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X-Press disaster: Vital info about toxic leak withheld from Colombo says Minister Amaraweera

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By Ifham Nizam

MV X-press Pearl vessel had toxic chemicals in it, however, neither the Colombo Port nor its harbour master had been notified of an acid leak before the arrival of the ship in Colombo, Environment Minister Mahinda  Amaraweera  said yesterday adding therefore, the ship’s captain as well as its local agent should be held responsible for withholding vital information.

Minister Amaraweera said that the ship’s black box would reveal who was responsible for the ecological and economic disaster. “All of them should be prosecuted,” he said.

Environmental damage caused by the burning of the ship would continue for another 20 years and that the environmental damage caused by it could not be quantified, Minister Amaraweera said.

“Marine Environment Protection Authority Chairman informed me that a team from her institution had already been sent to the wreck of the ship to conduct investigations and obtain oil samples.

Burnt debris from the wreck has affected more than 150 km of Sri Lanka’s  coastline, according to International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) experts who are onsite.

MEPA is working with the Sri Lanka Navy to coordinate the pollution clean-up. ITOPF said more than 1,000 people were involved “most days” in the operation. Specialist pollution response company Oil Spill Response has also arrived in Sri Lanka and will work with ITOPF in providing technical assistance.

MEPA has set up a sampling programme to determine the extent of pollution from the vessel. The ship is reported to have been carrying 46 different chemicals including nitric acid and sodium dioxide.

The clearest evidence of pollution has come from billions of tiny plastic pellets, known as nurdles, which have washed ashore.

“The pollutants of particular concern are nurdles, as they have the potential to spread over vast distances and recovery of these small plastic pellets can be difficult and protracted,” ITOPF said.

A large part of the nurdules  had washed up on Sri Lankan beaches.  “We do not know how much more was eaten by fish in the ocean. According to the information I have, plastic pallets piled up on the beach have been collected and stored in 40 containers.”



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MONLAR: Govt. has fallen for millers’ ruse

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Farmers would be harvesting their paddy by the time the government imports 100,000 tonnes of rice and it would lead to a decrease in prices they received from millers, Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) warned yesterday.

Addressing a post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday, co-Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the Cabinet had approved the import of 100,000 tonnes of rice to increase competition in the market.

Rajapakshe commented that successive governments had been importing large quantities of rice close to the harvesting period.

“Several large mill owners create an artificial shortage of rice when the harvesting season nears. The government responds by importing large quantities of rice, often of dubious quality.  The paddy prices collapse, allowing mill owners to buy paddy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and then the mill owners release some of the stocks they have to the market. Given that Sri Lankans prefer to eat Sri Lankan varieties and that the imported rice is of poor quality; no one buys the imported rice,” Rajapakshe said.

 The MONLAR moderator said that there was an assumption that the Yala harvest would be low because of the impact of fertiliser shortages on rice production. There had been reports that rice plants were yellowing and their growth was retarded due to a shortage of nitrogen.

 Commenting on the allegations that there was a shortage of fertiliser, Minister of Plantation, Ramesh Pathirana told The Island that by the next paddy season the government would be able to provide adequate amounts of compost fertiliser. “There will be some difficulties in the next few months. We must work together to face them. Everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good, but some think the government’s decision was too hasty. However, by the time the Maha season starts we will have enough fertiliser stocks. We are also ready to compensate farmers if there are issues in the current season.”

In response,  Rajapakshe said that it was not too late to address the issues that had arisen from nitrogen shortages and questioned how the government had decided that it needed to import 100,000 tonnes of rice, given that it had not studied the impact of fertiliser shortage on the paddy harvest.

“How on earth did they come up with this number? Obviously, this is a scheme to enrich a few businessmen, politicians and some officials. The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wants to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages experienced by the people,” he said.

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Wijeyadasa no longer considers himself govt. member

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, says he no longer considers himself as a member of the ruling party.

Asked to comment on his present status, the Justice Minister, in the previous UNP regime, said that he had stopped participating in SLPP group meetings since the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct last year.

Dr. Rajapakse, who entered Parliament from the Colombo District on the SLPP ticket at the August 2020 general election, voted for 20th Amendment despite his criticism of it. In the previous Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse represented the UNP.

Responding to another query, Rajapakse said that the SLPP had refrained from appointing him to any committee though he had in the past served and in some instances headed important outfits, such as the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

 The former minister alleged that the SLPP had caused so much turmoil that the country was now in a bind. Instead of taking the people into confidence the incumbent administration adopted strategies meant to suppress dissent.

 Commenting on what he called a severe economic crisis against the backdrop of the worsening Covid-19 epidemic, Dr. Rajapakse alleged that those at the helm lacked basic understanding to rationally address issues.

The former minister said that the government appeared to have ignored the growing threat of the EU going the whole hog in the wake of its parliament adopting a resolution against Sri Lanka.

The resolution expressed the concern of the European Parliament regarding the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka. It highlighted that the GSP+ status is linked to the implementation of 27 international conventions by Sri Lanka. The GSP+ monitoring process is conducted on a regular basis by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, the EU mission in Colombo told The Island.

The following is the relevant section from the EU resolution: “…Underlines that the GSP+ scheme offered to Sri Lanka has made a significant contribution to the country’s economy, from which exports to the EU have increased to EUR 2.3 billion, making the EU Sri Lanka’s second-largest export market; highlights the ongoing monitoring of Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status and stresses that the continuance of GSP+ trade preferences is not automatic; calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to take into due account current events when assessing Sri Lanka’s eligibility for GSP+ status; further calls on the Commission and the EEAS to use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations and demand the repeal or replacement of the PTA, to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.”

For want of a cohesive strategy, the SLPP hadn’t been able at least to rationally assess external and internal threats and take remedial measures, the MP said.

Referring to the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, MP Rajapakse alleged that the government was on an extremely dangerous path. The EU resolution reflected the Western thinking and the current leadership acted as if China was our main buyers. How could they ignore the fact that the US and EU countries remain major contributors to the Sri Lanka economy though our decision-making process was aimed at satisfying China.

 

 

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Geneva concerned about deaths in police custody, Shani’s safety

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The Sri Lanka Core Group has joined the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in calling for what it calls independent and impartial investigations into deaths in police custody. The six-member grouping led by the UK has also stressed the need to ensure security of former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, who recently received bail.

Abeysekera had been interdicted. The ex-CID Director has also figured in taped conversations with former MP Ranjan Ramanayake now serving a jail sentence for contempt of the Supreme Court, discussing how to fix certain court cases then being heard, especially against political opponents.

The following is the text of statement issued by Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi,

Montenegro and the UK at the 47th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): “Council resolution 46/1 called upon the Sri Lankan Government to address the harmful legacies of war and to protect human rights, including for those from religious minorities. We regret the lack of progress on these issues, with a number of further concerning developments.

The Sri Lankan Government has attempted to dismiss a number of emblematic cases and to initiate criminal proceedings against individuals pursuing some of these cases. This counters the Council’s call for prompt, thorough and impartial investigations. We call for former CID director Shani Abeysekera’s safety to be ensured.

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the recent intention to introduce a rehabilitation process lacking adequate judicial oversight. Human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, and poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem, remain detained without trial and further arrests under this Act have continued, including among minority communities and the political opposition.

We remain concerned about the restrictions on memorialization . We join the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in requesting independent and impartial investigations into recent deaths in police custody

We are concerned over appointments to the Office on Missing Persons and reiterate the importance of ensuring independent and credible institutions to achieve justice.

We encourage Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Council and OHCHR in relation to resolution 46/1 and stand ready to support this.”

 

 

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