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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.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to implement a national programme to provide essential food items at concessionary prices and a number of other benefits to individuals in low income groups.A special Electronic Card (e-Card) is to be given to all chosen recipients to purchase food items under the programme, a communiqué issued by the President’s media division said.

The beneficiaries will be chosen from Samurdhi recipients, non-Samurdhi recipients, individuals who do not have permanent jobs, needy workers in the plantation sector, disabled persons from families without jobs, families of widows without a proper income, elders without a permanent income and those suffering from serious illnesses.

Ensuring food safety and quality of life for such vulnerable groups is the objective of the programme.Under this programme, recipients will get essential food items such as sugar, tea, rice, flour, dhal, chickpeas, onions, chilies, dried fish, potatoes and milk powder at concessionary prices.

These food items will be issued through Lanka Sathosa outlets, Cooperative shops, and chosen retail food outlets across the country.Under the programme if the chosen retail food outlets, especially in the rural areas, do not have proper equipment such as refrigerators, they too would be provided at concessionary rates. Suitable shops to implement the programme are to be chosen from highly populated areas, settlements with a large concentration of low income families, rural areas, and plantation areas. Retail outlets managed by women entrepreneurs would be given priority.

The President through the programme also hopes to uplift the small scale entrepreneurs and producers of various food items. Food items produced by such entrepreneurs will be directly purchased from them by authorities without the involvement of any third party or middlemen. Priority at all times will be given to locally produced goods.

To coincide with the programme plans are afoot to supply clean drinking water to 150,000 identified households in rural, urban and plantation areas and develop 100,000 kilometers of rural roads.The recipients will also be provided with 100,000 land plots on a 30 year lease for agriculture and housing purposes through programmes implemented by Lands Ministry, the Land Reform Commission and the Bim Saviya programme.

Measures will be taken to further strengthen long-standing bilateral relations between Japan and Sri Lanka, Japanese State Minister for Regional Revitalization Kozo Yamamoto said.

Minister Yamamoto made these remarks when he paid a courtesy call on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat today (13).

Sri Lanka is secured and stable under the current government. The economy is also progressing. In this context, a conducive investment environment had been created in Sri Lanka for the Japanese investors, the State Minister added.

As a country that has mastered on industries such as security and development of high quality infrastructure among many other fields Japan has a lot to offer to Sri Lanka, he further said.

President Rajapaksa explained that the growth rate of Sri Lanka which was around seven percent in 2014 had since declined and the greatest challenge before him is to recover the growth rate.

President also requested the Minister Yamamoto to invest in high tech assembly plants in Sri Lanka.

Minister Yamamoto responded positively and promised to promote Sri Lanka with the Japanese business community.

– USD 10 billion target by 2025

– Will not hesitate to take necessary decisions

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed officials to plan a target-based strategy to promote the tourism industry in Sri Lanka.

Increasing income from tourism to USD 10 billion by 2025, the industry can play the leading role in economic growth, President said during a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation held at the Presidential Secretariat today (13).

“We require a skilled team with expertise and dedication. Every step should generate immediate results. On my part I do not hesitate to take decisions for the benefit of the country. I expect the officials would commit themselves to pass benefits of such decisions onto the public. If there is a target -based plan, every challenge can be overcome”, said the President.

Issues identified related to the tourism sector and measures to promote the industry were broadly discussed.

President emphasized the necessity of upgrading the quality of facilities provided to tourists visiting the country and amenities at airports should be streamlined. Importance of developing places of tourist attraction and building an effective promotional mechanism was also highlighted by the President.

The indigenous Ayurvedic system has already become highly popular among foreigners. Priority should be given to promote unique activities such as surfing and promoting Ceylon tea.

Shopping malls should be equipped with requirements sought after by tourists. The need of a systematic mechanism to attract tourists was also stressed. The President instructed the Tourist Board to implement programmes with the participation of Sri Lankan envoys overseas to build the image of Sri Lanka and to promote it as a tourist destination.

The standard of the aviation sector should be enhanced. President described the importance of effective coordination and work in unison among entities which come under the purview of Tourist Board.

Establishing direct flights will increase the influx of tourists. Attention was paid to commence direct flights between Sri Lanka and European countries.

It was also discussed to provide training facilities to undergraduates in tourism field at hotel schools to produce qualified hotel managers.

During the discussion it was decided to reactivate the Tourism Police and to appoint a senior DIG in charge.

Attention was also drawn to amend rules and regulations in order to promote the sector and to remove unnecessary approvals procedures.

Ministers Prasanna Ranatunga, Arundika Fernando, Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation S. M. Mohomad, Secretary to the State Ministry of Tourism Promotion S. S. S. Fernando and several other senior officials were present at the discussion.

 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said a Sports University will be established in the future and Diyagama will be upgraded into a sports complex. He made these remarks at the South Asian Games medal winners’ felicitation ceremony held at Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre yesterday.The Prime Minister further said the government plans to concentrate more into sports economics because it plays a major role to sustain athletes and their developments.

“I’m very honoured and proud to deliver my speech in front of the winners who made our mother land proud,” said Prime Minister Rajapaksa who was the chief guest at the ceremony held by the Ministry of Sports to felicitate the South Asian Games medal winners.“When I was president of the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka Susanthika Jayasinghe won the Olympic medal and I was happy. I feel the same when I see you all here.Nilani Ratnayake who won the gold medal in the Women’s 5000 metres receiving her cash prize from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Aruna Dharshana who won the gold medal in the 400m and 4x400m relay receiving his cash award from the Prime Minister.“We are very much behind in sports facilities compared to other countries but our athletes have won international medals. We need to uplift their standard more in the future.“When I was President (of the country) we tried to host the Commonwealth Games in Sri Lanka but were unable to. If we had got the opportunity to host the Games that time, it would have been more helpful for the athletes. We need to build the confidence levels of our athletes while developing the infrastructure,” he said.Speaking further the Prime Minister said, “Our government also plans to concentrate on athletes who come from the estate sectors and get them more involved in sports. Today President Gotabaya Rajapaksa submitted a cabinet paper increasing the salaries of estate workers by about Rs. 1000.”

The South Asian Games medal winners were felicitated by the Ministry of Sports and a total of 251 athletes received cash prizes with the Prime Minister presenting the medal winners with Rs. 500,000 for Gold, Rs. 300,000 for Silver and Rs. 200,000 for Bronze.The Ministry of Sports distributed cash awards to the winners to the total value of Rs. 85 million.The Sri Lankan team won 251 medals with 40 gold, 83 silver and 128 bronze and finished third in the medals standings behind India and host Nepal.

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