The Head of the Special Presidential Task Force on Essential Services, Basil Rajapaksa said that today we are at the most critical and decisive juncture compared to the challenges we faced in the past. If we don’t successfully launch our battle to combat the coronavirus, we would have to face serious repercussions.
Rajapaksa in a recent interview with the Derana360 program said that at this juncture, the great challenge before us is to protect the senior citizens and the children. He said when we look at history, we have been able to overcome various challenges faced by us from time to time.
However, the present challenge is different from all those past challenges. The Task Force Head said he believes the President, Prime Minister and the Government in collaboration with the people and all sectors would be able to accomplish this task.
“Even I got the opportunity to participate in this program due to the sacrifice and joint effort made by all those who have engaged in the health sector, the tri-forces and the Police to combat the coronavirus pandemic. When even world super powers have failed to combat this disease, I would like to extend my gratitude to the health sector and the tri- forces in their immense sacrifice. That is why the President set up the Presidential Task Force and appointed me as the Head to coordinate these activities.”
Earlier, the tri-forces, Police and the Civil Defence Force launched a humanitarian operation to rescue the country from the clutches of terrorism.
As a result, several issues arose. For example, when the A9 Road was closed and no permission granted to transport goods via sea, the people in the Jaffna peninsula were trapped there. At that time too, special intervention was made by us to reduce the pressure exerted on the security forces.
Now, as Head of the Presidential task Force, I act as a non-political person.
When the Eastern Province was rescued from the LTTE terrorists, I took the lead to launch the Negenahira Navodaya program to resettle the people in the East and bring normalcy. Similarly, I have to give leadership to the Special Presidential Task Force to ease the burden of the health sector and tri-forces. It is a sort of ‘quarantine curfew’ to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, I have been appointed as Head of the Task Force to minimise hardships faced by the people and distribute essential commodities to their doorstep. I think this is the most challenging task faced by the country during its history of over 2,500 years. Therefore, I have decided to suspend my political activities and extend my support to the candid effort made to rescue the country from the threat of the coronavirus.
Rajapaksa said at present most of the public sector employees have been granted leave. Their assistance will also be sought to carry out the task of the Presidential Task Force and no new recruitment will be made. The Task Force has an administrative structure expanding to the village level. It covers all provinces, districts, divisional secretariat divisions and villages, and a large number of state sector employees have voluntarily come forward to extend their support to the Task Force.
Earlier, opportunity was given to open pharmacies during the curfew, but some people had misused their prescriptions to travel during curfew hours. As a result, we had to restrict their movements. We have all necessary drug stocks for the next three months. Although there is some shortcoming in the distribution of drugs we would make every attempt to rectify it. We also request the people to maintain the required social distance when they come to pharmacies to purchase medicine. We have given top priority to provide the necessary drugs to the people.
Rajapaksa said at this decisive moment the Government and the people cannot work separately because this disease has no caste, creed or political difference. The coronavirus is a threat to all, and one law should be in force for everyone irrespective of their positions. VIP passes will not be valid for corona!
He said several responsibilities have been vested in the Task Force. One is to maintain essential services such as electricity, water, fuel, gas, the telecommunication network and waste management. At present, these services are supplied without any hindrance. Those who have engaged in these services are making a big sacrifice, working round the clock. A special methodology is used even to dispose the garbage from the homes of those being self-quarantined. Despite the ongoing curfew, we have allowed agricultural activities to continue. Similarly, permission has been granted to those engaged in the plantation sector. Fishermen have also been allowed to engage in fishing.
There is one group although they have the money they cannot purchase goods due to the curfew. Our first target was to implement a mechanism to provide essential commodities to people to their doorstep. We hope this has been successful to some extent. There is another group who have money in banks. We are now in the process of making necessary arrangements for them to get money from the banks. We have already declared the banks as essential service, and made arrangements to bring them to banks group by group with the help of the Army. There is another group who have no money. The Government has taken steps to provide some concessions to such people. At present, the senior citizens’ allowance is given to 416,764 people. Another 142,345 who are registered for the senior citizens’ allowance are in the list and a decision has been made to pay them an allowance of Rs.5,000. A Rs.5,000 allowance will also be paid to 159 elders who are over a hundred years, while an allowance has been given to 84,071 persons with disabilities. Steps have been taken to pay the same allowance to another35,229 persons with disabilities who are registered but are yet to receive the allowance. The allowance given to 25,320 kidney patients will also be paid to another 13,850 kidney patients who are registered. The Government has decided to pay a Rs.5000 allowance to 1,7 98,655 Samurdhi families as well. The past month’s salary will be paid to 1,38 1,024 public servants along with the festival advance. We are fulfilling a difficult task but somehow we have been able to find money to make these payments.
These are payments which come under the purview of the Task Force. In addition, the Government has already given a series of other concessions to the people. Several countries and health organisations have given a very positive response to the request made by President Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa said we should protect the vegetable farmers as well. If they don’t get a fair price for their produce, they would not be able to cultivate the next season. Therefore, a decision was taken to open all the Economic Centres to purchase the vegetables and distribute them to other areas of the country. The vegetable prices have reduced because the District Secretaries have been given funds to purchase the vegetables and distribute them to the villages through Divisional Secretaries. We are always ready to safeguard the farmers, the fishermen and egg producers. We have identified 12 crop varieties which can be cultivated in the next cultivation season. The Government will provide seeds to farmers and ensure a guaranteed price to those who cultivate these crops
“Our intention is to provide a nutritious food package and cash as a relief to all the people. However, it would be difficult to give different amounts of money based on the living conditions of the people. Our intention is to provide Rs.5,000 to each family.”
He said “at present there is a serious situation in some countries than what they show the world. The coronavirus has made the highest threat to two most powerful States in the USA-California and New York. We have a firm belief that our health authorities will be able to control the spread of the coronavirus.
At present, various countries have adopted different strategies to combat the disease. Some have commended the program launched in Sri Lanka. At present Italy has given up its struggle to combat the disease. We should not reach such a level but control the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, we seek the support of the people. The curfew was imposed as a precautionary measure to protect the people. When this disease was first identified, the President set up a Special Presidential Task Force. Therefore, we could prevent the spread of the disease even to this extent. Some guidelines have been issued on the healthcare methods to be followed by the people. If the people follow these guidelines properly, we would be able to control the spread of the coronavirus without reaching the third stage. I once again, request the people to fulfil their responsibility while the Government will look into all other problems faced by them.”
Rajapaksa said except the position as the President’s special envoy, he doesn’t hold any Government portfolios. When this corona pandemic came up, I temporary closed my political office and suspended my political activities.
Now, as Head of the Presidential task Force, I act as a non-political person. Most of the political parties have also extended their support towards this endeavour and I appreciate their contributions. After we combat this disease, we can face the election. Until then, we should forget party politics and preferential votes and face this threat.
At this juncture, the President and the Prime Minister have completely done away with politics and act entirely on a humanitarian basis. This is not a time for petty politics to score marks. We respect the instructions given by the Election Commission and strictly follow their guidelines. We are confident that we would be able to win the battle against the coronavirus pandemic and seek the contribution of everyone to make this endeavour a success.