget 2021.”

The speaker announced that the House should commence its business for the day and Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando got up to move the House for the debate on budget proposals.

SJB Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara, raising a point of order, said the Opposition Leader had attempted to make a statement on a new issue. There could be many problems raised on the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only Minister Namal Rajapaksa, many other MPs in the House have paid their attention to the problem but the problem was yet to be addressed. This is an issue of national importance. If the Speaker would not allow this, it would set a wrong precedence.

SJB Ratnapura District MP Hesha Withanage:

“The number of questions for the backbenchers has been limited. The live telecast of parliamentary proceedings too has been limited purportedly for technical issues. The government has submitted a few questions while the Opposition MPs have submitted over 400 questions to be raised at the time allocated for the Oral Questions session. The number of questions per a day was 15 and now it has been brought down to eight. Today, there is no question time.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

Today is Saturday and it has been agreed not to allow questions on Saturday to give more time to the MPs to speak in the debate.”

Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri: “

We agree with the rulings of the Speaker. There is no argument about it. But the Speaker is a senior politician and former senior minister. I hope he will consider the matter that the Opposition MPs have raised over 400 questions on behalf of their electorates and allow more time to raise those questions. The Opposition Leader’s statement too is on a matter of urgent national importance, and we hope that it would be allowed.

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“I have not raised questions pertaining to rapid antigen tests or antibody tests or injections against the virus.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“How many times have you raised these issues in this House?”

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Speaker prevents us from raising questions because the government has no answers. The speaker is making use of his power to cover the government’s inability.”

Speaker Abeywardena said that the government’s ability or inability did not concern him.

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Opposition Leader has a right to raise questions.”

Speaker Abeyewardena: “

That right is ensured.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa: “

When would I be able to make a special statement again?”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“You will be given time next Wednesday provided that your statement does not mislead the House.”

Galle District SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara:

“I demand to know whether the question raised by the Opposition leader is not legal or the government has already decided that people do not need to know the rapid antigen test and antibody treatment because a certain group has already obtained them.”

Leader of the House Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: “

I request the Opposition Leader and his team of MPs not to disrupt the procedure of the House and respect the Chair. We regret their attempts to disrupt the process of parliament. Today, is the last day of the second reading debate. The Speaker has given a ruling on the matter and it cannot be questioned. The MPs should behave in the House responsibly. We act here in accordance with the agreement reached at the party leaders’ meeting. If the Opposition MPs have not been informed of those agreements then it is a problem of their leaders who attended the party leaders’ meeting.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando: “

No limit has been imposed on the questions. The number of questions has been reduced only during the budget debate and that has been done as per the request of party leaders to allocate more time for the speeches of all MPs. They wanted to give time to each MP to speak in the debate. It was agreed by all party leaders. The Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella is well aware of this agreement. It is not a problem for the government whether the opposition has raised 400 or more than that number of questions.

SJB MP Ranjith Maddumabandara:

The Speaker is a senior MP. He should not be swayed by his party politics or his personal opinions but give the rulings in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Speaker Abeywardena said that he had already given a ruling on the matter and had no intention of changing it.



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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code

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by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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