First to dive, first served: China hosts thanksgiving reception for Lanka

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The Chinese Embassy in Colombo hosted a reception on Tuesday at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo, appreciating Sri Lanka’s efforts on the recent rescue mission of its capsized fishing vessel.

Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong hosted the event which saw some 300 guests including senior officials and foreign diplomats taking part.

The Chinese fishing boat capsized in the central part of the Indian Ocean on May 16, with 39 Chinese, Indonesian and Filipino crew members reported missing. China, together with Sri Lanka, Australia, India, the Maldives, Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries then carried out a joint search-and-rescue operation for the people in distress, covering an area of nearly 20,000 square nautical miles and the maximum possible drift region.

Sri Lanka immediately sent the Navy ship SLN Vijayabahu and a diving team consisting of nine personnel to the site, which was more than 800 nautical miles away. “The Sri Lankan divers were the first to dive into the water and enter the hull at the risk of their lives,” the embassy said in a statement. The nine Navy divers who took part in the salvage operations were also felicitated and they were presented with flowers by Chinese diplomats.

Giving a detailed introduction of the ins and outs of the rescue operation, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera explained the dangers involved in the diving mission and said that “when the divers tried to enter the crew cabin area, it was just like turbulence inside a washing machine. The gushing water made access impossible.”

Commander Perera emphasised that this mission was very special because of the international joint efforts.

A foreign diplomat was heard asking a senior government official whether China hosted similar receptions for other countries who took part in the rescue operations (including India). The local official responded by saying he knew of no such instances but stressed that “since we jumped in first (diving team operation-wise), Sri Lanka is special.” The duo shared a good laugh as they approached the buffet table.

President’s invitation to SLPP MPs: Party hierarchy uneasy over nature of discussions

President Ranil Wickremesinghe was planning to meet the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentary group tomorrow.

A senior Presidential Secretariat official contacted SLPP Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa this week to inform him of the planned meeting.

Mr. Rajapaksa, though, said that while the President could call for a meeting of Cabinet and State Ministers including those from the SLPP, he could not call a meeting of other SLPP MPs, party seniors and district leaders without having first obtainined the consent of the party.  

He told the official that the SLPP was an alliance and that party leaders must be informed first if the President wished to speak to them about political developments.

The Presidential official then telephoned SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam and informed him of the President’s intention to meet the SLPP’s parliamentary group.

Sources revealed that the SLPP had been unhappy over some of its ministers, who have now aligned themselves with President Wickremesinghe, sending messages to other MPs from time to time come to the Presidential Secretariat for various “discussions.”

The party hierarchy is reported to be uneasy over the nature of these “discussions,” which they suspect are part of efforts by these ministers to lure more SLPP MPs away from the party to align with the President.

Secretary- Chairman or Chairman- Secretary: COPE in confusion

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has expressed strong displeasure over how a Secretary of a key Ministry was concurrently holding the position of Chairman of an institution coming directly under the same Ministry.

When officials of the institution came before the COPE this week, the committee noted that the Ministry Secretary was also the chairman of the institution. They observed that the Secretary, who is the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry, being the chairman of an institution under the same Ministry was highly problematic and this was a clear case of conflict of interest.

The COPE Chairman said he was clearly unimpressed by the developments and at one point asked whether the committee should refer to him as; “Secretary-Chairman” or “Chairman-Secretary”.

The committee directed the relevant authorities to take action regarding the matter within two weeks. It is now highly likely that the Secretary will be asked to step down from his position as Chairman of the institution.

Fertiliser fiasco brings out nuances in saying thank you

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on Friday again questioned how no one had been brought to account over the disastrous saga involving the Chinese fertiliser shipment, which saw the country having to pay USD 6.9 million for a shipment that never arrived.

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapakshe who was in the chair was clearly unmoved, interjecting that he had heard this question raised close to a hundred times in the House. “I too have listened to it and the various answers given by the Government over the matter. Action has already been taken regarding this,” he said.

Interjecting, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said: “But we are yet to hear a satisfactory answer from the Government. The Government appointed new ministers to this subject during this time and they all insisted that action would be taken to bring those responsible to book.”

Opposition MPs became irritated by the Deputy Speaker’s constant use of the words “Bohoma Isthuthiy” (thank you very much) in what they saw as an evident attempt to end further discussion of the matter. “You can’t just close the book on this by saying Bohoma Isthuthiy,” said Mr Kirella, demanding an answer from the Government.

“Don’t say Bohoma Isthuthiy when we point out a fraud of this nature,” said Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara, joining in.

The normally affable Deputy Speaker Rajapakshe, who was also becoming irritable by the criticism, shot back saying that opposition MPs were deliberately misinterpreting his words. “I am saying Bohoma Isthuthiy to thank you for raising this matter. I am not offering thanks for anything else,” he insisted.


Two-day tuition ban in Jaffna for classes up to Grade 9

From July 1, tuition centres in the Jaffna district will not be allowed to conduct classes up to Grade Nine on Friday afternoons and Sundays.

The decision was taken at a meeting at the Jaffna District Secretariat after considering the impact it had on the relations between students and the community.

The meeting chaired by District Secretary A. Sivabalasundaran saw parents and civil society representatives pointing out how students were forced to attend several tuition classes till late hours after school.

Thus, the parents observed that this tuition class ‘mania’ resulted in students engaging in fewer extra-curricular activities, including sports. They also had little time for religious activities. One parent noted; “there is no leave day even for students to take some rest”.


Ban stays, no foreign travel for two senior officials

The Finance Ministry has denied permission to two senior officials of an institution coming under the Ministry to travel to an East Asian country for a conference.

The Ministry has pointed out that it cannot authorise the travel due to the circular issued by the President’s Office. Under the heading “Release of Exchange for Official Travel Abroad,” the circular notes that state funds cannot be released to buy airline tickets for officials to travel abroad, especially in Business Class.

The officials have appealed the decision, insisting that they never intended to travel Business Class and were planning to travel in Economy Class using the institution’s own resources. Nevertheless, sources said the appeal too had been rejected on the grounds that such travel was unnecessary.

Monkey terrorism: Even side mirrors and licence plates taken away

Amid continuing debate on how to limit crop damage caused by the Toque Macaque (monkey) population, Parliament on Friday took up a Private Member’s Motion titled “Controlling the Toque Macaque population that damages crops.”

The motion was moved by Matale District SLPP MP Nalaka Bandara Kottegoda. He said the Toque Macaque population was out of control, with monkeys now causing serious damage to the food chain by not just destroying crops, but even killing and eating birds, and squirrels because they did not have enough to eat.

Many MPs, both in the government and the opposition, spoke strongly of the urgent need to control the monkey population. SLPP Nuwara-Eliya District MP Nimal Piyathissa called for a strong response to what he said was “terrorism” committed by Toque Macaque monkeys which he said had caused massive damage to the country’s economy. He assailed NGO ‘kaalakanni’ and environmental organisations for preventing efforts to control the monkey population at the expense of poor farmers.

SLPP Kandy District MP Udayana Kirindigoda recalled one incident where monkeys had removed both the side mirrors and even the licence plate of his vehicle. “They have become so violent because they don’t have enough food in their natural habitat and are forced to come more and more into areas inhabited by humans,” he added. Hearing this, one MP told another: “Things can’t be so bad that they have begun eating side mirrors and licence plates.”

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