SRI LANKA NEWS(DECEMBER 2020)-Compiled by Victor Melder

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Victor Meldor

A total of eight inmates of the Mahara Prison have died due to the unrest which had arisen at the Mahara Prison last Sunday. Police Media Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said that another 71 inmates had been injured in the unrest and in addition to that two prison officials are also in critical condition. “All injured persons including two prison officials were admitted to the hospital for the treatments,” he added. A tense situation had arisen at the Mahara Prison due to a clash between the prison guards and remand prisoners. A group of inmates had attempted to escape from the Mahara Prison after another group of the prison had contracted COVID-19.Inmates had also set fire and destroyed the property in a bid to distract prison officials. (Daily News, 1.12.2020)

The government will find out who was behind the clashes and resultant destruction at the Mahara Prison and the CID has been entrusted with conducting investigations to determine if any hidden hand was behind this incident, Primary Health Services, Infectious Diseases and COVID-19 Prevention State Ministry sources said. In addition, the source said that a Committee headed by the Prison Reforms Ministry Secretary had been appointed to conduct a probe into the unrest, and assured that a comprehensive investigation will be conducted into the incident with the support of the police and other law enforcement agencies. “The incident at the Mahara Prison was very unfortunate but this is not the only incident and recently there were many agitations being reported from several prisons. Recently we witnessed a similar incident at the Boossa Prison and when some prisoners attempted to break free from the Old Bogambara Prison where the prison guards had to open fire to prevent it which resulted in one inmate getting killed,” the source explained. Similarly, there were protests at the Welikada, Kalutara, Negombo and Weerawila too and this seems to be a wave of protests at many of the prisons. “Today there are a large number of drug smugglers, underworld elements and even drug users who are imprisoned due to the ongoing operations against the drug menace by the government,” she said, adding that where around 11,000 prisoners should accommodated, today there are around 32,000 being housed creating a major overcrowding issue. No sooner the Minuwangoda COVID cluster emerged, the Prisons Department implemented a special operation within prisons together with the Health Department, the source pointed out. “We barred all visitors from entering the prisons and we prevented food and other items being brought into the prisons. We even stopped them from being taken to courts and conducted these hearings through Skype.” The first COVID positive prisoner was detected on October 27 at the Welikada Prison Hospital. (Daily News, 2.12.2020)

At least four fishermen from the North went missing due to the cyclonic storm Burevi that passed the North and Eastern provinces last night. Search operations by the Navy and Coastguard are underway to track the missing fishermen. The body of one fisherman who went missing was found in Tamil Nadu coastal area this morning. Steps are taken by the authorities to identify the body. At least 22,000 persons from 5000 families in the North have been affected due to the cyclonic storm last night. Over 150 houses were damaged partially or completely across the districts of Mannar, Mullaitivu and Jaffna. According to the Disaster Management Unit of Jaffna, 1589 persons from 569 families are affected due to the  cyclonic storm.  At least 15 houses are completely damaged and 141 houses are partially damaged in Sandilipay, Chavakachcheri and Point Pedro due to strong winds last night. Four temporary camps have been formed to shelter the displaced in the district.  In Mannar, 6,888 persons from 2058 families have been affected due to the cyclonic storm from five Divisional Secretariat regions of the district. (Times Online, 3.12.2020)

The Auditor General’s Department has revealed that a loss of Rs 6,130 million had incurred, between 2013-2016, due to negligence on the part of Sri Lanka Customs officials failing to clear specific products imported by two leading palm oil companies under the Harmonised System (HS) Code. This was revealed during the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) meeting held on 3 December. COPA heard that Secretary to the Treasury and the Ministry of Finance S.R. Attygalle has already taken measures to investigate and recover the losses incurred. However, COPA directed the Customs to take immediate action on the matter as well.   Moreover, the Customs has failed to implement an adequate internal control system regarding the process of imports and exports. As a result of this, six containers of perfume had been released under the Western medication category and that had caused a loss of Rs 40.7 million to the Government. The Customs has also failed to take actions against the officials who were involved in this act of fraud.  Considering several other issues such as opposing the installation of a fingerprint machine to mark attendance, weaknesses in internal governance, issues pertaining to the recruitment of an Attorney-at-Law and a Chief Internal Auditor for the Legal Department, the COPA decided to summon Customs officials again and in the interim they were ordered to prepare a sustainable solution for those issues within two months. (Ceylon Today, 5.12.2020)

Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera had ordered a comprehensive investigation into earth tremors reported from time to time around the Victoria Reservoir in Kandy, Chairman of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Anura Walpola said.  He said although four minor tremors were reported around Kandy on Sunday only one tremor was reported from the interior of the earth. 
“Sensors mounted on the Victoria Reservoir dam did not record tremors,” he said.
The Chairman said that the other three tremors were not reported from the interior of the earth, based on Victoria Reservoir sensors. “Therefore, the tremors may not have occurred internally, but it should have occurred exterior of the earth,” he said. “However, the facts regarding these cannot be not taken lightly and an extensive investigation is being carried out using experts from various fields regarding these occasional tremors,” Mr Walpola said. The University of Peradeniya, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, as well as the Mahaweli Authority are to be consulted for this purpose on the instructions of the Minister of Environment. He said the report of the panel of experts would focus on dolomite mining and related explosions and would take further action based on the report. The tremors may not have occurred internally, but it should have occurred exterior of the earth (Daily Mirror Online, 8.12.2020)

This week will mark the soft opening of the Mannar wind development zone, Sri Lanka’s first world class wind park. The ongoing work, when completed, will deliver 100 megawatt of electricity when the wind flow is good, and zero megawatt when the wind flow is below its start-up speed. The road to Mannar wind power generation was indeed, literally, a road full of potholes and obstacles. Sri Lanka currently has 16 wind power plants in operation, all by the private sector. Data published for 2018 for 15 of them (the 16th commenced operations recently) show that they produced 325 million units of electricity, at prices ranging between Rs 13.05 and 25.80 per unit, working out to an average of Rs 20.40 per unit. That is only the production cost. Since wind is seasonal, there have to be other power plants standing by, to come-up when wind does not blow. Such standby capacity cost was Rs 3.09. Transmission and distribution expenses were Rs 4.36 per unit, said the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in its approvals. The potential for wind power generation in the Mannar District alone was assessed to be 375 megawatt, with minimal disturbance to other social and economic activities. The wind power plant in Mannar begins producing electricity this week (Daily Island, 8.12.2020)

Archaeology Department officials have unearthed a granite slab inscription buried from a land that is believed to be the site of the former Kurindi Sirisangabo monastery popularly known as Kurudumale Vihara at Thannimuruppu in Mulaithivu. A section of the slab inscription jutting out of the soil was first noticed by a team of officials of the Survey and Conservation Unit of the regional archaeological office in Vavuniya and archaeologists working in the Mulaitivu zone. They informed the Department of Archaeology, Colombo, of their findings, and a team of officials from the Inscription and Numismatics Division to Mulaitivu was sent to excavate the site in the Kurudumalai forest. They uncovered the slab inscription and are currently engaged in copying the inscription to tracing papers. Officials said that the inscription was about 50 lines long and further excavations there would yield similar artifacts that could help reconstructing the past of those regions. The team of excavators had been assisted by the Chief Incumbent of the Kurudumale Temple and the Army deployed in the area. On an earlier occasion some inscriptions were found in the same area but were destroyed by vandals. Treasure hunters, too, have damaged certain sites with inscriptions. (Sunday Island, 13.12.2020)

Workers’ remittances recorded a growth of 3.9% in October 2020, year-on-year, to $ 631 million, the Central Bank said yesterday. This increase led the cumulative earnings in workers’ remittances to record a growth of 2.6% to $ 5,680 million during the period from January to October 2020, in comparison to the corresponding period of 2019. No tourist arrivals were recorded for the seventh consecutive month in October 2020. Total tourist arrivals remained at 507,311 during the ten months ending October 2020, compared to 1,495,055 arrivals recorded during the corresponding period in 2019.  Accordingly, cumulative earnings from tourism, which are estimated based on tourist arrivals, remained at $ 956 million during the year up to October 2020, thus recording a drop of 66.1% from the corresponding period of 2019. (Daily Financial Times, 15.12.2020)

A group of researchers from the University of Colombo has identified a new bird species endemic to Sri Lanka and islands in the Palk Strait. The bird has been named in Sinhala as Hanuman Oleviya and Hanuman Plover in English. The discovery was made by a new bird researcher Jude Janith Niroshan under the supervision of senior bird researcher Dr. Sampath Seneviratne of the Botanical Science Department of the University. The research paper with regard to the findings was yet to be released, Dr Seneviratne told The Island, adding that the bird’s scientific name would most probably be Charadrius Seebohmi. This bird has been wrongly known as a sub-species of Kentish Plover, migratory bird visiting Sri Lanka annually from the Northern hemisphere. However, the researchers have been able to establish that the bird is not migratory but endemic to Sri Lanka. Action would be taken to request the removal of the bird from the sub-species category and naming it as new species living in Sri Lanka and the sand dunes of Palk Strait up to South India. It would be named as Hanuman Oleviya, Dr Seneviratne said. (Daily Island, 15.1.2020) 

The Government has started talks with the World Bank to secure a Rs. 10 billion loan for the purchase of a vaccine against COVID-19. The  Government was seeking a soft loan while also looking at the possibility of obtaining funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Union (EU) for the purchase of the vaccine required for a large part of the population. Sri Lanka has been so far assured of being provided a vaccine for 20 percent of its population under an international initiative in which the United Nations agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is also involved. The cost for the proposed imports would largely depend on the type of vaccine to be imported according to its cost-effectiveness. Besides the negotiations with the World Bank, the Government was also looking at the possibilities of obtaining grants for the purchase of the vaccine. One of the concerns was the high expenditure which would have to be probably incurred for the cold chain facility as these vaccines needed to be stored in minus temperature conditions. Sri Lanka has planned to provide the vaccine initially for frontline health workers while an Expert Committee is drawing up a programme prioritising groups who will be receiving the vaccine. A senior Health official said Sri Lanka’s bid for the vaccine would have to be expedited as the vaccine would be released on the basis of how soon the country placed the order. (Sunday Times, 20, 2020)

The Government had approved the proposal to waive off  landing and parking fee for the period from December 26 to November 19, 2021, Co-cabinet spokesman Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said. Addressing the weekly cabinet briefing at the Information Department, he said the decision was taken to encourage the international airlines to operate flights to Sri Lanka. He said measures have been taken to open the airports in the country from December 26 to January 19, 2021 as per the health recommendations. The airports will be opened as a pilot project in view to attract tourists from overseas. Moreover, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said the decision was taken to attract airlines to Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and Colombo International Airport Ratmalana (Daily Mirror Online, 22.12.2020)

Thirty-nine people have been killed in fatal road accidents in the country within nine days from December 20 till this date, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said. He said the total number of accidents during that period was around 527. “During that period 122 persons have been critically injured while 238 people have received minor injuries,” he said. Meanwhile, the police spokesman said, as per the previous reports, the highest number of accidents in the country had taken place between December 20 and January 5. He said the police had launched special operations during the period to prevent such accidents are taking place. The highest number of people have been killed were pedestrians, motorcyclists and three-wheeler drivers, he said. (Daily Mirror Online, 29.12.2020)

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