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‘We formed a new political party because the UNP was not listening to us’  – SJB MP Mayantha Dissanayake

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By Saman Indrajith

The main opposition SJB, which marks its first anniversary tomorrow (15) expressed optimism of forming the next government within three and half years as the trust people placed on the incumbent government is eroding fast.

In an interview with The Sunday Island, parliamentarian Mayantha Dissanayake, the leader of SJB’s youth wing ‘Samagi Tharuna Balawegaya’, said the primary reason for forming the SJB was because “we felt that as a country we have to unite. There are political forces in the country that came into existence — some came to power by dividing the nation, while others were either very nationalistic or racist”.

He further said: “They wanted to get what could be termed the ‘populist vote’ and come to power. We felt that we have to be a uniting force in the country. We felt that we have to create a political force as Sri Lankans to be Sri Lankans. What is the Sri Lankan dream, what are the aspirations of young Sri Lankans in this country?”.

“We must be able to attract expatriate Sri Lankans to come back to the country. We felt there has to be a political party, a political force that is able to unite us as Sri Lankans without racism”, the MP stressed.

He added: “In those ideals, we felt that we have to have a political party that would do that. We wanted to create a party with the true ideals of the UNP. “We also felt that the UNP had drifted away from its true ideals and original vision. We wanted a political party. We also felt that UNP sitting MPs needed a young and dynamic leadership. We felt that leader is Sajith Premadasa, a true Sri Lankan, who loves the country, loves the nature and who wanted to something for Sri Lanka.

“We thought it was high time as the Grand Old Party was not listening to us in that light. So we felt we must create a new political party. That was the birth of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya”.

Dissanayake said the government has been in power for almost one and half years. The promises given and the aspirations of 6.9 million people who had voted for the government have not been fulfilled. It is really sad and pathetic situation politically where this country is heading. This government has fallen short of expectations. In fact they sold a nationalistic dream. They sold a fable, a myth, that this country was in danger and for national security Gotabaya Rajapaksa should come to power and has to be the President. That was the myth and the dream that was sold.

However, unfortunately the government has not fulfilled any of the pledges given economically. As a country, we are far worse than where he had been one and half years ago. Internationally, we are far worse than we were then. Forests are being cleared on an unprecedented scale. The President has given powers to District Secretaries through a circular on clearing forests. The original circular to preserve the forests was issued by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, he noted.

Earlier, Mahinda Rajapaksa asked the people to tighten their belts. The cost of living is skyrocketing. The rupee value against the dollar is depreciating on a daily basis. Where is this country heading? In spite of the people’s aspirations, the promises and pledges, the government has failed, the MP said.

“It’s not just one leader or leadership of the party that make all the decisions. We make collective decisions so we are looking at how can build the economy and how we will be addressing the aspirations of people”, he continued.

He said economically, the country is in a bad way. The government is printing money, saying there’s a cash flow problem. Actually it is a much worse than a cash flow problem. We are unable to borrow money from foreign sources that we have been borrowing.

There is no government to government development taking place now. The government is borrowing commercial loans which they cannot repay. So the economic situation is really dire, he warned.

“In terms of international relations, we are alone and highly dependent on China. We promise China many things at the cost of angering our biggest neighbor India. Then we have made many promises to India to balance China. By that we have angered other neighbouring countries. The government cannot really balance. Sri Lanka has been always balanced with regard to regional countries and super powers. I think the decisions are made in an ad hoc manner. In international relations, one cannot ad hoc in foreign policy. There should be a strong foreign policy on how we are going to deal with India, with China and with the Americans, Russians etc”, Dissanayake continued.

“We are also in a bad situation with regard to human rights charges against us in Geneva. The government has not sent anyone to Geneva. What I had heard is that the Sri Lankan delegation was to leave for Geneva but one of the prominent members of the delegation was denied a visa because of his human rights record. Therefore the entire delegation could not go. Therefore there is not anybody from the government in Geneva right now apart from our ambassador there to handle and negotiate. This situation could have been handled in a more professional manner if we had a better foreign policy”, the MP said.

All that Geneva is asking for is to be truthful about allegations on human rights violations. The easiest and the quickest solution for that was the LLRC report completed during the time of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. If we implement the recommendations of the report and take steps in the right direction, this problem would have been solved in a rather efficient and quicker manner. You must give the devil his due, he added.

“The previous government, the yahapalana government handled the international relations far better than this government. I am not saying that they were perfect. But they were far better than what this government is doing. And I think in a future government headed by our party we would with our experiences and our knowledge our contacts and our history we would do a much better job in our international relations than this government”, he noted.



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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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