Ruwan tipped to fill UNP national list slot | Sunday Observer

Ruwan tipped to fill UNP national list slot

10 January, 2021

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar who called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday, December 6, said India is ready to give priority to Sri Lanka when the vaccine, now being produced by India to treat the Covid-19 virus, is supplied to other countries.

The President and the Indian External Affairs Minister agreed to further enhance Indo–Sri Lanka bilateral relations so as to maximise mutual benefits. Commenting on the future course of action to control the Covid-19 pandemic during the ensuing discussion, President Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka would like to obtain the Covid vaccine, which is being produced by India following an accurate assessment of the need for treatment.

Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday on an invitation extended by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. During his three-day visit to Sri Lanka, Dr. Jaishankar had bilateral meetings with the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, his Sri Lankan counterpart Foreign Minister Gunawardena, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The Indian External Affairs Minister also met Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and reviewed cooperation in a joint working group session on fisheries. Several leaders of Tamil political parties who also met Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar urged India’s support in developing the North and East and the plantation sector. The representatives of the TNA had also met Dr. Jaishankar at India House but the discussion was not open to the media. While this official visit marks the first arrival of a high-level foreign dignitary in Sri Lanka in 2021, it has also become the earliest official visit outside India for External Affairs Minister Dr. Jaishankar in the New Year.

Welcoming his Indian counterpart Dr. Jaishankar, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said the Indian Government’s “Neighbourhood First” policy made a very positive impact on Sri Lanka’s health sector and the economy during the critical pandemic period. Minister Gunawardena was speaking to the press following his bilateral talks with Minister Jaishankar who arrived in Colombo on a three-day visit at his invitation.

He said under the “Neighbourhood First” program, India also extended assistance to repatriate stranded Sri Lankans, who were pilgrims, students and patients. Minister Gunawardena said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has firmly stated that he is committed to the well-being, progress and equal opportunities for all our citizens Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and others.

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on Friday, January 8 expressed disappointment over the current state of affairs in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Responding to questions raised by the journalists, Kumaratunga stressed that she is still the chairperson of SLFP and also an advisor and a member of the party. Her remarks came after the event at Galle Face Green in Colombo on Friday to mark the 122nd birth anniversary of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the founder of SLFP.

Former President Kumaratunga and her sister Sunethra Bandaranaike paid floral tributes to the late Prime Minister’s statue an hour before the commencement of the official ceremony, while former President Maithripala Sirisena and other top brass of SLFP paid their floral tributes afterwards.

Kumaratunga said she did not receive an invitation for the event, adding that the SLFP cannot deny her the opportunity to pay respects at the Bandaranaike statue. She said that SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena had instructed the SLFP members not to inform her regarding the party’s meetings. She also criticised Maithripala Sirisena for teaming up with the UNP. Former President Kumaratunga said that her predictions about the SLFP being treated unfairly when it formed an alliance with the Government have now become true.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told Parliament that the country’s economic growth rate that began to drop since 2015 under the Yahapalana Government was worst-affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, yet it recorded a plus rate in the third quarter of 2020 with the changes made in the economic policy under the new Government.

Responding to a question raised by SJB Parliamentarian Patali Champika Ranawaka, the Premier said the Government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had increased the economic growth rate to 1.5 percent in the third quarter from the 16.2 percent in the second quarter during the period when the global economic growth rate was predicted to be 4.4 percent by the International Monetary Fund. Premier Rajapaksa said the economic growth rate in the country dropped since 2015, but when the new Government was elected, tax rates were reduced to rejuvenate the economy.

Although the expected economic growth rate for 2020 was 4.5 percent, it was challenging as the country, as well as the world, had to be locked down in March. He added that they were operating the economy with a least negative effect during a period that the economic recess was expected to be far worse than that rate during World War II.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar attended a joint press conference with his counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena at the Foreign Ministry. Dr. Jaishankar told journalists that India will remain a dependable partner and a reliable friend of Sri Lanka open to strengthening its relationship on the basis of mutual trust, mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual sensitivity.

He said, “India has a solid record as a development partner of Sri Lanka in the social, community and human resources sectors. Whether it is in mass housing or ambulance services, heritage conservation or education, our partnerships have made a real difference to the lives of the people all over the island. Our Lines of Credit have re-built connectivity, facilitating the restoration of normality.

“We are cognisant of the domestic priorities of the Sri Lankan Government, including in agriculture and technology, education and skills development and urban development. In particular, we understand the importance President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka attach to the establishment of vocational training centres. We will naturally be guided by these priorities in our future endeavours,” he said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday, January 7 participated in a program at the Temple Trees to apprise the Government officials on the National Program of “Back to the Village with Work” through the initiative of “Discussion with the Village”.

The President told the gathering that by cultivating what can be grown in the country, the money going to the farmers abroad will be diverted to the hands of our farmers. He said to uplift the agricultural sector, the Government has given priority to provide water, technical knowledge and solving land issues of the farming community. A large sum of money has been allocated from the 2021 Budget for this purpose.

Over 800 projects planned utilising foreign aid and local grants have not yet been completed. President is of the view that all these projects should be completed expeditiously and committed to fulfill aspirations of the people. The President stressed the need for a sustainable mechanism to uplift the living standards of the rural population which represents 75 percent of the total.

Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera was sworn in as a Member of Parliament before Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Tuesday, January 5 when the first sitting of the ninth Parliament commenced for this year.

Ven. Rathana Thera was appointed by the Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya, also known as Our Power of People Party (OPPP) on December 18 last year to fill its National List parliamentary seat which was left vacant for several months. He was first elected to Parliament in 2004 from Kalutara District as a representative of Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Contesting under United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), he was elected to Parliament for the second time in 2010 from Gampaha District.

Ven. Rathana Thera represented the Parliament for the third time after he was appointed as a National List MP of the United National Party (UNP) in 2015. ‘Our Power of People Party’ had recently faced a crisis following a dispute within the party with regard to its National List seat in Parliament.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) expressed its displeasure with former President and SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena’s critical remarks regarding domestic politics to an Indian newspaper. Former President Sirisena had recently told an Indian newspaper that his party is ready to contest the coming Provincial Council elections alone if the SLPP doesn’t give it a fair share of the candidates.

Former President Sirisena has said that the SLFP was treated unfairly when candidates were selected for the August 2020 Parliamentary Election. He said, “we were treated unfairly when the candidates were picked for the General Elections in August 2020.”

SLPP Chairman and Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris told a recent news conference the 2010/2015 Government led by present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa followed a rigid policy of not criticising domestic politics with the foreign media. He said he served in that Government as the Foreign Minister and undertook many visits.

The Minister said the then Government only talked about the country. “We did not even comment on the Opposition.” Prof. Peiris said the foreign media directed questions about the contradictory policies of the then Opposition but we never rose to their bait,” he said.

However, former President Sirisena responding to Prof. Peiris’ statement told the media that according to the free media policy, everyone has the right to express their views and they should speak for the betterment of the country. He was responding to a statement made by Prof. G.L. Peiris at a recent media briefing that certain issues within the party should be discussed within the party and it is useless telling it to the international media.

Former President Sirisena also said that it is important to discuss ideas and come up with something good as conflicting ideas reveal new concepts and programs.

Ending the dispute over the UNP National List MP slot, UNP seniors have finally agreed to nominate the party’s Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene as its National List member of Parliament. Highly placed sources from UNP headquarters ‘Sirikotha’ said that the final decision in this regard will be taken at the party Working Committee meeting to be held on Wednesday. Former Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had summoned a group of party seniors to Sirikotha on Friday, January 8 to discuss the matter.

Minister Wimal Weerawansa told the media if Ven. Uwathanne Sumana Thera who was serving a life sentence was released under a presidential pardon, former Parliamentarian Duminda Silva should have the same right.

Minister Weerawansa told a media briefing in Colombo, that if Duminda Silva is granted a presidential pardon, no one can oppose it. The Minister pointed out that Ven. Uwathanne Thera had been convicted of having a large stock of weapons. If such a person is to be pardoned by the President, then Duminda Silva, who was sentenced to death by an unjust trial, should also be given justice under the Presidential pardon.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on Thursday, January 7 staged a silent protest in front of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau demanding the immediate repatriation of Sri Lankan migrant workers who are stranded in foreign countries amid the prevailing situation. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, a number of opposition MPs and civil activists took part in the protest. The SJB alleged that the present regime craves for bringing in tourists from Ukraine with maximum facilities and has no program to safeguard the return of those stranded overseas suffering from joblessness amid the pandemic.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry PC told Parliament that it is high time that people of all communities talk to each other, resolve differences and come out with a Constitution which is inclusive and could be a foundation for a greater Sri Lanka. Commencing the second reading debate on the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, Evidence (Amendment) Bill, and Bail (Amendment) Bill, Minister Sabry said the people of different communities are not enemies merely because they speak different languages and observe different religions.

He said the National Anthem and the Constitution were formulated on the principle of unity in diversity; the right to speech was guaranteed on the same principle. Sabry said that the Government has the task of formulating such a Constitution and added that he was confident that a skillful committee has been appointed to draft a new Constitution.