The Port City Bill was finally passed on Thursday with the contents of the Law shrouded in secrecy. The Bill was placed on the order paper of Parliament during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year break leaving would be petitioners who wished to challenge the Constitutionality of the Bill with barely two days to do [...]


Country in the dark as Port City Bill is passed


The Port City Bill was finally passed on Thursday with the contents of the Law shrouded in secrecy. The Bill was placed on the order paper of Parliament during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year break leaving would be petitioners who wished to challenge the Constitutionality of the Bill with barely two days to do so.

After the Supreme Court heard 24 petitions it issued a determination stating that some clauses would require a two third majority while other clauses would in addition require a referendum.

The Government last Thursday moved several Committee stage amendments to bring it in line with the Supreme Court recommendations. How accurately this was done will have to be determined only after the final version of the Act is printed.

After the Bill was passed there was some confusion about the numbers who had voted in support of the Bill. If there was confusion with the numbers who had voted it is suggestive that even the committee stage amendments may not be as accurate.

From the time the Port City was conceived there have been various concerns expressed about the feasibility of the project. The project itself was an unsolicited one and gave rise to environmental concerns among fishermen on the shores north and south of Colombo.

The immediate concerns however related to the contents of the Bill itself. There were many suggestions that a white paper should be circulated to get the views of the public. Venerable Elle Gunawansa Thero and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith at a joint press conference called on the Government to permit further discussion before proceeding with the Bill.

The Government simply gave a deaf ear to the two religious leaders and proceeded to approve the bill in Parliament.

Even the veteran LSSP leader Professor Tissa Vitharana was not allowed to move an amendment to the bill. The Government it seems was in no mood to delay the passage of the bill. Whether it was its desire to please the Chinese at all costs or some other reason only time will tell.

The Chinese were for their part were quite gung ho even before the bill was passed and invited some Parliamentarians to visit the Port City.

How the Chinese Embassy in Colombo could extend such an invitation raised eyebrows with no clear indication whether the Foreign Ministry had given the green light for such an invitation.

A name board within the Port City with English, Chinese and Sinhalese lettering too was the subject matter of much discussion.

The people’s attention with regard to the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 virus and the difference of opinion between the Government and the medical specialists caused much concern. While medical specialists insisted that only a continuous 14-day lockdown will serve the need of the hour the Government had a different view.

On Friday, the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) along with the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) and Sri Lanka Medical Intercollegiate Committee (SMIC) urged the government to lockdown the country for at least two weeks (14 days), at a stretch.

In a media statement the four organisations pointed out that it would not be long before the hospitals were overwhelmed. This will lead to a breakdown of the health sector. Any of the steps implemented so far had not been able to get the situation under control, they said.

The medical associations said the detected number of daily cases had crossed the 3,000 mark and the actual number in the community was three times that figure.

“When the infection is spreading this extensively, there is no country that has managed to contain the infection without a strict lockdown (or curfew) being declared. As such, while acknowledging the very significant short-term hardships the common man will have to face, we see no option than a strictly implemented mobility restriction as an effective strategy that is left to contain the infection,” SLMA said in a media statement.

In their statement the SLMA went on to point out that the decision to call for a lockdown was taken on the scientific observations given below:

1.   Minimum 14 days would cover two cycles of incubation periods of the infection that is likely to be adequate to break the chain of uncontrolled spread of the disease.

2.   The infection is rampant in all provinces, making inter provincial travel restrictions to be of no useful benefit at this stage of the outbreak.

3.   As isolation of Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions occur with a five to seven day delay following the detection of cases, isolation of GN divisions does not serve the purpose of restricting the transmission of infection. By the time the GN divisions are isolated, the infection with an inherent high transmissibility has spread way beyond the GN divisions.

4.   Country-wide lockdown for just a few days at a stretch will not have any significant effect on the case load or transmission of the disease as it does not cover even one incubation period to reduce infectivity and transmission of the infection.

5.   Repeated, intermittent and short lockdowns, with people coming together for work in enclosed areas following this, will not have any benefit on the economy as it will only create a scenario that will only increase the numbers of COVID-19 cases within these premises.

6.   Letting people go out according to National Identity Card numbers is unlikely to serve any purpose at this stage of infection characterised by high transmissibility.

7.   Allowing public transport with seated passengers, 25% of the capacity of customers in supermarkets, restaurants (dining in), hotels, rest houses, shopping malls, shops etc., will increase the number of cases at this stage of spread of infection in the community.

In addition, they said “a 14-day complete lockdown or a curfew at a stretch at this crucial juncture will have a much healthier impact on the economy, in the formal as well as the informal sectors, and the health sector, rather than isolating sections of the country randomly or by interprovincial travel restrictions.”

It would be prudent for the Government to take into consideration all the well-considered and scientifically argued suggestions of the health authorities in planning its strategies.



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