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Wimal accuses UN of playing politics

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, yesterday (15) accused the UN of playing politics with the controversy over the cremation of all those who died of COVID-19.

Minister Weerawansa said so when The Island sought his opinion on the UN recently requesting Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to do away with the existing restrictions.

Minister Weerawansa emphasised that there couldn’t be justification whatsoever in UN intervention as the situation took a turn for the worse over the past several days.

With the death toll now beyond 50 and positive cases over 16,000 the country couldn’t risk a further deterioration, lawmaker Weerawansa said. Responding to another query, Minister Weerawansa pointed out that UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo Ms Hanaa Singer wouldn’t have intervened without consulting New York.

The NFF leader said that Ms. Singer copied her Nov 12 dated missive to Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. Minister Weerawansa questioned the UN’s assertion that ‘negative consequences of not allowing burials seem to outweigh any potential epidemiological benefit, the country has gained.’

The NFF has six MPs among 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

“I fear that not allowing burials is having a negative effect on social cohesion and, more importantly, could also adversely impact the measures for containing the spread of the virus as it may discourage people to access medical care when they have symptoms or history of contact,” Ms Singer said, claiming that she intervened in this matter after receiving many appeals within and outside the Muslim community that the current policy is discriminatory.

Minister Weerawansa compared the UN Resident Coordinator’s claim of having received ‘impassioned appeals’ with moving Geneva resolution on the basis of unverified war crimes accusations. If the UN was so concerned wouldn’t it better for them to make inquiries instead of releasing letters to the public, Minister Weerawansa asked.

Minister Weerawansa alleged that the UN had conveniently forgotten the restrictions affected all communities regardless of faith. Unfortunately, the UN raised the issue with Premier Rajapaksa as if restrictions only affected the Muslim community. The NFF leader said that many an eyebrow was raised recently over the UK condemning the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday attack suspect, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. Minister Weerawansa said that the contentious issue has been raised at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), while the matter was pending before the country’s highest court.

The Cabinet also discussed the British government criticism of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the 30/1 accountability resolution and current human rights situation in Sri Lanka et al.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly difficult operating environment.

A British statement quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Minister Weerawansa said that unless the government successfully countered the latest UN move, Sri Lanka’s corona health guidelines, too, could end up a subject matter in Geneva.

Asked whether the cabinet of ministers discussed the Ms Singer’s letter, Minister Weerawansa said that

Premier Rajapaksa’s Office received the letter after last week’s cabinet meeting.

Minister Weerawansa reiterated that the cabinet could discuss anything though decision on health guidelines was certainly not the prerogative of the cabinet.

“We are in such a crisis, no sane political leadership will pursue political agenda at the expense of the well-being of the country,” lawmaker Weerawansa said.

Minister explained that the UN’s intervention should be examined against the backdrop of the global health community yet to reach conclusive decisions on rampaging coronavirus. The bottom line is that in the absence of consensus on how to tackle the epidemic, Sri Lanka shouldn’t under any circumstances adopt measures that could endanger the overall response to the unprecedented viral threat.

Minister Weerawansa emphasized that the discussion pertaining to the possibility of burying bodies in some isolated spot was absurd. “The health administration, security forces and the police are working overtime, under extremely difficult conditions to bring the situation under control while a section of the population demanded burial rights. This is not fair.”

Minister Weerawansa said that with some parts of the highly populated Colombo district under severe threat with the majority of deaths being reported there, the government would have to further tighten counter measures instead of appeasing opportunists.

The outspoken Minister called for an inquiry into recent claim by the Ceylon Thowheed Jamaat that the government authorized burials as it was denied. Colombo District MP attorney-at-law Premanath C. Dolawatte recently lodged a complaint with the CID in that regard. Claiming that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa never promised to do away with cremation of all corona victims lawmaker Dolawatte requested an inquiry

Minister Weerawansa said that in the wake of UN the intervention, various other international groupings such as the EU, too, could issue statements in that regard. Asked whether he felt a section of the international community adopted a policy hostile towards post-war Sri Lanka, lawmaker Weerawansa alleged those who couldn’t stomach eradication of the LTTE were still campaigning against the country. The return of the war winning administration to power was a headache for some, the minister alleged.

Minister Weerawansa emphasized the pivotal importance of the government addressing this issue in one voice without conceding to what he called politics of religious extremism.

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There’s nothing prescribed as Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court — Sumanthiran

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TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran, in an intervention in Parliament, said he was privileged to appear for Ranjan Ramanayake, a clean, honest politician in the Supreme Court and he was proud of that.

Nevertheless, Ranjan Ramanayake was convicted and sentenced. The sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment was unprecedented and exceptionally severe, and Parliament has a responsibility in this regard because we have not enacted a law for contempt of court, the MP noted.

At the outset, he said, “I want to flag one or two issues concerning the responsibility of the Parliament in this regard. But before I do that I am bound by law and tradition to disclose my interest in the matter. I am the counsel who appeared for Hon. Ranjan Ramanayake in the Supreme Court”.

This has an implication to the article in the constitution that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition just mentioned because it says for an offense for which the prescribed punishment is two years or more. But there’s nothing prescribed, nothing prescribed in the law because for long Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court, the TNA MP said.

Although there had been in the public as well, a lot of instances where drafts have been made, we have not done that – that is one. And by failing to do that, it has been like the freedom of the wild ass; anything can be given as a sentence and that is not a good thing.  I don’t want to go into the merits of the case or anything like that, but in this case Parliament has to take steps, to enact a law, he further said.

English law is supposed to be the substantive law because we don’t have a statute law now, and in English law itself scandalizing the court is no longer an offence of contempt of court. But unfortunately the court disregarded that, and has misdirected itself – that’s my position, Sumanthiran continued.

“But I want to bring to your notice a serious lacuna in the law with regard to a statue for contempt of court that has resulted in this unprecedented injustice to an honest Member of Parliament”, he added.

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Colombo share market gallops to all time highs

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The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) galloped last week with the benchmark All Share Price Index (ASPI) hitting an all time high on Monday and improving on that performance on subsequent trading days to close the week at 8,463 points on Friday. The more liquid S&P Index that normally trails the ASPI also gained sharply though less so than the benchmark index.

Brokers and analysts attributed the surge to prevailing low interest rates and said that people holding funds in fixed interest instruments have seen greater potential in the stock market and have so far not been proved wrong.

“Take the case of vehicle importers,” said one businessman. “With imports disallowed, cash that would have been once used to replenish inventory becomes available for investment elsewhere. The stock market is a magnet for such funds.”

Also, many companies have resorted to a share split strategy to make their shares both more liquid and more affordable on the market.

“Take the example of a fifty-rupee share split into two. Theoretically, it should then trade at Rs. 25 a share after the split. But often it does better than that at no cost to the company that had split the share because its stated capital remains what it was,” explained and analyst.

“It’s different in the case of bonus shares or scrip issues as they are called where reserves are capitalized to pay for the new shares priced at realistic values.”

Last week the Hayleys conglomerate announced share splits in over a dozen group companies. These ranged from each share being split into ten in the parent company (Hayleys) and thriving subsidiaries like Haycarb and Dipped Products while other companies like Kingsbury split a share into two.

Brokers and analysts said that the current market surge was largely driven by the Dhammika Perera controlled Hayleys and the Ishara Nanayakkara controlled LOLC groups.

Last week Hayleys announced over a dozen share splits including in its recently acquired Singer Group companies. The majority of these involved dividing each share into two though at Singer Sri Lanka each share will be split into three.

The biggest share split ever proposed is one that is pending at EB Creasy (EBC) where each share is to be split into 100. The seldom traded EBC share is quoted at the top end of the CSE sharelist. Analysts said the massive split is intended to pump liquidity into the share and make it more affordable.

“There’s a lot of retail play in the market right now with new investors who recently took some risk doing very nicely in this bull run,” a broker said.

The CSE hit rock bottom after a seven-week closure in March last year.

 

 

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Covid-19 has now spread geographically across SL

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In small numbers to an extensive region

Pandemic situation in Western Province improves

by Suresh Perera

Though there are no big Covid-19 clusters at present, the dreaded virus has spread geographically across the country due to the unrestricted movement of people, a senior medical official said.

“The transmission of the contagion in small numbers to an extensive region was inevitable in a society which remains ‘open’ with inter-provincial travel happening on a daily basis”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

He said the spillover from the Western province was expected as there was an outflow of people to other districts particularly during the festive season.

“I am not blaming anybody, but a lockdown was not viable when taking into account the economic consequences and the livelihoods of the people. We could have imposed a curfew to restrict travel during the New Year, but we have to consider the fallout of such a measure”, he noted.

It true that geographically numbers have increased within a wide area, but the numbers are small and there are no big clusters as seen at Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda, the senior medical official explained.

Asked whether the pandemic has translated into a community spread as considerable positive cases continue to emerge on a daily basis, Dr. Herath replied, “no, that has not happened. If the Covid-19 situation was beyond control, we would have made a social and community transmission declaration”.

He said the pandemic situation in the Western province has improved with a dip in positive cases. However, the spillover is evident by the jump in figures at provincial level.

“We knew there was a risk, but we had to take it as locking down the country was not the solution

For example, if a Covid-19 patient infects two persons per day, there will be 200 positive cases within 100 days and one can imagine the critical situation that will emerge if the trend is allowed to continue, Dr. Herath continued.

“We are now managing under 1,000 cases per day”, he said, while assuring that the right mechanism is in place to identify positive cases through PCR and rapid antigen screening and place them under medical treatment, isolate and quarantine first contacts of patients”, he further said.

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