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Discussions commence to rebuild tourism - Harsha  

Discussions have commenced through the Cabinet sub-committees to rebuild the destabilised tourism industry in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, said Non Cabinet Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Dr. Harsha de Silva in Parliament yesterday.

“We must look at how we can move forward as a country. There are two factors, one is how the country’s economy reacts to the shock of this incident. Generally, immediately after such an incident, it feels like a huge blow to the economy. However, once we take stock of the impact and as weeks and months pass, it gradually settles. The country’s tourism industry too suffered a massive blow. Some hotels report occupancy of just 5 per cent, and they want the government to intervene and grant them relief. A Cabinet sub-committee was appointed to discuss this issue and take necessary measures. A security audit should be done as well,” de Silva said.

MP Bandula Gunawardena asked if this would apply to those who had leased vehicles for the tourism industry and are struggling to get their payments now.

Harsha de Silva said that initially priority is given to bank loans. “Today (10) at 3.00 pm, the Cabinet sub-committee will meet again to discuss the proposals. We will consider these proposals positively. For example, if any business had a loan balance interest pending, we suspended their loan repayments and interest until March 31, 2020. The interest accumulated from April 18 would be considered as a new loan under concessionary interest rates of the Enterprise Sri Lanka loan scheme,” he said.

He said the 15 per cent VAT on the tourism industry had been reduced to 5 per cent with immediate effect.

MP Bandula Gunawardena suggested that an Ombudsman be appointed to entertain complaints and suggestions as the sub-committee members would not be available full time to accept such complaints.

Minister Harsha de Silva welcomed the suggestion and said this is an issue that goes beyond the tourism industry. “This shock not only affects the tourism industry but all other affiliated industries such as the tourist transport sector, guides, handicraft industry, restaurants, food suppliers and even the farmers who supply the food. However, the tourism industry was directly hit as this year we anticipated 5 billion tourist arrivals. After the end of the war, the tourist arrivals were around 500,000 but by last year, it had increased to around 2.4 million. No matter what political party that we belong to, we need to find ways to resolve this issue,” he said.

The Minister said that to resurrect the tourism industry, several discussions were held with experts in the field. “What needs to be done policy wise and practically must be looked at, he said. “Based on the reputation of the country, the time frame taken to bounce back would be determined. We cannot simply advertise and ask tourists to return. If they do come and something happens, then we will be in further trouble. Therefore, the government decided to conduct an independent security audit. Once that is done, other countries, tour operators and foreign missions will be ready to accept this report,” he said.


Cabinet Ministers must not involve in businesses - Eran

Cabinet ministers in past, present and future must not have direct business interest or interest being involved in business, Acting Finance Minister Eran Wickramaratne said.

He was moving six orders under the Special Commodity Levy Act and a regulation under the Foreign Exchange Act and a resolution under the Customs Ordinance in Parliament yesterday.

“Cabinet Ministers should be solely committed to carrying out their ministerial duties and should not involved in their private business activities while holding ministerial positions as it invariably results in a conflict of interest,” said Wickramaratne

He said that these kinds of practices are implemented all over the world. He said this in response to a reference to a former Cabinet Minister’s involvement in business transactions. He said he was making the statement in wider aspect on the Cabinet Ministers’ conduct in past, present and future at a time when Parliament has passed a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians. He said the Code of Conduct that Parliament passed should take effect.

The Acting Finance Minister said the same practice should be implemented as they needed to change the practices of the government. “We do not need to have conflict of interest,” the Acting Minister said. “The Cabinet is the highest decision making, so the members who decide to become ministers should practise them.”

Opposition member Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said that without knowing facts, it was very unreasonable to cast aspirations on another member who had been in Parliament for a long time. He said that when Cabinet Ministers were appointed, if they were businessmen or chairmen of their companies, normally they resigned or allowed someone to take them over.


Compensate tourist hotels affected in blasts - Handunnetti

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Sunil Handunnetti called on the government to compensate the tourist hotels affected by the Easter Sunday suicide attacks.

He was participating in the debate on several Orders under the Special Commodity Levy Act in Parliament yesterday.

The JVP MP said the income of the tourist hotels reduced considerably as a result of the terror attacks.

“A room of a tourist hotel was given at USD 150 per night before the attacks, but now a room cannot be given even for USD 25. The entire tourist hotel industry has collapsed. They cannot even cover the cost of their daily operations now. They cannot pay staff salaries. The government should compensate them for them to survive in this difficult stage,” he said.

The MP said the government has failed in managing the security in the country.

“The best example is the empty schools. Parents hesitate to send their children. We cannot blame them because it is the responsibility of the government to ensure security of schools. If this government cannot even make the kids come back to school, how can they attract tourists?” he questioned.


Opposition MPs condemn attempts to hide information

Opposition MPs condemned the decision made by the government to prohibit the media from publishing photos of weapons that the security forces found in their search operations following the Easter Sunday bombings.

Government Information Department Director General Nalaka Kaluwewa had summoned heads of the media for a meeting and instructed them not to show the weapons found in search operations.

NFF leader MP Wimal Weerawansa said that government’s move amounted to suppressing the rights of the media. “These people are trying to keep people in the dark. This sort of things never happened even in the war era. The media was advised to confirm only the information they get from the Media Centre for National Security. The government has taken that to a whole new level and is trying to block the media from obtaining information the people have a right to know,” Weerawansa said.

He warned the government that if it tries to keep the mainstream media in the dark, then the public will believe everything they see on social media.

Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Amaraweera seconded Weerawansa’s stance.

UPFA MP Shehan Semasinghe said the government tries to hide its incapability of handling the national security crisis positively by imposing such regulations on the media.


Sumanthiran blames newspaper for publishing gossip

TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, raising a privilege issue in Parliament yesterday, referred to a front page news item published on May 1 in a leading English newspaper under political gossip, said, the news item had stated that he was to attend the Easter Sunday service at the Batticaloa church but had refrained from doing so as Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa warned him that this church was likely to come under bomb attack.

“This is an absolute lie – a very dangerous lie in the circumstances and it cites a conversation I had with the Leader of the Opposition in the parliament canteen. This was untrue. I had attended an Easter service in Colombo as usual and did not have any plans to go to Batticaloa for Easter. The Opposition Leader had not given me any warning prior to the bomb attacks,” he said.

“On the next day - May 2, the same paper published yet another political gossip called clarification that stated that the Leader of the Opposition had in fact warned me on Monday - April 22, about a mob attack and that the previous day’s gossip was about this subsequent backlash, as they called it, and they regretted the translation error. This is also false, since the Opposition Leader did not tell me anything about any mob attack or any backlash at any time,” said Sumanthiran.

He said the publications have cast serious aspersions on his conduct as a member of parliament misquoting conversations in the parliament canteen and violated his privileges. This, he said, is very dangerous in the circumstances leading people to believe that he had prior knowledge of the bombings and also imaginary mob violence, backlash and so on.


Campuses will be opened next week - Hakeem

Universities have been asked to reopen by next week at least in section wise for conducting lectures and to get back to normalcy, said City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Minister Rauff Hakeem in Parliament yesterday.

“After a thorough search, we will reopen the universities, at least in sections from next Monday. Every nook and corner of the universities has to be checked and it was happening in the past two weeks,” the Minister said.

He said that it is not a secret that one of the targets of the terrorists was to create a serious impact on the revival of our country’s economy. “That is why they targetted the hotels, he said.

The Minister thanked the Finance State Minister and the Ministry for formulating a relief scheme for the tourism industry so that they can bounce back to normalcy.

“We must bear in mind that while we have given relief to those involved directly in the tourism industry to a certain extent, a variety of other enterprises and businesses have links with the tourism sector. Restaurants, gem and jewellery businesses, arts and craft, entertainment, taxi and auto drivers among others are also affected. Therefore, we must find ways to give relief to all those people. We have had a bumper harvest and the agriculture sector is not bound to be affected. If we have a bumper harvest in the Yala season, we could use that to mitigate this to a certain extent,” the Minister said.

“Although the manufacturing sector is somewhat affected, it is not as bad as what has happened to the tourist sector. Therefore, the manufacturers and the industrialists must redouble their efforts to increase the export so that we can bridge the gap,” he said.

 


Country must have one legal system - Thalatha

The government will have to bring in common laws that will have to be followed by all people of this country, irrespective of their race or religion very soon, Justice and Prison Reforms Minister Thalatha Athukorale said in Parliament yesterday.

She was responding to a question raised by MP Manusha Nanayakkara.

“All women have lost their freedom and are inconvenienced because of the attire of Muslim women. It poses a grave threat to national security. It cannot be stopped by imposing laws. Muslim religious leaders themselves must take measures to implement a suitable mechanism, said Athukorale.

“We can bring in laws and implement them, but the issue is that there are so many laws relevant to specific communities. The Desavalamai and Muslim laws and the Kandyan laws specific to a section of the Sinhalese population. Even if we take into account all these laws, it is evident that some of these laws don’t suit other communities. These could be religious or cultural laws. After having suffered for 30 years of war, we are again at a point where we need to think whether we want to go back to the past,” she said.

“To change this situation and bring in common laws for all, what we need to do is to formulate a common education system. Criminal law and general laws should be included in the school curriculum. This step has already been taken.”

Minister Athukorale said knowledge of these laws are essential. Irrespective of the language, knowledge about laws of the country should be included into the school curriculum. She said the government believes that knowledge of laws in the country should be instilled in the minds of children from a very young age.

“How had the government in 2011 permitted the Batticaloa University to operate outside the control of the UGC and according to the whims of another country? How did they get the money? Now the allegations are all against the present government and they have all forgotten that these were done during the previous government. Those who helped form the Thawheed Jamath are now blaming us.


Diversity is our strength – Ravi

The diversity is our strength and we must use it to the maximum and unite as Sri Lankans, Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake said in Parliament yesterday.

Minister Karunanayake was joining the adjournment motion moved by Galle district UPFA MP Manusha Nanayakkara and referring to the Easter Sunday suicide terrorist attacks by Islam extremists.

“During the last 71 years, we have stood against Sri Lankan identity which now we have to strengthen,” he said. He said the Easter Sunday attacks is a lesson to all humanity.

He said those extremists had been influenced by an ideology alien to their forefathers. He said that if they did not blend with the culture in the country, it will lead to more tears.

He said 99 percent of Muslims oppose this ideology.

The Minister said that this is the high time for all to shed political differences and get together as Sri Lankans.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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