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Sunday June 23rd, 2024

BBS proposals will make it to ‘one country, one law’ task force: Sri Lanka hardline monk

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s controversial Buddhist monk Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero said on Monday (01) that recommendations by his ultranationalist outfit the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) will make it to the proposals to be made by the recently appointed presidential task force titled ‘One Country, One Law’.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the firebrand monk to lead the 13-member task force last week to come up with proposals to implement one law for all Sri Lankans abolishing all other personal laws including Muslim marriage law and some other regional laws that had existed for centuries in Sri Lanka.

Gnanasara’s appointment comes as the administration is facing rising protests over a ban on agrochemicals and rising inflation with money printing worsening the fallout from a Coronavirus pandemic.

In his first press conference as the head of the task force, Gnanasara thero said the BBS had spoken about unethical conversions, destruction of archaeological monuments and cultural invasion.

“Today we have got a result of all our hard work. The president’s attention has been drawn to speak about these issues emphatically,” he told a news briefing organised by the Presidential Media Centre for handpicked journalists.

“We will have to discuss the same things we spoke about as the BBS within this gazette as well and include them in the bill,” the monk said.

For many speculative questions posed to him by journalists, the monk said he will answer after February 28, 2022, when the task force submits its report to the president. He will be fair by all, he said.

In 2012, Gnanasara thero was allegedly at the forefront of an anti-Muslim campaign which called on the majority Sinhalese to boycott Muslim-owned businesses.

The United States in 2014 cancelled a visa issued to the monk while social media platform Facebook blocked his account after his group’s alleged involvement in violence against Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims in the Western coastal town of Aluthgama.

He was later arrested for contempt of court in 2018 during the previous administration but was later pardoned by President Maithripala Sirisnena.

Critics have said Gnanasara Thero has been used to create a rift between the Sinhala majority and Muslim minority for political reasons. But the monk has denied the allegation and has said Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority has issues that have been ignored by politicians, issues that he had tried to address.

Gnanasara said not all court cases against him were individual acts carried out by his person, but  rather due to his intervention on behalf of people who did not have a voice.

“All those court cases are politically motivated,” he said.

“Politicians want the issues to remain the same,” said the monk who in 2019 said the Buddhist clergy should decide Sri Lanka’s parliament.

“We have been talking about tourism development and economic development. If you want to do that, national security should be secured and the bond among all ethnicities must be ensured.

“We have a number of suggestions. If we can put all these together and stand up, that will be the day we will rise as a nation. That is why we struggled,” he said.

The Presidential Task Force led by him has come under severe criticism for not including ethnic minority Tamil representation. President Rajapaksa has agreed to include Tamil representation though Gnanasara said the priority is not that.

“We are trying to create a framework at the moment. We can discuss and agree later,” he said.

Gnanasara thero was praised by some quarters after the Easter Sunday attack in 2019 as he had purportedly warned strongly against rising Islamic extremism said to be linked with foreign Islamist military groups such as ISIS.

President Rajapaksa had promised One Country, One Law in his election manifesto, which laid much emphasis on national security, particularly in the wake of the Easter bombings.

The monk also blamed the country’s public officials for the current situation of not passing the required laws that could help the country prevent another ethnic riot.

“We always blame politicians, but public administrative officials should be responsible for 70-80 percent of the current issues,” he said.

The monk said a request for a law on publications to ensure no wrong opinions are created has not been done because of public officials’ dragging their feet on the issue.

“So, it is not the sir who has failed. It is the public officials who have failed,” he said, ostensibly referring to President Rajapaksa who has come to be referred to as ‘sir’ on social media. (Colombo/Nov01/2021)

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India supports Sri Lanka Coast Guard to boost maritime security

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given 1.2 million US dollars’ worth spare parts to Sri Lanka’s Coast Guard to be used in a vessel also gifted to the Indian Ocean Island on an earlier occasion, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“Handing over of the large consignment of spares symbolizes India’s commitment to support capability building towards addressing the shared challenges of Maritime Security in the region,” the Indian High Commission said

The spare parts were brought to Sri Lanka on the Indian Coast Guard Ship Sachet, an offshore patrol vessel that was on a two-day visit to the island.

The spares were formally handed over to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard Ship Suraksha which was gifted to Sri Lanka in October 2017 by India.

India has gifted spare parts for the ship in June 2021 and April 2022 and also provided assistance in refilling of Halon cylinders in January 2024. (Colombo/June23/2024)

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Sri Lanka Water Board makes profits, tax-payers inject Rs28bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run National Water Supply and Drainage Board has made a profit of 5.2 billion rupees in the year to December 2023, after a tariff increase despite not getting money for 25 percent of its water it pumps out.

Total revenues went up to 61.8 billion rupees in 2023 from 35.4 billion rupees, a Finance Ministry report said.

Water revenue surged to 58.5 billion rupees from 33.1 billion rupees, cost of sales also went up to 32.8 billion rupees from 23.14 billion rupees, helping boost gross profits from 12.3 billion rupees to 29.0 billion rupees.

Finance costs surged to 14.9 billion rupees from 3.9 billion rupees,

NSWD reported net profits of 5.2 billion rupees for the year, against a loss of 2.7 billion rupees a year earlier.

The Treasury had given 28 billion rupees from tax payer money to settle loans.

During the Rajapaksa administration, macroeconomists who ran the Finance Ministry made state enterprises borrow money from banks through Treasury guarantees listing them as ‘contingent liabilities’, claiming they were ‘off balance sheet’.

The Road Development Authority, which had no revenues to speak of borrowed large amounts of money from banks which were listed as ‘contingent liabilities’ though they were a responsibility of the state from day one, allowing macroeconomists to understate both the budget deficit and national debt, critics say.

The water tariffs were raised by 81 percent after macroeconomists printed money to supress interest rates for flexible inflation targeting/potential output targeting. The currency collapsed after macroeconomists tried to float the rupee with a surrender rule in place.

Non-revenue water for which no money is collected was 25.2 percent. The agency was supposed to reduce non-revenue water. In some districts religious establishments are responsible for non-revenue water, according to an official who said it on condition of anonymity.

The water board is also unable to collect money from some services like common toilets for underserved communities. (Colombo/June23/2024 – Update II)

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Sri Lanka will expedite Indian projects: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will expedite Indian-backed projects in the island, President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Indian business people after a visit by Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar this week.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Modi the need to accelerate the joint program that we have decided, agreed on. So the major ones are identified, and Foreign Minister Jaishankar came down today [20] to have a discussion. Now this will show the new path we are taking,” president Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“It won’t be individual projects. We’ve discussed a fair number of them. First is the grid interconnection between Sri Lanka and India, so that sustainable energy can be transmitted to India.

“We have the Sampur solar power project, which is a Government to Government (G2G) project, and a three island project, which is where we hope the ground breaking can take place in July,” he told Indian business people at the 31st All India Partner’s Meet 2024 (AIPM 2024), held at ICT Ratnadipa in Colombo.

The AIPM 2024 which was organised by KPGM Sri Lanka and India provided a platform for both countries to reaffirm their commitment to collaborative projects that promise to redefine bilateral relations and propel socio-economic growth.

“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have you in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, holding this meeting. It shows on one hand the close friendship that our two countries have, and on the other hand, the confidence that you have in Sri Lanka.

“Having now survived two difficult years, I must acknowledge that this was possible because India gave us a loan of $3.5 billion. All that will be repaid.”

Cooperation between the two nations needed to be enhanced, particularly in the energy sector, aiming to foster new development for the Northern region, Wickremesinghe said.

“We are looking at developing Palk Straight for wind energy and solar energy, both countries to get together and have a large farm for solar energy, for renewable energy. It also means that we will have a new economy for the northern province, which was worst affected by the war.”

Several Indian-backed projects in Sri Lanka have stalled due to protests from some parties, with some going to courts.

India is helping expand the Kankesanturai port, and is discussing development of the Palali and Colombo airports.

The National Livestock Development Board of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with India’s Amul Dairy Company, is involved in a project to enhance liquid milk production in the country.

The two nations are also considering establishing land connectivity.

Discussions have also taken place regarding expediting the Trincomalee Development Project, which encompasses industrial investment zones and tourist areas.

“Plans are underway to construct a multi-product oil pipeline from Nagapatnam to Trincomalee, pending the final observation report. Trincomalee is poised to become a hub for oil refining, with the development of ports and investment zones, transforming Trincomalee Port into a significant hub on the Bay of Bengal.

“Today, the entire East Coast is being opened up for tourism, with additional land earmarked for hotels in Galle and southern areas. Moreover, there are plans to establish more investment zones across the country, alongside expanding our professional training programs. In these endeavours, we are collaborating closely with India.” (Colombo/Jun22/2024)

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