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Women leaders present solutions to Lanka’s woes

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Eight highly accomplished women from diverse industries came together on one stage sharing their leadership perspective for Sri Lanka at the second second chapter of iLead – the International Women’s Day event jointly organized by NextGenSL and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Sri Lanka.

They spoke under the theme “What will I do differently if I ever get the opportunity to lead the country” and shared their insights on what needs to be done to resuscitate Sri Lanka from the current state of peril.

The speakers included Dr. Pabasari Ginige, Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Peradeniya, Sanjini Munaweera, Country Director – Sri Lanka ADA, Soundarie David Rodrigo, Music Director, Pianist and Lawyer, Roel Raymond, Editor-in-Chief, Roar Media, Kumudu Priyanka, Sri Lankan Paralympian, Shiromal Cooray, Chairperson Jetwing Travels, Anoka Abeyratne, Conservationist and Environmentalist and Pulani Ranasinghe, Technopreneur and Founder – Loons Lab.

Dr. Ginige, an adult psychiatrist with a special interest in child abuse, Intellectual Disability, Autism and LGBTIQ mental health issues, and women’s mental health made a moving speech on Sri Lanka’s current situation and her potential solutions.

“In my lifetime, I have witnessed Presidents stripping my country of its dignity and sovereignty. I have witnessed Presidents ripping off the trust of the majority voter whose political literacy is pitiful whether they are illiterates or scholars- viyathun. I have witnessed pathetic oppositions promising people an unrealistic utopia promoting a beggar culture with ‘sahana malu’ or free takaran. I have also witnessed oppositions, the self-professed political puritans who pleasure themselves in their comfort zones preaching to their own followers, Sermons on the Mount. Today I am standing in a country where the saubhgayaye dakma- vistas of prosperity and splendor- has become yet another joke like yahapalanaya!

Meritocracy will be a guiding principle of my government. I will champion the introduction of Minimum qualifications to enter politics. If I am president NO BODY with a record of child or women abuse or corruption will be given nominations. The people will have a choice of candidates with integrity and basic human decency.

If I am President, I will bring major educational reforms. Children will not be abused in the name of education. Major examinations will not be stressors leading to anxiety and depression in the country I lead. The regressive method of segregating schools according to sex, religion, and race will be prohibited. So students learn equality, kindness, and respect for differences. I will modernize school and university education to suit the job markets locally and globally. If I am President within 24 hours of being appointed I will outlaw all forms of ragging in the HEIs. I will invite the students to review their conduct and see whether that is any different from the state oppression they complain about.” she said.

Sanjini Munaweera, who has nearly three decades of experience across multiple industries, bringing great success to the FMCG, Telco, Technology, BFSI, Travel, as well as Retail and Manufacturing industries locally and globally, said as President of the country she would encourage more women to break the barriers and take a ‘leap of faith’ to challenge the existing stereotypes.

“Sometimes you just need to be courageous enough to take that leap of faith,” she said in her speech.

“If I am given the leadership of the country, I will create a culture of collective responsibility — something that is sadly lacking in Sri Lanka. There is no growth for a country without a culture of collective responsibility. This will drive a narrative of inclusivity and bring people together towards a common purpose,” Munaweera added.

“What is it that makes women — even high achievers like the ones on this panel right now — decline to get involved? It is the very thing that keeps some very capable men away from national politics. The knowledge that their expertise and achievements wouldn’t make an iota of a difference if they were to actually enter the fray,” Roel Raymond, Editor-in-Chief at Roar Media and a senior journalist with experience in both the private and state sectors and has worked with print, radio, television, and online formats, said.

“So what do you need to be successful in politics in Sri Lanka today?” she asked.

“You need to know how to bend the rules. You need to believe that there is no right and wrong. You need to be able to lie; to your constituents, to your family, to your friends, and most damningly and damagingly, to yourself. You need to believe your lies. You need to be able to justify unjust actions. You should relish backstabbing and betrayal. You should be able to get rich illegally and not feel bad about it. You shouldn’t care about the future of this country or about future generations.

You should be able to take what doesn’t belong to you and build a legacy for your family and feel good about it. You should be able to stand by and watch as injustices are perpetrated. You should be able to keep silent; see no evil, hear no evil but by all means, perpetrate evil. You should be able to abuse power – in fact, the less you know about the limits to power the better. You should be grossly unethical and unremorseful about it. You need to be thick-skinned and not have a conscience. And, if you are not any of these things, you need to be — at the very least — ineffectual.

I would abolish the Executive Presidency which gives the President – any President – more power than he or she needs, repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act which is so ambiguous that it allows for the abuse of a law that should protect, and in fact, ensure that laws that are meant to protect, are not used to stifle dissent, remove the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which, among other things, enhances the powers of the Executive Presidency, reintroduce the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which introduces independent commissions.

“If there is the need for a brand new constitution, I will make sure fundamental rights, the balance of power and accountability are ensured. I will stand firm against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, sexual preference, ethnicity and gender and ensure that the rights of girls and women are protected in Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. I will strengthen rule of law to protect children, women, the vulnerable and minorities and ensure the protection of orphans, who, after the age of 18, cease becoming wards of the state, and are at the mercy of society,” she added.

Soundarie David-Rodrigo, the Founder and Music Director of Sri Lanka’s premiere female ensemble ‘Soul Sounds,’ the first choir in Sri Lanka to perform and win awards internationally, was also featured as one of the speakers at iLead Chapter 02. Over the last ten years, Soul Sounds has given highly acclaimed performances in many countries

“Despite the challenges we place, we must not forget that Sri Lanka is a beautiful country to live in and we have every potential to do well. But, in order to get there, we, as a country, must embrace our differences and act in harmony,” Soundarie said stressing that she, as the leader of the country, would bring about education reforms and safeguard freedom of expression.

“It is true that we educate our children on religion during school days. But, there is no room for inter-faith dialogue. We do not give them opportunities to discuss similarities between religions and learn from each other,” she said.

She added that her education reforms would focus more on arts, culture, sports and creating harmony. “Even during the time I spent at the Law Faculty as an English medium student, I did not have many opportunities to mingle with Sinhala medium students. The youth should be given opportunities to work in harmony.”

“I would not waste my time pointing fingers at various parties on what went wring although I believe that justice should prevail. The approach should be to analyze, learn from our mistakes and to rectify them,” she stated.

Sri Lankan Paralympian Kumudu Priyanka, in a brief yet moving speech, said she would use all her experience as a Paralympian and as a person with disabilities to ensure the well being of the people going through the same challenges in life. “I will encourage them to get involved in sports and use sports as an avenue to empower them.” Priyanka is the current world record holder in the women’s 200m T45 category. She made her maiden Paralympic appearance representing Sri Lanka at the 2020 Summer Paralympics.

Chairperson of Jetwing Travels Shiromal Cooray said Sri Lanka seemed to have torn between two worlds. “One world says there is nothing wrong in our country everything is going well and some mischief-makers are causing fears. The other world is grappling with a number of insurmountable problems such as fuel shortages, gas shortages and power-cuts. The industry I represent deals with severe problems on a daily basis and is suffering immensely due to the current situation in the country.

“As President, I would appoint a diverse group of economic experts to advise me on the current situations. I would not appoint my relative and friends to advise me but I rely on people who tell me the truth. I would communicate with the public and keep them informed on a regular basis. Look at what President Zelenskyy is doing in Ukraine amidst severe difficulties and when his own life is under threat!

“I would not treat my citizens as idiots. I personally hate when someone tries to take me for a ride. So, I would not do that to my citizens. I believe this is time our country, Sri Lanka, needs us the most. If you tell the truth to the country and start leading it with a vision and a purpose, people will do their part.

“I am a strong believer of a liberalized economy. I don’t believe in a system where one has to be ‘politically connected’ in order to get license to do certain businesses. Anyone who is willing to invest and take risks should be permitted to engage in business. Anyone with money and experience should be allowed to compete in the market on a level playing field. The state should not try to quell competition in the market and pave way for monopolies,” she said whilst adding that she would get women involved in the country’s decision-making process.

“Women do not have to wear men’s shoes. They have their own shoes,” Cooray added.

Anoka Abeyratne, an activist on sustainable development issues who served as the Asia-Pacific representative to UNHabitat YAB shared her leadership perspectives on sustainability and Sri Lanka’s future. She is the elected Environment Lead of the Royal Commonwealth Society. In 2019, Abeyrathne appeared in a list of ‘Iconic Sri Lankan Women Who Have Shaped History.’

“I remember a discussion we once had with a Sri Lankan lawmaker on the Animal Welfare Act. At one point, he said, “well, you know, animals can’t vote!” How can we progress in this regard when they have such a mindset,” she said.

“When you look at Sri Lanka, it’s all about understanding the root cause and bringing forward sustainable solutions,” she stated stressing the importance of ‘sustainability’ in every aspect of the country’s decision-making process.

“For instance, look at a lake. You find mangroves and wetlands around the lake. So many people as well as animals rely on this eco-system. The moment you destroy it, you end up disrupting a lot of communities,” she added stating that becoming ‘eco-friendly’ should not become a “privilege-issue”.

“A friend of mine recently went through a very tough time because her trust was broken. As a country, we are going through a similar situation. A culture of honour, ethics, and integrity should be introduced to the country and the President must embody that,” she added.

Pulani Ranasinghe, who leads a fast-growing innovation-friendly, software start-up company in Sri Lanka that delivers a wide range of services in the latest technologies to a diverse portfolio of local and global clients, said her reforms, as the President of Sri Lanka, would focus on education, innovation, entrepreneurship and digitalization.

“As the first thing on my list, I will work to formulate a national growth strategy for the next 20 years. We see amazing concepts in bits and pieces in election manifestos but they don’t progress. I will build consensus across the political spectrum to formulate this 20-year national growth strategy,” she said.

“Then I will make an action plan on the implementation of the growth strategy. I will introduce major reforms to promote education, IT, digitalization, and media.”

“The biggest issue I see with Sri Lankan education is that it does not promote entrepreneurship. It turns a blind eye to key aspects of entrepreneurship such as managing finances,” she added.

“Only 16000 out of 300,000 students who sit for the Advanced Level Examination become eligible for tertiary education. Isn’t this a great anomaly? I, as President, will open up more avenues for students in the tertiary education sector and the professional education sector,” she said.

Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, Opposition MPs Dr. Harsha de Silva, Mayantha Dissanayake, a number of diplomats, civil society figures and corporate leaders attended the event.



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SJB MPs tell Speaker they received death threats

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Vote in House to elect President:

By Saman Indrajith

Three SJB MPs told Parliament yesterday that they were threatened with death on the eve before the recent vote in Parliament to elect the President.

MPs Wasantha Yapabandara, Tilak Rajapaksa and Chaminda Wijesiri said that they had received death threats and demanded to know the legitimacy of the recent election of a new President by Parliament.

Badualla District SJB MP Wijesiri said that votes had been solicited from MPs by offering bribes and those who did not take bribes were threatened and intimidated to vote for Wickremesinghe.

“The votes were obtained by issuing death threats on MPs. Therefore, one has to question the legitimacy of the recent poll held in Parliament to elect a new President,” MP Wijesiri said.

The MP demanded that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should order an investigation into death threats. “Similarly, the Speaker should inform this House whether the election held in Parliament to elect a new President is legitimate or not,” he said.

Kandy District SLPP MP Wasantha Yapabandara said an unidentified caller had asked him to resign from Parliament or face death. “I have handed over recordings of the conversation to you and I request you to carry out an investigation into this matter,” the MP told the Chair.

Digamadulla District SLPP MP Tilak Rajapsksa also called for an investigation into threats faced by MPs.

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Govt. announces 75% power tariff increase

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Janaka Ratnayake

By Ifham Nizam

The Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) yesterday said that the new electricity tariff hike of 75 percent would be effective from today.

The electricity bill of the consumers who use up to 30 units per month will increase by Rs. 198.

The average monthly electricity bill for those who consume up to 60 units will be increased by some Rs. 200.

Although the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had sought an increase of 276% for the consumers who used more than 90 units, the PUCSL stood firm on sticking to 125%, according to PUCSL Chairman, Janaka Ratnayake, who said that 75 % of the electricity consumers continued to benefit from a subsidy.

Steps had also been taken to encourage electricity consumers to promote renewable electricity generation with the tariff revision decision, he said.

Ratnayake said that the new tariff revision had been formulated to provide relief to the hotel sector and the industrial sector.

“During the last nine years, the value of the dollar has increased by 190 percent. Therefore, the industries in the export sector will not be greatly affected by this electricity tariff revision,” he said.

Instead of the 116 percent tariff increase proposed by the Ceylon Electricity Board for industries, hotels and general-purpose sectors, with low electricity consumption, will get an approved tariff increase of 39 percent for the public sector and 75 percent for the industrial sector.

Only 50 percent of the increase in the approved rates, especially for the tourism sector will come into effect tomorrow. The remaining 50 percent tariff increase will come into effect after another three months as an incentive and relief, facilitating the tourism industry’s recovery, according to the government.

In addition, it has been decided to provide a 1.5 percent discount when electricity bills are paid in dollars as a relief to the tourism and export industries.

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SLPP questions GR’s response to ‘Aragalaya’

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… won’t expect miracles from new Prez

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) didn’t expect miracles from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe but strongly believed he could meet the growing threat posed by fascists, lawmaker Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the party, said on Monday night.

Appearing on ‘Salakuna’ a live political programme on Hiru, SLPP National List MP said that the party unanimously decided to back Wickremesinghe’s candidature, at the presidential contest, in the wake of the so-called protest movement destroying properties belonging to 76 lawmakers and those belonging to other party activists and their relatives during meticulously planned and executed ‘operation.’

The protest movement also killed Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard, MP Kariyawasam said, emphasizing that their decision was essentially influenced by serious security considerations.

The panel of journalists, comprising Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Madushan de Silva and Kalindu Vidanage, pressed Kariyawasam and UNP General Secretary and ex-MP, Palitha Range Bandara, over their agreement on the SLPP’s support for Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest.

In spite of Kariyawasam and Bandara repeatedly denying a written agreement, or verbal understanding, the Hiru panel sought an explanation how the UNP leader managed to obtain 133 votes other than the one vote exercised by Wickremesinghe himself.

The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots at the last parliamentary election in August 2020 whereas the UNP was reduced to just one NL seat.

At one point, a smiling ex-State Minister Bandara asked the interviewers not to portray the SLPP’s backing for Wickremesinghe as another ‘ali koti’ agreement. Bandara was referring to the much-publicized accusations, directed at the UNP at previous national elections, before President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Responding to queries, lawmaker Kariyawasam revealed that in the wake of stepped up protests, against the government, the SLPP advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against appointing another member of the government parliamentary group as the PM. The SLPP felt that replacing PM Mahinda Rajapaksa with one of their own wouldn’t have helped to bring the tensions down, MP Kariyawasam said.

UNPer Bandara emphasized that Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership on May 12 after Samagi Jana Balavegaya leader Sajith Premadasa, MP, and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, also of the same party, turned down President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer.

Asked whether SLPP strongman Basil Rajapaksa proposed Wickremesinghe’s name, lawmaker Kariyawasam said that a committee, chaired by him in his capacity as the General Secretary, decided to field Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, attended the meeting, via zoom technology.

According to MP Kariyawasam, of over 30 members of the decision-making body, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, 23 participated at the meeting. Basil Rajapaksa and SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris had been among those who didn’t attend the meeting.

MP Kariyawasam said that in spite of a Prof. Peiris acting contrary to the decision taken by the party, disciplinary measures hadn’t been initiated. The former Foreign Minister remained the SLPP Chairman, MP Kariyawasam said.

When interviewers sought an explanation as regards Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration, soon after MPs overwhelmingly elected Wickremesinghe, as the President, on July 20, that the SLPP fielded Dullas Alahapperuma, MP Kariyawasam asserted perhaps the former Premier said so taking into consideration his personal friendship with the Matara district MP. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reaction could be interpreted in different ways.

Lawmaker Kariyawasam asked the interviewers to raise the issue at hand with Mahinda Rajapaksa while reiterating the SLPP took a hard decision and nothing mattered other than electing a person who could overcome the fascist challenge.

MP Kariyawasam declined to name culprits though he categorized a section of the parliamentary group as having conspired against the government.

The SLPP General Secretary questioned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failure to meet the threat posed by the protest movement. Declaring the SLPP had been surprised by the President’s decision to leave the country, lawmaker Kariyawasam queried whether the President cum Defence Minister refrained from exercising his powers, or the instructions issued by him weren’t carried out. Declaring that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should have stayed back and faced the challenge, MP Kariyawasam said that the SLPP’s stand on this matter would be revealed later, along with what he called self-criticism of the party.

Asked whether the armed forces refrained from carrying out instructions issued by the President, MP Kariyawasam advised the interviewers to seek a clarification from the former leader.

MP Kariyawasam said the campaign that had been carried out against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be examined against the backdrop of Western powers interventions in Iraq and Libya leading to the execution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Dec 30, 2006 and killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Oct 20, 2011 at Sirte, Libya. Lawmaker Kariyawasm recalled how the Western powers falsely accused Iraq of having Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) before invading that country. Those who couldn’t stomach the eradication of the separatist LTTE were hell bent on taking revenge on the Rajapaksas, MP Kariyawasam said.

When Chamuditha Samarawickrema asked MP Kariyawasam to reveal the number of Colombo-based diplomatic missions that had been involved in the anti-government project, an irate SLPP official, while declining to answer, emphasized that it shouldn’t have been raised with him.

The public would know the truth one day, the MP said.

The contentious issue of handling corruption cases, during the Yahapalana administration, compelled the SLPP General Secretary to strongly dispute the UNP General Secretary.

Responding to the UNPer’s declaration that a team, supervised by Ranil Wickremesinghe, altogether handled 448 cases whereas the other team, spearheaded by Maithripala Sirisena and J.C. Weliamuna, did absolutely nothing, MP Kariyawasam said such claims were baseless.

Ex-MP Range Bandara harshly criticized both Sajith Premadasa and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Alleging that MP Premadasa never had the guts to take up a challenge, lawmaker Range Bandara issued a dire warning to MP Fonseka over his call to revolt against the government. Declaring that the former warwinning Army Commander couldn’t operate outside the Constitution, the UNPer said that the Gampaha District MP could suffer the fate of Ranjan Ramanayake, who was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a prison term.

MP Kariyawasam launched a scathing attack on former Power and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over what he called the much publicized claim over an agreement with Oman to procure oil for a period of one year. In spite of such claims, nothing materilized thereby causing major problems for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government, the MP said.

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