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US Stakeholders urged not to be misled efforts to vilify Sri Lanka, its leadership

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Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Ravinatha Aryasinha has called on stakeholders in the US not to be misled by efforts of certain groups to vilify Sri Lanka and its leadership, and to pay heed to the facts and recognize the difficult tasks the Government has embarked upon in a short time notwithstanding grappling with a global pandemic that has crippled most of the world.

Ambassador Aryasinha made this observations when he addressed the 73rd Anniversary of Independence of Sri Lanka celebrated on 4 February at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C., with the participation of religious dignitaries, Mr. Dean Thompson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the US Department of State, with the Sri Lankan community and friends of Sri Lanka across the US joining virtually in view of the prevailing pandemic related restrictions.

The Ambassador, who detailed the Sri Lanka government’s priorities at present, and several dimensions of the Sri Lanka–US partnership, recalled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent congratulatory message to US President Joe Biden, where he assured that “Sri Lanka, under my leadership, based on the mandate received from my people, is committed to further strengthen and consolidate this multifaceted partnership with the United States, grounded in mutual respect, shared values and common interests”.

Noting that Sri Lanka-US ties today are multifaceted, he said the visit to Sri Lanka of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in October 2020, is testimony to the importance placed by the US Government on Sri Lanka. This visit provided a platform to discuss a number of areas of bilateral and regional importance to both countries at the highest level.  It also gave an opportunity to brief the Secretary of State of the initiatives undertaken by the new government to address Sri Lanka’s economic and national security challenges, to strengthen reconciliation, and to promote and protect human rights through domestic mechanisms – the details of, including that of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) pertaining to human rights, has subsequently been placed before the country and the world.

Ambassador Aryasinha who noted that on 31 January the Embassy took an ambitious step in launching the ‘Pan-US Overseas Sri Lankans (OSL) Network’, aimed at supporting OSL activities and to leverage their support towards realizing the interests of Sri Lanka in the US, said the core areas of focus of this Network would be – advocacy of Sri Lanka, economic advancement and socio-cultural engagement. Observing that he was encouraged to see the participation of OSLs from 27 States across the US and their commitment towards this new initiative, he said, the Embassy was in the process of expanding the ‘network’ to cover all States in the US. It would also be developing ‘nodal clusters’ across each State, in order to bring together OSLs to work collectively on the areas of focus identified. This network would also have overarching ‘interest clusters’ – including to engage with OSL entrepreneurs, youth, and academics, as well as to reach out to non-Sri Lankan ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’ throughout the USA. He was hopeful that this network would be a powerful vehicle in serving the interests of the OSLs in the US, keeping them connected with their motherland, and in ensuring that they become ‘catalysts’ in taking the US-Sri Lanka relationship to greater heights. Ambassador Aryasinha urged the support of the State Department, to engage the totality of the US based OSLs, so that they become a strength to both their host country, as well as to their home country.



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About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months

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Overtime gravy train for CPC refinery workers:

By Saman Indrajith

About Rs. 3,000 million had been paid as overtime for the employees of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil refinery, during the past few months, Parliament was told yesterday.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said that he had asked for a detailed report as to whom and on what grounds the overtime payments had been made and it would be submitted to Parliament.

Fielding a question asked by Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, Minister Wijesekera said instructions had been issued to regulate overtime.

MP Kiriella demanded to know why overtime had been paid to employees of an institution that had been shut down. “There are reports that over Rs 4,000 million has been paid as overtime to the workers of the refinery that was not functioning owing to the non-availability of crude oil. This is a crime,” Kiriella said.

Minister Wijesekera: “I made inquiries after I saw newspaper reports on payment of overtime to refinery workers. I inquired from the Finance Manager of the CPC. I was told that a sum between Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 3 billion had been paid as overtime. The refinery was not closed during the months of March and April. It was closed only during the last month. They had issued refined fuel on all seven days of the week continuously. When an institution operates full time in such a manner the employees would have to be paid for their overtime work. However, I admit that could have been done with some level of management in the payment process,” the Minister said.

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Wigneswaran claims RW accepted all his demands

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Head of the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), C. V. Wigneswaran told the media recently that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to all demands he had made, including the release of Tamil ‘political prisoners’, to secure his vote during last month’s Parliament election, to elect a President.

He made this statement following a meeting with the President in Colombo to discuss the establishment of an all-party government.

“We have made several requests and if the President is ready to comply with them, we will consider taking part in the all party government,” he said.

“We met him when he was Prime Minister. Before the parliamentary vote to elect the President, I made these demands and he agreed to them. That is why I voted for him. Now, it is for him to keep his promises. I am here to remind him of this,” Wigenswaran said.

Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister in the yahapalana government, vehemently denied that there were Tamil ‘political prisoners’ in the country. (RK)

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MPs are not immune from country’s laws – SJB

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By Saman Indrajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that the MPs were not immune from the Penal Code despite the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.

Premadasa said Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardane had claimed that incidents in Parliament could not be dealt with under the regular law.

“This claim sends the wrong message to people. Aren’t the provisions of the Penal Code or the Offences against Public Property Act applicable to the MPs? There were incidents in this Chamber during the 52-day coup conspiracy; some MPs damaged public property. There were investigations by the CID and also by Parliament.

The Secretary General announced the cost of the damage. When the process was on to prosecute those MPs responsible for the damage, political influence was exerted on the CID not to file cases against the culprits. It is against this background that Minister Gunawardane, in his position as the Cabinet spokesman, makes this false claim. His statement is sending a message saying that there is one law inside the Parliament and another outside it.

“He also claims that the Speaker decides whether these laws are applicable to Parliament or not,” Premadasa said.

Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that people were already against the MPs and this new wrong message would further exacerbate their anger against elected members. “The Cabinet Spokesman says that the MPs have a different set of laws while the people are dealt with by the country’s laws. That is wrong. We are also liable for criminal offences that we commit,” Rahuman said.

“The CID conducted an investigation and was prepared to file cases, but that was prevented through political influence. The Cabinet Spokesman’s statement is fueling public hatred towards the MPs. Please, request the Cabinet Spokesman to refrain from making such statements,” he said.

Minister Gunawardane said that he was only responding to a question raised by a journalist and the question was about fairness of cracking down on protesters for destroying public property, during anti-government protests, when MPs, who damaged Parliament, property under the former government, are yet to be apprehended.

Minister Gunawardane said as a public representative in Parliament for the last 33 years he had only explained that the law would be implemented against those engaged in violent activities during peaceful protests.

“I said MPs had Parliament privileges and the Parliament law. I also explained that MPs attending Parliament cannot be arrested as they are engaged in legislative activities,” he said.

Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said that the MPs had no such legal immunity. and Parliament privileges only cover MPs from being arrested while they are on their way to attend and when they leave Parliament. “Therefore, there is no law that says they are exempt from other laws of the country,” Kiriella said.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, agreeing with Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella, said that all other laws in the country applied to the MPs.

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