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Trade Minister urged to initiate process of taking over SLIIT

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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.



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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