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US-based Overseas Sri Lankan Academic and Research Collaboration Network launched

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Ambassador Aryasinha addressing the gathering

The Inaugural Meeting of the ‘US-Sri Lanka Academic and Research Collaboration Network’(USLARCN) was held virtually on 15 August 2021. The Network was launched by the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C with a view to connecting with the academic community within the US, and leveraging their support towards Sri Lanka in academic collaboration, co-mentoring and facilitating access to US learning resources for Sri Lankan university students. This further expands the reach of the Pan US Overseas Sri Lankans (OSL)Network launched by the Embassy on 31 January 2021, with the broader aim of supporting OSL activities and leveraging their support towards Embassy efforts at realizing the interests of Sri Lanka in the US in political advocacy, economic empowerment, socio-cultural engagement, as well as in bringing unity within the SL community and reaching out to ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’.

Following the response received to a notice which was placed on the Embassy website and circulated among the OSL Network nearly two months ago, over 130 OSLs who expressed interest were clustered into 12 groups in the areas of Cultural Studies and Media; Business and Finance; Early Childhood Education; Team Science and Talent Development; Environmental Studies; Nutrition and Food Science; Chemistry, Physics; Engineering;, Computer Science and IT; Medical Sciences;, Social Sciences and Sri Lankan Studies.

Delivering the opening remarks, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Washington D.C. Ravinatha Aryasinha commended the significant achievements of Sri Lankan academics in the US and the pride they bring to Sri Lanka. He emphasised the importance of bringing the US-based Sri Lanka origin academic community together, to both support the education system and students living in Sri Lanka, as well as to ensure that those involved at the academic and policy levels in the US had a more nuanced understanding of Sri Lanka, and of Sri Lankans in the US. Noting that up to the end of the Cold War, institutions such as the East-West Center in Hawaii and a few other US Universities had catered to this need, he said that today such a full understanding was imperative so that we respond not only to ‘events’ in each other’s countries but to the related dynamic ‘processes’ as a whole. Ambassador Aryasinha said that he had, during a visit to Hawaii in May 2021, discussed this aspect with both the East-West Center and Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) so that a better appreciation of the full spectrum of multifaceted relations between Sri Lanka and the US can be better reflected in future collaboration. He hoped that the USLARCN will also take up the challenge to revive this tradition through their individual and collective endeavours.

Delivering the keynote address on the occasion, Emeritus Professor Wimal Dissanayake of the University of Hawaii and Leader of the Cultural Studies and Media Group, commended Ambassador Aryasinha for the new initiative under the Pan OSL Network, and recalled the different phases of US-SL Education Collaboration since the 1950s. He said that in the past there had been a steady stream of students, journalists, academics, policymakers and service personnel, who have attended long term degree programmes as well as seminars, and had benefitted from and contributed to the considerable cross fertilisation of views that took place, significantly around the East-West Center. However, he noted that “what you have today is a pale shadow of what it was 20 or 30 years ago, but still thanks to the efforts of the Ambassador, I think we are trying to revive it”. Noting that at present Sri Lankan scholars in this network are approximately 80% from the Natural Sciences, 15% from the Social Sciences and 5% from the Humanities, Professor Dissanayake recommended three conceptual criteria that could help future efforts; that it be inter-disciplinary in nature, that it focuses on knowledge exchange and knowledge utilization, and functions as a ‘Network’ with a structure but also flexibility.



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‘Ratwatte’s boorish actions unbecoming of a Minister’

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DEW alleges cover-up, warns of dire consequences

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Prisons Minister Dew Gunasekera yesterday (16) called for an immediate police investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s recent wild behaviour inside the Anuradhapura prison, where he issued death threats to two LTTEers incarcerated there.

Gunasekera pointed out that the minister had forcibly entered the Anuradhapura prison on 12 Sept. around 5.30 pm in the wake of the government turning a blind eye to his earlier drunken raid on Welikada prison on 06 Sept. Gunasekera served as the Prisons Minister after the end of the war in May 2009. The former minister stressed that on both occasions the State Minister in a state of inebriation had been armed with a pistol and was accompanied by several others. Law enforcement authorities couldn’t afford not to investigate the incident, the ex-minister said, referring to the presence of a woman among the crowd that entered Welikada and they went onto visit the gallows.

Prison sources said that Ratwatte had arrived at the Anuradhapura prison after being to week-long Sathi Pirith chanting ceremony at Anuradhapura sacred Mirisawetiya compound in order to invoke spiritual blessings for eradication of COVID-19 epidemic from Sri Lanka and the world. The pirith chanting culminated on the following day evening after conducting a special Buddha Pooja.

“Conduct a proper investigation or face the consequences,” the former General Secretary of the Communist Party told The Island, pointing out the responsibility on the part of the ruling SLPP to conduct its own inquiry.

SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam said that the matter could be taken up with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Chairman of the party on his return from an overseas visit. Lawmaker Kariyawasam said so when The Island asked him whether the party would initiate disciplinary action against Ratwatte.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, also a member of the SLPP, should brief the Parliament how he intended to address this issue, Gunasekera said. The outspoken political veteran said that the Police Headquarters should make a public statement on those incidents.

Gunasekera emphasiSed that the Anuradhapura incident could have been averted if the government took tangible measures in the wake of Ratwatte’s raid on Welikada prison several days before.

Alleging that the Prisons Department suppressed both Welikada and Anuradhapura incidents, Gunasekera questioned the rationale in Ratwatte being allowed to avoid a proper investigation by giving up Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation portfolio and also queried how Ratwatte could be allowed to continue as the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related Industries as if nothing had happened.

“I’m really disappointed and disgusted with the way the government handled Anuradhapura and Welikada affairs,” Gunasekera said.

Responding to queries, Gunasekera pointed out that the incidents placed Sri Lanka at an extremely embarrassing position at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ongoing 48th sessions.

Pointing out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) roundly condemned Ratwatte’s actions; Gunasekera said the government would have to face grave consequences unless a proper investigation was conducted. The government should inquire into those incidents taking into consideration the ongoing Geneva confab and the forthcoming UNGA.

The former minister pointed out that the Prisons Media Spokesman and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayaka denied any knowledge of the incident.

Gunasekera welcomed the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) launching an investigation into the incidents. Nihal Chandrasiri, HRCSL’s Acting Director – Research & Monitoring told The Island that the outfit initiated an inquiry on its own into the incidents that had taken place in Prisons. “Three Regional Coordinating Officers of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka visited Anuradhapura Prison on 15th September 2021 to investigate the incidents that took place on 12th September 2021. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will summon all the responsible parties connected to these incidents as early as possible.”

The CP heavyweight recalled how thousands of LTTE cadres and suspects brought under the military and the Prisons system at the conclusion of the war in May 2009 were protected. Those who had been campaigning against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC and the UN would exploit Ratwatte’s actions, the former lawmaker said, adding that the ruling party seemed bent on causing its own destruction.

Gunasekera said that recently Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne explained measures taken by the government to eradicate the underworld especially those directing the narcotics trade from within prisons. They assured the public of safety and security. However, Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons underscored the reality, Gunasekera said and called on the Prisons Chief to explain his failure to address the Welikada incident.

Police headquarters hasn’t so far issued an official statement on incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura.

Ratwatte was sworn in as the Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Minister in the wake of the Mahara Prison riot in late Nov 2020. Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Sudarshini Fernandoplle.

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CTU: ‘Grant demands of principals and teachers before school reopening’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The demands of principals and teachers should be granted before the government re-opens the schools, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) says.

CTU General Secretary Joseph Stalin told The Island yesterday that the Secretary to the Ministry of Education had said the ministry would use alternative methods to collect GCE AL applications. Usually, it was the principals who sent applications to the Ministry of Education, but principals had refused to be involved until their salary anomalies were rectified. “The answer to this problem is simple. Just solve our issues. The government can easily do it.”

Stalin said that principals and teachers unions had held several discussions with ministers but without success.

On Wednesday (15) the Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said that Grades one to six would reopen after two weeks.

Rambukwella said the government had decided to reopen the schools with fewer than 200 students first. There were around 5,000 such schools he said.

The Minister said so during a meeting with Health Ministry Secretary Major General Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Education Ministry Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera, Director-General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena, high-level officials of the two ministries and several representatives of the GMOA including its President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

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SL – India economic and democratic cooperation extensive – Speaker

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday said that the economic and democratic cooperation between Sri Lanka and India, both now and in the past, was significant.

Addressing the All India Presiding Officers Conference (AIPOC), organised by the Indian Lok Sabha through video technology, the Speaker said: “Parliament of Sri Lanka is the oldest parliament elected by universal adult franchise in Asia. As the largest democracy in the world how India’s legislature functions in a multi- religious, multi-ethnic society offers many valuable lessons for not only us as neighbours, but even to the scholars of democratic governance”.

The conference was held under the theme “The Role of Legislature in Fostering Effective and Meaningful Democracy” to mark the Centennial year of the AIPOC as well as the International Day of Democracy which is celebrated on Sept 15 every year.

The conference chaired by the Hon Speaker of the Indian Lok Sabha Shri Om Birla was attended by the President of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Duarte Pacheco. Hon. Speakers from national legislatures including Austria, Guyana, Maldives, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and Namibia also addressed the virtual conference. Presiding officers of state legislatures in India joined via video technology. The Secretary General of Parliament of Sri Lanka Dhammika Dassanayake was also in attendance at the conference.

Addressing the conference, the Speaker said that Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India addressed the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 2015 during his historical visit, which strengthened the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

The Speaker said that the Parliament of Sri Lanka has adopted a policy of open parliament with the intention of enhancing citizen participation and engagement in the parliamentary process.

He said that Parliament has taken steps recently to reach the public through the newly established Department of Communications. “It is expected to expand the knowledge on Parliamentary process and uphold democracy amongst the population particularly targeting the school children who are the future flag bearers of democracy,” he said.

The speaker said: “After the enactment of the Right to Information Bill, the Parliament of Sri Lanka took a decision to open the sessions of the committees to the media and this was a significant step towards strengthening the parliamentary democratic system that will pave the way for greater transparency and accountability. The Parliament of Sri Lanka has a vibrant committee system which plays a key role in creating a forum for the Parliamentarians and the Ministers of the Cabinet to interact directly in addressing many relevant issues which fall within their respective portfolios”.

He said despite the Covid -19 challenge Parliament has continued with its usual sittings even though the number of sittings days were curtailed to minimize the risk.

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