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Ven. Gnanasara’s appointment: Sabry likely to quit justice portfolio

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

President’s Counsel Ali Sabry, the only Muslim among the Cabinet ministers, is likely to quit the justice portfolio over the recent appointment of Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera as the head of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to make recommendations in respect of ‘One Country, One Law’ concept.

Well-informed sources say Sabry, who campaigned alongside civil society group ‘Viyathmaga’, at the 2019 presidential election, is quite disappointed at the unexpected development.

Sabry, who appeared for Gotabaya Rajapaksa in several high-profile cases, including the controversial acquisition of MiG-27 fighters, entered Parliament on the SLPP National List. Sabry is expected to make an announcement after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s return to the country from the UK.

Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa has discussed the issue with the Justice Minister and advised the latter against taking a hasty decision. The Justice Ministry was not consulted as regards Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s appointment as the head of the PTF, sources say.

The Ven. Thera is the General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).

Justice Ministry sources said the announcement of Gnanasara Thera’s appointment had surprised them. “Initially, we thought it was a social media prank,” they said.

The PTF has been authorised to examine the work undertaken by the Justice Ministry.

SLMC leader and one-time Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem has questioned the rationale behind accommodating Gnanasara Thera, who received a presidential pardon during Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure while serving a jail term for contempt of court, in the PTF. The SLMC is a constituent of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the main Opposition party in Parliament.

Lawmaker Hakeem has asked whether the new move was aimed at strengthening the hands of those trying to cause further mayhem amidst pressure on the government to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.

The former minister said that such short-sighted strategies would only tarnish Sri Lanka’s image at a time the global Muslim community as well as other countries interested in post-war reconciliation process here were closely following the situation here.

Controversy has erupted over Ven. Gnanasara’s appointment as PTF head amidst speculation the monk may receive the national List slot of the Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya (AJBP) at the expense of Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera.

The AJBP on 16 Oct, informed the Secretary General of Parliament of its decision to expel Ven. Rathana from the Parliament. Election Commission Chairman Attorney-at-Law Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that Ven. Rathana would automatically lose his seat within one month unless the monk moved court against the party’s decision.

Pointing out that Tamils and Christians hadn’t been represented in the PTF, MP Hakeem said that Gnanasara Thera’s leadership to such a vital outfit wouldn’t be acceptable under any circumstances.

Yuthukama Chief Gevindu Cumaratunga, too, raised the issue at hand with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a recent meeting at Temple Trees.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Myanmar Prof. Nalin de Silva, in a statement, appreciated the appointment given to Ven. Gnanasara. Saying that he didn’t accept Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s views on some issues and the monk’s connections with certain persons, Prof Silva emphasised he was the most qualified to serve in that capacity.

Prof. de Silva said that the relevant the PTF should be headed by a Buddhist monk.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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