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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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Appointment of GM led to CEB chief’s resignation?

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By Ifham Nizam

Amidst further deterioration of the power crisis, the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) M.M.C. Ferdinando has tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In a letter to the President, the Attorney-at-Law said that he is quitting due to personal reasons. Ferdinando will resign as Chairman/Member of the Electricity Board with effect from Feb. 1.

Sources close to Ferdinando said that the incumbent CEB Chairman did not want to be in that position following the appointment of Eng. Dr. D.C.R. Abeysekera as CEB General Manager. Abeysekera received his letter of appointment from Ferdinando on Tuesday (25).

Abeysekera received the appointment at the expense of Dr. Susantha Perera, whose designation as the GM on a temporary basis was resisted by the engineers’ union as he is a retiree.

Retired public servant Ferdinando was brought in as the CEB Chairman on July 19, last year soon after Sri Lanka entered into what was called a framework agreement with the US energy firm, New Fortress Energy. The agreement now challenged in the Supreme Court was finalised on 17 Sept, last year with Ferdinando endorsing it as an Advisor to the Finance Ministry.

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UK indicates sanctions against Lanka military

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By Shamindra Ferdinnado

Close on the heels of UK Foreign Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad’s three-day visit here, the House of Commons has been told that measures were being contemplated as regards the Sri Lankan military.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Minister Amanda Milling has told Parliament that the government regularly engaged with the US and other partners on issues relating to Sri Lanka. She has further said: “The UK government keeps all evidence and potential designations under the UK Global Human Rights sanctions regime under close review, guided by the objectives of the sanctions regime. We would not normally speculate about future sanctions targets, as to do so could reduce their impact.”

The Conservative Party member was responding to Labour Party’s Siobhain McDonagh on Tuesday (25). MP Milling was responding to a query McDonagh posed to the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Elizabeth Truss, what assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the sanctions imposed by the US on General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan army.

The US in Feb 2020 imposed a travel ban on General Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Recently, the US extended its action against the Sri Lankan military by issuing travel ban on retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera.

The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has commended the British stand.

Concerned Lankan military sources said that the UK in its capacity as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was planning further measures ahead of the next human rights sessions.

UK based sources told The Island that that type of written parliamentary question was usually answered by a government minister from the FCDO.

Sources explained as this particular question dealt with Sri Lanka, the minister responsible was Lord Tariq Ahmad, but as he represented the House of Lords he couldn’t make statements in the Commons chamber.

Sources added that it would be rare that a question on Sri Lanka would be directly responded to by the Foreign Secretary Truss

Commons member Amanda Milling is Minister of State for Asia, therefore her portfolio closely matches Tariq Ahmad’s brief.

Incidentally, the FCDO now has a British Tamil in a senior position. Maya Sivagnanam is South Asia Deputy Director for the Indian Ocean Region at the FCDO.

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JCPSM token strike cripples hospitals in Western Province

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Strikers want Health Ministry to solve their problems within 10 days

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Joint Council of Professions Supplementary to Medicine (JCPSM) launched a 24-hour token strike yesterday (26) at 7 am at all hospitals in the Western Province. It consists of 16 unions.

The JCPSM has urged the government to address its members’s grievances including salary anomalies and issues related promotions. The strike had crippled hospitals in the province, Health Ministry sources said.

The JCPSM said emergency care, essential services and the treatment of COVID patients had not been affected by the strike.

President of the Government Nurses’ Association and former UNP National List MP Saman Rathnapriya said they had been urging the government to solve their problems for the past two months.

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island that they would end the token strike by 7 am today m(27) and thereafter give the government 10 days to address their demands.

“We will launch a continuous strike if the demands are not met within 10 days,” he said.

President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that most unions seemed to have lost the ability to solve disputes through negotiations.

“The unions have become too politicised, and the people are suffering as a result.”

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