FIFA, ICC branches to turn SL into South Asian Sports Hub: Namal

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) are requested to set up their branches in Sri Lanka in a bid to turn Sri Lanka into a sports hub in South Asian, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa said in Parliament yesterday.

He said so in response to a question raised by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Chaminda Wijesiri during the oral questions round.

Minister Rajapaksa said that a committee comprising the Sports Ministry Secretary, a group of Attorneys-at-Law, as well as representatives of the Attorney-General’s Department, is drafting the new Sports Act. He requested the Opposition members who were ‘concerned’ over the development of sports in the country to assist the endeavour rather than talking to the media.

Responding to MP Wijesiri, the minister said that reports of the Committee on Public Enterprises of the Parliament have revealed that a misappropriation of Rs.29 million had taken place during the period Thilanga Sumathipala served as the President of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

When Wijesiri said that Sumathipala had been assisted by the Government to engage in such corruptions, Rajapaksa said that the misappropriation had been made by remitting the money to a different bank during the 2018 South Africa vs. Sri Lanka cricket match. He added that he and the current government were in the Opposition during the time. He added that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had filed B Report in 2018 regarding the matter on a complaint made by the SLC, under the instructions of the Sports Ministry.

The minister said the sports sector faces many issues, and that the election of office-bearers in sports associations is ‘highly questionable’. In some cases, the number of voters is more than the number of players, he added. Rajapaksa said that all these issues would be addressed with the new Sports Act. He added that sports should not be politicised.

The Sports Minister said that due to this reason, he ‘strongly refuses’ certain Opposition MPs’ requests to appoint Interim Committees. He added that office-bearers in sports association should be appointed in accordance with international standards.

When SJB MP Hesha Withanage suggested Minister Namal Rajapaksa to take the assistance of veteran cricketer Arjuna Ranatunga, the minister said that he had already requested it. However, he added that he would not accept Ranatunga’s assistance if he were to do so through an interim Committee.

When MP Lakshman Kiriella pointed out that Sri Lanka was the only country where a permanent ICC Anti-Corruption Branch is located, Minister Rajapaksa said that it was not only to monitor Sri Lanka, but all cricket-playing countries in the South Asian region.

He added that they have invited the ICC, whose headquarters is located in Dubai, to set up a branch in Sri Lanka.

The minister said that FIFA is also requested to set up one of their branches in Sri Lanka.

He added that it is healthy for the sports economy of the country, and is also a constructive move to make the country a Sports Hub in the South Asian Region.


New technology for Meteorology Department: Chamal

Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said in Parliament yesterday that the Meteorological Department would be provided with modern equipment soon.

Responding to a question raised by SJB MP Hesha Vithanage during the oral questions round, the minister said that this would make many activities of the Meteorological Department more efficient. Rajapaksa also said that ¥2.50 billion, Rs.486 million, and US$35 million would be spent on the equipment.

He added that steps would be taken to upgrade the Meteorological Department with new technology between 2022 and 2024.


Health Ministry has launched project to develop hospitals in tea-growing regions: Pavithra

The Health Ministry has launched a programme to develop hospitals in tea-growing regions, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said in Parliament, yesterday. She was responding to a question raised by MP Velukumar regarding hospital facilities for people providing labour in the plantation sector.

The minister pointed out that the total number of hospitals located in plantation regions in Sri Lanka is 494. According to her, only 44 hospitals in those regions have been taken over by the government. The districts in which those hospitals are located in are Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Kegalle, Ratnapura, and Kalutara, she added.

There are 450 health institutions in tea plantation regions which have not been taken over by the government, but are under the control of the plantation companies, Wanniaarachchi said. She added that she is aware of the health problems of estate workers.

The minister pointed out that the Health Officers are currently working in these regions due to the shortage of doctors.

Wanniarachchi informed the House that the Health Ministry is currently preparing plans to take over those 450 private institutions as well.


‘Government won’t use Easter Sunday attacks for political purposes’

The Government would never use the Easter Sunday attacks as a means to an end, Minister Johnston Fernando said in Parliament, yesterday. He said so in reply to a speech made by MP Manusha Nanayakkara regarding the matter.

Minister Fernando was critical of the MP and the Opposition for making ‘false statements’ regarding the Easter Sunday attacks in an attempt to mislead the public.

“We never mix politics with the Church. We have never asked even for a preferential vote in the Church. Therefore, I would like to ask the Opposition not to use the Easter Sunday tragedy for political purposes.

The Opposition should do a public apology for causing the Easter Sunday carnage. Instead, they are simply wearing black as a publicity stunt,” the minister said.

“The Government will not spare anyone who is responsible for the tragedy. The President and the Prime Minister believe that the culprits of the Easter Sunday carnage must be brought to justice. If the Opposition is keen on doing the same, I request them to go before the CID and give statements. Every move made by the Government concerning this tragedy were made as per the instructions given by the Attorney-General,” the minister said.


Discrepancies in Health Ministry’s COVID-19 statistics: Sajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, raising a question under Standing Order 27 (2) in Parliament yesterday, expressed concerns over the COVID-19 vaccination programme carried out by the Government.

Premadasa said, “It has been recognised that the free health service in this country is at a high level. Many health indicators are higher than other countries in the region. However, weaknesses in the current management are causing some setbacks in the health sector. This is particularly reflected in the weak measures taken by the Government to control the spread of COVID-19.”

“It appears that the Government is working to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country in order to keep the economy afloat. There are discrepancies in the statistics of COVID-19 infections in Sri Lanka released by the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health and the data obtained from laboratories,” he added.

The Opposition Leader observed that as a result, accurate statistics are not provided for decision-making in all sectors, including public and private sector institutions.

Premadasa said, “It seems that there are actions such as reducing the number of PCR tests, as well as minimising public attention to the pandemic by not publishing accurate information and statistics. Therefore, there is a reduction in hygienic practices by people in public places. If this continues, there is a risk of another wave.”

In the past two weeks, there has been a rapid increase in the spread of the virus in India, which has triggered the world’s largest vaccination drive, Premadasa said. The number of daily infections has risen to 200,000, while the number of daily fatalities has risen to 1,000 in a number of states in India, including Maharashtra. A similarly significant rise has also been seen in Britain and South Africa, he added.

The use of the Indian AstraZeneca vaccine given to the people of this country to control the coronavirus has been suspended; the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been discontinued in a number of other countries due to issues as well, the Opposition Leader said. It is also reported that some of the people who used the vaccine had died due to blood clots, he added.


Tender for liquor bottle stickers granted to foreign company during previous regime

Pathirana urges Government to grant it to State Printing Corporation instead

Samagi Jana Balawegaya Parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana requested the Government to cancel the Rs.1 billion tender to print stickers for liquor bottles that was granted to a foreign company during the previous government’s rule. He asked that it be granted to the State Printing Corporation (SPC) instead.

The Parliamentarian made the request in the form of a supplementary question during the oral questions round.

“The tender was granted to an Indian company that had been blacklisted internationally. If the SPC can print lotteries, it can print these stickers as well. The price may be high, but allow the profit to be pass to a government institution,” he said.

Pathirana said the gazette stating that government institutions should compete for tenders should be amended. He added that priority should be given to state institutions. Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that he would look into the matter and take the necessary measures.

Minister Rajapaksa also commended MP Pathirana for speaking up against the former government, even though he was a part of it, in order to stand for justice.

MP Pathirana said that certain government officials did not bring such topics up as they would have lost the commissions given to them by private companies. Rajapaksa, in response, said that he would look into the matter to amend the clauses of the said document after a study and invited him to an official discussion on the matter.

Pathirana further said that there was massive corruption related to the tenders procuring food for the Tri-Forces. Products such as tea, milk powder, and yoghurt could be procured by the government itself, but the former Finance Minister did not dare it due to the influence of several officials, he added.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the Government intends to buy the products of state institutions. He added that it has been decided to buy such products from the Mahaweli Authority and the Fisheries Corporation as well.

MP Sarath Fonseka said that the Forces could not buy products from state institutions as they are allocated a limited budget. Therefore, the Forces would have to buy goods at lower prices from whoever that procures it. He added that hence, such a restriction should not be set. Rajapaksa said that that matter would be looked into as well.