Political activities halted to fight COVID 19 pandemic | Sunday Observer
All Party Conference convened by Prime Minister

Political activities halted to fight COVID 19 pandemic

In a situation where political parties have temporarily halted their political activities due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Party Leaders irrespective of their political differences met at Temple Trees on Thursday (April 2), following an All Party Conference convened by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss the current situation in the country. The All Party Leaders who participated at the conference extended their fullest support to the Government’s battle to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting chaired by Premier Rajapaksa was attended by all Party Leaders including former President and SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena, UNP Leader RanilWickremesinghe, former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Heads of the Security Forces. Former Opposition Leader Premadasa tabled five proposals to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. During the meeting, Premadasa proposed to expand the COVID-19 testing mechanism and suggested to fast track the supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals, security forces and other state officials. He said the Government should address shortcomings in the program to distribute essential food.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa told the Party Leaders that the Government would always act in accordance with the instructions given by the medical specialists considering the entire country. Therefore Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and other religions would have to face some difficulties due to the prevailing catastrophic situation in the country.

The Premier made these observations following the queries raised by Muslim political party leaders on the possibility of conducting the final rites of the Muslims who died due to coronavirus in accordance with their religious practice. Director General Health Services Dr.Anil Jasinghe said only three months have lapsed since detecting the corona pandemic, and that no proper information has been gathered so far on the true behaviour of this virus.

Now various other ways of infection by the virus have been identified so that the health authorities are engaging in a difficult task to prevent the spread of the disease. Dr.Jasinghe told the Party Leaders when cremations are made we have to consider the situation in the whole of Sri Lanka. Since this is a sensitive issue, we have to act focusing attention on the entire country.

SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem said the Government has issued a circular violating the guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) when observing the last rites of Muslim nationals who died of COVID-19. He said according to the WHO recommendations both cremation and burial can be done.

Under these circumstances, it raises a doubt on the new criteria issued by our health authorities regarding the procedure to be followed to conduct the last rites of the people who died of coronavirus. Responding to Hakeem’s remarks, Director General Health Services Dr.Anil Jasinghe said the recommendations in the internet are not a legal document.

He said if it is to become a legal document, the signature of the Director General Health Services would be necessary. Dr.Jasinghe said the legal document with his signature was submitted on Wednesday (April 1).

Addressing the Party Leaders’ meeting former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya expressed his gratitude to the Government for seeking the views of all parties through an All Party Forum to face the national disaster and to all the parties for participating. Jayasuriya on behalf of all the parties thanked the healthcare professionals, Tri-forces and the Police who are engaged in a massive operation amidst many difficulties to free the country and the people from the catastrophe. He also thanked the public and private sector institutions dedicated to providing essential services, food and other commodities to the public. During the meeting, the former Speaker stressed the need for short and medium term plans to face the present COVID-19 pandemic and the looming global economic and food crises. He said “what is now required is a war-time-like preparation.”

 In a significant move during the conference, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran called on the President to consider reconvening the dissolved Parliament to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Countering Sumanthiran’s remarks, former UNP Parliamentarian Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe queried even if Parliament is reconvened, what methodology could be adopted to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

He said Parliament does not have any such methodology to sort out this crisis. Rajapakshe said the existing methodology is now put in place  adding that at the moment the  health authorities, the Tri-forces and the Police are fulfilling their tasks with dedication. “Therefore, I don’t think we should create unnecessary issues by reconvening Parliament,” he said.

Earlier, UNP Leader RanilWickremesinghe had also stressed that funds have been allocated for the Government through the Vote on Account until April 30. From that day onwards, until the new Parliament is convened again, the President does not have power to approve additional expenses. Wickremesinghe highlighted that after this date, the President would not be able to approve funds to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the country. However, co-Cabinet Spokesman, and Media Minister Bandula Gunewardena told reporters recently that the Government will not reconvene the dissolved Parliament to deal with the COVID19 crisis.

He said only the President has the power to reconvene Parliament if he thinks there is a need to do so. The Minister said at present, the President is not of the opinion that Parliament should be reconvened.

Responding to recent statements by UNP Leader RanilWickremesinghe, former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and former MP Mangala Samaraweera , former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva told the media that  when the President and the Government were taking concrete measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the calls by the trio to reconvene Parliament is both ludicrous and absurd.

Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday (April 1) held a discussion with a  group of UNP leaders at the Presidential Secretariat on the prevailing situation in the country. During the cordial discussion which lasted over two hours, President Rajapaksa elaborated on the steps taken by the Government and future plans to prevent the spread of  the coronavirus in the country.

The President pointed out that identification of the  majority of the infected people from quarantine centres or from among those who have had close contact with people who had  contracted the virus before was of great help to contain the spread of the virus in the country.

In addition, the Head of the Special Presidential Task Force and Special Representative of the President, Basil Rajapaksa explained about the essential services, food supplies, drug distribution mechanism and the program implemented by the Task Force to maintain the normal life of the people. He said a program is being implemented to provide Rs.5,000 per family to 5.3 million families out of the 6.5 million families identified in the island, before April 9.

Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Wimal Weerawansa, Bandula Gunawardena, Johnston Fernando and Dullas Alahapperuma attended the conference representing the Government.

The UNP was represented by Deputy Leader Ravi Karunanayake, former UNP Parliamentarians Arjuna Ranatunga, Ruwan Wijewardene, Daya Gamage, Palitha Range Bandara, Navin Dissanayake and LakshmanWijemanne.

Both the Government and UNP leaders were of the opinion that the program to curb the spread of the virus should be done in a way that minimised disruption to normal public life and agreed that the program should be non-political.

Both sides also focused on the uninterrupted continuation of  the economic process of the country as well as on the difficulties encountered by public sector employees, businessmen, plantation workers, other daily wage earners and self-employed persons and the solutions that should be provided  for them.

Both sides appreciated the dedication of all health personnel, the Armed Forces and the Police.

The Government has announced that a host of more financial and material relief will be granted to low income and vulnerable families and individuals affected by the battle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed the Presidential Task Force established to administer essential services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that the provision of Rs.5, 000 as a single payment to the low income families will ease the financial difficulties faced by them.

The relief program will continue to operate until the priority program to eliminate the novel coronavirus from Sri Lanka has declared the completion of its mission.

One of the prime objectives of the priority program is to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of civilian life, the Secretary to the President has highlighted in his circular.

The President had also held a discussion with the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) and other senior officials to assess the emerging macro-economic conditions due to the impact of  the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion had focused on the impact to the economy and steps to be taken to stabilise the economy in the short and medium term.

The President had also inquired into the issues connected with the management of the Foreign Exchange Budget and external reserves. He urged the CBSL officials to take maximum confidence building measures for investors in the Sri Lanka Sovereign Bonds.

President Rajapaksa had also instructed that the CBSL should ensure that all banks are kept open while the Bank officials were also instructed to work out post-COVID- 19 economic strategies.