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Vasu defends constituents’ right to differ

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Prez chairs govt. group meeting:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has strongly defended the right of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) constituents’ to take up contentious issues in public.

Minister Nanayakkara told SLPP parliamentary group meeting at the President’s House on Sunday night (24) that their right to differ on matters of public interest shouldn’t be questioned.

Nanayakkara said so when Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi faulted some constituent parties for dissenting views on certain issues.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at the meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The meeting lasted for about two hours.

The SLPP held Sunday’s meet in the wake of some constituent parties of the ruling coalition asking for a discussion on the questionable agreement between the government and the US New Fortress Energy Company over the Yugadanavi power plant, etc. Sources said that initially, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa indicated that the issue could be discussed with the Premier but subsequently arrangements were made for the Sunday’s meeting.

The New Fortress recently announced that a definitive agreement had been executed for the external investment in West Coast Power Limited (WCP).

WCP owns the 310 megawatts Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo. The deal is also for the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo. In terms of the agreement, New Fortress will acquire a 40 per cent ownership stake in WCP. The US energy firm plans to build an offshore LNG terminal located off the coast of Colombo.

Minister Nanayakkara has said it is not unusual for members of a coalition to hold different views depending on the issues as they also represent the interests of the public.

Nanayakkara has pointed out how the left parties remained with the UPFA though they didn’t agree with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to enact the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Parliament passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with a two-thirds majority on 08 Sept. 2010, enabling the President to seek a third term among other things.

The SLPP constituents have differed with the government on several issues such as fuel price increases announced by Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila on 12 June as well as the abortive bid to transfer 49 percent of shares of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port to India and Japan.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the constituents’ campaign. He sought an explanation particularly as regards Cabinet approval for the controversial energy deal with the US firm, without a discussion among ministers.

NFF sources told The Island that their leader felt the urgent need to take up the matter to prevent further deterioration of relations among the coalition members.

Several parties including government ally the Jathika Sanvidhana Ekamuthuwa moved the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, respectively against the secretive energy deal with the US firm.



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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions

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Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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