President responded positively: GMOA

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) said President Maithripala Sirisena had given a positive response to its demands during the discussion its members had with the President yesterday afternoon.

During the discussion, the GMOA had put forward some issues including their strong opposition to the South Asian Institution of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) and some budget proposals.

Addressing a media briefing, GMOA Secretary Dr. Nalinda Herath said the President had given them an assurance that the final decision with regard to their demands would be taken after a discussion with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“He responded positively to our proposals, but said in case some proposals were not be fulfilled in the budget, they would be done even after the budget,” Dr. Herath said.

Referring to the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) with India next year, he said the President had assured that it would be signed only after discussions were held with professionals in the country.

He said that the president had assured that doors were always open for discussions.

-Piyumi Fonseka

Govt. opposes Indian bridge, tunnel link to Sri Lanka

Leader of the House University Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella told media yesterday that Sri Lankan government was against India’s plans to build a bridge between Rameshwaram of Southern India and Thalaimannar.


Commenting on Indian Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari’s Wednesday statement to the Lok Sabha that India was set to build a sea bridge and tunnel connecting Sri Lanka, the Minister said that Sri Lanka would not agree with the proposed project.

“We are against it because people of Sri Lanka are opposed to it. We cannot let India build a sea bridge connecting Rameswaram with Thalaimannar,” the Minister told a group of journalists yesterday.

Indian Minister Gadkari on Wednesday in a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha has said: “The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is ready to fully finance a bridge-building project connecting Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka. The project was also discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his counterpart during the latter’s recent visit.”

The India-Sri Lanka connectivity project cost is pegged at about 24,000 crore of Indian rupees.

-Saman Indrajith

Govt urged to put ‘the right people in the right place along with the right system’

The 2016 budget does not tally with the economic policy statement laid out by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently and the government needs to start putting the “right people in the right place along with the right system,” to genuinely implement reforms to put the country in order, internationally renowned economist Prof. Razeen Sally said.

Prof. Razeen Sally

“Sri Lanka’s high exposure to external debt has widened her current account and fiscal deficits, resulting in a weak currency that is vulnerable in a climate where international money is becoming more expensive, Prof Sally said at a forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce on Thursday under the theme “Global Economy and Sri Lanka – What Can We Expect in 2016?”

Sally, an Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore said the budget of the previous regime dealt poorly in terms of fiscal and monetary policies.

He said as the interest rates continue to rise in the US and other parts of the world the “debt funded growth spree based on consumption and imports and public investment is no longer tenable for Sri Lanka.

“A worsening economic climate is the familiar story for Sri Lanka, which crafts very unbalanced macroeconomic policies and the chances are that this climate is going to get considerably worse in 2016, he said.

Sally also said IMF funds may become necessary as the money flow tightens. But the previous government acted irresponsibly.Expecting to be bailed out by the IMF is an issue for this government, he said.

Further,the last budget probably makes it more difficult, as the government clearly lacks credibility in the eyes of the IMF, the Ministry of Finance in particular. “Therefore, an efficient Finance Minister for the country is the need of the hour,Sally said.

“Consider the previous IMF standby agreement, which was clearly political. It was given under easy conditions, the government pretended it was reforming and the IMF pretended this was so. But it postponed the problem. The main message is that the problem has to be resolved at home. You cannot expect the IMF to come and sort out Sri Lanka’s problems, he said.

Prof Sally said that Sri Lanka would benefit from lower fuel prices but at the same time other commodity prices have weakened; non-oil commodity prices have fallen by about 17 percent and that has affected the plantation industry.

“So the currency is good from the export side but not so when it comes to foreign debt, especially when denominated in dollars, he added.

Sally also said the country needs a comprehensive tax reform in a fair and transparent way and concurrently expenditure reform, to put government expenditure on a sustainable footing as a first step to reducing debt.

“The government needs to get more serious and aside from China and India the really big prize is Europe and US. So the government should consider trade agreements with both, he said.

Sri Lanka would benefit from joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) because it would bring significant export markets and push the government towards key reforms that are needed anyway, he explained.

Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Sri Lanka Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe said that Sri Lanka’s recent revisions on the budget have made it further difficult to bridge the budget deficit.

He said that despite all odds Sri Lanka will be able to register a 7 percent plus economic growth in the next year, as the IMF and the Central Bank have predicted.

-Hiran H.Senewiratne

UK-led foreign coalition in overdrive to help GOSL

Battle against corruption

An international coalition led by Britain is now helping the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government stamp out corruption.

Deputy British High Commissioner Laura Davies said that the UK would work closely with the US, Australia and Switzerland to help the new administration. Davies is also accredited to the Maldives.

Laura Davies

Davies said that the UK was in the process of enhancing Sri Lanka’s capability to handle international cases.

In accordance with an understanding with the government of Sri Lanka, the UK provides legal advice, training as well as English language training.

Davies said that the event was sponsored by a range of local and international organisations, including the British High Commission.

She asserted that the training provided by the British had enhanced investigators’ confidence as well as skills.

The official revealed that the UK had committed Rs. 15 million to support Sri Lanka’s anti-corruption project. The UK would continue to focus on capacity building and training for all the professional branches involved in anti-corruption work. Funding for anti-corruption project is in addition to 6.6 mn pounds sterling made available for military reforms and post-war resettlement of the displaced families etc.

The Deputy British High Commissioner recollected the circumstances under which the British stepped in to streamline the anti-corruption battle. Davies said that the UK was one of the first to offer what she called practical support when the new administration sought international assistance to recover massive amounts of money stashed overseas.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has publicly declared that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his close relatives had siphoned off from Sri Lanka funds to the tune of 18 billion dollars. Former President Rajapaksa has repeatedly denied the accusation.

Davies explained that measures taken by the UK to enhance Sri Lanka’s capacity in line with overall objectives to tackle corruption. She said that Sri Lanka had secured the services of a senior investigator with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and was the first country to receive such a benefit. The official revealed that the SFO had handed over a blueprint to strengthen the CIABOC as well as specialist police agencies, including Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID). Davies revealed that the SFO had accommodated, for the first time, external participants, four Sri Lankan personnel in a specialist training programme conducted in London.

-Shamindra Ferdinando

Beware of dengue – Dr. Paba Palihawadana

A drastic increase is seen in the number of dengue cases that have been reported around the island, and people suffering from a fever for more than two days should seek medical attention to be safe, Director of the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Paba Palihawadana said.
Addressing a media briefing in Colombo this morning, she added that people should get a blood test (Full Blood Count (FBC)) done on medical advice if they suffer from fever for more than two days. Pregnant mothers should seek prompt medical treatment for fever from the family doctor / a qualified doctor or from the nearest state hospital without any delay. Hospital admission should be required when necessary.
According to Dr. Palihawadana, patients should take Paracetamol only for fever and they should not take any other pain killers or medications such as NSAIDs. Such medications cause Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) which is fatal. DHF and Dengue shock syndrome can be prevented by seeking swift medical treatment.

Dr. Palihawadana pointed out that a total of 27697 dengue cases and 54 dengue deaths had been reported from all parts of the country so far within this year. The majority of dengue cases (over 50 percent of them) had been reported from the Western Province and from this, 30 percent had been reported from the Colombo District. She added that this season (November, December and January) was the second dengue peak time for Dengue in the year

Customs DG refutes allegations on imported Prado jeep duty levies

Customs Director General Chulananda Perera refuted allegations levelled against the Customs that 189 Prado jeeps are being released by Customs without charging due levies of duties on imported vehicles properly.

He noted that no misconduct or financial malpractice has taken place in this regard since all levies of duties on imported vehicles are charged prior to the release of these vehicles.

The Customs Director General was addressing a press conference at the Customs Head office yesterday.

He said 189 Toyota Prado TRJ 150W jeeps have been imported to the Hambantota Harbour on concessionary permits given to the public servants and tax payers.

According to the Director General, each vehicle has been valued at JPY 3,375,000 FOB. (Approximately Rs. 4 million). A sum of Rs 5.1 was determined as Customs levy on each vehicle under the Customs levy category 2 (110 percent)..

But, an inquiry carried out by the Central Investigation Bureau of the Customs revealed that the real value of a vehicle would probably be higher than the value declared by the importer and value detained by the Validation Committee of the Customs. As a result of this outcome of the investigation, the Customs seized dispatching of these vehicles until completing the investigation process. The Validation Committee re-valued the vehicle based on the manufacturer’s value referring the Yellow Book at Rs 4.3 million. With the increase of vehicle value by Rs 0.3 million, an additional levy of Rs. 1.6million is charged on each vehicle under Category 3 (125 percent).

“Having considered the appeals of importers and concerns of the Customs investigators, it was decided to apply the revised FO Bvalue of JPY 3,640,200 to assess the duties for vehicle identifies as fitted with extra options” Perera said.

He added that Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake instructed the Customs to release the vehicle after charging the full levy imposed on each vehicle. Accordingly, Rs 6.7 million is charged on each vehicle.

“No financial misconduct has taken place in this regard and the entire process is transparent,” Perera noted.

Unrest puts heavy damper on Bethlehem Christmas festivities

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Near the church in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, built over the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, tour guides pace back and forth, waiting in vain for tourist buses that fail to show.

Hisham Khamis, a guide for 10 years, stands forlorn under a huge Christmas tree decorated in the black, white, red and green colours of the Palestinian flag.

In recent years “at least 60-70 buses would arrive every morning,” he said. “These days… there are four or five, occasionally 10.”

Bethlehem is preparing for the traditional midnight Christmas mass at the Church of the Nativity, but the atmosphere this year is less than festive.

A wave of violence and protests has deterred many tourists from making the annual pilgrimage to the ancient city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, though much of the unrest has occurred away from Bethlehem, usually considered a safe destination.

Even so, clashes between stone-throwing young Palestinians and Israeli troops have raged outside Bethlehem hotels, already badly hit by a drop in guests since Israel built a West Bank separation wall that forces visitors from nearby Jerusalem to go through a military checkpoint to get to the town.

On a recent day, the smell of teargas and a foul-smelling spray known as “skunk”, which the Israeli army uses against protesters, still hung heavy in the air. Palestinian officials say Bethlehem hotels that are usually 80-90 percent full at this time of year have not reached even half that level. The drop is a major concern for a city that lives largely on tourism and where unemployment exceeds 20 percent.

Jamal Shehada, who runs a shop selling Santa hats, rosaries and other souvenirs, blames Israeli guides who meet tourists from their flights at the international airport outside Tel Aviv.

With no airport in the Palestinian territories, tourists headed for Christian sites there must start their visit in the Jewish state.

“They tell tourists that there are only terrorists in Bethlehem, and many of them say to themselves, ‘We’d be better off buying our souvenirs from the Israelis rather than in Bethlehem’,” Shehada says. He adds that the army has increased the number of roadblocks around Bethlehem, where streets once teeming with tourists during the Christmas period are now empty.

That has been in response to the violence that erupted at the beginning of October, including Palestinian gun, knife and car-ramming attacks targeting Israelis.

Wijeyadasa lashes out at GMOA for calling for SAITM nationalisation

Condemning the request by the Government Medical Officers Association to nationalise the SAITM medical campus, Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told Parliament that he was keen to know the attitude of these medical officers with regard to the country’s education.

As a developing country, Sri Lanka has failed to provide higher education opportunities for all the students who qualified for university entrance due to financial issues. In Sri Lanka approximately 100,000 students are eligible for university education but only about 30,000 get

the opportunity of entering the state universities.

As it was mentioned in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution the government is responsible to ensure the right to universal and equal access to education at all levels.

Raising a point of order, Galle district UPFA MP Ramesh Pathirana said that the SAITM has no accepted teaching hospital to provide their students to undergo clinical training. All the students who obtain a MBBS or an equivalent degree from a recognized foreign university have to pass Act

16 (Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine in Sri Lanka) conducted by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC). But no such procedure has been recommended for SAITM students. So conducting medical degree programmes our own way is completely wrong. Doctors do not oppose the private medical universities. But there should be a transparent way of doing this.

Responding to the MP Minister Rajapakshe said that SAITM was not established during the period of the 100 Days government or the present government.

The previous government established this SAITM University as well as the defence university. These universities were established with so called shortcomings.

The Minister asked MP Pathirana whether he hadn’t the courage to raise questions with regard to these shortcoming when then government gave permission to start these degree programmes.

“Due to the white van threat that prevailed in that era nobody raised their voices against the government. Even the GMOA remained silent and now are forcing the government to nationalize the SAITM which is very unfair.” he said.

Sri Lanka needs to have another 50-60 universities to meet the country’s higher education requirement. The government cannot do this alone. But all these universities should function under the supervision of the government.

The medical faculty of the Defence University was established even without the approval of the University Grants Commission. But the GMOA didn’t raise their voice against this.

The founder of the SAITM is a professional doctor and he has spent billions of money for the establishment of this university.

After spending a large sum of money and recruiting thousands of students, the GMOA is asking to nationalize it. This is a very mean act.

This is not the opinion of all the doctors of the country and it is only a request of a few members of the medical association mafia who have their personal political agendas.

He also questioned as to why they were damaging the occupational reputation of valuable doctors in this country by making open statements coming forward as an association.

We cannot take the responsibility of all the issues of these institutions that rose during the previous regime. But since we came to power, measures had been taken to legalize all these institutions and take them under the supervision of the government.

Vote on third reading of budget today

The vote on the third reading of the maiden budget is to take place today (19). The second reading of the 2016 Budget was passed in Parliament last week with a majority of 107 votes. A total of 159 members voted in favour while 52 voted against.

The budget proposal for the fiscal year of 2016 was presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake on November 20. The debate on the Second Reading of Budget 2016 was conducted for nine days before the vote on the Second Reading was taken on 2 December.

-Govt. Info

Jt. Opp. to get top legal advice

The Joint Opposition in Parliament has decided to form a Special Advisory Board consisting of the finest legal minds in the country, through which it could gain vital inputs ahead of the proposed amendments to the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the National Organizer of the Joint Opposition and UPFA Matara District MP Dullas Alahapperuma stated that as previously announced by them, they will reveal the shadow Cabinet by January next year.

The former minister said that though it was impossible to defeat Budget 2016 through numbers in Parliament they will continue to hold seminars at electoral level in order to further educate the public on its detrimental effects.