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Parliament

Government to renovate 103 rivers, reservoirs: Chamal

The government has initiated a programme to clean 103 rivers and strengthen the banks of tanks in the country, Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday.

The minister and said he would visit Anuradhapura on March 31 to commence the construction work of the Lower Malwathu Oya Reservoir, adding that he intends to discuss with the officials responsible for the protection of the Tissa Wewa regarding the misuse of its water.

Responding to a question raised by MP Buddhika Pathirana, Minister Rajapaksa said that the Tissa Wewa has been contaminated. He added that unauthorised settlers and hotel owners were responsible for it.

MP Pathirana said that the main concern surrounding the matter was the formation of racketeer groups.

Futhermore, the minister said that bathing has been prohibited at the tank, adding that alternate bathing spots have been set up at the banks of the Abhaya Wewa, Bulankulama Wewa, and Malwathu Oya. He added that a programme would be conducted to raise awareness on the matter.

Pathirana also inquired whether it was possible to construct two reservoirs inside the Sinharaja Rainforest under the Irrigation Ordinance. Rajapaksa said that there were many weaknesses in the current Irrigation Act, and that the ministry has proposed amendments to it to the Attorney General’s Department.


Previous Government spent Rs.26 billion  on big onion imports: Dr. Gunawardena

Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena said in Parliament yesterday that Rs.26 billion had been spent to import big onions during the previous regime. He added that when domestic production decreases, goods have to be imported from abroad to meet the local demand.

He said that because of the efforts made to increase domestic production between 2010 and 2014, the import of big onions was limited to 794 Megatonnes, at a cost of Rs.31,632 million. However, the import of big onions increased to 1,141 Megatonnes between 2015 and 2019 due to the collapse of the agricultural production sector.

Replying to a question raised by MP M.A. Muzammil, Dr. Gunawardena said that more than Rs.58.40 billion had been spent for importing big onions during the previous regime. He added that traditionally, no matter what government comes to power, only a specific group of businesspersons focuses on imports.

Muzammil inquired about the media reports that 13 containers of coconut oil containing carcinogens have been released to the market as per the high demand during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season. He added that there are about 20 containers of coconut oil left that are not yet released to the market. He questioned as to whether an investigation has been initiated regarding the matter.

Dr. Gunawardena said he had informed the Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority to investigate the matter and submit a report. Moreover, the Health Ministry has recommended Customs to re-export the coconut oil, he said, adding that attempts have been made to promote soybean oil at a lower price.

 


 

Solutions soon for tour guides’ salary issues: Prasanna

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said in Parliament yesterday that permanent solutions would be provided to solve the issues faced by tour guides as soon as the tourism industry returns to normal. He was responding to a question raised by Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake under Standing Order 27 (2).

Pointing out that the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (WTO) has predicted that tourism would recover by 2022, the minister said that the government aims to restore Sri Lanka’s tourism industry at least to the level of 2019.

According to the syllabi prepared by the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management, the Provincial Councils issue licences to local regulators and conduct courses for them. The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority issues licenses for the National Guidance Course and Tourist Driver Guidance Course conducted by the Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management. The Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management on Quality and Capacity Development of the Tour Guide service offer the Community-Based Tourism Event Course, Event Management Courses, as well as Mountaineers and Guides Courses. “Measures have been taken to protect the standards of the tour guide service. I have no objection to increasing the minimum daily wage of tour guides and have appointed a committee headed by the Ministry Secretary,” he added. The Committee Members include Chairman S. Hettiarachchi (Tourism Ministry Secretary), S.L. Dhammika K. Wijesinghe (Tourism Development Authority Director-General), D.A.P. Weeraratne (PC), Mahen Kariyawasam (SLAITO Chairman), and Mahesh Priyadarshana (Tourist Guides’ Association President).

The minister said the committee had discussed salary increments for tour guides, but considering the plight of the tourism industry due to the pandemic, it was decided that it is not the right time.


Government to expand Sinharaja  Rainforest threefold: Amaraweera

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated in Parliament yesterday that the government has taken action to expand the Sinharaja Rainforest threefold. He said so in reply to a question raised by MP Shantha Bandara during the oral questions round in Parliament yesterday regarding the alleged deforestation at the rainforest.

Despite critical statements made by the media, social media, and the Opposition regarding the matter, the former President had submitted a gazette notification to increase the Sinharaja Rainforest’s area from 12,000 hectares to 36,000 hectares. The gazette notification could be published after discussions with the current President, he said.

Minister Amaraweera said the land in question does not belong to the forest land of Sinharaja, and that he would be receiving a full report in this regard today. He added that approval has been obtained from the Divisional Secretariat for the construction of three houses on the said land located 3.6km away from the reserve. No deforestation has been reported yet, he said.

Amaraweera also said that considering the demands of the public, the government has decided to reconsider the acquisition of 135 houses, tea estates, and private lands, as well as the adjoining land. The relevant divisions are conducting investigations. There is no undue government intervention in this regard, he added.

In reply to Bandara’s inquiry on the role of Geology and Mines Bureau in the matter, Amaraweera said the bureau is responsible for exporting minerals, issuing licenses for trade and exports, and advising the minister on related matters. He added that the bureau issued 582 mining permits in 2019. The total income earned by the office was Rs.166.99 million.

Referring to the excavations carried out in the historical and ecologically-sensitive areas of the Kurunegala District, MP Bandara said that although development is essential for a country, the issuance of a permit by the Colombo Head Office for the removal of soil in the said areas had caused controversy.

Minister Amaraweera said a report has been received regarding the matter, and that the process has been temporarily suspended. He said the issue is to be investigated, and that the ministry would be able to review if the District Development Committees could submit their opinions on the zones in question.

 


‘Government to continue providing relief to migrant workers’

The government would continuously provide relief to migrant workers facing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said in Parliament yesterday. He said so in reply to a question raised by MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera regarding the plight of immigrant workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minister de Silva said, “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers, especially those in West Asia, are losing their employment. The Ministry of External Affairs has airlifted over 10,000 packets of dry rations to Doha and Dubai as relief to Sri Lankan migrant workers stuck in the region.”

“The government has so far spent Rs.82 million on medical examinations, surgical masks, medicine, temporary accommodation, as well as air tickets. The Foreign Employment Bureau has provided Rs.12 million for the same purposes as well. There have been some shortcomings, but the government will continue to provide relief to these workers,” he added.

The minister said, “When the COVID-19 epidemic broke out, a mission of 119 officers was deployed to provide service to these migrant workers. Later, it was decided to reduce that number to 32. Steps will also be taken to formulate a transparent system to appoint officials for welfare activities that were previously politicised.”

“The External Affairs Ministry has launched a web portal called ‘Contact Sri Lanka’ to address the grievances of migrant workers. This allows Sri Lankans living abroad to register online and report any emergencies,” he added.


Anura Kumara raises concerns over delay in raising tour guides’ minimum wages

National People’s Power leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, under Standing Order 27/2, raised concerns over the establishment of a new minimum daily wage of a tour guide in Parliament, yesterday.

He said, “Around 1,500 tour guides in the country are making significant contributions to the protection of the tourism industry. They are providing their services free-of-charge to travel agencies as licencees who have registered after a course conducted by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Those institutions pay for the services. They have been requesting the government to gazette the new minimum daily wage for over a year. Under Chapters 53 and 54 of the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005, the power to gazette the minimum daily wages of tourism service providers is vested in the Chairman of the Tourism Development Authority.”

“In January, last year, negotiations with the Tourism Development Authority regarding their minimum daily wage led to an agreement to pay USD 35 per day. However, as they state, the decision in this regard has been referred to the minister in charge, as the Board of Directors of the Tourism Authority did not fully agree with it. A committee headed by the secretary to the ministry was appointed on June 5, 2020, but no final decision was taken to gazette the relevant daily salary. They are requesting that steps be taken to gazette this with effect from November,” he added.

Dissanayake questioned, “Does the government acknowledge that a quality service is expected from travel guides to protect the high standards of the tourism industry? What is the minister’s decision on the minimum daily wage of USD 35 for tour guides? Will the Tourism Development Authority gazette the minimum daily wage with effect from November?”


Sajith raises concerns over Diyawanna Lake pollution

A section of Diyawanna Lake has been polluted due to the disposal of wastewater, it was revealed in Parliament yesterday. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena stated that immediate measures would be taken to clean the affected area with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation.

The issue was brought up when Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa questioned the House as to why a part of Diyawanna Lake has turned yellow.

“As we entered the Parliament premises, I noticed to the left that the water had turned yellow. I would like to know if the Speaker of the House has inquired into this matter.”

The Speaker said that he had already looked into the matter. He added that wastewater from the Parliament water tank had been disposed of into the lake.

Premadasa said that if that were then case, it would be an act of environmental pollution. “This is the legislative where the 225 lawmakers of the country meet at. If environmental pollution is taking place at this location, what more is there to talk about what happens elsewhere in the country?” he questioned.


 

Government yet to develop public transport services: Niroshan

Public transport services have not seen any development under the present government. However, the setting up of towers and other unnecessary projects are being implemented, Samagi Jana Balawegaya Parliamentarian Niroshan Perera said. He said so joining the debate on the regulations under the Motor Traffic Act in Parliament, yesterday.

The MP said that accidents such as the one in Passara could have been prevented if the government had developed the transport service. He added that it would be beneficial to upgrade railway services as well, proposing that a railway line could connected to the Colombo Port as well.

State Minister Dilum Amunugama said that improvements such as e-ticketing are on the cards. MP Perera said that the road accident death rate has been high this year, adding that 510 people have already died this year. He said the government should take immediate steps to lower these numbers.


‘Archaeological excavations necessary to study SL’s ancient civilizations’

 

Archaeological excavations are necessary to study how ancient Sri Lankan civilizations formed, National Heritage State Minister Vidura Wickramanayake said in Parliament yesterday. He said so in response to an Adjournment Motion on the excavations moved by Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian Sivagnanam Sritharan.

He added that the country’s archaeological sites do not belong to a single religion or community, but to the entire country. The state minister also assured that none of the studies would be halted.

The state minister invited MP Sritharan and others concerned about the matter to discuss it with him next Monday at the ministry. He said he would invite Archaeological Department officials to the meeting as well.

Wickramanayake said that this year’s National Vesak Festival would be held at Nagadeepa. He added that parallel to the festival, projects would be launched to renovate Buddhist temples and Hindu kovils as well.

MP Gamini Waleboda said that the Archaeological excavations conducted in Kurunegala in 2013 showed that civilizations at the site date back 15,000 years. Parliamentarians Charles Nirmalanathan, S. Rasamannikkam, and Niroshan Perera also joined the debate.


‘Road accident deaths, prevalent issue during recent decades’

Road accident deaths and other public transport service issues have been prevalent during recent decades, Cooperative Services State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna said. He said so joining the debate on regulations under the Motor Traffic Act in Parliament, yesterday.

The minister said around 3,000 people lose their lives per year due to these issues, adding that the number cannot be ignored. He said that the recommendations made following the Yangalmodara accident that occurred 15 years ago had not been implemented until the recent Passara accident.

Alagiyawanna said the reluctance of the Motor Traffic Department to accept modern technology is the main reason behind its inability to implement the proposed recommendations.