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Veteran civil society activist nominated as Lanka’s HC in Canada; Viyathmaga academic to Russia

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Moragoda likely to take over Delhi mission in Aug

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Prominent civil society activist Harsha Kumara Navaratne has been nominated as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Canada. After the change of government in Nov 2019, Navaratne received appointment as a member of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. The Parliamentary High Posts Committee has been informed of the government decision.

Sources said that Navaratne had been proposed by the government following Canada’s refusal to accept retired Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias as the Sri Lankan envoy. Subsequently, that post was offered to the then Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, days before his retirement. He declined it.

Soon after the change of government, almost all heads of missions were asked to return home.

Ottawa is an important station against the backdrop of Canada, in its capacity as Sri Lanka Core Group member pushing war winning country on the human rights front.

Canada threw its full weight behind a new accountability resolution adopted at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council, sources pointed out, adding that Navaratne’s appointment could be a move in that direction.

The previous government appointed another prominent civil society activist J.C. Weliamuna, PC, as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia in Sept 2019. One-time Chief of Transparency International, Sri Lanka Chapter, Weliamuna succeeded respected company executive Somasundaran Skandakumar, who, too, received the appointment in August 2015 courtesy yahapalana administration.

Meanwhile, Senior Prof.(Mrs.) Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage has been proposed Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow accredited to Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Uzbekistan. The academic and Viyathmaga activist will succeed Prof. M. D. Lamawansa, one-time President of the College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka and the current President of SAARC Surgical Care Society (2020/2021).

Prof. Lamawansa, too, had been actively engaged in Viyathmaga movement that spearheaded wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry into the political scene, sources said.

Prof. Lamawansa succeeded Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke , who headed the Moscow mission from late 2018.

The former Vice Chairperson of UGC, assumed duties as the 1st Vice-Chancellor of the 16th National University, Gampaha Wickramarachchi Indigenous Medical University in March this year. She is married to Senior Professor Sudantha Liyanage, a leading Viyathmaga activist.

Harsha Kumara Navaratne, head of Seva Lanka had been one of those civil society activists involved in the Oslo-led peace process in the run-up to the Eelam War IV in August 2006. Along with Dr. Jehan Perera’s National Peace Council (NPC) and Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne’s Sarvodaya, Seva Lanka had been among civil society groups backed by a section of the international community, according to a report prepared by Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Bergen and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London on behalf of Norway.

The Foreign Minister, too, serves on the parliamentary High Post Committee. The 18-member Committee is responsible for appointment of all Secretaries to Cabinet Ministries, all persons proposed to be appointed as Heads of Sri Lanka Missions abroad and Chairmen of Boards, Corporations and other State Institutions. The Committee consists of Chamal Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dinesh Gunawardena, Johnston Fernando, Douglas Devananda, Bandula Gunawardane, Keheliya Rambukwella, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Vidura Wikramanayaka, John Seneviratne, Anura Priyadharshana, YapaVijitha Herath, Rishad Bathiudeen, Thalatha Athukorala, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Only four lawmakers represent the Opposition.

Retired Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema, who played an active role in Viyathmaga received appointment as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Pakistan.

Former minister Milinda Moragoda is expected to take over New Delhi mission in the first half of August. In spite of the finalisation of his appointment a couple of months ago, he has delayed taking over the mission due to the pandemic situation in India.



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Police detain Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect over domestic aide’s death

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Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect have been detained for interrogation in connection with the death of the 16-year old domestic aide.

“They are being held for 72 hours for further questioning”, police said.

The suspects taken into custody were identified by police as that 46-year old Sheyabdeen Ayesha, her father  70-year-old Mohammed Sheyabdeen and the broker who brought the girl to work as a domestic aide in Bathiudeen’s house.

The victim, a resident of Dayagama Estate off Talawakelle, was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on July 3 with severe burn injuries. She died on July 15.

Police have already recorded the statements of more than 20 persons in connection with the girl’s death.

Police have also questioned two women aged 22 and 32 from the Dayagama area, who earlier served as domestic workers at the former Minister’s house.

One of the women had claimed she was sexually harassed by Bathiudeen’s brother-in-law from 2015 to 2019 at the former Minister’s residence in Colombo.

Subsequently, police also arrested the 44-year old Sheyabdeen Ismadeen, brother-in-law of the former Minister.

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Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks

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After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn

by Suresh Perera

A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.

The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.

“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.

The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.

“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.

“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.

Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.

“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.

The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.

“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.

Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.

This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.

Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.

“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.

As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.

Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.

Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.

Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.

As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.

The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.

The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.

In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.

“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.

With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.

Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.

“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.

At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.

With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.

“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.

It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.

Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.

“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.

 

 

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United States gives Sri Lanka 500,000 coronavirus rapid tests

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The United States had donated 500,000 Rapid diagnostic tests to Sri Lanka worth Rs. 300 million to help the country fight Coronavirus, the US Agency for International Development said.

“By enabling rapid detection of the virus, these tests donated by the American people will save lives and protect public health in Sri Lanka,” USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Reed Aeschliman said in a statement.

“This donation builds on previous U.S. support to the Sri Lankan government’s pandemic response and reflects our strong, long-standing partnership.”

US has also given 1.5 million moderna vaccines to Sri Lanka.

The tests are simple to use and enable fast, decentralized access to direct testing. They do not require additional equipment or specialized laboratory access, which helps achieve high testing coverage.

The United States has also given of 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka’s health system.

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