Additional monies have to be paid for loans due to previous Govt’s faults State Minister Cabraal

The Government has to pay additional monies that exceed Rs. 200 BN each year as a part of debt service because of the previous government’s failure to properly manage the value of the Rupee, State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal said.

Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal was responding to a question by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP S.M. Marikkar during the Oral Questions Round in Parliament yesterday.

The State Minister said that Sri Lanka has to repay from 2020 to 2024 USD 4,095 MN in 2020, USD 3,910 MN in 2021, USD 4,481 MN in 2022, USD 4,242 MN in 2023 and USD 4,404 MN in 2024.

“We have to repay local debts from 2020 to 2024, Rs. 1,230 BN in 2020, Rs. 1,557 BN in 2021, Rs. 1,128 BN in 2022, Rs. 1,120 BN in 2023 and Rs. 896 BN in 2024,” the State Minister said.

State Minister Cabraal said that as a government, special attention will be given to manage the value of the Rupee properly. “During the end of last year, the value of the Rupee was indeed at a fragile position. However, the last few days of the previous year, the value of the Rupee appreciated. We will not allow our debt payments to increase because the Rupee is depreciated. In the coming months, we will focus on maintaining the Rupee value. The Central Bank Governor recently said that they are planning to secure the interest rates as well. If we can keep our interest rates at the lower end, we can manage our debts better. So, we are utilising all these instruments to successfully manage our debts. We as the Government will fully service all debts on due dates,” he said.

MP Marikkar questioned why the Government is not bringing in a vaccine and fully opening the country. “It will be beneficial for both people and economy,” he said.

State Minister Cabraal said that it is not a matter of money. “We have enough money to bring a vaccine. What we need is the most accurate vaccine for our people. I agree with what you said. It is important that we manage properly the pandemic and the economy. We shall do our best to balance these facets since they are conflicts of interest. It is a major challenge and we are committed to overcome it,” the State Minister said.


Children cannot be employed until they are 16Minister Nimal Siripala

The minimum age that one could do a job in Sri Lanka will be set as 16 years to end exploitation of child labour, while guaranteeing children’s education and rights, Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister was commencing the Second Reading Debate on the Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of Employment and Remuneration) (Amendment) Bill, Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Bill, Minimum Wages (Indian Labour) (Amendment) Bill and Factories (Amendment) Bill.

He said that now the minimum age limit in this regard is 14 years and it will be increased to 16. He said that thereafter, employing children below 16 years will be a punishable offence. He said that employing children in farming in their parents’ fields and home gardens after school hours will be an exception. The Minister said that although the compulsory age of education was increased to 16 from 14 years in 2016 during the previous government, it was not made a reality as other relevant laws and regulations were not amended. The Government, therefore, is amending the regulations to end child labour and guarantee education to children till they reach 16.

Minister Siripala de Silva said that according to a report the child labour in Sri Lanka is 1 per cent of the child population. “The Government’s endeavour is to drop it to zero through the Labour Ministry,” he said.

He added that the child labour issue here is less severe in comparison to that of other south Asian countries. He said that using children in agriculture and fisheries has been more often reported in the Gampaha, Kurunegala and Moneragala Districts. He added that employing children in hazardous activities is hardly reported here.

According to the UNICEF and other related organizations, around 1 million children are used in work. According to statistics, 2.3 per cent of the child population were employed in 2000 and 43,714 children were in illegal jobs.

The Minister said that these moves will be nationally and internationally important in regaining GSP plus facility as well.


Schools islandwide will be opened very soonMinister G.L. Peiris

The Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday said in Parliament that the Ministry is doing its best to open schools islandwide at the earliest subjected to the health guidelines.

The Minister said that distance learning, as amiable as it is at the given situation, is not sufficient in the long run. “We have started schools in many regions and will start others as soon as possible,” Minister Peiris said.

The Minister said that schools will be reopened step by step and the new school term will commence on Monday (11) in all areas except the Western Province and isolated areas.

Minister Peiris said that the reduction of inequalities in schools will be a priority in the New Year.

The Minister said that providing quality education to children in remote and rural areas is a major objective of the Government and that the programmes related to this objective will be strengthened this year. He was responding to a question by MP Hesha Vithanage during the Oral Questions Round.

The Minister said that steps will be taken to improve distance education through programmes such as e-Thaksalawa and these programmes will be strengthened further.

The Minister said that a programme will be implemented to identify children with special learning abilities and encourage them.


Air Force Officers are not teaching at schoolsMinister Peiris

The Government yesterday denied the allegation that the officers of the Air Force have been deployed to fill teacher vacancies in schools in areas such as Kebithigollewa and Vavuniya.

Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris denied the allegation in response to a question by MP Rohini Kaviratne in Parliament.

MP Rohini Kaviratne said that teachers’ organisations have issued statements in this regard and if such a thing happens, it will be a violation of the Teachers’ Constitution and will create a serious issue regarding the quality of education.

Minister Peiris said that such a move has not been approved by the Ministry and that he will look into the matter.


Speaker calls for meaningful debates

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday called on all parliamentarians to engage in meaningful debates in the House and protect the dignity of the legislature, commencing the first sitting of the 9th Parliament for 2021.

The Speaker said that time should not be wasted on various Points of Order and unnecessary questions.

Speaker Abeywardena said that even inappropriate words had been used in the House during the previous sittings.

The Speaker requested the Government and Opposition MPs to refrain from using unparliamentarily language and secure the dignity of the House.


Opposition did nothing to uplift TourismMinister Prasanna

The Opposition led by Sajith Premadasa has done nothing to uplift the tourism industry that has been affected by the COVID global pandemic in turn affecting three million people who directly and indirectly involved in the industry, Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said that the Opposition sheds crocodile tears over the tourism industry and the Sri Lankans who have been employed overseas should know that they would face the repercussions as their people are also among them.

Minister Ranatunga added that the Government has so far repatriated 69,000 Sri Lankan employees who wished to come to Sri Lanka. He added that each day 500 persons are repatriated and it will continue further. He added that the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed to increase the number to 750 following discussions with the Ministers.

He said that in March, a list was prepared with the names of those Sri Lankans overseas who wish to come back to Sri Lanka. He added that according to the list, they will be brought in under the guidelines of the Health Sector.

He said that Ukrainian tourists were brought in on a pilot project and therefore, it had flaws. He added that the Tourism Industry cannot be allowed to collapse. He added that there is a difference between tourists and those who are employed overseas though the Opposition attempted to tally them.

The Minister said that three companies came forward to bring these Ukrainian tourists. “Measures will be taken to open Airports for tourists. He added that the Biobubble concept would be used during these projects to protect the Sri Lankans from tourists and vice versa.

The Minister said that some had taken photos of the Ukrainian tourists, while they were drinking tea and socialising to show that they were not wearing the masks.

Minister Ranatunga said that those tour guides who went with the Ukrainian tourists were not sent to quarantine but asked to stay in bio bubbles.


Sri Lanka ready for any biological weapon attack Minister Chamal

The Government has taken measures to prevent any possible biological weapon attacks, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said.

The Minister was responding to a question by MP Buddhika Pathirana in Parliament yesterday.

The Coronavirus was initially discussed as a biological weapon, MP Pathirana said. He added that action should be taken in advance against such attacks.

He said that although the use of biological weapons is banned by world consensus, various parties still use them for political and trade tactics.

The MP said that small countries like Sri Lanka could be used to test such biological weapons. He said that this threat should be taken seriously. In response, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that several measures have been taken to protect the country from such possible biological attacks while protecting international consensus.


Over 68,000 stranded Sri Lankans abroad repatriatedState Minister Lanza

The Government has repatriated over 68,000 Sri Lankans who have been stranded overseas in the COVID-19 pandemic, Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure State Minister Nimal Lanza said.

He was participating in the debate over the Plantation Workers’ Regulation Act in Parliament yesterday.

The State Minister said that the Government will set a mechanism to accommodate the stranded Sri Lankans abroad.

“If these people prefer coming here on their own they can, otherwise they could come via the Government programme. Another 70,000 have been stranded abroad, and the Government will bring in them all back. When we plan to repatriate 10,000, another 20,000 apply. Some do not want us to bring them back but they find fault with the Government for not bringing them back,” he said.

The Minister said that the President has instructed to increase the number of flights for those who want to return and increase the number of quarantine centres to accommodate them.

He said that around 30,000 persons in Tourism are struggling over the past nine months and they are unable to even settle their leases.

State Minister Lanza said that this is the reason that the Government opened the airports from January as a pilot project to repatriate Sri Lankans who were stranded abroad.


Ven Rathana Thera enters Parliament

Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera was sworn in as a National List MP of the Ape Janabala Party yesterday morning in Parliament before Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

The National Election Commission (NEC) recently announced the name of Ven. Rathana Thera for the National List Parliamentary seat won by the Ape Janabala Party at the last General Elections.

The Ven. Thera was sworn in as a Member of Parliament by taking the official oath and then signed the book before Parliament Secretary General Dhammika Dasanayake increasing the number of Parliamentarians to 224.

The name of Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera was announced by the NEC in a Gazette Notification.

The Ape Janabala Party and the United National Party (UNP) secured only one National List parliamentary seat each at the General Election held on August 5 in 2020. The two parties were unable to make their nominations for the National List because of their internal problems and only 223 members were in Parliament until yesterday. The UNP, which was one of the two main political parties that governed the country from time to time after the independence, had not been able to make its nomination to the National List seat that they secured at the last General Elections.

Ven. Rathana Thera, who was first elected to Parliament from the Kalutara District in 2004, representing the Jathika Hela Urumaya, was elected to the 7th Parliament from the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2010, representing the Gampaha District. Ven. Rathana Thera, who represented the UNP in the 8th Parliament as a National List Parliamentarian in 2015, is now in Parliament for the fourth time.


Rs. 70 BN from exporting minor crops – State Minister Wakkumbura

The export of minor crops brought in Rs 70 billion last year amidst the COVID 19 pandemic but the United National Party (UNP) led Good Governance Government earned only Rs 63 billion annually from this field during their tenure, Development of Minor Crops including Sugarcane, Maize, Cashew, Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves, Betel Related Industries and Export Promotion State Minister Janaka Wakkumbura said in Parliament yesterday.

He said that during the Good Governance Government, the export income was low since racketeers involved with the Ministry’s affairs, while the government had permitted the import of spices including turmeric. He added that former government members who are in the opposition today are protesting the ban of import of turmeric without encouraging the farmers and the cultivation while the racketeers are smuggling turmeric. “Meanwhile, the turmeric farmers in India are protesting because they have been deprived of the market,” he said.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned import of many crops that can be grown in the country. It was done hastily as the farmers said that they could cultivate turmeric in April if the import was banned. However, the Government has plans to make the country self-sufficient with turmeric at the year end and will export them from January next year,” he said.

The State Minister added that the Government has taken measures to maintain a raw turmeric facility and a dried turmeric facility as well.

The State Minister was responding to an adjournment motion by United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian D. Weerasinghe demanding to take measures to protect the turmeric farmers.


Opposition Leader asks if Government has set up NDVP

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa asked if the Government has taken steps to prepare a National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) as advised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

He was raising a question under Standing Order 27 (2) yesterday in Parliament.

“Prior to availing the COVAX facility, it is important to prepare for the vaccine transportation, storage, vaccination and data collection, and to prepare a National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP). The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised that this should be a priority. Has the Government prepared that plan? Will the NDVP plan be presented to the House? If not, why?” the Opposition Leader asked.

The Opposition Leader said that many countries try to collect large quantities of COVID-19 vaccine. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization launches a programme called ‘COVAX’ for distributing COVID vaccines. It hopes to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population in the developing countries. Various locally produced medicines are also available to control COVID-19, and the people have gathered to obtain those drugs disregarding the risks. However, any drug must be approved through scientific methods and made available to the public soon,” the Opposition Leader said.

“While the Government has full confidence in the COVAX facility to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, the COVAX also depends on donations from rich countries. Does the Government believe that it is appropriate to place full confidence only on this programme? Does the Government has any other alternative? Will the programme be presented to the House? If the Programme is successful, it will provide vaccination to 20 per cent of the population. Is it possible to obtain such assistance to buy the Pfizer Biotech vaccine that is approved by the WHO? Who will get the vaccine first? Does the Government ensure that the process is transparent?” the Opposition Leader asked.

Opposition Leader Premadasa also questioned if the Government thinks that the number of free vaccines will be sufficient to control the pandemic in the country. “Will the Government take steps to import more vaccines? If the Government not buy the required number of vaccines, who would get the vaccine first? In which way the necessary provisions could be made for such a purchase?” the Opposition Leader asked.


Four Bills passed

The House passed four Bills yesterday after taking them up for the Second and Third Reading.

The Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of Employment and Remuneration) (Amendment) Bill, the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Bill, the Minimum Wages (Indian Labour) (Amendment) Bill and the Factories (Amendment) Bill were taken up and were passed.

Three Bills will be taken up including the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill today. Time has been allotted for the Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday (6).

The Second Reading of the Intellectual Property (Amendment) Bill is scheduled for Thursday (7) and 10 Orders including the Airports Development Levy Act will be taken up as well.


Child Labour Act passed

The Opposition extended full support to amend the Child Labour Act, which was introduced by Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva in Parliament yesterday.

Opposition MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said the Opposition sees it is laudable raising the minimum age for employment to 16 years. He said that Rs. 1,000 should be given as daily wage for them. He said that the amendments were introduced to the Minimum Wage Act and the minimum recruitment age was part of it.

While supporting the increase of the minimum wage to Rs, 1000, MP de Silva also said that this should be looked at from the stand point of the employers too as they should have the ability to pay the sum, as pointed out by W.D.J. Seneviratne and both sides should be treated fairly.

He said that the Government should be in a position to pay this wage as the basic salary of estate workers now stands at Rs. 700 and with the allowances, it totals up to Rs. 1025. MP Harsha de Silva said that as the Minister claims, if there is an issue with the EPF, then the issue should be resolved.

“Migrant workers who have been stranded overseas are waiting to return home,” MP Harsha de Silva said. “Some of these women said that they are forced into prostitution. It is very sad to see them in this plight,” he said. He said that millions of Sri Lankans are working overseas and they contribute around USD 6,000 billion to the country annually. He appealed to the Government to look into the grievances of these migrant workers and provide them with some solace. The MP urged the Government to utilise the funds in the ‘Itukama’ Fund to repatriate the migrant workers.