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Sunday, 10 February 2013

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President's telephone call to Shashikala

Trinomalee hosted the main Independence Day celebrations after a lapse of 60 years and last Monday's celebration was another proud moment in Sri Lanka's history. The capital of the Eastern Province which experienced deadly rounds of artillery for over two decades heard similar gunfire after 2009, but this time during the 21-gun salute in honour of the Head of State who graced the celebrations.

The world renowned web search engine, Google displayed a 'doodle' marking Sri Lanka's Independence Day on the google.lk homepage and google.com viewed from within Sri Lanka. A Google doodle which is a stylised image of Google's classic homepage logo displayed to celebrate special occasions and celebrations. The doodle which dons the lion found in the emblem of Sri Lanka and features three colours found in the national flag.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a historic speech and reminded the world of the provisions in the United Nations Charter of calling on all nations to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State in their international relations.

Shashikala Siriwardena

He said that there is nothing in the present Charter that authorises the UN to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter. President stressed that Sri Lanka is a country that always respects the Charter of the UN and that all member countries, whether powerful or weak, should respect its Charter.

Urging the importance of unity among all people he said that as much as racism, religious differences too can be a cause for the destruction of a country. Those who try to provoke religious rivalry in the country do not serve their religion, but serve the interests of separatism in the country. We cannot leave room for what could not be achieved through terrorism to be gained by this means, he said.

President also said not only the government but the opposition too has the responsibility to safeguard the freedom we have won. Protecting the country and building reconciliation is not support extended to the government or the opposition but doing one's duty by the land of one's birth, he said.

It had been raining heavily when the national anthem was sung and the President hoisted the national flag. When he was coming down the stage to hoist the national flag, one of his security officers readily came with a big umbrella to protect him from rain.

Though he did not respond initially as the national anthem was sung, he later told the officer not to do so when the schoolchildren were getting wet in heavy rain. "How can I stand under the umbrella only to protect myself when those little children were getting wet?" an emotional President told the officer. Many onlookers said it was a sincere act by a leader who is fond of children and treats them as his sons and daughters.

The President's visit to the East also included commissioning of several development projects in Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts. The President who arrived in Trincomalee two days ahead of the Independence Day celebrations, also commissioned the Trinco water supply project, fulfilling a long-felt need in the area.

Sajith Premadasa Dinesh Gunawardena Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene

After the Independence Day celebrations on Monday, he travelled to Batticaloa to open several development projects, including the new complex and ground at the Eastern University. It was on the following day that the presidential delegation flew back to Colombo and since it was night, they decided to land at Ratmalana Airport.

President greets women cricketers

President Rajapaksa appeared to be tired when the chopper carrying the presidential delegation returned from Batticaloa after a five-day tour of the East from the eve of Independence Day.

As he walked into the Ratmalana Airport terminal, a television was showing live the ICC Women's World Cup match between Sri Lanka and India in Mumbai.

The manner in which the Lankan lasses were playing impressed the President who followed the final moments of the game on his return to the President's House in Colombo.

Immediately after the Lankan women beat Indians by a convincing margin of 139 runs and qualified for the Super Six final stage, the President wanted to call the team and congratulate. But it was not easy to establish a link and the President instructed a newspaper editor to do so.

Finally, the Presudent was able to speak to the captain of the Sri Lanka woman's team Shashikala Siriwardena, immediately after the awards presentation. He wished all success to the Lankan team in their remaining matches and commended the fighting qualities of the local lasses.

Though the Sri Lanka team lost their Super Six round game to much fancied New Zealand, they have made their presence at the ICC Women's World Cup due to two reasons - for humbling the defending champions England in the opening match and then beating India and eliminating the hosts from the final round.

Lankan leader in Buddha Gaya

The President's busy schedule did not permit him to stay more than 24 hours in Colombo after his return from Batticaloa. On the following day, he left for India on a short State visit. He arrived at the Buddha Gaya Airport on Friday morning.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and members of the delegation were cordially welcomed by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar. Secretary to the President Lalith Weerathunga, President's Chief of Staff Gamini Senarath and Parliamentarian Sajin Vas Gunawardena accompanied the President on his visit.

The President participated in several opening ceremonies at Buddha Gaya on an invitation of the Maha Bodhi Society. The President is scheduled to visit several places of worship including Maha Bodhi and Buddha Gaya temples.

A special Bodhi Pooja was organised at the Maha Bodhi temple to bless the President.

The President unveiled a golden fence at the Buddha Gaya temple, constructed around a sampling of the ancient Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura. The President laid a foundation stone for the Maha Bodhi cultural centre. The President also laid the foundation stone for a pilgrims rest at Buddha Gaya.

In line with the President's visit, the Maha Bodhi Society organised an event to present school uniform material to 1,000 students.

President Rajapaksa met chief incumbents of temples in Buddha Gaya constructed by various Buddhist countries. The President also met other religious leaders during his two day visit.

Thirteen-year-old focus of attention at Cabinet meeting

A 13-year-old schoolgirl from Horana was the focus of attention at last week's Cabinet meeting presided over by the President.

Most ministers appeared to be disturbed by the emotional news of the schoolgirl who had been prosecuted for stealing coconuts to colourwash her school.

President Rajapaksa ordered an urgent and special inquiry into the incident where the student in Horana robbed coconuts to pay Rs 800 to school authorities to paint the school.

The unfortunate incident was extensively discussed during the Cabinet meeting on Thursday and the President appeared to be emotional and greatly hurt by the plight of the innocent schoolgirl and the circumstance which had forced her to rob.

The President immediately instructed Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into this incident. The President paid attention to the fact that it was illegal to collect money from students in this manner. Minister Hakeem pointed out that even a circular has been issued stating the President wanted measures taken to prevent a repetition of such situations in the future.

The Cabinet also paid attention to the fact that neither the education minister nor the secretary has the power to dismiss a school Principal or other persons involved in illegal orders of this nature since only the Public Service Commission has the relevant powers. Hence, legislation is to be introduced soon to impose a complete ban, preventing school principals collecting money for unauthorised projects of this nature.

The Cabinet was also of the view that this incident should have been directed to the Mediation Board instead of the court.

Sajith forced to share deputy leader post

It seems that the UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe is playing his green card pack smartly. Despite his inability to pose any threat to the Government in national politics, he has been very clever in establishing his position with the UNP, despite heavy odds.

There was a time Ranil faced immense pressure from the Reformists' Group as the then deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya too did not show much loyalty to the party leader. Sajith appeared to be a powerful contender for the UNP leadership then. But Ranil kept his cool and let his powerful Working Committee to play the 'green game' in right royal style, isolating Sajith.

Initially, Sajith was isolated in the Working Committee after Karu lost his deputy leadership. Divisions within the Reformists group erupted when Sajith won the deputy leader's post at the expense of Karu, who could not secure enough votes.

Then last December, Ranil won a crucial mandate from the Working Committee, not only to continue for another six years as the party leader but also some sweeping powers to pick people of his choice to the key positions in the party.

He filled all other vacancies, except for the post of the Deputy Leader to keep Sajith in suspense. He was called before the party leader, surrounded by his senior loyalists. Sajith, who appeared to be a fish out of water, sans his Reformist buddies, then agreed to fall line with the party leader and to conduct in keeping with the decisions taken by the party leader and the UNP Working Committee.

When Sajith was summoned for the second time before the UNP seniors, this time sans Ranil, he was strictly ordered to give up his personal agenda, including cash donations to religious institutions on a personal capacity. Instead, he was ordered to incorporate those under the party activities. At this stage, Sajith agreed to do so, assuming that would at least help him to regain the deputy leadership of the UNP.

But Ranil was even smarter and decided to make deputy leader's position a 'shared post' so that Sajith would not become No. 2 in the party or the aspiring party leader. The UNP now plans to call a special convention and create four deputy leader posts of which one could go to Sajith. The other three posts are expected to be given to Kabeer Hashim, Daya Gamage and former UNP National Organiser Ravi Karunanayake,

However, there is no provision in the current UNP constitution to create four deputy leaders posts and Ranil will then have to amend it at a special convention. But moderate UNP seniors feel that Ranil would still retain Sajith as the deputy leader, but after disciplining the Hambantota District parliamentarian. Perhaps, Ranil would lay some conditions and tame the overambitious Reformists leader before reappointing him.

Dinesh on Resolutions against SL

Chief Government Whip and Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said last week that the Government will not welcome any US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council sessions to be held in Geneva next month.

"We will explain our human right standards and progress achieved in the sphere of national reconciliation in terms of the previous UN resolution," Minister Gunawardena said. "This is not the first time that US-sponsored resolutions have come against sovereign States in Asia at the UNHRC. We will not welcome any resolution against the country at the upcoming Geneva sessions since we have fulfilled requirements of the UN as a member country," he said.

Sri Lanka will face a review on its progress achieved in the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC) report and the Human Rights Action Plan. The Minister said "representatives of the US and other UN member countries can visit Sri Lanka and eyewitness the progress in the spheres of post-war development and national reconciliation."

"People's rights have been established by the government. The people are enjoying freedom of movement after a three decade war," he said. "The country introduced a Human Rights Action Plan by the UN, fulfilling its commitments to the UN. Secretary to the President Lalith Weerathinga carried out the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.

"Steps have been taken by the government to make constitutional changes that are necessary to implement some recommendations in the LLRC report. The government is taking steps to change the electoral system. Tamil National Alliance's (TNA) reluctance to participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee to reach a consensus on sensitive issues on the devolution of power, has delayed the implementation of some recommendations of the LLRC report," he said.

Lanka targets US$ 2b investment

Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said that Sri Lanka targets over US$ 2 billion in foreign investments, this year. "The country was successful in bringing in investments worth US$ 1.2 billion last year. During the next six months the ministry will launch many plans to get more investments to reach the country", he said.

Further he said that plans will be made to remove all obstacles in achieving the goals during the next two months. The ministry will focus on four sectors in this regard. Tourism, education, industrial development and the service sector have been listed this year to attract foreign investors.

The minister noted that investments in the education sector had not been tapped so far. Around 12,000 students go abroad annually for education draining over US$ 400 million from the country a year. The minister said that measures will be taken to attract foreign investment in the sector to establish foreign universities and educational institutes in the country to prevent brain drain and the foreign exchange outflow. He explained that education is a vast sector in which foreign investment can be obtained. Countries like the UK reject 95 percent visas of Pakistanis and Indians applying for visas for educational matters.

Sri Lanka has the opportunity to attract these bodies to the country. He also pointed out that established educational institutes will attract foreign students in the region to the country. He stated that Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha will handle the sector of promotion in Middle East, while two other promotional programmes will be launched targetting European countries.

Tourism is another major field to attract investors towards the country. Many programmes will be launched centering the Kalpitiya area to develop tourism in year 2013.

First Lady visits Rizana's family

First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa is better known for her various charity acts and helping the needy. Carlton Pre School has been the breading shade for less affluent children and the First Lady is devoting more and more of her precious time to help the under privileged children and women.

On Monday, she visited the home of Rizana Nafeek who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia over the alleged killing of an infant under her care.

The First Lady's visit to Rizana's house at Muthur, Trincomalee was of great relief to the family members who were grieving over the loss of their daughter and sister.

The First Lady gave a patient hearing to the plight of the family members and expressed her deep sympathies and feelings for them. Rizana who has two sisters and a brother was the eldest in her family.

Rizana went to Saudi Arabia to work as a domestic aide when she was 17 and met her untimely fate.

The First Lady was moved by the story related by Rizana's mother which compelled them to send their daughter for overseas employment. The First Lady also inspected the house in which Rizana's family are living and spoke to family members.

She listened to their plight and promised to do whatever possible to help them stand on their own feet. She also promised to find employment for one of Rizana's sisters. The First Lady promised to take urgent measures to build a house for them as promised by the Government. The First Lady also provided them with food and other necessary items.

GL says Commonwealth violated rules

External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris made a strong case against the inclusion of Sri Lanka as an agenda item at the meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which is scheduled to be held in London in April.

The minister said such a course of action is contrary to the decisions taken by the Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in Perth, Western Australia in October 2011 regarding the mandate of CMAG and the scope of its functions.

He expressed these sentiments at discussions with Commonwealth Secretary- General Kamalesh Sharma in London last Tuesday with the upcoming meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Sri Lanka in November this year.

Prof Peiris, who described to the Secretary-General the developments in Sri Lanka during the last few months, emphasised the crucial need to preserve the essential character of the Commonwealth as a "voluntary association of sovereign States, characterised by a striking diversity of cultures and outlook among the 54 states comprising the organisation".

He said any attempt to politicise the organisation or to permit its structures and mechanisms to be used as instruments by some countries to interfere in the domestic issues of other countries, would inevitably distort the cultural ethos of the Commonwealth and pose significant challenges with regard to its future.

 

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