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UNP demands explanation for failure to lock down country

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By Piyasena Dissanayake

The UNP demanded to know from the government yesterday on what grounds that it could justify its decision to keep the country open while hundreds of people die daily from the COVID-19 virus.

UNP Chairman and former Minister Wajira Abyewardena addressing a press conference at the Galle District UNP office yesterday (15) said that none would be able to comprehend the rationale behind the government’s decision to not going for a countrywide lockdown against the calls by doctors, PHIs and WHO experts.

“The government is adamant. It has no intention of listening to anyone. When the coronavirus was first found in this country last year, our leader Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed a comprehensive set of guidelines but the government did not listen to him. Thereafter all medical experts, health authorities and even virologists presented their proposals which were similar to the suggestions made by the UNP leader. Yet, the government did not pay heed to any of those calls. Even now when the crisis had reached the level where people die in their hundreds, the government does not care. When the senior health officials warn of possible crisis this government would transfer them out. Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva was one of the senior most experts. He is a specialist doctor with 34 years of experience in the health service and years of experience in epidemics and disease control. He was transferred out when he was raising concerns of the possible dangers of the pandemic. He was sent to a place to look after cattle. Dr. Anil Jasinghe and Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara proved their competence in handling the crisis during the first wave of the pandemic where Sri Lanka was among the top countries in responding to the virus. They were transferred out. Dr. Paba Palihawadana is one of the senior most Epidemiologists in the country. She had been harassed so she joined the WHO. Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera too was chased out. Prof. Asitha Perera was forced to resign. Dr. Palitha Abeykoon was removed. Now without these experts and people of their calibre, the government COVID Task Force can even meet in a roadside boutique and make the decisions that they want.

“This is a serious situation and people are paying with their lives for the idiocies of the government. We demand the government to tell the nation its rationale behind keeping the country open contrary to the warnings by the health experts and doctors. What right it has to let people die in this manner? What scientific knowledge the persons who made this decision have,” the UNP Chairman queried.

Galle Municipal Council Opposition Leader Dilith Nishantha also addressed the press.



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Self-Employed Traders petition SC over govt. favouring liquor dealers

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By A.J.A Abeynayake

The Supreme Court has decided take up, on 04 Oct. for hearing a petition filed by the Association of Self-Employed Traders against the opening of liquor stores during the current lockdown.

 The traders have requested the apex court to order the government to allow members of their union to engage in business activities since the liquor stores had been allowed to reopen during the lockdown.

The petition was taken up before a three-judge bench comprising justices L. T. B. Dehideniya, Shiran Gooneratne and Janak de Silva, yesterday.

 The State Counsel appearing for the respondents said he had received the relevant documents pertaining to the case only last Friday evening. Therefore, the State Counsel requested the court to give him time to seek advice from the respondents who were many.

Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva, appearing for the petitioner at the time, said about 7,000 members of his client union had lost their livelihoods due to the decision by the respondents.

Therefore, Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva requested the court to give an early date for considering the petition.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided to take up the petition for consideration on 04 Oct and directed the lawyers of the petitioners to take steps to send notice to the respondents before that date.

The petition was filed by the President of the United National Self-Employed Trade Association G.I. Charles, its Vice President P.G.B. Nissanka, and Secretary Krishan Marambage.

The petition names 47 respondents, including the Director General of Health Services, the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of Excise.

The petitioners allege that under the quarantine law, the Director General of Health Services, who is the competent authority, issued a notice on Aug 20 prohibiting the opening of liquor stores.

The petitioners point out that steps were taken to open liquor stores countrywide contrary to the regulations of the Health Authority.

The Director General of Health Services, the Commissioner General of Excise and the Inspector General of Police have stated that they have not allowed the reopening of liquor stores.

The petitioners have also requested the Supreme Court to issue an order to the respondents to allow the members of their association to engage in business activities as the liquor stores are allowed to remain open.

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Lankan born newly elected Norwegian MP Gunaratnam calls for investments here

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Newly elected Norwegian Labour Party MP, Lankan born Kamzy Gunaratnam says she will ask the new Norwegian government to continue engagement with the country of her birth.

 Speaking at a virtual media conference on Sunday night, Gunaratnam said that she does not believe that boycotting Sri Lanka is the way forward.

“I don’t believe in boycott. There needs to be investments. Only that will ensure employment,” she said.

Gunaratnam said that she is also prepared to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if invited, for talks.

She said that Norway must continue to assist Sri Lanka through trade, education and in other ways.

Gunaratnam said that she will also discuss with her party and the new Norwegian Foreign Minister, as well as the Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka and see how best Norway can assist the country.

Gunaratnam said that Sri Lankans must also decide the best solution for Sri Lanka and not any foreign country. She said that Sri Lanka must not wait for foreign pressure to work on a solution.

The newly elected Norwegian MP also said that minority rights in Sri Lanka must be protected.

As a Norwegian MP she said that her main focus in the Norwegian Parliament will be to push for equality in Norway.

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Going to IMF best solution, says Ranil

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UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is necessary to mitigate impact of the growing debt repayment crisis; homegrown solutions are not effective.

“Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka’s debt problem has increased at a time when there is a global debt problem. This makes the situation more challenging and complex. Sri Lanka is a highly import-dependent economy,” Wickremesinghe said during a panel discussion, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka on Saturday.

The UNP leader said that the government shouldn’t sell state assets to ease off the shortage of foreign exchange to have breakfast but reinvest those proceeds back in the economy. “Going to the IMF is the best solution,” Wickremesinghe said.

With reference to homegrown solutions, he referred to the mess caused by the government in promoting Dhammika peniya as one of the failed measures earlier on to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka should use the current situation to forge ahead with structural and public sector reforms which were postponed due to political considerations in the past.

The former PM suggested that the re-opening of the country be delayed till mid-October.

In responding to the issue of debt management in Sri Lanka, the UNP leader said that the most pressing concern is addressing the dwindling foreign exchange reserves of the country.

He explained that the regional foreign exchange reserves were projected to increase over the course of the year, however, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were on a downward trend.

He also said that economic recovery based on a resurgence of the tourism industry would be uncertain, and until airline ticket prices were reduced it was unlikely that tourist arrivals would increase significantly.

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