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Parliament

Minister Dinesh enlightens Opposition Leader

Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena yesterday requested the Opposition not to insult the Speaker by levelling allegations against him.

Minister Dinesh Gunawardena was referring to the Opposition Leader’s claim in Parliament that the Speaker “ran away” from the Chair without answering Opposition’s queries.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, who was chairing the House proceedings from its commencement transferred the responsibilities to the Deputy Speaker and departed the Chamber around 11.40 a.m. The Speaker left the Chamber during Opposition Leader’s speech on allowing MP Ranjan Ramanayake to participate in Parliament proceedings. Upon the Speaker’s exit, the Opposition Leader alleged that the Speaker is running away from responding to the Opposition’s demand.

Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena then rose to deny the allegation of the Opposition Leader.

“Do not level allegations against the Speaker and insult him without knowing the facts. All of us have been invited today to participate in the meeting of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association. The Speaker had to leave the Chamber because he has to Chair that meeting. The Speaker is representing all of us at this meeting. So do not insult the Speaker without getting your facts straight. Is this the way the Opposition is treating the hand of friendship extended by a neighbouring country? Speaker left the House to represent all of us. So, I would kindly request the Deputy Speaker to carry out the proceedings of the House,” Minister Gunawardena said.

 


‘Opposition Leader misinterprets Speaker’s duty’

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday said that his official duty was misinterpreted by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa without knowing proper facts.

The Speaker refuted the Opposition Leader's allegation of 'running away' from the duty. He said that he assigned the Deputy Speaker to take the Chair as he had to officially accept the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attack submitted by Hariguptha Rohanadheera, the Director General (Legal), Presidential Secretariat, on the directive given by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Speaker said that the copies for the members were not handed over to him.

He added that he sent his copy to the Parliament Library and the members could refer to it, as they wish. He added that he would make the copies available at the members' desks no sooner he received them.

The Speaker, who was chairing the House proceedings from its commencement, transferred the responsibilities to the Deputy Speaker and departed the Chamber around 11.40 a.m. The Speaker left the Chamber during the Opposition Leader’s speech on allowing MP Ranjan Ramanayake to participate in Parliament proceedings. Upon the Speaker’s exit, the Opposition Leader alleged that the Speaker is running away from giving a reply to the Opposition’s demand. However when the Speaker was not in the Chair, MP Harin Fernando asked where was the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attack.

Opposition Members said that it was stated in the media that the report would be submitted in Parliament yesterday but it was not true.

 


Minister assures Ranjan’s safety

The safety of the former Minister Ranjan Ramanayake, who is serving a four years’ RI for committing the offence of Contempt of Courts, will be assured by the Ministry, Prison Management and Prisoner's Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte said in Parliament yesterday.

"I will take the responsibility of the protection of Ranjan Ramanayake," State Minister Ratwatte said.

He was responding to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who said that the life of Ranjan Ramanayake was at risk. The Opposition Leader said that he met Ramanayake in the Angunakolapelessa Prison yesterday. “He was living in a miserable situation among drug traffickers and murderers in the prison. His life was at risk there as he spoke against the murderers and drug offenders. The Government and the Speaker should take responsibility if something happened to Ranjan Ramanayake,” he said. The Opposition Leader demanded the Chair to transfer Ranjan Ramanayake to the Welikada Prison.

State Minister Ratwatte said that Ranjan Ramanayake was with nearly 10 inmates in a spacious room with a television. He added that, however, following the concern of the Opposition Leader and opposition members of Ranjan's security, he was separated from other inmates and directed to an isolated cell in the prison.

 


‘Sathosa losses in previous regime reduced now’

The Government has reduced the Sathosa losses that occurred during the previous regime, Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena said in Parliament yesterday.

He said that the Opposition recently accused the Prime Minister and the Cost of Living Committee of causing huge losses to Sathosa by reducing the prices of 27 items below the ongoing market prices.

“The prices of these commodities have been reduced to below market prices in a manner that does not cause any loss to the Sathosa. It was the previous government that ruined the CWE in various frauds by the then Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. In 2015, the loss to Sathosa was Rs. 1.9 Billion, in 2016 it was Rs. 5.1 Billion and in 2017, Rs. 2.7 Billion,” he said.

 


Bond scam should be investigated further – State Minister Cabraal

Investigations should be conducted further on the bond scam in 2015 to uncover more irregularities and their instigators, Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to MP Shantha Bandara during the Oral Questions Round.

The State Minister expressed his dissatisfaction in certain aspects of the investigations into the Treasury Bond issue.

“This issue immensely damaged the image of our country. Investigations into this matter are not over yet. These investigations should be carried out further. Some aspects of the investigations were limited. How the Bank of Ceylon immediately disbursed Rs. 10 million is questionable. We are yet to know under whose approval such a decision was made. Aspects as these were not adequately investigated. Some reports do not make any observations on such issues. Therefore, further investigations should be carried out. The mastermind of the scam should be investigated. The investigations in this regard were unsatisfactory. Therefore, investigations should be carried out without letting the masterminds behind this scam to walk free,” the State Minister said.

“As per the report by the Presidential Commission of inquiry investigating into the issuance of bonds from 2015 February 1 – 2016 March 31 and on the forensic audit on the same, there have been a series of discrepancies in the matter during the time. Several experts have voiced their scientific analysis and opinion on this matter that solidify that a scam has taken place. As per the report, the Government and State agencies have lost Rs. 8.59 billion because of these scams. As per the fourth Forensic Audit Report, the total loss to the government has been estimated between Rs. 6.63 BN – Rs. 9.68 BN. The total impact of the bond scam on the economy is humongous and it is difficult to be calculated. The loss should be around Rs. 145 BN, taking the interest rate that has gone up into consideration,” the State Minister said.

“The Government is implementing now or has already implemented the recommendations of the report of the Treasury Bond Commission or the fourth Forensic Audit done on the matter. The whole issue was created as a result of the then CBSL Governor Arjun Mahendran’s decision to change the method of issuing Treasury Bonds. In June 2017, the method was changed again and until then, the losses happened regularly. The Attorney General has already filed a case against the Perpetual Treasuries (Pvt.) Limited to obtain the improper profits they had made by the errant bond issuances. Rs. 10,890 BN of the PTL in the RTGS account has also been frozen,” the State Minister said.

 


Cricket Board officials’ salaries have not been increased that much – Minister Namal

Salaries of Cricket Board officials have not been increased by hundreds of thousands of rupees, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa said.

He was responding to MP Thushara Indunil in the Oral Response Round in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said that the salary increase for the officers of the Board of Cricket is done on a percentage basis subject to the approval of its Executive Committee.

He expressed regret over the resignation of Chaminda Vaas and said that losing such a talented player and coach is a huge loss to the Sri Lanka Cricket team. The Minister said that there was a procedure for a coach or a player to negotiate their contracts and that Chaminda Vaas had entered into an agreement with the Cricket Board for a specific sum. “However, he said that a separate amount was paid when they participate in a tour,” the Minister said

He said he had appointed a committee headed by Aravinda de Silva to make decisions related to cricket. Subsequent to the decision to appoint Chaminda Vaas as the coach, the agreements related to the contracts should be made with the Cricket Board, the Minister said and refused to have further discussion regarding the demand for an increase in payment just prior to engaging in a tour.

“The Chairman or the CEO of the Board of Control for Cricket cannot allocate funds as and when they want and is subject to the approval of the Executive Committee. If not, as you pointed out, this would be questioned by the COPE Committee,” he said.

Minister Rajapaksa said that for this tour alone, it had been agreed to pay Rs. 450,000. In accordance with the Board of Control for Cricket agreement, there is an additional tour fee apart from the agreement. The Cricket Board had agreed to pay this Rs. 450,000 in addition to the tour fee as well.

He said that Chaminda Vaas had not accepted the Rs. 450,000 and had tendered his resignation. The Cricket Board, therefore, had accepted his resignation.

“There is a procedure followed when payments are made to players or coaches and we will follow those procedures. We only consider a player’s or coach’s ability and their race, religion or country is irrelevant,” the Sports Minister said.

 


Gem Industry should be facilitated soon – MP Seneviratne

The Government should immediately provide sufficient infrastructure facilities to the gem industry if it wants to create an international gem market in the country, Ratnapura District MP John Seneviratne yesterday said in Parliament.

MP Seneviratne requested the Highways Minister to take swift measures to construct the Colombo-Ratnapura Expressway as difficulties in transportation facilities is a major hindrance to develop the gem industry. MP Seneviratne said that the Government should lessen the complexities in obtaining a gem mining licence as numerous delays discourage the businessmen from taking up the difficult task. He commended the Government's move to establish a gem-tower in Ratnapura to turn it into an international gem market.

MP Seneviratne was opening the Second Day Debate on several regulations under the National Gem and Jewellery Authority Act in Parliament yesterday. The debate commenced on February 10, however, considering the limited time allocated for the debate, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara requested the Speaker to continue the debate for another day, to which the House agreed. The debate, therefore, was taken up yesterday.

“The Gem and Jewellery Industry is an important sector in our country. Sri Lanka has been famous for gems throughout the history. The gem industry has been going on for three thousand years. Our country is very proud to know that our gems have been used for crowns, thrones and statues all over the world. We receive a large amount of foreign exchange from the precious gems in our country. In 2019, we received a foreign USD 300 MN. In 2020, it was reduced to USD 119 MN as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The gem trade became very limited because of lockdowns and travel restrictions. This resource is spread across 70 per cent of the land of our country. However, only 20 per cent of our country's gem resources have been explored,” the MP said.

“We as a country need to employ high-tech methods to extract the gem resource. We need to do research and provide the necessary information to the institutions. Then, we can increase the number of businessmen in the gem industry. We also have major opportunities to export gems. Today, Bangkok, Hong Kong, have become the international gem market. Gems in Bangkok are taken from the Sri Lankan market. Eighty per cent of Sri Lanka's gems are found in the gem market. Therefore, instead of going to Bangkok and selling the gems of this country, we should create an international market in Sri Lanka and sell them to foreign buyers directly,” the MP said.

 


Import restrictions imposed to ease pressure on Exchange Rate – State Minister Cabraal

Import restrictions had to be imposed on selected non-essential items, including motor vehicles to ease the severe pressure on the exchange rate caused by the unlimited loans that had been obtained by the Yahapalana regime and for the COVID-19 pandemic, State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal said in Parliament yesterday.

State Minister Cabraal was responding to Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa under Standing Order 27 (2), regarding the situation that has arisen because of the importation of vehicles and the imposition of import restrictions by the Government to prevent the devaluation of the Rupee.

“Does the Government admit that limitation of vehicles has done injustice to the professionals and vehicle importers who have complied with the Government's decision to restrict the import of motor vehicles? Will the government take action to alleviate the inconvenience caused to them by having to pay interest on bank loans, warehousing and rental vehicles?” the Opposition Leader asked.

“Will the Government take steps to provide solutions or relief to those employed in the motor import sector who are facing difficulties due to this import ban? If so, what are the steps taken so far? The vehicle market is in a state of uncertainty as the prices of vehicles have skyrocketed and there is no definite or temporary date to lift the import ban. Does the Government have a plan on how to lift the import ban to alleviate this situation?” he asked.

State Minister Cabraal said that Sri Lanka had to pay Rs. 5 billion in international sovereign bonds in 2014, while the country's reserves stood at Rs. 8 billion and the interest rate at 5.71 per cent. State Minister Cabraal said that the amount that had to be paid as interest was 28 million and based on the value of the Rupee, the Government had to allocate Rs. 37.3 BN. As a result, the amount of Sri Lanka's international bonds was about 6.73 per cent of its GDP. He said that by 2019, there were 15 billion international sovereign bond issues, which is an increase of over 10 billion, and it resulted in an increase in the interest rate on loans to 7.4 per cent. Rs. 201 billion had to be spent to debt services as the value of the rupee had further decreased, he added.

State Minister Cabraal said that during the Yahapalana regime, the GDP growth of the economy had increased only from 71 to 83 billion and then the amount of sovereign bonds increased from 6 per cent to 18 per cent as a percentage of the GDP.