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Government will eradicate drug trafficking – Minister Chamal Rajapaksa

Eradicating drug trafficking is a main objective of the Government, and the Police will do its utmost to achieve this goal, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said in Parliament yesterday.

Minister Rajapaksa was responding to a question by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Hesha Withana during the question round on the drug rackets in the Ratnapura District and action to curtail the rackets.

Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that in the Ratnapura District, drugs worth Rs. 110 million have been nabbed by the Police in the last two years with 6,962 raids and 6,957 arrests.

“Sufficient steps have been taken to curtail the drug racket in Ratnapura District. Several drugs were seized and suspects were arrested.

"We have taken legal measures against the suspects. We have organised special awareness programmes to educate teachers and students on drug dealings targeting schools.

"We have taken steps to establish information centres to get information on dealing drugs to schoolchildren. A 24/7 special operation unit has been set up to take complaints and alerts on drug dealings of the area at the Senior DIG Office,” Minister Rajapaksa said.

Minister Rajapaksa said that a number of drug kingpins were already in jail. If you happen to know more of them, submit the information you have to the Police, Minister Rajapaksa said.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the Government will deploy Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers to probe into drug rackets among estate workers.

Any international agreement detrimental to country will not be signed – Minister Aluthgamage

The Government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not sign any international agreement detrimental to the country, Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage said yesterday.

Aluthgamage made this observation joining the debate on the adjournment motion moved by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha De Silva on the country’s economy. Moving the adjournment motion Dr. De Silva suggested that the country's economy is dwindling as a result of the Government’s economic policies. De Silva suggested that large scale businesses and small and medium enterprises have been severely affected by the Government’s economic policies. De Silva suggested that the Government has failed to manage the economic crisis that occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. De Silva criticised the tax policies implemented by the Government.

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage responding to Dr. De Silva pointed out, “Your Government and ours are two different. You need to remember that first. Our policies are different. Your Government had pro-western, pro-capitalist policies. Our policies thrive for a country with a strong local economy. There is a major difference between our development plan and yours. The previous government came up with a taxation policy. It was suppressing the public. What kind of an economic development plan is that?”

Minister Aluthgamage said that interest rates fell due to the Central Bank bond scam that took place during the previous government. Previous government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe recorded the worst economic management in the country, Aluthgamage said. “When we gave the government to the Yahapalana regime, the economic development rate was closing up to 8 per cent. But now we get an economy of which the economic development rate is somewhere 2 per cent. When we handed over the government to Yahapalanya, the total foreign loans were only 7 BN. But now it is 13 BN. For 10 years, we only took 5 BN loan, but your government within 4 years, have taken 6 BN. Yahapalana government’s taxation policy also failed. That government also imposed taxes on charity boxes. Now they are criticising our policy on limiting import goods. It is owing to this policy, we were able to stable the value of the rupee even during this pandemic. Now you are questioning our economic policies who kept mum when the previous government moved to sign the MCC agreement. Now the Opposition seems to be very happy about the new COVID-19 outbreak in Minuwangoda. This is a horrible way of thinking. They should help control the pandemic,” Aluthgamage said.

“In future, we are planning to stop importing onions, chilies and potatoes. We will establish villages that will create seeds to cultivate these crops. We had to pay USD 5 BN for loans obtained. We completed this task successfully. So, no need to teach us about economic management. Previous government was completely based on foreign forces,” Minister Aluthgamage said.

Minister Aluthgamage said that Opposition MPs are requesting to join and support the Government.

Minister Aluthgamage and Opposition MP Sarath Fonseka had an exchange of words during the speech. Minister Aluthgamage said that when Fonseka was the Army Commander, he left for China in the last two weeks of the humanitarian war. Fonseka said that he went to China because there was an unavoidable circumstance. "I had to go to China because there was an agreement on purchasing some military equipment. We had postponed it four times as I could not attend. When China was going to cancel it, I had to go. I went to China with my team and gave orders from there. I did not flee the country," Minister Aluthgamage then said, "Now that you have accepted that you went to China, I have to say that I respect you for your great contribution to the war. We have different political views, but your commitment to ending the war, we respect that. You were able to successfully lead the war because there was a strong government led by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa." MP Fonseka said, "I have already mentioned that in this House. If it were Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena leading the country at that time, we would never have won the war." Aluthgamage said, "Exactly. That is what we are saying. You belong to this side. Not at the Opposition. Why don't you join us? You should be on this side."

Diesel power generation will be reduced to 5% by 2025 – Minister Alahapperuma

The Government will reduce diesel power generation to 5 per cent by 2025, Power and Energy Minister Dullas Alahapperuma Said in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister was responding to a question by Parliamentarian Chaminda Wijesiri during the oral questions round.

Minister Alahapperuma said that the CEB has incurred losses Rs. 14. 4 BN in 2016, Rs. 47.5 BN in 2016, Rs. 31.9 BN in 2018 and Rs. 85.4 BN in 2019.

Minister Alahapperuma said that natural liquid gas power plants will be introduced under energy diversification. “This has been discussed since 2007. But nothing happened. Steps are taken to add 600 LNG to the power grid, and we have already obtained Cabinet approval for the project,” the Minister said.

“Delay of completing power generation projects is a major fallback. No major power plant has been added to the national grid for 7 years after 2013. The last addition was the Lak Vijaya by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The next period had moved away from the national plan on power generation. They used costly generation methods and did not update charging rates accordingly,” Minister Alahapperuma said.

The Minister said that the wastage of electricity is between 8 per cent and 10 per cent and hopes to reduce it. He said that he believes that the CEB will make a profit following these measures.

Estate workers in lockdown areas will be provided with relief – Minister Pathirana

Plantation Minister Ramesh Pathirana yesterday assured that the Government will provide welfare facilities to estate workers in areas locked down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minister Pathirana was responding to a query by MP Velu Kumar during the oral question round.

MP Velu Kumar said that two garment factory workers underwent PCR tests yesterday in Kandy. “One tested positive. Now the New Forest Division is under a lock down. The area has about 28 families. They are daily wagers. I wish to know what measures the Government will take for their welfare. Is there a special programme to support these people?” he asked.

Minister Pathirana said that the Janatha Estate Development Board Chairman has been directed to coordinate the welfare facilities of these people. “We have directed the PHI in charge of the area to take health precautions to stop the virus spread,” he said.

Access to PAD denied as COVID-19 affected its staffer’s family member– Speaker

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday said that access to the Parliamentary Affairs Division (PAD) in Pelawatta, Battaramulla was strictly for the staff members only as one family member of its staff member had been affected by the COVID 19 virus.

The Speaker was responding to a privilege issue by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Shan Wijelal de Silva, who said that his access to the building was denied by the security offices.

He said that he had to stay for 35 minutes outside the premises to collect his documents. He said he introduced himself to the security officers as a Parliamentarian, but they told him that the Additional Secretary had instructed them not to allow anyone in other than staff members. He said that until 9.05 am, he was standing there to collect his documents, and the Additional Secretary of the Division had not turned out to the office until then. He said that a public administration assistant came out of the office and handed the documents over to him.

MP Silva said that he did not know if a decision had been reached to close down the office temporarily during the last few hours. He said that he was fully aware of the health hazard and its threat that the country is experiencing at the moment. "However, if there are strict measures at that office, those officers could come to the Parliament Complex after keeping the Secretary General informed to provide services to the Parliamentarians,” he said.

The Speaker said that the Parliament Affairs Division had made the same decision to protect the Parliamentarians.

Prof. Saumya Liyanage’s removal will be inquired into – Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris

Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday assured that he will inquire into the removal of Prof. Saumya Liyanage from the posts of Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo.

Prof. Peiris said that he will take appropriate measures after a full inquiry. If any injustice has taken place, we will rectify it, Minister Prof. Peiris said. The Minister was responding to a question by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Buddhika Pathirana.

MP Pathirana said that several MPs have raised the issue in the House, and that it implies this is not a case of politics instigated from party politics. “All sorts of politics are in these institutions. It is important that the Education Minister look into the matter,” Pathirana said.

Kelani Valley Railway Line will be extended to Ratnapura – Minister Lokuge

The Government will formulate plans to extend the Kelani Valley Railway Line up to Ratnapura, and feasibility studies are conducted in this regard, Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge told Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to a question by Ratnapura District Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Waruna Liiyanage. Minister Lokuge said that the project to expand the Kelani Valley railway line to two tracks from Colombo to Avissawella as the first phase of improving the KV Line has commenced.

MP Liyanage said that the KV Line had been operative up to Opanayake via Ratnapura and after its abandoning in 1973, thousands of squatters had settled in the railway reservation during the past five decades. He demanded to know whether the development project will reclaim those lands and if the original track will be improved.

The Minister said that the project has been envisaged to improve the original track, and all families in the reservation lands will be compensated and resettled elsewhere. Double tracking the KV Line is the first phase of the project, 165 families have already been removed and houses have been provided for them, the Minister said.

The second phase of the project will be extending it up to Ratnapura, Minister Lokuge said.

The Kelani Valley Line was originally built from Colombo to Yatiyantota via Avissawella during 1900-1902. It was branched off at Avissawella and extended up to Opanayaka via Ratnapura. Originally built as a narrow gauge line of 762 mm to serve the rubber plantations in the area, the railway line between Avissawella and Yatiyanthota was removed in 1942, while the line from Homagama to Opanayaka was abandoned in 1973.

Opposition Leader asks for grace period for leasing, loan installments

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa queried if the Government would extend the grace period granted to the public to pay their leasing and loan installments as they have been burdened by the economic recess caused by the COVID 19 epidemic.

He asked the Government if it agreed that hundreds of thousands people have been deprived of their living in the COVID 19 pandemic as the tourism is affected. He said the people have been affected because of the ban imposed on import of many items.

He asked if the Government would implement a mechanism to rejuvenate the economy to provide reliefs to the public. He asked if the Government would protect the producers, consumers and middlemen without controlling the prices of commodities like coconut and vegetables by way of gazettes. He said the people have no many commodities in the market because of the import ban.

He made these queries in Parliament yesterday during the special statement made under standing order 27(2).

Triloka Vijaya distribution in House will be probed - Speaker

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, having been notified a book promoting the use of Cannabis being distributed among staff members of Parliament titled Triloka Vijaya, told Parliament yesterday that an investigation will be conducted to ascertain how and who was responsible for the distribution of the book.

The Speaker promised to conduct the investigation following the matter had been brought to his notice by Matara District Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Buddhika Pathirana at the commencement of the sittings yesterday.

“I spoke of persons involved in scheming to propagate the use of cannabis on Tuesday,” MP Pathirana said. “Soon after that, I came to know that a book titled Triloka Vijaya had been distributed among Parliament staff members. (showing a copy of the book to the House) now the visitors have been suspended. Who brought the book into the parliamentary premises? How was it distributed among Parliament staff members without approval? Copies of a book dedicated to the Speaker could be distributed among Parliament staff members, and there is nothing wrong with it. The dedication of the book says it is for the purpose of delight (aanandaya labanna),” he added.

The Speaker, however, assured that he would look into the matter.

Only question for oral answers in Parliament today

The Committee on Parliamentary Business meeting yesterday under the patronage of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena decided to limit Parliamentary sittings for today for questions for Oral Answers.

The Vote of Condolence, which was to be presented in Parliament of the late Members of Parliament, Surangani Ellawala, K.P. Silva and R. R. W. Rajapakse will not be taken up. The Parliament sittings will be adjourned post the questions for oral answers accordingly.

PAD staffers did not test COVID-19 Positive –Add. Sce.

None of the staffers or a family member of the Parliamentary Affairs Division (PAD) at Pelawatta, Battaramulla have not been infected with COVID-19 virus, Parliamentary Affairs Division Additional Secretary H. D. S. Malkanthi yesterday said.

She told Daily News that, however, a family member of a staff member had an affiliation with a person who had been infected with COVID 19. She said that none of them have been confirmed positive or at least have not been directed to undergo a PCR test.

She, however, said that the staff member of the Parliamentary Affairs Division had been sent on leave as per the health instructions.