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Trade Minister urged to initiate process of taking over SLIIT



Sirisena as President presented Cabinet for divestiture

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Communist Party lawmaker Weerakumara Weerasinghe says Bandula Gunawardena, in his capacity as the Trade Minister, should take the lead in regaining the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) divested through fraudulent means.

Appreciating the manner in which the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), under the leadership of Prof. Charitha Herath, had handled the inquiry into the SLIIT acquisition, Matara District lawmaker Weerasinghe said the onus was on the government to take remedial measures immediately.

 “We should go the whole hog,” MP Weerasinghe said, adding that the Cabinet could take over the SLIIT on its own or through an Act of Parliament. Asked to explain why the Communist Party felt Minister Gunawardena should initiate the process of reacquiring the SLIIT, MP Weerasinghe pointed out that the Mahapola Higher Education Trust Fund coming under the purview of the Trade Ministry had made the initial investment amounting to Rs 500mn in the project.

SLIIT has been described as a leading non-state higher education institute approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Universities Act.

MP Weerasinghe pointed out COPE disclosure that the SLIIT had declined to appear before the parliamentary watchdog committee. According to the COPE, Julius& Creasy Law firm has informed Parliament that SLIIT is not legally bound to do so. The COPE decided to summon the law firm to resolve the matter.

The Board of Directors of SLIIT consists of Prof. Lakshman L. Ratnayake (Chairman), Prof. Lalith Gamage (President/CEO), Prof. Nimal Rajapakse, Thilan M. Wijesinghe, Reshan Dewapura, Jehan Amaratunga and Fr. Harsha Cabral.

Responding to another query, MP Weerasinghe said that he had dealt with the issues at hand in Parliament last Friday (22) during the adjournment debate moved by the government on COPE reports submitted on March 10, 2021 and April 06, 2021.

MP Weerasinghe told Parliament Minister Gunawardena should immediately act on COPE disclosure. “All of us should be ashamed of what is going on in this country. In spite of repeated promises to eliminate waste, corruption and irregularities, corruption is on the march,” Weerasinghe said.

Responding to another query, MP Weerasinghe said that the privatisation process had been initiated in2003 during the UNP-led UNF administration. That process had been completed during the UNP-SLFP administration, the CP member said, pointing out that the then President Maithripala Sirisena had submitted the relevant Cabinet paper.

MP Weerasinghe said that the two COPE reports that had been debated in Parliament should be submitted to the Cabinet of ministers. According to him, the Education Minister, in his capacity as the Leader of the House, could submit those reports to the Cabinet of ministers to pave the way for their direct intervention.

Weerasinghe paid a glowing tribute to the Office of the Attorney General and COPE chiefs such as D. E. W. Gunasekera, Sunil Handunetti and incumbent Prof. Charitha Herath for taking action to curb waste, corruption and irregularities.

Lawmaker Weerasinghe said that parliamentary watchdog committees should ensure follow-up action on their disclosures. MP Weerasinghe said that a section of the then UNP governments (2002-2003 and 2015-2019) facilitated the gradual SLIIT takeover contrary to what was proposed by Ministers Kingsley T. Wickramanayake and Richard Pathirana way back in 1998. MP Weerasinghe said that the original plan was to make the SLIIT part of the University of Moratuwa. The governing board was to be represented by representatives from the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, Internal and International Commerce and Food, University of Moratuwa and the Mahapola Trust Fund.


Countrywide power outage act of sabotage, claim TU, officials



Unions suspect sinister attempt to call in military

Engineers say technical fault caused power failure

CEBEU suspends work-to-rule protest

By Ifham Nizam

The government was trying to pin the blame for yesterday’s countrywide power outage on the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) trade unions in a bid to call in the military, Joint Trade Union Alliance Convener Ranjan Jayalal said yesterday.

Jayalal told The Island the government’s attempt would tarnish the image of the military and that of the country, but such intimidatory tactics would not deter the CEB unions from continuing with their action against the questionable agreement between the government and the US energy firm, New Fortress, which has been allowed to acquire a 40% stake in the Yugadanavi power plant. “The government is trying to derail our trade union action, scheduled for December 08. Definitely the power outage was an act of sabotage. Two units of the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant and the one at Sapugaskanda had failed,” he added, insisting that the trade unions had nothing do with the power outage. He said union activists had sprung into action to restore power despite their work-to-rule, for the sake of the country and its people.

A senior independent electrical engineer said the power failure was an act of sabotage or attempt at sabotage. “It could have been a rehearsal that misfired,” he added.

Electricity supply in several areas in Colombo and its suburbs were restored around 2.00 p.m. Subsequently, the power supply on Anuradhapura-Habarana, Laxapana-Athurugiriya and Kotmale-Biyagama transmission lines was restored. However, even at 5.30 p.m. most parts of the Gamapaha District experiencing power failures.

CEB General Manager, Eng. M R Ranatunga sand disruptions to the power supply could be considered sabotage. He said CEBEU activists had been dragging their feet on power restoration.

State Minister of National Security & Disaster Management Chamal Rajapaksa said necessary action would be taken against the CEB engineers if it was revealed that the power outage was an act of sabotage.

Major disruptions to the electricity supply were reported across the country around 11.30 a.m. yesterday owing to a breakdown in transmission lines.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) said the water supply in several areas of Colombo and suburbs had been disrupted due to the breakdown in the power supply as the NWS&D is dependent on the national grid for pumping purposes.

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) last night said it had received a favourable response from the government to its demands and therefore decided to suspend its work-to-rule campaign.

The Island learns that President’s Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundara will meet a CEBEU delegation, next week.

A senior electrical engineer expressed concern about CEB General Manager’s statement that the power outage was an act of sabotage by the engineers’ union. He denied as baseless the official’s claim.

CEBEU Secretary Dhammike Wimalarathne confirmed that his union had decided to suspend trade union action following an undertaking given by the government to have talks with them.

Meanwhile, CEBEU President Saumya Kumarawadu, addressing the media, yesterday, insisted that the power outage had been due to a technical problem.

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Chamal tells Parliament if power failure is due to sabotage, culprits will be dealt with severely



By Saman Indrajith

Minister of Irrigation and State Minister of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management, Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday that the government was investigating the causes of yesterday’s countrywide power outage and if it was due to sabotage those responsible would be severely dealt with.

Responding to a question by Anuradhapura District SJB MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake during the third reading stage debate on Budget 2022 under the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Defence, the Minister said that the government would not tolerate sabotage.

MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake said that while the national security was being debated in Parliament the entire country was experiencing a power outage which could be considered a serious threat to national security.

He said all reservoirs were brimful and there was sufficient water to generate hydro power.

Colombo District SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the entire country was in dark and Parliament was sitting thanks to power supplied by generators.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the government had already called for an investigation and it would not hesitate to take necessary action on the findings of the probe.

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Committee on Public Finance meeting: one-third drop in next Yala harvest predicted



Members of the Committee on Public Finance recently recommended that if the import ban on rice, which was imposed last April, is to be lifted, it should be done only after a proper forecast of the coming Yala harvest.

The Chairman of the Committee on Finance Anura Priyadharshana Yapa pointed out that under the prevailing circumstances, the interest of the paddy farmers and consumers had to be taken into consideration.

In response to MP Yapa’s comment, the Imports and Exports Controller General revealed that, according to the available data, the expected Yala harvest is likely to be only 2/3 as compared to last year.

MP Nalin Fernando pointed out that if businessmen were allowed to import rice freely, the business community would be tempted to import more rice than necessary, driving the paddy prices down and affecting the farming community badly. Hence, the Ministry of Finance should intervene to prevent the local farmer from facing difficulties. MP Fernando also pointed out to the officials of the Ministry of Finance that it was important to make rice freely available at reasonable prices. Sri Lankans did not like rice imported from neighbouring countries, he said.

The Committee on Public Finance was urged to obtain approval for an Extraordinary Gazette Notification permitting the importation of Kekulu, Nadu, Samba and other types of rice as per the order of the Minister of Finance. MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said officials had to investigate the macro economic impact of such orders given without a proper procedural or logical assessment.

The committee members inquired from the officials of the Ministry of Finance who were present at the Committee meeting whether the 2021 Budget forecasts could be fulfilled. According to the statistics and data submitted by the officials of the Ministry of Finance, the committee observed that if only local funds were used to repay all debts, there would be an increase in interest rates in the near future and that would adversely affect the local private sector, (Dr.) Harsha de Silva said.

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