SLT earns around Rs.4.4 bn profits today - Harin

If we do not keep up with modern technology, systems become redundant and as such Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) had to re-invest as some of the investments made between 2012-2014 had not been fruitful. However, as a group Sri Lanka Telecom earns profits of around Rs. 4.4 billion even today. However, as we need to service our loans we need new initiatives. As such we have proposed to go for an IPO on Mobitel in the stock market and we have the ability to be a strong force in the Colombo Stock Exchange and we have the ability of venturing into new investments, Telecommunication, Foreign Employment and Sports Minister Harin Fernando said.

Joining the Committee Stage debate winding up speech in Parliament yesterday, responding to speculations and allegations about the Google balloon, he said they had asked the TRC for a spectrum but unfortunately there was a big commotion about it. Further, the Google balloon did not crash but Google admitted it was successful but they had not been there when it landed. However, some of our media institutions felt that it was unsuccessful.

Responding to MP Tharaka Balasooriya who asked what the purpose was there in sending this Google balloon when there were so many transmission towers already in the country, Minister Harin Fernando said Google is a world renowned company and they wanted to do this experiment. “However, we did not intend to provide Wi-Fi facilities through this balloon. It is a wrong notion. The purpose was to determine if we had 4G technology in every space within Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka did not spend a cent for this and Google handled all the expenses. All we wanted was to do this experiment in Sri Lanka and gain some recognition for this tiny island.”

He added that there are those who question me regarding our digitalisation drive, “But I must say that 334 Predeshiya Sabhas now have fibre optic technology. We gave the contract to Telecom and they called for tenders and gave the contract to other companies. Whatever decision was made by the Board they will go on a tender process, he said.

By this measure there is no need to bring the Divisional Secretaries and other officers to Colombo. Instead through this technology they could be connected through video conferencing. However, I am saddened that there is a lot of opposition and obstructions when we try to do these modernisation,” he noted.

Currently, he said only Mobitel and Dialog are making profits while all the others are having issues. Hence we have invited them to merge and carry out their operations.

“These institutions also render huge support to sports in the country. He said the government is ready to pay three months bonus to Telecom staff during this year.”

Fernando also spoke on the migrant workers issues and said there is a big process in the Foreign Employment Bureau. “If order to systemise this process, we have made a request to create a universal review system in Sri Lanka. With that when a job order is received to the point the person is recruited and the training the recruit receives, we should be able to monitor the whole process on a dashboard. Because there was no proper process we have had to pay so much at various levels. But there are other groups who bypass this process and send people overseas.

This falls under human trafficking. They send people to Dubai, then Oman and other states. Then we cannot take responsibility. Hence we urge all migrant workers to register with the Foreign Employment Bureau prior to going abroad for employment. There is a payment of some Rs.17,000 and by that we pay for children’s scholarships etc. However, this is a small amount in comparison to what the employers pay. However, now we promote carers instead of maids. But, if the prospective migrant workers [possess the N4, N5 qualifications it is easier to get them good placements. We have also initiated an online passport renewal facility where these migrant workers could extend or renew their passports online within a few days,” he said.

With regard to foreign employment the government intends to bring in new features and a new facelift to this field connecting those employed overseas and their children back home.

On the topic of sports he said, “We need to build trust and prestige. There are 66 sports clubs and the majority of them want to keep their dominance and to create mushroom clubs in order to hold onto their dominance which has led to the downfall of sports. There are regulations that any sports club cannot contest for an election without participating in national sports tournaments. But no one follows this regulation. However, from July we intend to make it compulsory that all these clubs must participate in national events to be eligible to contest for any election.”

He said the Rs.7,500 paid to players is totally inefficient, adding that no matter how much we gloat, cricket has still not infiltrated the villages. Hence he said, the Sports Ministry intends to take the sport of cricket into the village areas in search of new talent. He also noted that the foundation stone for the Killinochchi stadium was in 2011 but for nine years nothing happened. As a result the Sports Ministry suffered heavy losses. 255 persons were paid salaries but not a day’s work was got from them. “I am conducting an investigation into this matter,” he added.


USD 810 mn compensation to be paid if 2014 milch cows imports agreement cancelled - Harrison

If the Government is to cancel the problematic agreement for the import of 20,000 milch cows signed in October 2014, a compensation of USD 810 million has to be paid, Agriculture, Rural Economic Affairs, Livestock Development, Irrigation and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister P.Harrison said.

The bilateral agreement signed by former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa to import 20,000 milch cows came under criticism by both the Government and Opposition members in Parliament yesterday.

Minister Harrison said that importing milch cows under this agreement has been suspended due to the problems found in the milch cows imported under it. He said the Government spent Rs.992 million in 2015 to import 2,489 milch cows and another Rs.2,317 million in 2017 to import 5,000 milch cows under this agreement. Out of them 406 milch cows had either died or found to be unproductive, he added.

“No pilot project was carried out before signing the agreement. The first batch of milch cows had already been ordered when our Government came to power. We distributed the first herd of milch cows among the government farms and the second herd of cows were given to selected private entrepreneurs at a concessionary rate of Rs.200,000 per a milch cow. It is reported that supplying food to those animals had become problematic. After discussing with the Finance Ministry, we extended the loan repayment period of the private entrepreneurs. We will also discuss with the Finance Ministry to write off the loans of the dairy farmers inconvenienced by this issue, but we cannot provide that relief to large scale businessmen,” the minister explained in response to a question by UPFA MP Dayasiri Jayasekara.

MP Jayasekara, observing that the matter of importing milch cows was subjected to an audit inquiry and the findings were discussed at the COPE, said that he too agrees that the fault lies with the former Government.

“We do not want to cover it up. Action must be taken against the persons responsible for it including those who gave approval for it,” he said.

MP Jayasekara pointed out that the milch cows imported under this agreement had not undergone any vaccination and that there had been a massive fraud behind it. “This led to the collapse of milk production in Sri Lanka,” he noted.

JVP MP Dr.Nalinda Jayatissa questioned as to how the milch cows obtained by then Ministers Vijith Vijayamuni Zoysa and Lakshman Wasantha Perera under this agreement were found to have no problems while the milch cows obtained by ordinary people give low yield.

He also pointed out that some of those imported milch cows had been infected by Bovine Viral Disease and Fasciola Hepaticaa parasitic trematode.


Sagala debunks Wimal’s baseless allegation

Ports and Shipping and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka yesterday in Parliament firmly rejected NFF Leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation that the US Agency ‘Millennium Challenge Corporation’ (MCC) has set up an office at Temple Trees.

MP Weerawansa, joining in the Budget debate when the House took up the Expenditure Heads of the Lands and Parliamentary Reforms Ministry, alleged that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has allowed the MCC to set up a branch at Temple Trees.

He alleged that the MCC would be in charge of constructing a Special Economic Zone in 200km strip from the Colombo Port to Trincomalee and that the US law would be enforced in this zone.

He further said that there is a sinister attempt to bring in the Land Bank Act to expedite the sale of lands to the foreigners. He added that the Prime Minister presented a Cabinet Paper to hand over survey of lands to a US company at a cost of USD 150 million. He noted that a Sub-Committee appointed for that purpose includes four US nationals.

Minister Sagala Ratnayaka took the floor immediately after MP Weerawansa to reject the allegation that the MCC is operating an office at Temple Trees. “The MCC or any other US Agency has not set up any office at Temple Trees. There must be a limit to lies. MP Weerawansa is creating bogies for media publicity,” replied Minister Ratnayaka.


Arjuna, Thilanga cross swords in the House

Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga and UPFA MP Thilanga Sumathipala were at loggerheads with each other in Parliament yesterday accusing each another of corruption and fraud in the cricket administration.

They were speaking during the Committee Stage debate of ‘Budget 2019’ when the Expenditure Heads of the Telecommunication, Foreign Employment and Sports Ministry were taken up.

Minister and former Cricket Captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking the floor said that Sri Lanka Cricket has stooped to an all time low due to corruption and fraud by a cricket mafia. The minister observed that he has not been able to defeat this mafia during the Cricket Elections despite the fact that he won the general elections by contesting from three districts.

“A corrupt lot that has connections with the betting and gaming always win the cricket elections. We tried to change that plight but in vain,” he said.

Ranatunga tabled a certificate by the Inland Revenue Department as proof that Jagath Sumathipala, the brother of Thilanga is paying tax for betting center ‘Sporting Star’. “According to the law, no person directly or indirectly involved in betting and game cannot hold positions in the cricket administration,” he said.

With reference to former Cricket Captain Sanath Jayasuriya who was recently suspended from cricket activities for two years by the ICC, Ranatunga asked the authorities to investigate deeply and find out the group of betting persons responsible for the plight of the former cricket captain.

Ranatunga also pointed out that the Sri Lanka Cricket Board during a recent meeting decided to reserve 30 platinum tickets for the officials to watch Cricket World Cup 2019. “This is a kind of bribe. The officials obtain air tickets, per diem and accommodation allowance too. Don’t let the Cricket Board officials waste the money cricketers bring in to the country,” he alleged.

MP Sumathipala who took the floor after Ranatunga attempted to counter some of the allegations by the latter while also resorting to personal insults. “The first match fixing allegation came in 1992 against former Captain Ranatunga which said that he took USD 15,000 in Lucknow. All other names came after that. Former player Pramodya Wickramasinghe made match fixing allegations, but we state with responsibility that no Sri Lankan player is involved in match fixing. Former Captain Sanath Jayasuriya was not suspended over match fixing allegations. He was suspended for not submitting his phone in time for the ICC investigations,” he said.

“Some who lost cricket elections try to sling mud at us.The Ranatunga brothers have been rejected by the people because of corruption. Family bandyism has been rejected. Now he tries to make false allegations against us. This must stop. I have nothing to do with my brother’s business. My hands are clean,” he added.


UPFA MPs question PFC report delay on ‘Budget 2019’ estimates

The delay of the Public Finance Committee (PFC) report on the estimates in ‘Budget 2019’ was questioned by the UPFA MPs in Parliament yesterday.

Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri said the matter would be brought to the attention of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

UPFA MPs Bandula Gunawardena and Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out that the Public Finance Committee is bound to present a report on ‘Assessment of the Fiscal, Financial and Economic Assumptions of the Budget 2019’ within four days of the presentation of the Budget speech.

“This report should have been tabled before the Second Reading vote of the Budget, but so far we have not received it,” they complained to the chair.

Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the matter would be brought to the attention of Public Finance Committee Chairman TNA MP M.A.Sumanthiran.


Dayasiri on allocation of funds for Olympic Games

The question was raised in Parliament yesterday about the amount allocated for the upcoming Olympic Games when many local sports are suffering due to the lack of funds.

UPFA MP and Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekara yesterday (18) in Parliament raised the issue about the amount for the Olympic Games. “Why do the Olympic Games require money? When local sports are suffering due to the lack of funds.Much attention should be paid to the local sports bodies and the funds needed to develop sports should be allocated properly. The Olympic Games does not have any issues with funds, as the games will be getting funds anyhow”.

Jayasekara added former cricketers Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Anura Tennekoon have proposed certain ideas to develop Sri Lanka cricket, without taking it to the Cricket Board to address the ideas in Parliament through the concerned parties.

“Under the talent identification programme thousands of students were selected and provided with sports equipment to further their sporting talents. However, after my resignation they stopped this programme instead of providing the sporting gear to these selected schools,”he added.

He further added, “In six years, the Netball Federation hadn’t held an election and there were no monitory reports been done. The issue is gradually being sorted out. Permission was granted to hold an election in 59 sporting bodies except the Cricket Board, as they wanted to make a Competent Authority in the Cricket Board. Due to this result, we lost our membership at the International Cricket Council (ICC) and we were given observer status. The Cricket Board elections had several of the cricket bigwigs contesting. I didn’t interfere in the elections. I did not support Thilanga Sumathipala, Arjuna Ranatunga or Jayantha Dharmadasa. In the end I was blamed. All I did was to hold the SLCC elections”.


Dinesh calls for probe over removal of statement from Hansard

Joint Opposition MP Dinesh Gunawardena said he had raised the issue of salary discrepancies of Parliament staff, but his statement had been removed from the Hansard on the instructions of the Secretary General of Parliament.

Referring to the salary anomalies of Parliament staff he said, “During the discussion regarding the salary anomalies of Parliament staff members, the Parliament Secretary General had instructed the officers to remove the statement made by me from the Hansard. I urge that an investigation be held and I will not hesitate to come forward and give evidence.”

He further noted that due to the failure of the Labour Department to address the issues faced by the Free Trade Zone workers, the issue has been taken as far as the International Labour Organisation.

Bringing up the plight of the victims of the floods in the Avissawella estate sector who have still not been given lands despite a directive being issued by the Lands Minister, Gunawardena urged the minister to look into this issue.

Joining the Committee Stage debate in Parliament yesterday of the Expenditure Heads of the Lands and Parliamentary Reforms Ministry, MP Gunawardena added that measures should be taken to annul the proposals in the budget by the Finance Minister to abolish the labour laws, adding that the Finance Minister should notify Parliament about what labour laws he intends to abolish.

He said utilising the lands under the Land Reforms Commission productively is of vital importance. One of the main causes for the economic crisis faced by the country is that we are importing the food crops which can be grown in this country. “We are importing twice the value of the food crops than what we are exporting. The government has failed to take effective measures to address this matter during the past four years.”

He said despite the Northern land issues being raised in Parliament by the Tamil politicians constantly, these issues have still not been resolved.

He urged the Lands Minister to intervene and expedite the land release process in the North and prevent it from reaching the international platforms.


‘Rs 50 mn initial cost needed for Mullaitivu Sports Arena’

TNA Parliamentarian Charles Nirmalanathan said in Parliament yesterday there is no decision as to whether a new sports arena will be built in the Mullaitivu District, as an initial cost Rs.50 million is needed for construction. Nirmalanathan said the matter has been taken up with the Sports and Finance Ministers.

Speaking at the Committee Stage debate, he said lands from the Mullivaikkal area have been allocated for construction, and queried about a date of commencement. “When the Prime Minister visited the district, I spoke to him on this matter, and he told me that this issue will be raised in Parliament.

“I urge the Ministry of Sports and Finance to act on this matter as soon as possible.The people who were affectedn by war need this sporting arena. This will benefit the youth and give a sense of belonging to the people, please see that the necessary measures are taken to implement the project”. He further added,the Mannar District sports arena commenced construction some time ago,but due to interference from the Department of Archaeology, the work was stalled. A letter was issued by the department stating that there won’t be any interference in the future and that everything was cleared. The work was expected to start again. A monthe has lapsed but work is till to commence.

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