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                         last lap

Security forces in action on the brink of a historic military victory.
Defence Affairs Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella
stated last week the LTTE is now restricted to 1 sq. km. of the
21 sq. km. designated No Fire Zone.

Photo courtesy D.M. Isitha Eranga Dissanayaka

Apparel sector yet to get relief

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The benefits outlined in the Economic Stimulus Package presented by the government in December 2008 to give a boost to the country's economy in the backdrop of the global recession are yet to reach the export sector in the country.

Three months after presentation, the apparel sector is yet to receive the full benefits of the proposals in the stimulus package.

Secretary General, Joint Apparel Associations Forum (JAAF), Rohan Masakorala said that the modalities to implement the proposals were still being worked out.

He also said that the government would most likely appoint a task force to address the issues faced by each industry in the export sector by next month.

The government proposed several measures to encourage the apparel and leather exporters in the stimulus package presented last year.

"As mentioned in the 2009 budget, in order to maintain the working cadre,  maintain the 2008 export revenue, and also make value additions, 5% of the export value would be given as manufacturing relief to the apparel and leather product exporters.

"The reduction in diesel and furnace oil prices, removal of 15% electricity surcharge, reducing  interest rates and cancelling the Economic Service Charge for a period of one year would help reduce production costs in these factories," Masakorala said, adding that the apparel exporters would lodge the claims for the first quarter by May.

Speaking of the export sector's performance, he said that the official statistics released for the month of January has shown no significant increase or decline in exports.

He added that global economic conditions have created a slowdown in many countries resulting in downsizing and reducing work hours in several industries.

Group Director, MAS Holdings, Dian Gomes said that although the government's stimulus package is more than conceptual there has been no action with regard to its full implementation. He said that the next 15 months would be a difficult period for the country's export sector with the period between June and December being the most crucial.

Referring to the apparel sector, Gomes said the world situation was affecting the orders received by the country compelling the industry to adopt a more lean and competitive mode.

"The global situation is tough and the retailers are not doing well. There has been a decline in orders all over the world," he said.

MAS Holdings employees about 40,000 people in 34 plants islandwide.

Gomes said the company was currently "right sizing" the organisation.

He added that the organisation had provided a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for about 500 employees.

Meanwhile, the chairman of a top apparel sector organisation who requested anonymity said the immense pressure brought upon the prices of apparel exports have forced the industry to bring down costs.

"The uncertainty is high and we don't know how long it will go on," he said.

It has been revealed by apparel sector trade unions that out of the 800 garment factories that were operational in the country at the height of the apparel sector boom only around 275 were functioning as at end 2008.

Apparel sector experts have said that while 60 to 70 garment factories have closed down since 2007, many of them were trying to consolidate. It has also been pointed out that while there were over 350 garment factories operating as of 2007, there are now only around 265 to 275 factories 'operational.'

Statistics also show that the workforce in the apparel sector that stood at around 300,000 in 2007 has now declined to about 280,000.

According to statistics available with the Inter Company Employees' Union (ICEU) approximately 16,802 workers have lost their jobs so far this year alone.

Police not interested in tel. data report

By Nirmala Kannangara

The police have failed to collect the telephone data report prepared by the Electronics Department of the Moratuwa University on a directive issued by the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate on the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge.

The Electronics Department of the Moratuwa University told The Sunday Leader, the police had failed to collect the report for the past two weeks even after being informed that it was ready for collection.

Mt. Lavinia Magistrate Harsha Setunge on February 19 ordered the police to refer the telephone calls received by Wickrematunge moments before he was killed to the Electronics Department, Moratuwa University in order to get details of the calls, to make a breakthrough into the assassination.

Although the Electronics Department had completed its investigations in early March and requested the police to collect it from the university, the police for the past two weeks had not collected the report, The Sunday Leader learns. According to university officials, the police have promised to collect the report on Monday (16), but have failed to collect it even by Friday (27) afternoon.

"We informed two police officers Mendis and OIC Amarabandu two weeks ago but although they promised to collect the report on March 16 they have still failed to do so," the university officials said.

Meanwhile, Police Spokesperson SSP Ranjith Gunasekera told The Sunday Leader that investigations are still in progress, but did not comment further.

First AMF award to Lasantha

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti in Bangkok

When the Asian Media Forum (AMF) conferred its first ever award on Founder Editor, The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge at a simple ceremony in Bangkok on Wednesday (25), it was an emotional moment for many.

The award, the first of its kind was awarded posthumously to Wickrematunge for his courageous journalism and for fighting corruption in his long and distinguished career.

Gathered inside the conference hall at Windsor Suites Hotel in Bangkok city were over 80 journalists. Many knew Wickrematunge personally while others knew him through his work.

Conferred posthumously

In a room full of journalists, it was my honour to receive this award, conferred posthumously on a journalist famed for his indomitable public spirited journalism.

The award was presented jointly by two distinguished men. One was Prof. Vithit Muntabhorn, the UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea Human Rights, a distinguished jurist and a member of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The other was a journalist of international repute, Nurul Kabir, the editor of the Dhaka-based daily newspaper, New Age.

My eyes misted as Kabir placed the award together with Prof. Muntabhorn. For I knew, Kabir's sentiments about media freedom resonated with those of the slain Sunday Leader's Founding Editor. That he too had been fighting authoritarian regimes and corruption in his own home, Bangladesh and more importantly, that he was a man lucky to be alive, conferring an award on a slain colleague.

Under various forms of attacks

A journalist who had been under various forms of attacks, having both his legs broken during different regimes, Nurul Kabir used his pen to fight against the mighty force of the military controlled Bangladesh regime from January 2007 to December 2008. He continues to pay the price. Just one week before, Kabir's vehicle was given chase by unidentified gun wielding motor cyclists and is lucky to be alive.

Kabir was also among the first South Asian journalists to visit The Sunday Leader office to express solidarity after the brutal slaying of its Founder Editor. "I am honoured that I was chosen for the task of conferring the award," Kabir said, once the simple ceremony drew to an end.

At the same ceremony, the Asia Media Report 2009 was launched, aptly titled, Missing In The Media.

The AMF Report Editor, Darryl D'Monte in his overview noted with concern how Asia replaced the Middle East as the deadliest region for journalists in 2008 with 26 reporters, photographers and editors losing their lives in retaliation for their work or in civil conflicts.

Growing influence of Taliban

He adds: "While Pakistan will continue to cause concern due to the growing influence of Taliban, Sri Lanka has witnessed a brutal murder of one of its most outspoken journalists. The controversial but powerful newspaper editor was assassinated even before outrage and dismay had died down over the ransacking of the premises of a popular radio and TV broadcaster by masked, armed men. Wickrematunge was the first Asian to win the Global Integrity Award in 2000 awarded by the Berlin based Transparency International."

The AMF report containing 20 chapters representative of the region also noted that Wickrematunge had become the prime target of the regime of President Mahinda Rajapakse, and particularly of his brother and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.

Timely intervention of journalists

"An attempt to arrest Wickrematunge failed after senior police officers refused to comply and also because of the timely intervention of journalists who had gathered around him," it adds.

The AMF report further notes that "Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other nations use national security laws to intimidate and even terrorise journalists."

The murders in 2009 of scribes in Pakistan and Sri Lanka ought to serve as a reminder to South Asia in particular, and the continent in general, that eternal violence is the price of press freedom.

Media workers  killed

Interestingly, D'Monte  remarks that "Between 2006 and February 2009, 18 journalists and media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world for the media to function without fetters - ironical, considering the emerald isle has given birth to the word 'serendipity,' from the ancient name Serendip for Sri Lanka."

GMOA up in arms against arrival of Indian medical team

By Nirmala Kannangara

With the government's decision to permit Indian doctors to run a hospital in Pulmodai sidelining the Sri Lankan doctors, a confrontation is brewing between Health Ministry officials and the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA), The Sunday Leader learns.

"When there are adequate doctors in the country and in some instances when doctors  are without work why did the Health Minister  get down a team of Indian doctors and other medical staff to treat the internally displaced persons (IDP) in the north?" asked Deputy Secretary GMOA, Dr. Upul Gunasekera.         

He stated that the GMOA in consultation with the Health Ministry had started a voluntarily programme to treat the IDPs in the north and the east a few months back.

"In this backdrop what was the need for the government, and the Health Ministry in particular, to get down a team of Indian doctors to run a 50-bed hospital in Pulmodai which is the first in the country's medical history?" he asked, appearing visibly angry at what he considered was an infringement of the rights of the GMOA.

According to Dr. Gunasekera lack of administrative skills of Health Ministry officials had led to the present state of "unethical dealings" at the Ministry.  He charged that the latest decision to permit the Indians to run a hospital in Pulmodai was to instigate a confrontation between Ministry officials and the GMOA.

The GMOA he said  called on Health Secretary Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage two weeks ago seeking clarification as to why such a decision was taken when adequate doctors were available to treat the IDPs in the north and the east, and that so far they had not received any explanation.

According to Dr. Gunasekera the Health Ministry's 'deliberate failure' to consult the GMOA and the SLMC on the issue would not only hamper the country's medical profession which is comparable to that available in developed countries and was the best in the region, but would also result in bad repercussions for the patients.

 "We are surprised that the government has permitted the Indian doctors to run a hospital without the support of our own doctors. If any foreign doctor wants to practise here, he should get SLMC registration without which he cannot practise in the country. In this instance none of the Indian doctors have obtained SLMC registration, neither have they applied for registration," Dr. Gunasekera charged.

 According to Dr. Gunasekera if a team of foreign doctors are assigned to treat our own people then there should be  bilateral collaboration and unless there is equal local representation it would be a risk to let them work without supervision.

Dr. Gunasekera said that the GMOA was awaiting the Ministry Secretary's report on how permission was granted to Indian doctors to run a hospital.  He warned if the GMOA perceives any hidden agendas that would tarnish the country's health sector, stern action would be taken against the government.

Health Secretary Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage told The Sunday Leader that the Indians responded positively to their call and added that the Sri Lankan government had requested such medical help not only from India but also from other countries as well.

"We made an appeal  to the foreign missions in the country and International Non Governmental Organisations (INGO) to help us in this hour of need. That is why the Indians came to help us with medical assistance," added Dr. Kahandaliyanage.

The Indian High Commission in Colombo responding, said, " The medical team is a fully self-contained unit. All equipment, including operation theatres, operating tables, X-ray machines, ventilators, laboratory,  medicines, medical items and hospital stores (including beds, tables, bed linen, etc) worth SL Rs. 70 million, needed for a modern hospital have been sent with the team."

The Indian medical team arrived in Sri Lanka on March 9 to establish an emergency medical unit including a hospital in Pulmodai as agreed with the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to assist in supplementing the existing medical facilities and attend to the medical needs of the IDPs in the north.

Predator flies to destroy piti makuna

By Risidra Mendis

A species of flies known as parasitoids is to be brought down from Puerto Rico to control the spread of the piti makuna.

The Sunday Leader learns that 50,000 parasitoids are to be brought into the country by April to control the spread of the piti makuna which is known to attack plants and trees that exude milk. 

The programme to bring in the parasitoids will be funded by the United States Agriculture Department (USAD) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 

The piti makuna also known as the mealy bug by Horticultural Crops, Research and Development Institute (HCRDI) officials, is believed to have entered the country in mid 2007 and has so far destroyed many vegetable and fruit cultivations mainly in Colombo and Gampaha areas. 

Head, Division of Entomology (HCRDI) Indra Wahundeniya said this was the first time the mealy bug has affected papaya and many other varieties of vegetables and fruit plants in the country.

"We believe this bug was illegally brought in to the country with plant materials. The mealy bug  has no natural enemies to control its numbers. This is the main reason for the mealy bug to increase in numbers within a short period and reach epidemic levels," Wahundeniya said.

She added that in such cases cultural and chemical control methods introduced by the Agriculture Department were only temporary and it was necessary to introduce a natural enemy to control the spread of the pest. "It has been recorded that over 25 countries around the world including Mexico and South America have faced the same problems with these pests.

"The parasitoid was the best option, as these insects are known to lay eggs on the mealy bugs. The parasitoids have a four stage life cycle namely the eggs, the larvae, the pupa and the adult insect. Once the parasitoid completes its life cycle the mealy bug will reduce in numbers," Wahundeniya explained.

Wahundeniya went on to say that some of the 50,000 parasitoids brought down will be kept in the laboratories to multiply and the others released to badly affected areas in the country.

"We are still not sure if 50,000 parasitoids will be enough to control the spread of the mealy bug as the situation is very serious in some areas. At present we are awaiting instructions from USAD as to whether we can immediately release the insects to the environment or wait for a few days until the parasitoids get used to the Sri Lankan climate," Wahundeniya said.

  More News....


Police not interested in tel. data report

First AMF award to Lasantha



GMOA up in arms against arrival
of Indian medical team


Predator flies to destroy piti makuna



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