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The 13th Executive Council Meeting of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace was held with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at Sri Sambodhi Viharaya in Colombo 7 today (14).

After the World War II, the Russian and Mongolian Buddhist leaders focused on the need for an international Buddhist organization aimed at promoting unity. Consequently, Buddhist laity and clergy gathered at Maha Viharaya in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia on June 13, 1970 to hold the first meeting of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace. The second Conference was held in Sri Lanka. At present, all the Buddhist countries in the world are members of this organization.

Sri Lanka hosts the 13th Executive Council Meeting. The Asian Buddhist Conference observed that acting as the host country in the face of Corona pandemic will bring special honour to Sri Lanka and result in forming closer ties with other countries.

Representatives of 25 countries joined today’s conference via Zoom.

Before attending the Conference President engaged in religious rituals at the Sri Sambodhi Viharaya.

Ven. Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero explained the objectives of the Conference.

Anunayaka of the Malwathu Chapter Most Ven. Niyangoda Vijithasiri Thero delivered the main speech on “Responsibility of Buddhists in the face of COVID – 19”.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapaksha.

Prime Minister of Mongolia Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh addressed the gathering via video technology.

The final speech in the first session was delivered by Ven. Dr. Maitipe Wimalasara Thero.

Following the opening of the Conference President Rajapaksa called on the Chief Incumbent of  Sri Sambodhi Viharaya Ven. Boralande Vajiragnana Nayaka Thero.

Maha Sangha representing the three Chapters, Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga and local and foreign Buddhist representatives were present on the occasion.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sent the following message on the occasion of Thai Pongal:

“Thai Pongal, also known as the Festival of Harvest, is one of the foremost religious and cultural festivals celebrated by Tamils around the globe. It signifies paying gratitude to the Sun, on which farmers rely for a bountiful harvest and the traditional way of life tied to agriculture and Mother Nature. Tamils who live by the Hindu faith consider Thai Pongal to mark the dawn of a new year during which their expectations would be fulfilled. On this joyful occasion, I join our Tamil brethren to share their joy and happiness.”

“On this blessed day, they boil freshly harvested rice with milk with the wish for prosperity for themselves, their families, the country and the entire world at large. My sole objective and that of our Government is to usher in prosperity to all Sri Lankans irrespective of racial or religious differences. What contains in our government policy statement, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, is the means to achieve this noble objective.”

“Paying gratitude is a hallmark of the Sri Lankan society. Thai Pongal festival which dedicates the first harvest to the Sun symbolises the values that our society cherishes since time immemorial. As such, Thai Pongal has become an integral part of the national culture.”

 
 

“I extend my best wishes to the Tamils of Sri Lanka who celebrate the Thai Pongal festival, which has earned the respect and recognition of the society and also which marks the noble virtues honoured by the people.”

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has sent the following message on the occasion of Thai Pongal:

“It is with immense pleasure that I wish all Tamil devotees in Sri Lanka and all over the world a very happy Thai Pongal festival. In the Hindu-Tamil Calendar, the first month of the year is known as ‘Thai’, and ‘Pongal’ infers a new dawn.”

“The arrival of a new harvest is celebrated on the day of Thai Pongal. It venerates Mother Nature and the Sun God, as an expression of gratitude for a bountiful harvest. This celebration of the dawn of the new year is both culturally and religiously significant to the Hindu people.”

“A traditional specialty of Pongal is a sweet rice made with rice from the new harvest, milk, and sugarcane, made as an offering to the Sun God as a show of gratitude. These traditions and rituals give us an insight into and highlight the cultural and religious values of showing appreciation, respect and gratitude.”

“Although we differ in ethnicity, religion and language, our aspirations, hopes and dreams as Sri Lankans are similar. Even though we are currently facing challenging times, the government is committed to uplift the living standards of all Sri Lankan citizens and is determined to work towards overcoming these challenges together as a nation.”

 
 

“Therefore, this year’s Thai Pongal festival can be celebrated with renewed hope by those celebrating in Sri Lanka and all over the world. May the festivities of Thai Pongal and the values that it propagates, cultivate a spirit of peace and reconciliation between all Sri Lankans.”

“I wish everyone celebrating a happy and prosperous Thai Pongal and the very best for the year ahead.”

E

  • No investment will infringe country’s sovereignty and independence
  • SLPA to manage after investment
  • Trade Unions too have the opportunity to submit proposals

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured representatives of Port Trade Unions that the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port will not be sold or leased.

The previous administration had agreed to sell the East Terminal to India. The agreement envisaged obtaining a loan from Japan after sale and purchasing construction equipment with the loan money. President pointed out that after the present Government negotiated with India on the contract it was possible to reach an agreement to retain 51% of the ownership and the control of the Terminal under the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). President emphasized that he would not allow causing any harm to the sovereignty or independence of the country when investments are arranged.

President made these remarks during a discussion today (13) at the Presidential Secretariat on the East Terminal of the Colombo Port upon a request by Trade Unions.

The previous government had leased the Hambantota Port to the Government of China for 99 years. After coming to power, the present Government in consultation with China took over the responsibility for the security of the Port in to its hand,  President noted.

The President said that the East Container Terminal Development was planned after reviewing all the factors including the regional geopolitical concerns, sovereignty of the country, revenue and employment generation potential. President Rajapaksa explained that the Eastern Terminal will be “sustainably developed” under the investment programme. India contributes 66% of the East Terminal re-export operations. 9% is re-exports to Bangladesh and the rest to several other countries.

The President further said that the plan was to develop the terminal as an investment project that has 51% ownership by the Government of Sri Lanka and the remaining 49% as an investment by India’s Adani Group and other stakeholders. The President said that there should be no doubt about it and asked all the trade union representatives to submit their proposals and ideas on this programme. President Rajapaksa stated that he intends to hand over the operation of the West Container Terminal to the Ports Authority and stressed the importance of submitting plans for the development of the port, by the trade union representatives.

Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, the Head of the Presidential Task Force for Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation, said that the expansion of operations in the Eastern Terminal would create a large number of job opportunities. Mr. Rajapaksa further said that the present government had completely stopped the plans mooted by the previous government to sell the Mattala Airport and the Norochcholai Power Plant.

Minister of Ports Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Ports, Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority and other officials and representatives of 23 trade unions were present at the discussion.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said yesterday that the third largest hospital in the country, the Kurunegala General Hospital will be constructed as a modern hospital.

He was speaking at a meeting held at the Kurunegala District Secretariat Auditorium to discuss issues related to the General Hospital and other hospitals in the district.

The Prime Minister instructed Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi to immediately fill the shortage of doctors, nurses and health staff at the Kurunegala General Hospital, parallel to other hospitals, until the construction of the new hospital is completed. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said that the shortage will be covered in a month. The Prime Minister also asked relevant persons to submit the basic plan of the hospital with rough estimates within two months.

About 1.2 million patients are treated at this hospital every year and according to the 2019 statistics report, the number of patients who received treatment from the outpatient department alone that year was 630,000. About 1,000 new births occur monthly. The hospital has 2,374 beds and performs nearly 18,000 surgeries a year. Government Medical Officers’ Association President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya made a special revelation at this meeting. He pointed out that the total number of specialist doctors in the country which was limited to 600 from 1948-2008 was increased from 2008-2015 during the tenure of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to 2,100 and that number has decreased to 2,086 during the period 2015-2020. He added that 2,000 out of 4,000 doctors had left the country due to delays in medical appointments during the previous government, or did not know what had happened.

 
 

Dr. Padeniya said that although the number of patients admitted to the Maharagama Cancer Hospital was two or three a day, the number has now increased to 74 to 78 per day. He requested the Prime Minister to stop the use of agrochemicals and focus on traditional agriculture or organic farming.

Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, North Western Province Governor Raja Collure, State Minister D. B. Herath, MPs Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Jayaratne Herath, Shantha Bandara, Y.G. Ratnasekera, Asanka Nawarathna, Sumith Udukumbura, Samanpriya Herath, Manjula Disanayake, Prof. Charitha Herath, Kurunegala Mayor Thushara Sanjeewa, Secretary to the Prime Minister Gamini Senarath, Additional Secretary to the Prime Minister, Attorney-at-Law Chaminda Kularatne, Health Services Director General Dr. Asela Gunawardena, North Western Province Chief Secretary P.B.M. Sirisena, Kurunegala District Secretary R.M.R. Ratnayake, the Kurunegala General Hospital acting Director Dr. Pramitha Shanthilatha, GMOA President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya and many others were present.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday instructed officials to provide credit facilities to small and medium scale rice producers to support their businesses.

The Prime Minister made this directive while was participating in a discussion with representatives of the All Ceylon Small and Medium Scale Rice Growers Association held in a Committee Room in Parliament yesterday, the Prime Ministers Media Division said.

The Prime Minister also instructed the authorities to give priority to resolving problems of small and medium scale rice producers over large scale rice producers. The meeting was held to discuss several issues including obtaining a fixed controlled price for rice which will be updated in six months from February 1 according to the prevailing guaranteed paddy prices in the country.

Attention was also drawn to providing facilities to small and medium scale paddy mill owners to repay their loans at concessional rates.

 
 

Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, Ministers of State Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Shehan Semasinghe, Indika Anuruddha, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Shashindra Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Finance S.R. Attygalle, Additional Secretary to the Prime Minister Chaminda Kularatne, Banks and heads of Government agencies including Paddy Marketing Board officials and small and medium scale rice producers were present.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed 18-member De-Regulation Commission for the Simplification of the Existing Laws and Regulations in the interest of the people.

The Commission is co-chaired by former Secretary to the President and Principal Advisor to the President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga and Chairman of John Keells Group Mr. Krishan Balendra.

Other members of the Commission are the following:

  1. Mr. S.D.A.B. Boralessa – Secretary, State Ministry of Land Management, State Enterprises Land and Property Development
  2. Mr. M.M.C. Ferdinando – Retired Ministry Secretary, Power sector
  3. Mr. Suresh de Mel – Chairman, Export Development Board
  4. Ms. C. Weligamage – Director General, Department of Public Finance
  5. Mr. Chandana Kumarasinghe – Director General of Establishments, Ministry of Public Services, Provincial Councils and Local Government
  6. Dr. Harsha Cabral – Company Law expert
  7. Dr. Nihal Jayawardana – President’s Counsel
  8. Mr. Thishan Subashinghe – Chartered Accountant of Sri Lanka
  9. Mr. Ranjith Gunathilake – Chief Executive Officer, Sanken Constructions (Private) Limited
  10. Ms. Renuka Weerakoon – Executive Director, Board of Investments of Sri Lanka
  11. Mr. Gerard Ondaatjie – Board of Director, Mercantile Investments and Finance PLC
  12. Mr. Arjun Fernando – Non-Executive Director, Nations Trust Bank
  13. Mr. S.P. Liyanarachchi-  SME Construction Sector
  14. Mr. Anslem Perera – Managing Director, Mlesna Tea
  15. Mr. Nissanka Wijeratna – Secretary General/ Chief Executive Officer, Chamber of Construction Industry
  16. Mr. Chandra Wickremasinghe – Chairman/ Director General, Theme Resorts and Spas

The tasks of the Commission cover the following.

  1. Review all laws, regulations and circular instructions pertaining to Government finance, revenue laws and circular instructions, licensing and permit arrangements, investments, approvals and building permits etc., and how those regulations and circular instructions have evolved and circumstances influencing such regulations.
  1. Assess as to whether the issuance of regulations and circular instructions has resulted in over regulation and deviated from the scope and objectives of original legislations.
  1. Assess the relevance of them in the context of global standards and applicability of them in the Sri Lankan context to identify new rooms to adopt to make the most effective modern regulatory systems.
  1. Assess the cost of enforcement to the state, compliance cost to the people and potentials for corruption and irregular practices associated with complex and over regulatory systems.
  1. Identify areas where simplifications and rationalization could be made to existing regulations and circular instructions and issue directions to do away, modify if required and simplify all such regulations.
  1. Study if there is a repetition occurs due to issuing various approvals, permits and licenses through the national level, Provincial Councils and local authorities and take necessary measures to amend such processes appropriately.

The Commission is given 90 days period to fulfill this task and issue instructions to relevant agencies as required for the purpose of executing the task entrusted.

Mr. G. S. Vithanage, retired Ministry Secretary has been appointed as Secretary to the Commission.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa presenting insurance certificates to members of the Maha Sangha under the new medical insurance scheme of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.
 

The introduction of a medical insurance scheme from Sri Lanka Insurance for the immediate family members of the Maha Sangha was held at Temple Trees yesterday under the patronage of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Prime Minister presented insurance certificates to the Maha Sangha while introducing new medical insurance scheme of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.

Under the insurance scheme a maximum of Rs.15,000 at Rs.1,000 per day will be provided to the mother, father, brothers and sisters of Maha Sangha when they are admitted to a government hospital or a private hospital.

Also a sum of up to a maximum of Rs.25,000 - for a medical examination at a hospital or for medicines will be provided.

Only Rs. 2,000 is required to pay for this annually and it is possible to offer this to Maha Sangha by devotees. It was also emphasized at the event that plans were afoot to extend this insurance scheme to family members of non-Buddhist clergy as well.

Also, the Prime Minister in his capacity as the Minister of Housing has stated that money has already been allocated for the “Mihindu Niwasa” scheme to provide homes for homeless parents who have donated their children to the Sasana.

The Most Venerable Diviyagaha Yasassi Thera, paid tribute to the Prime Minister for his service to the Buddha Sasana.

As per the instructions of the Prime Minister, financial allocations have already been made for the construction of 2,000 houses at a cost of Rs. 600,000 per house for the parents of Buddhist monks who own land but are unable to build a house.

  • Let’s join to bring prosperity by fulfilling promises made to people in “Saubhagyaye Dekma”
  • Go to village and work, without confining to offices

President, PM request Ministers, MPs and officials

 By cultivating what can be grown in the country, the money going to the farmers abroad will be diverted to the hands of our farmers, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.

In order to uplift the agricultural sector, the Government has given priority to provide water, technical knowledge and solving land issues of the farming community. A large sum of money has been allocated from 2021 budget for this purpose. More than 800 projects planned utilizing foreign aid and local grants have not yet been completed. President is of the view that all these projects should be completed expeditiously and committed to fulfill aspirations of the people.

President Rajapaksa made these comments during a special programme held at the Temple Trees today (7) to apprise the government officials on the National Programme of “Back to the Village with Work” through the initiative of “Discussion with the Village”.

President pointed out the need for a sustainable mechanism to uplift the living standards of rural population which represents 75% of the total. The present generation is moving away from agricultural activities due to inherent problems and difficulties that had to be faced by the farming community.

President Rajapaksa emphasized that officials should focus more on solving issues through methods such as ensuring higher prices for the harvests, technical knowledge, water management, local seed production, marketing and transportation facilities and encourage farmers to engage in organic agriculture.

It is important to use people-centered approaches in resolving issues prevailing in rural areas rather than strictly adhering to rules and regulations. Therefore, the President pointed out that it is the duty and responsibility of the officials to go to the villages and identify the problems faced by the people and work to find solutions for those issues, not confining themselves to respective offices.

This year’s budget is aimed at improving the living standards of rural people who are engaged in farming, fishing and other industries, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said in his address. He stated that the assistance of foreign experts or consultants is not required to implement the plans in this regard and that it is the responsibility of government officials to implement those strategies at grassroots level for the benefit of the rural people.

The Prime Minister commended the sacrifices made by both the public and private sectors to make a success of the changed lifestyle with the coronavirus pandemic.

With the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic situation, a tendency has emerged to use digital technology in a number of fields, including school education to service needs. It revealed the ability of local officials to embrace and work on something new at any moment. Considering the current situation, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa pointed out the need to integrate modern technology with state institutions speedily.

The Prime Minister said that on every occasion that a government led by them came into power, it effectively carry forward   the abandoned development  as well as the promotion of economic growth of the country . He also stated that he expects the support of the public servants to build the country in the future too, as in the past at every occasion.

The objective of today’s programme was to discuss the issues that arise in the implementation of projects and programmes and how to resolve them.

Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Head of the Presidential Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation, said in response to questions raised by the people’s representatives  that the government has taken a number of steps to protect crops from wild elephants and other animals.

Mr. Rajapaksa also requested to submit proposals compiled at rural level to address such issues, to the government.

Cabinet and State Ministers, Governors, District and Divisional Secretaries, Planning Service officials, Accountants and many other government officials were present on the occasion.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday stated that in future he will provide necessary constitutional protection to ensure that any public officials who has served the people in good faith will not be punished.

The Prime Minister was speaking at an awareness programme for public officers about the national programme Gama Samaga Pilisandara -Weda Samaga Yali Gamata at Temple Trees yesterday.

The Prime Minister said that some public servants today were reluctant to go out of their way to help and serve the public due to the unpleasant experience they had during the previous Yahapalana regime.

“The greatest betrayal of the Yahapalana Government to this country was the imprisonment of government officials for serving the people” he said.

“I remember the former Army Commander was brought to the FCID and questioned for distributing flood aid during a national disaster. You are aware that the former Secretary to the President and the Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission were imprisoned for distributing Sil clothes. We understand this situation and we are working on a solution” he added.

 
 

The Prime Minister said he will work towards providing constitutional protection to ensure that no officer who acts in good faith when serving the public will be punished.

  • Agreed to further strengthen bilateral relations
  • Priority areas identified

India is ready to give priority to Sri Lanka when supplying to other countries the vaccine now being produced by India to treat COVID 19 virus, the External Affairs Minister of India Dr. S. Jaishankar told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Arrived yesterday in the country for a two-day visit, the Indian Minister called on President Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat today (6).

Commenting on the future course of action to control the COVID 19 pandemic during the ensuing discussion President stated that Sri Lanka would like to obtain the COVID vaccine, which is being produced by India following an accurate assessment of the need for treatment.

Dr. Jaishankar agreed to give priority to Sri Lanka when his country begins exporting the vaccine to other countries. Both President and the Indian Minister agreed to further enhance Indo – Sri Lanka bilateral relations so as to maximize mutual benefits.

In addition to the ongoing projects carried out in Sri Lanka with the assistance of India, several other areas for cooperation development were identified during the discussion. The East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port, LNG power plant, construction of houses and roads, development of agriculture and research, communication technology and development of alternative energy sources are of among them.

Stating that Sri Lanka possesses a youth generation equipped with formal education, President Rajapaksa sought India’s support to provide them with proper vocational training in various fields. When specific needs of Sri Lanka are known, India is willing to assist vocational training programmes, the External Affairs Minister said. Indian aid has already been received to utilize solar power as an alternative energy source. He said that India would be able to provide further financial and technical assistance in the future.

Both parties expressed views on the need to revive the tourism sector which was crippled in the wake of COVID 19 pandemic.

“The Maldives continues to attract tourists following the bio-bubble method. A large number of Indians have already gone there. People like to travel in order to get rid of the stress caused by the pandemic. Hotels in New Delhi are now brimming with Indians. We can encourage them to visit Sri Lanka”, Dr. Jaishankar said.

It was decided to hold a joint discussion between India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal as soon as possible to determine possible course of action for the revival of the tourism industry.

Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Bagley, Joint Secretaries to the External Affairs Ministry of India Amit Narang and Dr. Shilpak Ambule, Secretary to the President P. B. Jayasundera, Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga and the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Ministry Admiral Jayanath Colombage were also present during the discussion.

The Government will amend the Press Council Law and the Rupavahini Corporation Act and set up a ‘National Development Media Centre’.

Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella presented the proposal in this regard and it was approved at the Cabinet meeting on Monday.

The Centre will function under the Mass Media Ministry to convey accurate information on Government policies and development efforts to the public.

The provisions of the Sri Lanka Press Council Law No 5 of 1973 will be amended to include electronic and new media in addition to the print media.

“The Sri Lanka Press Council has been set up to prevent any prejudice to the public through press coverage and to establish a cordial relationship between journalists and the public. The provisions are restricted to newspapers only. It has been identified that the Press Council should be reformed to cover electronic, print and new media as a tribunal for journalists and media institutions and as a centre that promotes media education,” the Cabinet proposal stated.

 
 

The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Act No 6 of 1982 will be amended to increase the number of Board of Directors from 7 to 9. “The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation has played a significant role in the media in Sri Lanka for the past 38 years. To deal appropriately with the intense media competition, the need to change the composition of the Board of Directors of 7 members, which is empowered to make decisions and implement them, has been identified. Therefore, the Cabinet approved the proposal to increase the number of Board Members up to 9 by including a representative of the Treasury and the Secretary to the Line Ministry in charge of the subject or a representative of that Ministry he appointed,” the Cabinet proposal stated.

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