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Saturday May 18th, 2024

Alarm over Sri Lanka law for ‘online safety’, ‘online truths’

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s plans to bring a law to arbitrate on the truth or otherwise of statements made online to “hurt” religious sentiments is drawing concern given the potential of any such law to undermine free speech.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa questioned whether it was an attempt to suppress democratic dissent, since online action has been a key method used by citizens to organise themselves in the recent past.

On the face of it, the Bill appears to harm freedom of expression of the people guaranteed by the constitution, Premadasa told parliament on September 19.

Premadasa said according to the law, a commission appointed by the President would arbitrate on the truth.

He questioned whether North Korean style systems were being made in Sri Lanka.

Premadasa questioned what sections of the affected public was concerned.

The objectives of this the law was to:

(a) to protect persons against damage caused by communication of false statements or threatening, alarming or distressing statements;
(b) to ensure protection from communication of statements in contempt of court or prejudicial to the maintenance of the authority and impartiality of the judiciary;

(c) to introduce measures to detect, prevent and safeguard against the misuses of online accounts and bots to commit offences under this Act; and

(d) to prevent the financing, promotion and other support of online locations which repeatedly communicate false statements of fact in Sri Lanka.

Directions would be given to various parties by an “Online Safety Commission”.

“Given our observations on similar legislation in Southeast Asia and South Asia, this is an extremely sensitive and problematic area,” Rohan Samarajiva, Chair of ICT policy think tank, LIRNEasia told EconomyNext shortly before the actual bill was published.

“What I would suggest is that the text should be made available for discussion and not gazetted.”

“Ideally, this kind of legislation that has a clear bearing on people’s freedom of expression, which is protected by the constitution, should be released in full form as a bill or as a white paper.”

“And there should be adequate time for those affected, that is the general public, knowledgeable experts, media, platforms, etc., to comment on the draft.”

Earlier this month the public was told that the cabinet of ministers had already approved a draft law to “safeguard the general public from the damage caused by false information.”

Among the offences listed in the draft bill were: communication of false statements on the incidents within Sri Lanka, false statements causing defamation, disturbing religious assembly through false statements, communication of false statements with the sole intention of hurting religious emotions, communication of false statements with the sole intention for the abomination of religious emotions.”
In addition to the question of online truths, the the bullet points also lumped together criminal activities including fraud, cheating and child abuse, as part of ‘Online Safety’ according to the bullet points released to the public.

“Who decides truthfulness?” Lawyer and rights activist Sanjaya Jayasekara questioned. “Who is going to decide upon what is true or not? It is maybe a scientific truth, it may be a sociological truth. Who will decide that?

“What they are planning to do is to abolish this democratic space, which is called social media. This law, if it is passed, would be a very anti-democratic law and an attack, a deadly blow against democratic freedom of expression.”

According to the law a commission would be appointed by the President.

The state has in the past has used speech related laws such as the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Computer Crimes Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the Penal Code, to prompt legal action against critical voices.

There are best practices from other free countries that can be drawn upon to improve online safety, there should be more substantive discussion, experts said.

“For example, there’s a possibility that there currently exists of a code of conduct that can be even tried out with the cooperation of the tech companies, like in New Zealand and a few other jurisdictions, where you could see how the thing actually works,” Samarajiva said.

“And then based on those learnings, a bill can be drafted and enacted.

“It’s a complex piece of legislation. We don’t know what kind of expertise was drawn upon when drafting it.

“Given the fact that it seems to come out of the blue, it would be useful to have an open discussion on an actual draft.”(Colombo/Sep19/23)

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Sri Lanka suffers over $138mn foreign outflow from govt bonds in 2024 after rate cuts

ECONOMYNEXT – Foreign investors have dumped 41.6 billion-rupee ($138.6 million) worth of Sri Lanka government securities in the first 20 weeks of 2024, the central bank data showed, after reduction in the key policy interest rates.

The foreign holding in Sri Lanka’s treasury bills and treasury bonds fell to 75.9 billion rupees on the week ended on Friday (17), May 2024, from 117.4 billion rupees on the week ended on December 29.

The central bank rate has reduced the key policy rates by 50 basis points so far in 2024, extending the rates cut by 700 basis points since June last year.

The rupee appreciated 9.1 percent in the first four months, but the gain failed to attract foreign investors amid a dragged debt restructuring negotiation with external private creditors.

Currency dealers said lackluster demand for dollars due to dampened imports with heavy controls, boom in both tourism revenue and remittances have helped to increase the dollar liquidity in the market, leading to the appreciation of the local currency.

The dealers said foreign investors can earn capital gain if they had bought government securities before the appreciation and now the offshore investors might be selling their bonds.

“They are also discouraged by policy rate cut because that will reduce their returns from the rupee bond investments,” a currency dealer said.

The yield in 12-month T-bills has fallen 336 basis points in the first four months of this year, the central bank data showed.

The central bank also reduced the Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) of commercial banks by 200 basis points in August last year to boost liquidity in the market with an aim to reduce market interest rates.

Under tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions for its $3 billion loan program, the central bank raised key monetary policy rates in 2022 and last year to bring down inflation which hit over 70 percent in 2022. The inflation has fallen to the lower single digit now.

The rupee has appreciated to around 300 against the US dollar this week from around 330 level early in November. The local currency was at 365 rupees against the US dollar in early 2022. Depreciation causes capital loss for foreign investors. (Colombo/May 18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourist fair seeks to involve universities

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourism fair kicked off this week to promote interaction between industry stakeholders and relevant Government bodies, including the Tourist Police, and also universities.

“Several universities, including Colombo, Uva Wellasa, Kelaniya, Sabaragamuwa and Rajarata were given free stalls to facilitate student interaction with industry professionals,” Chairman of the Sancharaka Udawa Organising Committee, Charith De De Alwis said in a statement.

The event takes place today (18) at the BMICH and houses stalls for hoteliers, tour and transport services, with a goal of attracting 10,000 visitors.

Organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the 11th edition of Sancharaka Udawa offers a platform for both B2B and B2C sectors.

“Sancharaka Udawa houses over 170 exhibitors and a footfall of more than 10,000 visitors,” De Alwis said.

This year’s edition will include participants from outbound tourism sectors to facilitate capacity building. The event provides networking opportunities for industry newcomers and veterans.

“The networking platform offers opportunity for small and medium-sized service providers integrating them into the broader tourism landscape. The anticipated outcome is a substantial increase in bookings particularly for regional small-scale tourism service providers.” (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s CEB sells LTL shares to West Coast IPP for Rs26bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board has sold shares of an affiliate to West Coast Power Company Limited, an independent power producer giving profits of 25.9 billion rupees in the March 2024 quarter, interim accounts showed.

The sale has been carried out as a transfer.

“Twenty-eight percent (28-pct) of share ownership of CEB within LTL Holding’s equity capital has been transferred to West Coast Power Company Ltd for a total consideration of Rs 26 billion as part of a partial settlement of outstanding dues…” the March interim accounts said.

“This transaction resulted in a net gain of Rs25.9 billion rupees which has been recognized and reflected in the ‘Gain from Share Disposal’ in the individual financial statement in CEB.”

LTL Holdings is a former transformer making unit of the CEB set up with ABB where the foreign holding was sold to its management.

The firm has since set up several IPPs.

West Coast Power operates a 300MW combined cycle IPP in Kerawalapitiya promoted by LTL group liked firms in which both the Treasury and Employees Provident Fund also have shares.

Its operational and maintenance contract is with Lakdhanavi, another private IPP. The firm has been paying dividends.

The capital gain from the transfer of shares helped the CEB post profits to 84 billion rupees for the March 2024 quarter.

CEB reported gross profits of 62.7 billion rupees from energy sales and 30.6 billion rupees in other income and gains in the March 2024 quarter. Other income was only 3.1 billion rupees in last year. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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