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Thursday June 30th, 2022

Sri Lanka zoo workers end protest; promise to continue unauthorised fertilizer business legally

CLOSED DOORS: Tourist stand outside the closed Dehiwala Zoo, in Colombo on March 15, 2020, following the authorities announcement to close it for two weeks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

ECONOMYNEXT – A trade union at Sri Lanka’s national zoological gardens in Dehiwala, Colombo, that had threatened to stop feeding the zoo animals has ended their three-day protest after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to look into their demands.

The workers resumed their duties Friday (20) afternoon, a spokesman for the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-affiliated union said.

The protest campaign began on Tuesday (19) over three key demands: a risk allowance of 5,000 rupees, the removal of veterinarians and the removal of current Director General Shermila Rajapaksa amid an investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds.

Union secretary Priyantha Wickramasinghe told EconomyNext that, following a discussion held with the President’s Secretary and Minister Gamini Lokuge on Thursday (20), it was decided to call off the protest until an internal inquiry into the complaints made against the director general.

Other unions from the ports, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the railway department who had offered their support to the zoo union also took part in the discussions, said Wickramasinghe.

“The President’s Secretary informed us that the president had promised to look into the matter and had asked us to resume work until it was sorted out,” he said.

“The issue of the 5000 rupees’ risk allowance is also being discussed in the ministry and we hope a positive response will be given soon,” he added.

Director General Shermila Rajapaksa has maintained that the protestors were acting on a personal agenda after she had launched an investigation into an illegal fertilizer business that had been operating out of the zoo premises since 2019. She had also refused to help a union leader with a personnel matter, she claimed.

Rajapaksa had reportedly stopped the allegedly illegal business which she claimed was carried out by some employees misusing government property. These workers had also established an ‘illegal welfare fund without any written approval from the department’, she said.

“After my appointment, they asked me to give legal permission for this. When I asked them to come with all the accounts and information regarding the project on November 31, no one came forward,” said Rajapaksa in an earlier report.

Asked to comment on the alleged fertilizer business, Wickramasinghe defended it and said they hope to start it again in the future.

“The fertilizer business was done using the waste of animals and other waste materials. It was stopped by the current DG,” he said.

“We accept that there were some mistakes made there, but we will start again after obtaining approval to do it legally and by registering it under the fertilizer department,” he said. (Colombo/ Jan 21/2022)

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