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Visiting couple draws government’s attention to glaring shortcomings

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Covid-19 response:

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government should re-examine the procedure in place to allow visitors from abroad amidst the rampaging Covid-19 epidemic as part of the overall efforts to alleviate difficulties, a Danish-Sri Lankan dual citizen told The Island yesterday (4).

The Danish passport holder now staying at a hotel in Kalutara with his wife said that even those who had been inoculated overseas and PCR tested negative immediately before leaving for Sri Lanka were subjected to 14-day mandatory quarantine.

The irate guest pointed out that in spite of them being tested negative on the first day of their arrival here, current quarantine laws forced them to remain at the hotel for the entire stipulated period.

They arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) from Copenhagen via Doha this week.

The Health Ministry owed visitors an explanation why those who had been inoculated abroad and tested negative twice within two or three days were compelled to stay in hotels.

Responding to another query, the Danish passport holder said that 14-day compulsory quarantine of those even tested negative seemed unfair, particularly against the backdrop of a pilot project being implemented in the Kalutara district to keep infected asymptomatic Covid-19 confirmed patients at home.

Assuring that they appreciated ongoing government efforts to bring the situation under control, the visitor warned of long term consequences of what he called unfair treatment of foreigners. “In spite of whatever difficulties experienced, we’ll visit the country. In fact, my having a foreign passport is irrelevant,” he said, adding however foreigners would find 14-day compulsory quarantine of those who had been inoculated and also PCR tested negative extremely discouraging.

Asked whether he felt comfortable with the procedures in place for foreigners and Sri Lankans visiting Sri Lanka, he said his wife carried a Sri Lankan passport. “Essentially, in our case, we were subjected to the same set of rules regardless of the different status of our nationality. The hotels involved in this project provide efficient service in spite of an extremely difficult situation.”

The visitor said that the government, particularly those in charge of the tourism portfolio, should be wary of unscrupulous elements taking advantage of the ongoing crisis. Referring to an online statement on www.army.lk dated January 15, 2021 made by Army Chief General Shavendra Silva who is also the head, National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), he said corrupt practices were admitted in the hotel quarantine process.

“What we want is to get those foreign arrivals a fair deal with decent meals, full care and accommodation at the lowest rate possible,” the army website quoted Chief of Defence Staff as having told a group of hotel owners/hoteliers/ hotel executives at a meeting held at NOCPCO premises on January 12th.

The Danish passport holder pointed out that General Silva was on record as having said that attempts had been made to collect money from hotels promising them guests. And some such instances had been thwarted, the guest said, demanding fleecing of visitors should stop.

According to him, when they first planned to visit Sri Lanka, accommodation for two at a particular hotel categorized as Level 1 was offered for USD 400(approximately Rs 80,000.)   In addition to that, the charges included (for two persons) 24 USD for insurance cover, USD 80 for four PCR tests and USD 55 for transport (BIA to hotel situated ten minutes away from the old parliament). Altogether, a stay in that hotel would have cost us USD 559, he said.

At that time, the above mentioned rates were offered, those arriving from abroad could have left the hotel within 48 hours if they tested negative, he said. But, due to sudden closure of the BIA, they hadn’t been able to come and when the airport was reopened, the government introduced 14-day mandatory quarantine much to their disappointment, the Danish passport holder said. But a two-week stay there would have cost 400 USD into 14 days, the visitor said, as they didn’t want to take that offer, those who facilitated the project offered two other hotels and they picked the one that charged USD 910 for 14 days full board (USD 70 per day). In addition to the hotel charges, PCR tests USD 160, insurance USD 24 and transport USD 70. Altogether, the cost came up to USD 1,164, he said, adding that when they arrived at the BIA, authorities therein didn’t bother at least to verify whether they had been inoculated.

The guest said that he obtained dual citizenship during the yahapalana administration. Although the Immigration and Emigration stamped his Danish passport with his dual citizenship status, the government didn’t issue a passport at that time. Responding to The Island queries, he said in spite of his dual citizenship status, he sought a tourist visa at a cost of USD 36.

The guest who had been living in Denmark for over 30 years said that the government should pay attention to cohesive tourism strategy or face the consequences. The Chairman of the Tourist Board Kimarli Fernando was recently seen on CNN urging foreigners under a bio bubble scheme, he said. Such a costly advertising campaign should be backed by an efficient system in place on the ground. According to him, though many people from Denmark visited the country on the day he and  his wife boarded an airline at the Copenhagen airport bound for Doha, they were the only ones visiting Sri Lanka. However several dozen joined them at Doha, almost all Sri Lankans to arrive in Colombo.

If the government was genuinely keen in putting in place a system to face the daunting post-Covid challenges, it couldn’t afford to address issues pertaining to the tourism sector, he said.



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People to get fuel price shock soon

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The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes  would be revealed soon.

The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.

“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.

Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.

The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.

The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody

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Report called by June 13

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.

In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.

HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.

Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.

Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.

Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause  in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.

Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and  March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.

Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.

In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.  

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.

The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.

 

 

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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.

Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions  too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.

“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.

College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.

“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.

“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said

President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.

Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.

“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely  to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.

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