Outcome of Maithri-CBK Horagolla talks expected soon

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Prior to the 71st National Budget being presented last week, government came under severe criticism by opponents as well as those who openly supported the consensus government alike for allegedly assaulting disabled war veterans, who were agitating for pension entitlements with tear gas and water cannons in Colombo.

Though, the presence of elements with vested political interests behind this provoked agitations, many viewed Police action as ill-timed.

The government emphasized that the tense situation that occurred at the Presidential Secretariat premises and the area around it, is a conspiracy against it. It also claimed the incident was intended to create a division between the government and the War Heroes as well as to cause inconvenience to the government, as the 'crowd' went wild despite the agreement to provide the pension benefits to the differently-abled War Heroes was already reached.

"It is clear that the innocent war heroes did not know who led them and this situation can be assumed as an attempt by a group who are against the government as this protest was held in an environment where all the necessary arrangements had already been made to solve the issue. As the Minister-in-Charge of Defence, the President had presented a special Cabinet paper to the Cabinet four months ago, to provide these demands of the war heroes. Subsequently, the decision of the Treasury was obtained by the Ministry of Defence," a spokesperson at the Presidential Secretariat said.

Even though the direct intervention of the President was made on this issue, the protest held with the involvement of a group of Bhikkhus who engaged with political organizations against the government as well as with the support of few outsiders, is undoubtedly a protest led with some persons with a political agenda, he opined.
This tense situation arose when a discussion was being held at the Defence Ministry between the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, representatives of the Presidential Secretariat and the representatives of the organization to protect the rights of the war heroes.

Even though providing pension benefits to the differently-abled War Heroes who volunteered to retire before completing their 12-year mandatory service period with retirement compensation, is contrary to the provisions of the Armed Forces Pensions and Gratuity Regulations, a decision was taken to provide pension benefits to these war heroes amending those rules and regulations on the direction of the President.

When the demonstrators carried out their protest in front of the Presidential Secretariat, a discussion was being held at the Presidential Secretariat with a foreign delegation and the Security Forces took steps to control the trespass of demonstrators to prevent them from entering the premises of the President's Office.

A group of conspirators wanted to put the government in a difficult situation, putting forward the demands of the retired war heroes and although during the past few days they made attempts in this regard, it was apparent that the Security Forces and the Police have fulfilled their duties understanding the scenario, a statement issued later by the President's Office stated.
The Ministry of Defence issued a press release on 6 November 2016 promising to pay pension benefits in addition to the monthly salary and allowances and disability allowance from next February.

Maithri regrets absence

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena participating in a ceremony to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the Mediation Board and the National Mediation Day, held at the Temple Tress, on Wednesday (9) said when a problem occurred in the country if only the relevant parties were involved in that issue it can be solved in a straightforward manner.

However, interferences of unrelated parties to an issue will create numerous problems, the President said that adding the recent incident of differently-abled War Heroes, created many problems due to the involvement of some section of the society who are not the War Heroes or differently-abled War Heroes and wanted to cause inconvenience to the government.
The ceremony was jointly organized by the National Mediation Boards Commission and the Ministry of Justice.

The President further said, the heroic soldiers, who sacrificed their lives for the country, could not behave in this way.
"They always rendered their great service to the Motherland with an ample understanding and with good discipline," the President said. President Sirisena also said that the efforts made by some sections of the society using the War Heroes to create a tense situation in the country is regrettable and he also regrets his absence at the time as he was in India.
"Had I been there, I'd have allowed all of them in," he said.

The President presented awards for the winners of the competition, which was organized to mark the Silver Jubilee of the Mediation Board.

Ven. Dr. Welamitiyawe Kusaladhamma Thera, Parivenadhipathy of Vidyalankara Pirivena in Peliyagoda and the Chancellor of the University of Kelaniya, Minister of Justice and Minister of Buddhasasana, Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, Deputy Minister, Sarathie Dushmantha Mithrapala, Attorney General and other dignitaries participated in this event.

CBK-Maithri talks

Though not given much publicity, President Sirisena went to Horagolla Walawwa in Attanagalla last Saturday to engage in what seemed like an 'extremely secretive' meeting with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
He arrived at Horagolla Walawwa at around 12:30p.m. and the former President made sure what was discussed remained within four ears as she made sure even domestic aides were not present in the room after serving lunch.
However, what was discussed at the meeting was later revealed to a few of her close confidantes and the outcome of these discussions will be made known within the next few days, sources said.

It was not a secret anymore that it was former President Kumaratunga who persuaded and backed Sirisena to turn his back to the Rajapaksas and contest the last Presidential Election. Therefore, everyone is on alert till President Sirisena puts into action, what was discussed over a very secret lunch.

Owner of the flower bud

Former Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, who was appointed as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka People's Front), said they are planning to persuade former President Mahinda Rajapaksa lead the party.
Rajapaksa was non-committal about the new party or taking the reins so far, even though his brother Basil Rajapaksa was behind the formation of the party which bears the lotus bud as the symbol.

Soon after Peiris assumed charge as Chairman of the SLPF, the SLFP stripped him of membership citing his role in a new party.
Meanwhile, last week many questioned Basil as to who the leader of the party is, when recruiting new party members was in progress at Mahinda Rajapaksa's Party office at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla.
"Many say it is President Rajapaksa," they speculated and Basil reacted"if everyone's wish is that it shall be our command too."

Mora and Galsiyambala

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake last week delivered what the government called a progressive Budget focused on creating "a new economic and social order for the betterment of the country" by not only providing relief for the people but also paving the way for sustainable growth.

The country's 20th Finance Minister presenting the 71st Budget of independent Sri Lanka said the social inclusion is a matter of prime concern of the new government and it has attempted through the Budget proposals the participation of the entire population in the "journey for development".

"Our attention is drawn to the fundamental requirements of basic needs extending to land, housing, education and health. Hence, continuous improvement will be made in this regard to sustain the process," he said.

He proposed to allocate Rs 400 million for the continuance of subsidies in the agriculture sector. "We encourage the farmers and farmer cooperatives to improve mechanization through the use of machines such as Transplanters, Hand Weeders etc. As such, I propose to remove the Customs Duty, VAT and PAL applicable on such imports. To also further support farmer cooperatives, I propose a loan scheme where 75 per cent of the interest will be borne by the government, for which I propose to allocate Rs 50 million," he said.

Government land to the extent of 20,000 acres from the Maduruoya Right Bank and other areas will be released to cultivate the five major food crops, fruits and vegetables on a commercial scale, using hi-tech modern agricultural practices, targeting the export market. I propose that commercial scale farmers to be provided with a minimum land plot of 1,000 acres on a long-term lease basis, he said.

To increase the supply of liquid milk within the country, he said that the government had negotiated with foreign countries to import 15,000 high milk producing cattle breeds. "A minimum of 10 such cows will be given to each self-employed farmer, who must then recruit at least two Samurdhi recipients to be employed in the dairy farm. Farmers will be assisted through a gap financing scheme, for which I propose to allocate Rs 400 million," he said.

"Education is centric in our development model. Since we took office, we have kept our promise of ensuring adequate funding for education. In fact, amidst severe fiscal constraints we faced last year, due to the undisciplined fiscal management of the previous government, we allocated in 2016, almost three times that of the allocations made in 2014. However, the Ministry of Education has been able to utilize only around Rs 38,850 million at the end of the 3rd quarter of 2016. We took careful stock of the situation and therefore allocated almost Rs 90,000 million for 2017. While I admit that allocation for 2017 is less than that of 2016, it is nevertheless 70 per cent more than that of 2014. I will also be proposing the provision of an additional allocation of Rs 17,480 million to further strengthen the development in the education sector," he said.
He proposed to allocate Rs 21,000 million to provide basic facilities such as, classrooms, laboratories and libraries in primary and secondary schools.

"We must create the enabling environment for our students to be able to acquire knowledge easily. We must give them a "Smart Classroom" for which we have already allocated Rs 6,500 million. To supplement this venture, we will also provide free Tabs for almost 175,000 students who enter the Advanced Level (AL) classes and around 28,000 AL teachers from 2017. I propose to allocate Rs 5,000 million for this project. I invite the telecom service providers to support this initiative by providing Wi-Fi connections," he said.

To further strengthen the IT facilities in 3,500 schools, he proposed to allow schools to rent a maximum of 50 computers each, for which he proposed to allocate Rs 5,000 million.

"We will introduce an insurance scheme for all school going children from the age of 5-19, covering 4.5 million students, which is a revolutionary move. Each child will be given a policy of Rs 200,000. This scheme will cover both in and outpatient services, subject to a maximum of Rs 100,000 for hospitalization and Rs 10,000 for outpatient services. The government will bear the premium for which I propose to allocate Rs 2,700 million," he said.
He proposed to allocate Rs 100 million to support the engagement of university students in extracurricular activities and proposed to extend the lecture hours at universities up to 8 p.m.

The Budget 2017 of Minister Karunanayake may have gained praises and criticism equally, but it will most certainly be marked as the National Budget which gave importance to Mora (type of wild berries) and GalSiyambala (Velvet Tamarind)
"In transforming to commercial agriculture, promotion of modern agricultural practices that enhance productivity, especially through mechanization, use of hi-tech irrigation methods such as drip and sprinkler irrigation, use of Precision agriculture which uses predictive analytics for smarter decisions is important. Therefore, I encourage farmers, and farmer organizations to adopt such productivity enhancing technologies and practices in the cultivation of Paddy, Fruits, Vegetables, Pulses, and for Floriculture, Horticulture, etc. I also encourage the entrepreneurs to move into the agro processing industry to add value to Fruits and Vegetables such as Avocado, Mango, Pineapple, Rambutan, Bell Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Galsiyambala (Velvet Tamarind), Mora, etc. As such, I propose to provide a 50 per cent interest subsidy to farmers, farmer organizations and agro processing establishments for upgrading the sector through infusion of productivity enhancing technologies and practices," he said.




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