Daily News Online

Wednesday, 14 December 2011






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette


Budget 2012:

To use Information Technology as a tool:

Five year National Plan on Information Technology formulated

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa presided, when Parliament met at 9.30 am yesterday. After the presentation of papers and oral questions, the House took up Finance Heads of Mass Media and Information Ministry, Telecommunication and Information Technology Ministry, Labour and Labour Relations Ministry and the Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Ministry during the committee stage debate on the Appropriation Bill 2012.

Gayantha Karunatilleke (UNP): The only concession granted to media personnel from this budget had been an interest free loan. Journalists who have completed 25 years in service have been entitled to this concession.

It seems that the government has given this concession only to several senior journalists who have been loyal to them.

But there are many more journalists in the media field. Therefore, the 25 years should be reduced to 10 years. Most of the journalists undergo tremendous hardships without proper housing facilities. I propose that the government build multi-storey housing complexes for them.

Veteran journalist Lasantha Wickremetunge had been murdered and Prageeth Ekneligoda had disappeared. Who were behind those incidents? No one has been brought to justice for these crimes. The government had failed in finding the guilty. The Media Minister should explain this to the House.

Today, Lake House prints only 71,048 copies of the Sunday Observer, 80,000 copies of the Silumina, 26,800 copies of the Daily News, 21,700 copies of the Dinamina and 5,850 copies of the Thinakaran.

Telecommunication and Information Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya: In our efforts to build up a knowledge- oriented economy to achieve development goals and economic targets in keeping with the Mahinda Chintana - Vision for the Future, the policy directive of the government is that technology and knowledge should be transmitted from the city to the village rapidly. My ministry implements such programmes and projects with a view to achieve the anticipated goals.

The five-year National Development Plan on Information Technology had been formulated to use the potentials of Information Technology as a tool for the rapid socio-economic development among all sectors of the population and also to ensure the equitable distribution of benefits.

To empower the student population in Sri Lanka in ICT, establishment of 100 computer labs in selected schools is one of the major projects being implemented by the ministry. Under the first phase of this project, 100 computer labs will be established in 100 selected schools.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe: The government has failed in ensuring the freedom of the media. The interest-free loan should be given to journalists who have completed 10 years in their service. Except interest-free loans, no other concession has been given to journalists through this budget.

Many media personnel have left the country due to threats. The government has been unable to provide the required security for media personnel. Websites have been banned. Rights to information of the people have been violated by the government.

Ruwan Wijewardene (UNP): Today, the country runs sans free media. If media freedom did not prevail in any country, there is no democracy. A number of journalists had been assaulted, abducted and murdered. A large number of journalists have left the country due to threats. The government has banned five websites, including the official website of the UNP. This is an attempt of the government to silence the Opposition. The people have a right for information. Please do not try to suppress the rights of the people.

Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa: There is a media freedom in this country compared to other countries. The most important thing is the responsibility of the journalists towards what they write and express. The government has provided a number of facilities to journalists. During the UNP era several journalists were sacked and chased away. UNP has no right of talking media freedom. The campaign carried out by the UNP is a myth. For the first time in history, journalists have been granted with a interest free loan. This has given to commend the service rendered by journalists.

P Ariyanethiran (TNA): When mediamen are given training, I request that media personnel in Batticaloa too be given an opportunity. Reconciliation is not playing cricket between Ministers and Members of Parliament.

Ajith Kumara (DNA): The freedom of expression of mediamen should be guaranteed. The freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed by granting a loan for the purchase of a motor car, to journalists who have contributed their services to the country for 25 years. Could mediamen observe the present situation in the North? Why cannot the government expose them? Even a citizen or a parliamentarian does not have that right today.

Dr Harsha de Silva (UNP): I agree with what MP Ajith Kumara said. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission makes a massive income. It has an income even larger than the banks. Almost every person owns a mobile phone, so that we have to expand broadband technology.

Manusha Nanayakkara (UPFA): Today we are living in an era of knowledge, so that the media has a responsible role to play in this era of knowledge. In the past, Singapore had published only one newspaper when they initiated to develop their nation.

There are 32 TV channels, while 49 radio channels are functioning in the country. There are 140 registered papers in the country. But out of them the government owns 4 television channels and 9 radio channels. The government presently owns only 5.7 percent of newspapers.

Out of the government advertisements only 37 percent have been provided to the government media, while 63 percent of the advertisements have been provided to the private media. So how could one claim that the government is taking measures to bankrupt the private media? How could the Opposition claim that the government controls the media, when the government owns such a small proportion of the media?

Seven percent of our population use websites daily. We have not imposed any restrictions. But many countries have restricted websites. There are many web sites which promote pornographic sites. Nobody knows who own these websites. So I appreciate the government’s attempts to register these web sites, because if these sites sling mud on somebody, there is nobody to take responsibility.

Deputy Chairman of Committees Chandrakumar Murugesu takes the Chair.

J Sri Ranga (UNP): I also agree with Namal Rajapaksa and the Opposition Leader’s proposal to reduce the 25 year service of journalists, when their car loan applications are being considered.

Sri Ranga (UNP): I request the government to initiate a compensation scheme for journalists, since they are often subjected to political harassment. No inquiry is being conducted over the killings of journalists.

E Saravanabavan (TNA): The government is suppressing anti-government media institutions. Media institutions in the Northern Province are often being threatened and there has been no satisfactory situation with regard to media freedom in the North. Tamil journalists are often subjected to attacks.

Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella: There were four serious criticisms by the Opposition. One was that the State media institutions had been inefficient and their revenue had not been satisfactory.

The second issue was with regard to media freedom and several MPs spoke about the access to websites too. The third criticism was that this government is engaged in restricting media freedom by suppressing and influencing them.

The fourth issue had been related to the facilitation of welfare programmes for journalists, for the betterment of the field and those who have been involved in the field.

When we consider the first claim, denying those facts, I must note that State media institutions have been converted into profit-making institutions during the past few years.

The State Printing Corporation had been incurring a loss of Rs 582 million three years ago. We could reduce this upto Rs 2 million by December this year.

It has earned a net profit of Rs 130 million for the first three quarters of this year. The Independent Television Network (ITN) has earned a net profit of Rs 501.3 million from advertisements, which has been a historical record.

Advertisers after advertisements only for channels which have programmes that reach out to a crowd of people. People decide on which programmes they intend to watch. Sri Lankan population has a literacy rate of about 95 percent.

The Film Corporation has also been converted to a profit-making institution. The Rupavahini Corporation and Lake House have also earned better revenues. These institutions were able to perform better if not for the surplus of employees. Most of these recruitments had been done during former Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s period.

When the State Printing Corporation had been summoned before COPE, a member of the committee Karu Jayasuriya had commended its present performances and had mentioned it as a model institutions for others to follow.

With reference to media freedom, the Opposition Leader spoke selectively about two journalists. He has no right to speak about media freedom when he himself expresses views with regard to journalists he does not prefer. Several MPs questioned the validity of media freedom in the North. However, there had been no freedom in that area about one and a half years back. As Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa stated, media freedom should be inter-connected with responsibility. The Supreme Court had given a verdict in this regard. In regard to websites, there should be space to response to criticisms they have direct and people have the right to know where these contents are coming from. As Mass Media Minister, I have a responsibility to ensure the right to reply that there has been no abusive contents in websites.

There are 154 locally registered newspapers and magazines. To provide responsibile responses on behalf of the government to any claim, it is necessary that these institutions operate after registering.

When talking about welfare programmes for journalists, I must note that now we are granting a sum of Rs 100,000 for educational purposes of the journalists. Upto now, nearly 100 journalists have been granted this amount according to this programme initiated under a concept of the President. The loan scheme which had been introduced for journalists for the purchase of a vehicle from this budget had been initially planned for journalists with 25 years service experience. Considering the requests extended to us, we have discussed the request with the President to curtail this service period and accordingly, the President at the conclusion of the budget debate will make an announcement in this regard.

Proceedings resume

The House resumed proceedings at 1.00 pm after adjournment at 12.30 pm for lunch. The House took up the finance heads of Labour and Labour Relations and Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare for debate during the Committee Stage of the Appropriation Bill 2012.

Joseph Michal Perera (UNP): The labour force has been a great asset to the country. Their welfare and well-being should be looked after by the government. Migrant workers and fishermen too belong to our labour force. They should not be neglected and the benefits that other employees receive should also be provided to them. The farming community, the supplies of our staple food and vegetables too should be well taken care of.

A decline in women migrant workers

The labourers who have been entitled to the ETF, should be able to obtain enough funds from the fund, in case of an urgent requirement such as heart surgery. The present amount of Rs 150,000 has been inadequate since about Rs 600,000 is needed for a heart surgery.

Rural Affairs Senior Minister Athauda Seneviratne: A society cannot sustain without the labour of the workforce. Therefore, it is necessary to provide them with necessary welfare programmes. Different institutions have different wage schemes due to the open economy introduced to the country. Those institutions which earn more revenue offer better salaries to the employees. There are differences of salary scales in corporations too.

Now we have included in the Parliament Order paper, an amendment to the EPF facilitating a grant for the employees to construct a house. This has not been a loan, but a grant. Amidst our migrant workers, the percentage of women has now declined upto 45 percent. This had been over 70 percent during the past.

R. Yogarajan (UNP): The government had been unable to understand as to why workers have protested against the pension scheme. The Pension Bill had been a good move, but the workers had many uncertainties over it. The government should have amended it properly in a way that workers could accept it. But the government had not done it and as a result, the Pension Bill had failed.

P Dhigambaram (UPFA): The government should make amends to rectify the problems prevailing in the estate sector. Especially the wages problem pertaining to the estate workers should be looked into with immediate effect. In order to encourage the workers in estates, a sufficient salary should be granted to them.

Ajith P Perera (UNP): This budget has reduced the salaries of private sector employees for the first time in history. The rupee had been devalued by 3 percent. It means that the purchasing power will be reduced by 3 percent. This will result in the decrease in the value of salaries of private sector employees.

Dilum Amunugama (UPFA): It had been President Rajapaksa who had taken measures to increase the minimum age limit for migrant housemaids upto 30 years. Women with children whose age was below three years have been prevented from going abroad as domestic workers.

The main objective of a migrant worker going abroad for domestic work, had been the building a house. Therefore, the government had initiated a programme to build them new houses.

W G Padmasiri (UPFA): The Foreign Employment Promotion Ministry has been rendering a great service towards the welfare of migrant workers.

The government intends granting relief to private sector employees by establishing a pension scheme. This Pension Bill had been discussed on many an occasion during the past.

There may be several shortcomings at the beginning. But the ministry would be able to solve all these problems through negotiations and discussions.

Yogeshwaran (TNA): An unemployment problem had become a burning issue in Sri Lanka. So how can the government solve the unemployment problem in the North and East? The government should make a constructive attempt to provide jobs to widows in the North and East.

Health Deputy Minister Lalith Dissanayake: EPF funds has been increased up to Rs one trillion, under the percent regime. A number of accounts registered with the EPF had been increased up to 12.7 million. Funds of the EPF can be invested on fruitful purposes. Funds have been secured and invested in a proper way by the government. The funds have been invested in banking system. With these investments, the banks have been strengthened, which would provide greater benefits to the employees of the private sector.

No security for migrant housemaids

Rosy Senanayake (UNP): Migrant housemaids have been facing severe hardships to earn money. The government had promised to provide them with relief. But it has been problematic whether any measures had been taken by the government for the welfare of the people. Many women finding employment abroad with the sole purpose of strengthening the economy and providing better education to their children.

Nimal Wijesinghe (UPFA): MP Rosy Senanayake admitted that the Foreign Employment Bureau under the chairmanship of Kinsley Ranawaka, had been improving and performing well.

Some Opposition MPs stated that women migration had been high in Sri Lanka. In 2005, when the President assumed duties, this percentage had been 55 percent. Now this has reduced to 48 or 49 percent. We are unable to expect a radical change, but statistics reveal a gradual improvement.

The Foreign Employment Bureau has a serious task ahead. It has to work in line with the laws and regulations of foreign countries too. It has been undertaking a collective effort.

A H M Azwer (UPFA): MP Rosy Senanayake spoke of locally made sarees. I would like to ask her whether the saree she wore, when she was selected as Mrs World at the beauty contest, was a locally made saree?

When we flew abroad to find a settlement for the Rizana case, we met tribal leaders who spoke to us. One of them quoted the Quran. As nobody can challenge the Sharria Law, the President having come to understand this fact, had taken the necessary steps to seek for mercy and discussions have now been going on with the parents of the deceased child. I am sure that these efforts will conclude on a positive note.

Gayantha Karunatilake (UNP): The government had deceived public servants by granting only a meagre allowance to their salary.

Usually, when a budget is being presented, the government formally requests the private sector to grant a salary hike to their employees. However, there had been no word in regard to private sector employees in this budget. The government had escaped from the problem by saying that it was not a duty relevant to it.

A H M Azwer takes the Chair.

Kamala Ranatunga (UPFA): A large number of welfare programmes have been introduced for the benefit of the migrant workers.

Pension schemes, self-employment opportunities and housing facilities are being provided for the families of migrant workers. The children of expatriate workers are being granted scholarships.

If a migrant worker returns to the country with unsatisfactory health conditions, free medical treatment is offered to him or her. The number of female migrant workers has declined over the past years. This had been due to a result of the government’s policy to provide more encouragement for the migration of skilled labourers.

M S M Aslam (UPFA): Fraudulent foreign employment agencies should be nabbed and punished. The culprits should be produced before a Court of law.

Sri Lanka has a target to increase its foreign exchange considerably within the next four years. Appropriate plans should be formulated to achieve this target. More foreign job opportunities should be secured for skilled labourers who have undergone vocational training.

A Adaikalanathan (TNA): Some labourers earn daily wages, while some earn monthly wages. The government should impose a standard method of wage level for daily paid labourers considering the cost of living.

The youths are more eager to obtain a government sector job. They should be encouraged in other types of self-employment opportunities as well. The Tamil community in the North and East, should also be provided with foreign employment opportunities.

Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene (UNP): This budget had not addressed the grievances of the common man.

Today people are suffering. No salary increments have been provided to the public and private sector employees. No action had been taken to rectify the existing pension anomalies. Therefore, great disparities have been created in the sector.

Labour and Labour Relations Minister Gamini Lokuge: The government wants to ensure a healthy workforce which would contribute immensely to the economy. We are committed to rectify the problems pertaining to labour relations. There has been a growth in the EPF and ETF. This shows that new employment opportunities have emerged in the country.

We expect to achieve a target of Rs trillion from deposits of the EPF by end of this year. Today the entire plantation sector has been covered by the collective agreement signed between the employees and employers. If anyone violates this agreement, legal action could be taken against them. We are in the process of amending several Acts and ordinances pertaining to labour relations, with the support of the Opposition. Special programme has been initiated to improve the health and safety of employees.

The working class in the private sector have been misled by the Opposition in regard to the pension scheme. We are honestly engaged in introducing a pension scheme to the private sector workers considering a number of benefits that they can achieve in the future.

Sri Ranga (UPFA): The country has been ranked fourth in the world tea market. Therefore, facilities should be provided to the estate sector. Today several tea factories have been running at a loss. The government should make amends for the proper implementation of the collective agreement signed by the employers and employees.

Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister Dilan Perera: A special programme had been put in place to ensure the welfare of Sri Lankans working abroad. It had been President Mahinda Rajapaksa who entered into the agreement with Korea to provide job opportunities to the Sri Lankan youths.

Today Sri Lankan youths working in Korean companies have been earning high salaries. We have achieved many goals in the foreign employment sector. I have taken measures to register sub agents soon after I assumed duties in the Ministry.

We have found out that most of the sub agents had been responsible for illegal activities that had taken place in the recent past. That is why I took measures to register them. The contribution of Sri Lankan employees abroad to the country’s economy had been very high and commendable.

Rizana’s case should not be victimized for petty political gains. We are handling this issue in a sensitive manner. MP Rosy Senanayake stated that 224 women had died in foreign countries. But she did not mention how.

Without banning women going abroad for employment let us try discouraging the migration of unskilled labour, while encouraging and providing more opportunities for migrant workers to obtain vocational training. However, women with infants should not be encouraged to seek foreign employment.

The finance heads were passed without amendments.

The House was adjourned until 9.30 am today.


‘TV channels not propaganda machinery of Rajapaksa family’

UPFA Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa: yesterday requested State TV channel Heads not to convert news services into a propaganda machinery of the Rajapaksa family.

He said that he too would agree with the Opposition’s accusations that the ITN channel had become a Rajapaksa channel.

Participating in the third reading debate on the budget, he said that the President attends several national events on a single day, but TV channel Heads should select only very important events and telecast them giving space and time to the rest of the 225 MPs in Parliament.

“One day I watched the ITN news bulletin with my father, mother and my two brothers. The first news item was about the President, then about the Speaker, followed by news about Basil Rajapaksa, then Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and then sports news which was also about my brother Yoshitha and myself. This only leads to negative feelings concerning my family,” he said.

“People will blame my mother and two brothers who are not in politics, because national channels telecast only our faces on TV. Therefore, I request the Heads of state TV channels, not to focus on the Rajapaksa family only, but also to allocate time for other ministers too.

‘It is happy to see a number of journalists and artistes represented in Parliament today. The majority of journalists have not failed in their duty of assisting the cause of liberating the country from terrorism. There are a number of ways to access information freely.

‘The reading habit among the people has developed today. It is unnecessary to regulate websites which provide information to the people. All media institutions and websites should act in a responsible manner when they release information to the public. The media should not provide racism, but it should focus on national needs.



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