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Unfounded fears raised over future engine of growth, says Johnston



Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday said that the Colombo Port City would be a driver of growth and foreign direct investment and allegations of it being a Chinese colony were baseless.

Addressing the media after attending a Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival in Kurunegala, the Minister said the Port City would be another special economic zone.

“When the Katunayake free trade zone was set up under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission in 1978 under the leadership of Upali Wijewardene, the same fears were raised and some expressed concerns. Now, we have many Special Economic Zones (SEZ), including Export Processing Zones (EPZs), Industrial Parks (IPs) and industrial estates. We currently have 12 EPZs and two IPs throughout the country. These areas are considered vital for attracting investment and building industry and the fears raised when the Katunayake EPZ was set up were not raised when other similar zones were set up at Biyagama and Koggala. The Port City too is going to be an SEZ with tax exemptions and more latitude for the investors. Like in the case of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission, which later became the Board of Investment, for the control of the Port City a special commission is proposed. The government has submitted a Bill to Parliament for that purpose. Taking chunks out of that Bill the Opposition and misled parties are now expressing fears,” the Minister said.

Fernando said that an SEZ could not become a colony of another country. “The UNCTAD has identified SEZ as a ‘geographically delimited area within which governments facilitate industrial activity through fiscal and regulatory incentives and infrastructure support’ and such zones are widely used in most developing and many developed economies.”

In similar delimited areas, governments facilitated industrial activity through fiscal and regulatory incentives and infrastructure support. There were about 5,383 SEZs across 147 economies worldwide.  “None of those countries have lost their territorial integrity. Their SEZs have not become a threat to their sovereignty. We already have SEZs and India too has them. The fears being mongered are baseless.”

Asked for his comment on MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s recent statement that the Port City would become a Chinese colony, Minister Fernando stressed that nowhere in the Bill, did the government present a clause to imply that the Port City would be colonised by China. MP Rajapakshe should have raised his concerns at the SLPP group meeting instead of holding press conferences, the Minister said.

Fernando said land had been reclaimed from the sea near the Galle Face for economic purposes and not for people to fly kites.

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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament



Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.



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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert



By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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