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Information and Communication Technology State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana yesterday alleged that Rs. 2005 million from the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) had been allocated to construct temples, kovils and churches during the past one and half years without the Management Board’s approval.

The State Minister further said that it is compulsory to have the approval of the CCF Board of Management comprising the Prime Minister as the Chairman of the CCF, the Subject Minister, the Finance Minister, Hindu Religious Affairs Minister, Education Minister, Tourism Affairs Minister, Archaeology Commissioner, the Prime Minister’s Secretary andthe Cultural Affairs Ministry Secretary to allocate CCF funds.

Addressing the weekly media conference held yesterday at the Information and Communication Technology Ministry, State Minister Abeywardane said that Rs. 270 million is required to pay the salaries of the CCF workers and Rs.100 million had been withdrawn from the fixed deposit to pay the salaries of last December. A Ministerial Committee had been appointed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Cultural Affairs Minister to look into the alleged financial fraud at the CCF.

The Government would soon introduce new policies make Sri Lanka a regional education hub for South Asia, said Minister of Information and Communication Technology and Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Bandula Gunawardana.

The Minister said that he would put in place policies to create hubs such as the Biyagama Economic Zone for the export of services.

Gunawardana was speaking at the launch of a Commemorative stamp for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants on January 17. CIMA Chairman Amal Ratnayake was also at the event. Gunawardana said that when Sri Lankans think of exports, they tend to only think of the exports of goods. He felt that Sri Lanka could emulate the Malaysian model and begin to export educational services to students from the broader South Asian region. He noted that there was a considerable number of Maldivian students in the country. He called for a Human Resource based export zone.

He noted that CIMA was present in Sri Lanka even before Independence.

He described this period as being one where in only the English media existed. He noted that after Independence, the Sinhalese and Tamils came into a more widespread usage.

Gunawardana regretting the civil conflict said it had a negative impact on development.

He alleged that development came to a halt following the election of the previous government. He said the construction of roads, port infrastructure and land reclamation, were all at a standstill. He said Sri Lanka was far from its production possibility frontier during the tenure of the previous government.

“Entrepreneurs were treated as rogues. He said that entrepreneurs had been dragged to the FCID and asked to explain their wealth.

He said that this resulted in the low growth rates experienced in the recent past. He hoped to rebuild confidence to bring in foreign investment.

He said that the previous government had fallen and he would bring institutions to the stature of CIMA into the country.

He said that the Port City would be suitable for the location of educational services and that he would help create the enabling legislation.

Four new ambassadors along with a new High Commissioner concurrently accredited to Sri Lanka presented their credentials to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House in Colombo yesterday (20). The ambassadors of the State of Qatar and Republic of Turkey as well as the Pakistan High Commissioner will be based in Colombo. The ambassadors to the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg and Slovenia will be based in New Delhi.

After the presentation ceremony, welcoming the delegates the President spoke of strengthening bilateral relations and expanding on areas of common interests such as education, development, technology and agriculture. The new diplomats also expressed their commitment to uphold the long ties their countries had had with Sri Lanka and work with Sri Lanka to develop on the common interests as mentioned by President.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena also spoke and noted that Sri Lanka always had maintained cordial relations with all five countries.

The envoys who presented their credentials today are:

Mr. Jassim bin Jaber J.B. Al-Sorour
Ambassador- designate of the State of Qatar based in Colombo

Mrs. Rakibe Demet Şekercioğlu
Ambassador- designate of the Republic of Turkey based in Colombo

Major General (Retd) Muhammad Saad Khattak
High Commissioner- designate of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan based in Colombo

Mr. Jean Claude Kugener
Ambassador- designate to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg based in New Delhi

Dr. Marjan Cencen
Ambassador- designate of the Republic of Slovenia based in New Delhi

India has pledged a US$ 50 million assistance to Sri Lanka to help the country purchase equipment for its security forces, when National Security Advisor of India Ajit Doval called on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday.During the meeting Doval, who arrived in Colombo on Saturday on an official visit, discussed a range of bilateral issues and exchanged views with President Rajapaksa on enhancing bilateral relations in several sectors, including strengthening cooperation in defense.

The topics discussed included strengthening cooperation between the security forces of the two countries, enhancing maritime security, cooperation and interaction between the Coast Guards of the two countries."A very cordial discussion was held with National Security Advisor of India, Ajit Doval today. Strengthening of bilateral cooperation on national security, intelligence sharing, maritime security & fostering of regional collaboration, were some of the key points of discussion," the President said in a tweet.

Doval pointed out the importance of reviewing the knowledge of maritime zones between Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. He also pointed out the need for other regional states to participate in this process as observers.He also said that as part of strengthening security cooperation, US $ 50 million will be provided for the purchase of equipment for Sri Lankan security forces.India has also pledged to assist Sri Lanka in the gathering of intelligence information and setting up a geo-coordinating center.

India’s top security official’s visit to Sri Lanka follows the visits of several high ranking foreign officials this week, including the Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers and U.S State Department Assistant Secretary Alice Wells.

Meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Friday (17) at the Presidential Secretariat, United Nations Resident Coordinator Hanna Singer responded positively to his commitment to sustainable development. The discussions among other concerns included poverty alleviation, climate control, digitizing government offices, addressing missing persons and better management of refugees.“Poverty alleviation is my main concern,” said President Rajapaksa.

As an immediate remedial action, he explained that his administration has opened up 100,000 jobs for the most marginalized communities in Sri Lanka. It is for the poorest of poor, who are either landless or lacking in any qualifications, skill or money to start up on their own. These would be unskilled jobs, but with necessary programs to train the youth after employment. The objective is to provide a steady income to this economically challenged sector by recruiting at least one member from each family.

Further to this program, another initiative to provide these families with dry rations at concessionary rates has also started, said the President.Education is the other area of concern, noted the President. Free education existed in Sri Lanka even before Independence. However, due to lack of capacity at the secondary and especially at the tertiary levels bottlenecks have arisen. As a result, though nearly half of those who sit for Advanced Level exams qualify for university entrants, only a fraction gains admission.

As Sri Lanka has an exam based education system, every child studies hard to get through these exams. However, when they are unable to, they do not know the other options they can pursue. Therefore, steps are being taken to introduce skill based subjects from grade seven onwards. Those who do not gain entrance for university will then be encouraged to follow vocational or technical courses.
Currently, the science paper is deliberately designed to fail students. This will be changed to allow more students to pass in science subjects and to direct them to technical colleges, explained President Rajapaksa.Ms Singer promised to connect the relevant UN agencies to help the Government of Sri Lanka in this regard and especially in technology transfer.

Speaking on measures to control climate change, President Rajapaksa outlined a number of programs already initiated. The youth is especially keen in this regard he noted. Clearing forests had been a longstanding issue by rural area farmers. The issue was further exacerbated when rain catchment areas were cleared for tea plantations. Though an effort was made in the late ‘70s to redress the problem, most unfortunately the trees that were planted were Cyprus and pine. This was a very wrong decision as these trees do not allow grass to grow beneath, leading to soil erosion, observed President.

On the subject of digitizing, President explained that to the ICTA a most capable team from chairman onwards has been appointed. The Ministry Secretaries had been directed to work with the ICTA so that the digitizing process is done in a coordinated manner, explained President. Again Ms Singer promised to help the Government by connecting with the relevant UN agencies and experts.

President Rajapaksa outlined his plans to address the issue of missing persons. He explained that these missing persons are actually dead. Most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted. The families of the missing attest to it. However, they do not know what has become of them and so claim them to be missing.After the necessary investigations, President said that steps would be taken to issue a death certificate to these missing persons. Afterwards their families would be given the support they need to continue with their lives. Tamil politicians would reject this solution, noted the President, as that would nullify their political agenda. However, this would help the affected families

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa held a discussion with Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Bishop of Chilaw Rt.Rev. Valence Mendis over the environmental and social issues caused by the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant, at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday. Residents and environmentalists in the area were present.President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday directed that the Lak Vijaya Power Plant in Norochcholai, the country’s biggest contributor to the national power grid, should be operated strictly according to proper technical procedures and environmental standards in order to avoid or minimise its impact on the local environment and surrounding communities. The President issued this directive yesterday at a special meeting he convened at the President’s Office with representatives of several affected local communities in Norochcholai together with environmental activists and experts, according to a communique from the President’s Media Office.

The communique said that at the meeting, the attention of the President was drawn to the negative impact by the plant on the environment as well as on the local communities due to non-adherence to the environmental standards agreed at the time of commencement of the project. President Rajapaksa said that the relevant officials and the authorities in charge of the project would be immediately summoned to provide guidance in this regard.

The country’s sole coal-powered electricity producing plant is located in Norochcholai, Puttalam, at the southern end of the Kalpitiya Peninsula. Construction of the facility began in May 2006. The first 300-megawatt phase was completed and ceremonially commissioned by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in March 2011. At present, the three phases of Norochcholai has added 900 megawatts to the national grid. No decision has been taken yet regarding the fourth phase. By 2030 it is expected to generate 80% of the total energy demand in the country.

At yesterday’s meeting, the President highlighted the importance of focusing on alternative energy sources which can be operated at low cost, the communique said. These energy sources should also be environmental and people friendly. The President said a team comprising the Power and Energy Minister, relevant engineers and others will be deployed to review the activities at Norochcholai Power Plant.

According to the communique, President Rajapaksa has said that he would visit the site soon adding that measures will be taken to address prevailing concerns with the consultation of religious leaders and the residents in the area.

The President made these remarks during a meeting held at the President’s Office, yesterday with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Bishop of Chilaw Valence Mendis, other clergy, residents and environmentalists of the area. Cardinal Ranjith said that the President has an uphill task before him in the process of developing the country whilst getting rid of corruption and irregularities. The Cardinal expressed his regret over the indiscretions occurred during the implementation of foreign-funded projects in the recent past, the communique said.

Minister of Higher Education Bandula Gunawardena has instructed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to set up a committee to provide relief to students who have faced difficulties owing to ragging incidents at universities.Addressing a media briefing at the Department of Government Information this morning (18), the Minister said he has proposed the appointment of a six-member committee in this regard.

This committee will conduct fair, impartial probes into the reasons for students dropping out of universities as a result of ragging and submit recommendations to the Higher Education Minister within 90 days.The minister stated that he expects to provide relief for students who suffered because of ragging incidents since 2015.As per the Universities Act students cannot enter a local university if they fail to enroll once after receiving admission. Minister Gunawardena said the committee will look into this matter as well.

Information and Communication Technology and Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Minister, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena has decided to begin Sri Lanka’s biggest high-tech university in Sooriyawewa, Hambantota this year.This university will be set up with the investment of local and foreign investors.New study courses including Information Technology, Engineering Technology and Robotic engineering will also be introduced at this university, the Minister said.

The Minister made this decision during an inspection tour of the land in Sooriyawewa which was earmarked for an IT park by the government led by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.Minister Dr.Gunawardena said a building complex was constructed in a massive land area for this purpose by the then government spending billions for the benefit of future generation. He said all students in the southern province will be given an opportunity to obtain diploma and higher diploma certificates in IT from this university.

All schools in the province will be connected with this university utilizing the Mahindodaya technological laboratories. “The construction of building complex was on the verge of being completed when a government came into power n 2015. The then government stopped construction work and abandoned this building complex,” Dr. Gunawardena said.Parliamentarians Namal Rajapaksa, D.V. Chanaka and Ministry Secretary Anura Dissanayake participated in this inspection tour.

Sri Lanka has attached utmost importance to developing ties with China as it is a trustworthy and long-term cooperative partner of Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, expressing gratitude to China for its support for Sri Lanka’s socio-economic development. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa met separately with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi here on Tuesday, with both sides pledging to further promote relations between the two countries.

Sri Lanka has attached utmost importance to developing ties with China as it is a trustworthy and long-term cooperative partner of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan president said, expressing gratitude to China for its support for Sri Lanka’s socio-economic development. Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Sri Lank is ready to enhance Sri Lanka-China ties, strengthen bilateral win-win cooperation in various fields and actively promote the joint development of the Belt and Road Initiative to build regional shipping and logistic hubs.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (R) meets with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14, 2020. (Xinhua/Tang Lu)

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday instructed Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) airport officials to minimise inconvenience and delays caused to arriving and departing passengers.The President gave these instructions during his sudden inspection visit to the BIA. He also instructed to implement the security programme within the BIA premises in a passenger-friendly manner. According to the President’s Media Division, the President observed the entire arrival and departure process during his sudden visit.

The President also instructed the Emigration and Immigration Director General to employ a sufficient number of officers for BIA duties to prevent any possible delays.He had pointed out the need for two terminals for arrivals and departures and instructed officials to expedite the construction of the new passenger terminal. BIA officials were also instructed to designate a separate area for taxis.President Rajapaksa also expressed his appreciation to the BIA top brass and the staff for the efficient service provided to airport users.

The Cabinet has decided to introduce a novel, ‘National Intelligence Act’ (NIA) to mitigate the damage caused to the state intelligence agencies under the Yahapalana government, prevent repetitions and strengthen the State intelligence services to face any threat to National Security.

Cabinet spokesman, Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the Cabinet on Tuesday gave the green light to draft the NIA on a proposal submitted by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“During the yahapalana government, intelligence officers of the police and armed forces were arrested and remanded for months without framing charges. This treacherous act done on political influence totally destroyed, demoralized and weakened Sri Lanka’s intelligence service which ultimately led to the carnage on April 21 last year. The government is of the view that we must re-invigorate the State intelligence services, strengthen it, give the intelligence services their due place in the security establishment and restore confidence among intelligence officers,” he said.

The minister said the hateful acts carried out by the previous government against State intelligence officers was such that it was labeled as ‘Ranaviru Dadayama’ by the people and the media.

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