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Vasudeva says whatever differences within the govt. will be finally managed through progress than discontent

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Welcomes scrapping ECT deal with India

by Suresh Perera

Whatever differences coalition partners have within the government of the alliance will be managed through discussion. They will all be finally managed on the basis of progress rather than discontent, says Minister of Water Supply, Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

“I think seeing eye to eye is not an easy expectation even in personal relationships. So in complex politics, it should be more than that. The difficulties of managing different points of view, what we do is to bring all dissension within a framework. We are working within a larger framework of a people-centered development program, a national development program, a national economy and further to keep the welfare state going within the democratic framework”, he said in an email interview with The Sunday Island.

“So within this larger framework there can be hundreds of points on which we can have different positions and different points of view”, the veteran left-wing politician and firebrand trade unionist said in response to a question on coalition partners within the SLPP fold not seeing eye to eye on certain issues, which has led to discontent.

On the Port City project, which critics have labeled as a “Chinese colony”, and whether he agrees or dismiss fears that over-dependence on the Chinese could spell disastrous consequences in the long term, the Minister said: Firstly, the description that the Port City is a ‘Chinese Colony’ is a canard, to say the minimum. Secondly, the people who have money to invest have invested in order that we may develop an area which will be a zone where restrictions don’t apply and free investments and investors can prevail to develop our country’s foreign investment situation.

“It is mainly a financial and banking District. The others are servicing financial and banking activities. I believe the Port City will help us in many ways in resolving our employment for the literate, digitally literate and middle level management employment and also mainly junior level workers. I don’t think there are no problems, there will be problems which we will all bring within the sovereignty of our country. The President will be able to do it on behalf of our people and in their best interest. That’s how I see the Port City”, he continued.

Q: The proposed handing over of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port to an Indian company as an “investment project” (the term used by the government) was scrapped following heavy resistance by port workers. Do you think Sri Lanka should have pushed ahead with the move, as planned, to develop the ECT with Indian involvement?

The workers in the port, the trade unions, the left leaning members of the cabinet, the Parliamentary Group of the SLPP and National Political Forces came together in opposing to the east container terminal, which has been nearly completed, being given away to an Indian company. Therefore, the matter of it becoming a source of major revenue to the port was not very far and therefore the alienation of east container terminal on the basis of a lease was not acceptable because it was inimical to our interest and the interest of the port revenue. I believe that we, as a nation, was right in standing up to support the scrapping of the ECT proposal with the Indian Company.

Q: What are your views on selling or leasing national assets to foreign interests in the name of “investments”? Do you think that, as a country, we have overstepped the mark, though it’s a fact that foreign direct investments that generate a foreign exchange inflow are important for economic progress?

The policy of our Government is not to alienate any of our assets, that policy stands intact. I don’t know why this question should have been raised; it has always been the policy to rent out or lease our lands for different projects; which ends up finally with the lands returned to the fold of the country. This is not a new practice. FDIs come on the basis of their equality that they bring into the country instead of having to depend on loans that does not have tradeoff between our national assets and foreign direct investments.

Q: As a coalition partner of the SLPP, are you happy with the performance of the government at a time people are complaining of the soaring cost of living?

The cost of living was checked during the festival season very reasonably by measures taken by the Minister of Trade, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, and this we want to extend. We decided in the cabinet to extend the period to the post-festive in the coming days and thus keep the cost of living at bay. I personally think, and am optimistic about the future performance of the Government.

Q: As a veteran firebrand politician, you have always championed the just cause of the workers in Sri Lanka. In this context, are you happy with the contribution made so far by the government towards the welfare of the workers?

I see a very positive approach on the part of the Government regarding the working people. In fact, the development program is known as the people-centered development program. There have been a number of decisions made to alleviate the difficulties of the working class and the working people. Therefore, I feel confident more than any other regime, this Government is going forward towards welfare of the workers and consolidation of their rights.

Q: For the third consecutive year, May Day celebrations have been called off due to the prevailing pandemic situation. Under the circumstances, what’s your message to the workers?

The workers must respect and understand the health regulations that prevail in the country which is in the interest in the whole country. Anybody who violates it, knowingly or unintentionally will be acting anti-socially. But as a worker of this country, we look up to the media and internet to extend our solidarity and greetings among our workers and their leaders. Therefore, it’s not only the May Day that we have not had. For three consecutive years, even our New Year and Vesak celebrations were curbed on that account. But May Day, being an internationally significant day for workers all over the world, the restraints on this celebration has to be undertaken and will be acceptable to all workers. As soon as the constrains are removed, the worker solidarity, unionization and the alliances will spring back into activity.

 

 



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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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