SLPA loss Rs. 3.5 billion due to East terminal not developed in time: Mahinda

The delay in the development of the Colombo Port East Terminal led to a loss of Rs 3.5 billion to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said.

The minister was speaking at the Committee Stage debate of Budget 2018 in Parliament yesterday, when the Finance Heads of his ministry were taken up. “As at present, large ships could only enter the CICT terminal of Colombo Port handled by a private firm. If this facility was developed at the East terminal, the SLPA could get a huge income. The previous Government had called for tenders to import necessary machinery to develop the East terminal and the tender was ready to be awarded. However, the interim government which took office after that called it off. Had we proceeded with the tender, the East terminal would be now competing with the CICT terminal. We have estimated the SLPA incurred loss at Rs 3.5 billion due to the failure to develop the East terminal,” he noted. “We can no longer bear this loss. The SLPA depends heavily on the East terminal. We will soon start developing the East terminal with Cabinet approval. President Maithripala Sirisena at a public occasion recently assured that the East terminal would continue to be under the SLPA. It would not be given to another party,” he added. Commenting on the Hambantota Port Joint Venture, the minister said the Treasury had agreed to reimburse the money it spent to settle the debt of the port after the agreement comes into effect. “A USD 1500 million loan had been obtained to construct the Hambantota Port. Last year Rs 10 billion of the SLPA profit was spent to service the debt. As a result, last year our profit was less than Rs 1 billion. This year Rs 12 billion is needed to pay the debt.

The Treasury took over the debt payment following the joint venture agreement. Because of that reason, we have been able to raise our profit upto Rs 11 billion,” he said.

‘Magampura Company employees will receive three fold compensation, their jobs’

The 464 employees of the Magampura Company would receive a substantial compensation, while their jobs will guaranteed in new companies attached to the Hambantota Port, said Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe in Parliament yesterday.

“Those employees would receive compensation three fold of the amount they are legally entitled to,” said Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. “If they need they could get jobs in the new companies. But they have to apply for them. Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and myself discussed this matter with the Chinese Companies and could come to these terms on behalf of them.”

He made these observations in response to the joint opposition and some other members’ statements they made during the Committee Stage Debate on the budget proposal under the financial heads of Ports and Shipping Ministry, Labour, Trade Union Relations and Sabaragamuwa Development Ministry and Disaster Management Ministry. Those members questioned the position of the employees of the Magampura Company which was attached to the Ports Authority when the Hambantota Port was handed over to the Chinese Companies.

Minister Samarasinghe also said that it was he who confirmed 284 employees of the 464 employees in question in their positions when he was appointed the Minister.

Minister Samarasinghe further responding to the members, said that this year the Ports Authority had earned a profit of Rs 11 billion. He added that an additional bonus would be granted to the employees of the Ports Authority at the end of this year.

MP Pathirana complains loss of child park items

UNP Parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana yesterday requested Law and Order and Southern Development Ministry and the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry to work together to get the items of the children’s park at Matara Kotuwegoda beach that was built by “Rahal Thedas” friendship Association, that were taken away by a group of persons in the attire of Army Uniform on March 07, 2013.

He made this request yesterday during the round of questions for oral answers while querying on the incident from Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka.

Minister Rathnayaka said that so far an investigation has not been held in this connection and neither a complaint has not been made before the Police. He added that a fresh investigation would be initiated in that connection based on these facts. He also said that the items that had gone missing had not yet been found. He added that such an incident had happened, but suppressed by force.

MP Pathirana brought to the notice of the House that an Army officer of the Urban Development Authority the previous day to the incident had called the Mayor via the phone and asked him to remove those items within 24 hours. “However, they had failed to remove the items within 24 hours,” MP Pathirana said. “That very night, all the items had been taken away by persons attired similar to that of Army personnel. They had told that the items had been taken to the Urban Development Authority. The following day the site had been changed completely and there was only a lawn. It was like the military operation that eliminated Prabakaran.”

“It was Ok that they were items of a the Children Park,” said Minister Ratnayaka. “In the same manner journalists were made disappear and lawns were laid on their graveyards.”

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said that he would look into the matter as he was not aware of the incident.

Govt. to provide compensation to rebuild damaged houses due to natural disasters

The loss caused to the country due to floods and landslides is around Rs 70,000 Million, while there was no proper mechanism in providing relief to those affected, said the Minister of Disaster Management Ministry Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

“During the past, only Samurdhi beneficiaries received compensation during natural disasters. However, this government has now devised a mechanism to provide compensation to rebuild damaged houses, while people are also provided with assistance to build houses that could withstand such natural disasters,” he said.

Minister Yapa made this statement joining the Committee Stage Debate on the budget proposal under the financial heads of the Disaster Management Ministry in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said for the disposal of garbage and related issues, the government had allocated Rs. 100 million.

“In the case of disaster situations, the government would construct safety centres to house people affected during disasters in 25 districts. For those living in vulnerable areas, we will provide Rs. 1.6 million to purchase a land and Rs.1.2 million to construct a house. This is a great advancement from what was given to people in such situations in the past,” he said.

For the relocation of people living in vulnerable areas in Kegalle, Hambantota, Kalutara, Ratnapura, Matara and Galle districts, Rs. 1.3326 billion has been provided to the district secretaries, Yapa said, adding that these monies would be granted in stages.

Achieving country’s sustainable development goals by Labour Dept. must be appreciated: Seneviratne

Labour, Trade Union Relations and Sabaragamuwa Development Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne said the country’s labour force is its back bone and promised to actively participate in uplifting the country’s productivity while protecting the rights of the workers.

He said instead of implementing development projects in the country, the Labour Department is compelled to engage in resolving strikes and technical conflicts.

Presenting the summery report of his ministry at the Committee Stage debate of Budget 2018 in Parliament when the Finance Heads of his ministry were taken up, said the commitment of the labour force in achieving the country’s sustainable development goals should be highly appreciated. “It is through their sweat that our economy is built. Hence, my ministry’s prime objective is to implement the relevant laws and regulations in order to establish a content and productive labour force in this country.”

The Minister said during the recent past, several labour offices were established throughout the country. During last August, the Labour Office complex in Avissawella was vested with the people, built at a cost of Rs. 150 million. Further, the Labour Department Administrative complex built in Jaffna at a cost of Rs. 89.5 million in 2016, was also vested with the people.

Minister Seneviratne noted that the Employees Provident Fund is the second largest social security fund in South Asia and its current value as at June 30, 2017 is Rs. 1,949 billion. This fund, he said, has a membership of 2.6 million. “In the first six months of 2017, the Labour Department had collected Rs. 65,339 million as EPF. Further, by sending notices to the organisations that had not paid the EPF, the Labour Department was able to collect Rs. 1.177 million during the first six months of 2017.”He noted that during the first ten months of 2017 alone, 2,210 cases had been filed against institutions that had failed to pay EPF contributions. “Now, unlike in the past, workers could obtain 30% of their EPF without any hassle or interest being charged. Now this money could be obtained from regional offices as well. If the relevant accurate documents are submitted, the money can be received within three weeks without any issue,” the minister said.

Present committee report that probed Salawa Army camp explosion, demands Dinesh

The Joint Opposition Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena yesterday, called on the Government to present in Parliament the committee report that probed into the Salawa Army Camp explosion.

The MP was speaking at the Committee Stage debate of Budget 2018 in Parliament, when the Finance Heads of the Disaster Management Ministry were taken up.

“The President and the Prime Minister those days promised to present the investigation report in that regard to Parliament. Why don’t you make it public? How did the incident occur? It was not a natural disaster,” said the MP.

He also pointed out that compensation payments to people affected by Salawa explosion, Aranayake and Bulathkohupitiya landslides and Kolonnawa floods were yet to be completed. “Many have received the compensation, but there are some who have not yet received it,” he commented.

He also noted that the undertaking of the Prime Minister to develop the area destroyed by the Salawa armoury explosion as a modern city had not been realised yet.

Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardena replying to the MP said 17,000 families in Kolonnawa received compensation over Rs 80,000, adding that for the first time in history, compensation worth Rs 2 billion was distributed in Kolonnawa. “The people will react to it at the upcoming LG elections. You wait and see the results,” he commented.

MP Gunawardena speaking on the Ports and Shipping sector, demanded not to proceed with the attempt to hand over the Colombo Port East Terminal to an international Indian company. “Don’t give it to a foreign company. Keep it with the Ports Authority and develop it,” he urged.

Commenting on the Labour Ministry, the MP asked the Government not to proceed with the proposed amendments to the Shop and Office Employees Act and Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act stating that those would drastically affect the existing rights and privileges of the workers on working hours, leave, overtime payments, etc. He said the proposed amendments are against the International Labour Convention and violates the Agreements Sri Lanka has signed at the European Commission.

“I urge the Labour Minister not to give his consent to these amendments to the laws proposed by the Finance Ministry. Withdraw these amendments,” he urged.

Govt wants foreign shipping companies to establish themselves on 100% ownership basis: Rohitha

Joint Opposition MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena alleged that the government’s reason for proposing to open the doors for foreign shipping companies to establish themselves in Sri Lanka and lift the 40% cap on ownership was baseless, as currently all leading shipping companies are engaged in business with the country.

“The government through its Budget 2018 wants to open the doors for foreign shipping companies to come to Sri Lanka and establish themselves on a 100% ownership basis claiming that this is to encourage foreign investors. However, I would like to ask what are the world’s best known shipping companies that do not come here? In fact, all internationally reputed shipping companies do come to Sri Lanka. Allowing foreign shipping agents to come here freely, would only destroy the local shipping industry and $800 million, which is generated through the local shipping sector would be lost to Sri Lanka. These international companies would not keep their earnings here, but would take it out of the country,” he said. The MP said this while speaking at the Committee Stage debate of the Budget 2018, when the Finance Heads of Ports and Shipping, Labour and Disaster Management were taken up in Parliament yesterday.

He pointed out that in the past, foreign shipping companies could only hold 40% of shares, while local shipping companies held the majority 60%. “During our government too, several proposals were presented to remove the 40% limit and allow foreign shipping companies to own 100% in this country to encourage them to invest here. But we did not allow it, based on the view that local businessmen should be protected.”

‘Govt. terminated proposal to buy cranes for eastern terminal preventing loss of USD 12M’

This government terminated an unsolicited proposal to buy cranes for the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo Port preventing a loss of USD 12 million, said Petroleum Resource Development Minister Arjuna Ranathunga in Parliament yesterday.

He made this observation, joining the Committee Stage Debate on the budget proposal under the financial heads of Ports and Shipping Ministry, Labour, Trade Union Relations and Sabaragamuwa Development Ministry and Disaster Management Ministry.

Minister Ranathunga said Ven Madoluwawe Sobitha Thera told him on his appointment as the Ports and Shipping Minister that the corruption in the Ports Authority was similar to the amount of water in the sea. He added that as the Former Ports and Shipping Minister, he prevented corruption as much as possible and recorded a profit. “Corrupt trade union activists are attempting control the Port,” the Minister said. “They had made promotions and removed employees as they wished. We changed that situation. There is also a business mafia. We could prevent them too. The Hambantota Port was a threat to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.”

He also said that the total loan of the Port Authority as at December 31, 2015 was Rs 233.149 billion. “In 2016, we were able to earn a profit of Rs 6 billion,” Minister Ranathunga said. “In 2016, the Colombo Port came amongst the best 23 ports in the world, while the Trincomalee Harbour turned to be profitable. The Galle Port doubled its profits. We increased a 7 percent salary increase.”

Minister Ranathunga said that the biggest corruption in the Port was committed at the issuance of licenses to lorries. He added that those MPs who were stung by snakes when asked to declare their assets spoke in the House today on these matters, but as the former Ports and Shipping Minister, he could earn Rs 256.1 million by issuance of the licenses for lorries.

He also asked for the guarantee of job security of the employees at the Hambantota Port. He added that during his period, Prasanna Kalutharage who was a trade union activist was removed due to his involvement in corruption. “He had even been punished by Court. But the new management had recruited him again,” Minister Ranathunga said. “Another person called P Ranathunga who was involved in corruption had been recruited again.”

He also said that when this government was elected, there was an unsolicited proposal to buy cranes for the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo Port. We stopped it as the agreement was to pay more than the actual rates and by that measure we able to earn more than USD 12 million.

Though labour productivity had increased, employers benefit but not employees: Bimal

JVP- MP Bimal Ratnayake said that although labour productivity had increased worldwide, it is only the employers who had benefitted, while the labour force was deprived of these benefits. He said within the past 100 years, labour productivity worldwide had increased by 8%, but the worker had not received the benefit of this progress and their wages have not increased on par with the rate of productivity, nor has the worker gained in terms of the number of work hours. Today in the private sector, especially employees contribute nine hours of work, in addition to the several other hours spent on travelling.

He made this statement, speaking at the Committee Stage debate of Budget 2018 in Parliament yesterday, when the Finance Heads of Labour and Trade Union Relations were taken up.

Therefore, he said making the working period of eight hours compulsory is unfair and a violation of basic human rights. “Unlike in the past, the advancement in technology has only been beneficial to the employer, but not the employee. Today the owners or management of big companies have no clue of how the business is done, but they are the ones who reap the profits, while the highly skilled worker gets no share of the profits and only works hard to increase the profits of the employers. Therefore, the advantage of the advancement in technology should also be afforded to the worker.”

He said there is no point in opening up our country for foreign investments that would not come. Citing India as an example, he said, last year foreign investments only reached $46 million. Therefore, he urged the government not to amend the Shop and Office Act in a manner that would deprive the workers of their rights.

According to MP Ratnayake, offering the local labour force as slaves to foreign investors would not bring in foreign investment. “We need to have a better strategy to develop this country,” he said.

Meanwhile, he asked the Labour Minister if around eight of the labour laws are to be revised with the intervention of USAID. “What right does USAID have to talk about Sri Lanka’s labour sector? The US labour sector is a failure in terms of the treatment of the labour force, as 34% of the employed in the US are considered poor. Therefore, when they come here to interfere in our labour market without resolving their own issues, it raises suspicion that they are here to ruin the little we have.”Hence, he urged the government not to change the country’s labour laws to satisfy the sinister agendas of other countries. 


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