Government has facilitated 61,000 employed overseas to return – Minister

Dinesh Gunawardena

The government while combating the COVID-19 pandemic, took measures to repatriate 61,000 Sri Lankans employed overseas into the country, Leader of the House and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told Parliament yesterday.

He said the government is taking measures to bring the rest of Sri Lankans employed overseas.

He said the government has done all these at a time when the entire world is affected by this unprecedented pandemic causing unprecedented economic downturn. He said Sri Lanka too is affected and proved successful in its endeavour to control the situation than most developed countries.

He said Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa was speaking as if the government had not done anything to bring back Sri Lankans working overseas. “The government has brought in 61,000 Sri Lankans working overseas,” Minister Gunawardena said.

“It is such a challenging task under this existing situation as health guidelines have to be followed strictly to get rid of a pandemic which so far has no proper cure.” He also said that the tourism industry too has to be commenced if the country needed to go forward. He added that Opposition Leader Premadasa was on his feet to make a special statement under standing order 27(2). “He is making queries outside what is in the statement which is a breach of standing orders,” Foreign Minister said. “This is irresponsible as the business of Parliament is decided at the Party Leader’s meeting to which Sajith Premadasa too participated. “However, he is working against what he agreed to there. This is an utter waste of time.”

He made these observations in response to a query made by Opposition Leader Premadasa, demanding a response while he was standing to make a special statement under standing order 27(2). Premadasa before reading his statement under standing order 27 (2), which he had handed over to the Speaker earlier asked for permission to ask a question which is of importance to the country. Then he asked as to why the government did not take measures to repatriate those Sri Lankans employed overseas who are facing the threat of COVID-19 there, to the country. He added that the government could utilise the money in Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) rather than spending money to change its brand name.

At this stage government side members objected to the Opposition Leader’s breach of the standing orders. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena instructed Opposition Leader Premadasa to work in accordance with the standing orders. “You better work in accordance with the standing orders,” the Speaker said. “You can take that matter up on another day and you have to present what you earlier asked permission for. The opportunity is given for what you asked and the rest could be presented later.”

Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at this stage said that the Opposition Leader was wasting time unnecessarily. State Minister Nimal Lanza said that all the other members too have matters of national importance to raise. “But how could the business in Parliament run if we would raise those matters against what was agreed to be taken,” State Minister Lanza said. He added that hence the Opposition Leader too should abide by Standing Orders to allow Parliament to function after which the Opposition Leader made his statement.

(Source: Daily News – By Sandasen Marasinghe, Camelia Nathaniel and Amali Mallawarachchi)