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Sunday December 3rd, 2023

Constitutional Crisis looms as poll date goes beyond three months of dissolution

ECONOMYNEXT – Constitutional experts are saying that because the President is accountable to Parliament it is vital that the House be reconvened to deal with the COVID 19 crisis.

The executive arm of the government has deployed the armed forces, enforced police curfews and taken action to distribute essentials, all justified in order to combat the COVID 19 epidemic but these actions need to have legal cover from Parliament they point out.

Also the money being spent by the government to fight COVID 19 has to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund, but only for a fixed period.

The Executive can run the government and respond to emergencies only for a three-month period after the dissolution of the parliament. Because of the current situation obviously the period could not be adhered to.

Academic Dr Asanga Welikala and Attorney Suren Fernando point out that the “Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act allow both the date of the election and the date for the first meeting to be varied. But they do not, under any circumstances, permit such rescheduled dates to be set beyond three months from the date of the original proclamation of dissolution.”

But now the election date has been fixed for June 20, 18 days after the 3-month period is over prompting the opposition to say that the original dissolution is invalid.

Addressing the Media today, Cabinet Spokesman Media Minister Bandula Gunewardene said that all the “talk about a Constitutional Crisis comes from overseas sources.”

He said that the President has the powers to spend government money on the needs of the country, even three months after a new Parliament is elected.

“Anyway President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not be reconvening Parliament under any circumstances,” he said.

Responding to reports circulating on social media former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he too would not recall Parliament on his own. However if the courts ordered him to do so he would, he said on Twitter.

Academic and President’s Counsel Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne says the simplest solution is for the President to rescind the dissolution order and extend the life of Parliament until September which would have given the country the breathing space to get over the COVID 19 hurdle.

Elections then could have been postponed to December if necessary.

Parliament could “agree to meet for two days a month and pass the budget for the COVID 19 issue,” he said.

“The President should stop being stubborn and reconvene Parliament,” he said.

Many notable people, including Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith the Catholic Bishop of Colombo have said that the virus should be the priority for the country and not the elections.

The Opposition, led by the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) have said that an election campaign conducted with restrictions on the movement of people and a ban on gatherings will not be free and fair. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa has gone a step further saying that the poll cannot be conducted “until the last patient is cured.” That is unrealistic as COVID 19 is probably here to stay.

The United National Party also weighed in today, April 23, with General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam also calling for Parliament to be reconvened adding that the Opposition is prepared to assist the Government “to pass essential laws and funds necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.”

“This is not the time to move away from democracy for narrow political gains, it could create serious implications for the future. We need to be farsighted in this hour and now work as a country, not as political parties or groups, which will endanger public lives,” he stated.

He also asked why a poll date was set without proper consultations and “assurances from health experts and other key stakeholders, arguing that priority should be given to public safety and health during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Wickremeratne also warned against various civic and political leaders saying that it would be better for the government to run for a few years “without Parliament.”

“That is a very dangerous idea, as it is the Parliament that oversees the Executive. The government is a three-legged stool, the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary are the three legs and the Court is the weakest,” he said.

The stool cannot stand on two legs, he says.

Welikala and Fernando in their article sounded a warning at the state of affairs.

They wrote “the extent to which we can see the Government acting efficiently while remaining within the clear authority and rules established by the Constitution and other relevant laws, is the measure of success. If the appropriate balance is not struck, then we risk harming our democracy and encouraging authoritarianism.”

“Several weeks into the coronavirus crisis, it does not appear that the Government is getting this balance right,” they concluded. (Colombo, April 23, 2020)

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UAE investors express interest in Sri Lanka’s energy, tourism, ports, real estate: Ali Sabry

ECONOMYNEXT – A group of investors based in the United Arab Emirates have expressed their interest in renewable energy, tourism, ports, and real estates, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told Economy Next.

A Sri Lankan delegation led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe is in Dubai to take part in the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).

Sabry said a group of large investors met the President on Friday and discussed possible opportunities in Sri Lanka.

“We met big investors here particularly on renewable energy, tourism, port development and also infrastructure development and real estate. That’s where they are doing very well,” Foreign Minister told Economy Next.

“Our embassy will organize a higher-level business delegation to visit Sri Lanka to look at the available opportunities.”

“There is a lot of traction and interest in Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lanka has been exploring to attract investors to crisis hit Sri Lanka which declared bankruptcy in April last year with sovereign debt default.

Since then, most investors have taken a step back from investing in the island nation due to its inability to serve debts and uncertainty over such investments.

Several government officials said investors may start pouring dollars into Sri Lanka very carefully after they see some certainty of debt repayments. (Dubai/Dec 3/2023)

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Sri Lanka to push for green initiative investment “after OCC finalizing” debt deals – President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will push for investment into green initiatives globally after the Official Creditor Committee (OCC) finalizing on the island nation’s debt restructuring, President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Economy Next at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).

President Wickremesinghe along with local and global advisors has inaugurated three ambitious projects to convert climate change-led disaster funding, which is mostly seen as donations, into viable commercial enterprises involving private sector investments.

The idea is to rally all the global nations in the Tropical Belt threatened by disasters related to climate change and bargain collectively with advanced economies which emit more greenhouse gases into the environment resulting in global warming for more green initiatives like renewable energy projects.

Wickremesinghe initiated a Climate Justice Forum (CJF), Tropical Belt Initiative (TBI), and called on the world to help establish the International Climate Change University in Sri Lanka.

His moves have been welcomed by global leaders, though analysts said an initiative like TBI is a “bold and imaginary” step.

“This is the first step. We have now put forward the proposal,” Wickremesinghe told Economy Next on Sunday on the sideline of the COP28 in Dubai’s EXPO 2020.

“There is an interest. We have to wait for OCC finalizing (debt restructuring) before pushing for investments.”


Global investors are hesitant to invest in Sri Lanka due to its bankruptcy and sovereign debt default.

Sri Lanka is still recovering from an unprecedented economic crisis which has compelled the island nation to declare bankruptcy with sovereign debt default.

President Wickremesinhe during a forum on Saturday said his initiatives would help government in advanced countries not to use tax money of its own people for climate related disasters in other countries and instead, private sector investors could help by investing in renewable energy initiatives.

President Wickremesinghe’s government has been in the process of implementing some tough policies it committed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize the country and ensure sustainability in its borrowing.

Sri Lanka is yet to finalize the debt restructuring fully as it still has to negotiate on repayment schedule of commercial and sovereign bond borrowing.

The OCC and Sri Lanka had agreed on the main parameters of a debt treatment consistent with those of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement between Sri Lanka and the IMF.

The members of the Paris Club which are part of the Official Creditor Committee are representatives of countries with eligible claims on Sri Lanka: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America.

The OCC has said it was expecting other bilateral creditors to consent to sharing, in a transparent manner, the information necessary for the OCC to evaluate comparability of treatment regarding their own bilateral agreement.

The OCC also has said it expects that the Sri Lankan authorities will continue to engage with their private creditors to find as soon as possible an agreement on terms at least as favourable as the terms offered by the OCC. (DUBAI/Dec 3/2023)

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Sri Lanka alcohol regulations may be spurring moonshine: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s alcohol regulations may be reducing access to legal products and driving illegal moonshine sector, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said amid plans to change opening times of retail outlets.

Sri Lanka is currently discussing changing the opening times of bars (retail alcohol outlets), he said.

Sri Lanka’s excise laws may be contributing to the growth of illegal products, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at the annual meeting of Sri Lanka’s excise officers.

Over 20 years legal alcohol sales have grown 50 percent but illegal products are estimated to have grown 500 percent, he said.

It is not clear where the 500 percent estimate came from.

In Kandy there was a bar for every 6,000 persons but in Mullativu there was one for only 990,000 persons and people had to travel 80 kilometres to get to a legal outlet, Minister Siyambalapitiya had said.

However Sri Lanka has a widespread moonshine or ‘kasippu’ industry driven by high taxes on legal products.

The widely used ‘gal’ or special arrack is now around 3,500 rupees and may go up further with a hike in value added tax. About 2000 rupees of the sale price is taxes.

After a currency collapse and tax hikes legal alcohol sales have fallen, leading to local sugar companies burying ethanol, according to statements made in parliament.

An uneven distribution of bars may also be driving people towards alcohol.

Alcohol sales is controlled on the grounds that it is an addictive product which can lead to poverty, ill-health, bad behaviour and criminal activities, though advocates of high taxes ignore the poverty angle.

High taxes are promoted by temperance movements some of whom have called for outright prohibition in the last century.

Temperance movements spread among evangelical groups in the West and were also embraced by nationalists/moralists and independence movements in colonial authorities.

Prohibition in the US however led to more criminal activity as an organized crime took to bootlegging. (Colombo/Dec03/2023)

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