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Tuesday September 26th, 2023

Ensure impartiality of Brandix internal inquiry, worker rights collective requests BOI

Chamila Thushari, NPP Gampaha District Candidate

ECONOMYNEXT – Labour rights activists in Sri Lanka called on the Board of Investment (BoI) today to ensure the impartiality of an internal inquiry pledged by Brandix Apparel Limited into the growing Minuwangoda COVID-19 cluster.

“Brandix has promised an inquiry into the cluster that emerged from their Minuwangoda plant. To ensure that this inquiry is impartial, there needs to be some representation of the workers and also of the Labour Department. The Board of Investment has to ensure that,” Programme Coordinator of Dabindu Collective Chamila Thushari told reporters this afternoon.

Thushari was referring to a statement made by Brandix Group Chief Executive Officer Ashroff Omar in a letter sent out to Brandix staff dated October 12.

“There have been statements made that our employee safety protocol was compromised. Since the health and safety of our employees is our topmost priority, any leader, at any level, who has been negligent will be held accountable. We are conducting a comprehensive independent investigation of our factory in Minuwangoda. We will take strong action where necessary and address what needs to change in order to prevent this from happening again,” Omar wrote in the letter as published by Colombo Gazette that same day.

Thushari was flanked by activists from a number of groups and organisations at today’s press conference, many of whom highlighted concerns regarding the situation faced by workers in the free trade zone (FTZ) in light of the ongoing public health crisis.

Chandra Devanarayana, an activist from the Revolutionary Existence for human Development (RED) group said a water supply interruption at a quarantine centre in Kalutara today caused inconvenience to some 400 to 500 people, a majority of whom were women and children,

“There was no water there from 7am to 1pm today, and people quarantined there couldn’t use toilet or bathroom facilities. A lot of these people are women. Some of them are pregnant. There are children there, too,” she said.

In a statement issued yesterday, the worker rights collective accused the government of complicity in “relaxing or overlooking regulations with regard to Brandix.”

“The government continues to maintain that the outbreak has not yet progressed to a ‘community transmission’ level, but, without conducting widespread random testing, this news cannot be viewed as assuring or accurate. It now seems to have become the sole responsibility of the public to protect themselves and take necessary precautions, as it’s very unclear how widespread the virus is in the community,” the statement said.

The collective also called into question the manner in which the government and the military have handled the recent crisis. It said the way the authorities have dealt with women workers in particular has been very problematic.

“The lack of clear information/awareness, unsafe transportation, unsanitary quarantine facilities, and failing to conduct PCR tests prior to loading workers onto buses and upon admission to the centre, are in clear violation of basic COVID-19 regulations said to be adhered to by the government,” the statement noted.

The collective went onto highlight a series of incidents allegedly faced by FTZ workers.

“On the 11th of October (Sunday), at approximately 10.30pm, 45 garment factory workers (including 25 women, 1 pregnant woman and 2 children) from Liyanagemulla, Katunayake, were rounded-up by the military, and taken by bus to a makeshift quarantine facility in Kalutara. Workers had been told that there had been some COVID Positive workers residing in the neighbouring hostel, and that therefore, they had to be quarantined too,” the statement said.

“We were given seconds to get our things together and get into the bus. We were barely able to pack one change of clothes. We didn’t even have time to pack a comb! The military told us not to try and run away, that the entire place was surrounded. They (the military) treated us like prisoners. Like we had committed a national atrocity (jathika aparadayak),”the statement quoted an unnamed worker as saying.

Quoting more workers, the statement said: “We are not scolding the government. If not for our president we might all have been dead by now. But because we brought this government into power, we have a responsibility to hold them accountable to us. They need to rectify what they’re doing wrong, and proceed. There needs to be a comprehensive awareness building of all workers, gramasevakas, hostel owners etc., as to how to stay safe and manage this crisis. There is no proper system in place right now, and everything is taking place in an ad-hoc manner.”

This sentiment was echoed by Thushari at the press conference today.

“This government was elected by the workers of this country. So it has an obligation to look out for them and to be there for them,” she said. (Colombo/Oct15/2020)

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Sri Lanka to optimize investments in mineral resources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is exploring the optimal utilization of its mineral resources to bolster the nation’s economic growth, and the potential for creating value-added products from these resources, a state minister said.

“Given our nation’s rich mineral resources, we have devised plans to expand investment opportunities,” State minister of Urban Development and Housing, Arundika Fernando said.

“We have taken the decision to extend investment prospects along our coastline, collaborating closely with agencies such as the Investment Promotion Board and the Ministry of Lands,” Fernando said.

The minster said they were considering the introduction of a specialized bank dedicated to the development of domestic industries and introducing new legislation.

“We are committed to introducing a new environmental protection and ocean protection bill in our country. This legislation will play a vital role in safeguarding our natural resources.”

“The Department of Coastal Conservation actively participates in initiatives aimed at enhancing the value of our mineral resources. These resources have the potential to yield significant value through the production of value-added goods.”

“Our primary focus must centre on pioneering innovative programs that contribute to our country’s economic recovery. Timely and effective resource management is crucial for initiating income-generating initiatives.

From a geographical standpoint, Sri Lanka occupies a strategically vital position in Asia.

India has been eyeing Trincomalee, the mineral resource rich district, for decades. A mineral sand deposit in its northern part contains Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon, Monazite, Garnet, Sillimanite, and other heavy minerals, Export Development Board (EDB) data shows.

Sri Lanka’s state-run Lanka Mineral Sands Limited is to export 60,000 metric tonnes of ilmenite to China this month after a shipment of 30,000 tonnes of Zircon mineral sands was shipped out of Trincomalee harbour earlier this month.

The EDB said it had identified the value-added mineral products sector as a potential sector to be developed and promoted in the international market, and met with members of the Chamber of Mineral Exporters (CME) to discuss growing the mineral-based industry in Sri Lanka.

CME members requested the government foster foreign investments and proposed that the state conduct a comprehensive ore reserves study to maintain transparency and informed decision-making within the industry.

They asked for government support in research and development, and a 300% tax rebate for research and development activities in collaboration with Sri Lankan educational institutions.

They also requested revising royalty systems grounded in pithead value, in line with international norms and pointed out the need for an equitable approach to royalty calculations to ease the financial burden on mining entities.

Securing international accreditation for the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau laboratory in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Standards Institution to enhance global credibility was also discussed.

CME pointed out the untapped potential of numerous pocket mines in Sri Lanka, and advocated for the development of support industries equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Members also urged the government to consider duty waivers for the import of new technology and pertinent spare parts to foster innovation and elevate the sector to international standards. (Colombo/Sep26/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s Inland revenue to give tax concessions to institutions for disabled children

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers has approved a proposal to amend the Inland Revenue Act to allow tax concessions to registered institutions collaborating with the government to provide health and education services to disabled children.

The Inland Revenue Act No. 24 of 2017 is to be amended to give tax relief to legitimate charity establishments collaborating with the government health services/education system in providing health facilities to children with disabilities, and prioritising the wellbeing of differently abled children.

Government data shows around 4 percent of the island nation’s 22 million population has some disability. The government has increased allocations for the disabled to empower them.

A new Disability Bill, aimed at safeguarding the rights of the disabled community, will be presented to Parliament this year.

The bill also aims to reduce disabled people’s dependence on government support.

“The comprehensive legislation seeks to ensure the protection of the rights of disabled individuals and their empowerment within society. This includes providing access, education and technology to all members of the disabled community,” State Social Empowerment Minister Anupa Pasqual said. (Colombo/Sep26/2023)

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Sri Lanka aims to boost jobs for disabled; targets 10% in 2023

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Future SJB govt to “refine” Sri Lanka’s agreement with IMF: Harsha de Silva

ECONOMYNEXT – A future government led by the incumbent main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) will “refine” Sri Lanka’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), SJB legislator Harsha de Silva said.

The MP tweeted Monday September 26 morning that a closed-door discussion between the SJB and an IMF team that’s currently in Sri Lanka to review the ongoing programme was productive and had focused on governance, transparency and equity in the reform process.

“It was a good discussion. We were quite frank,” said de Silva in a clip he shared of him speaking to the privately owned NewsFirst network.

“Yes, we said we agree as the SJB that we need to work with the IMF, and that we accept that large-scale economic reform will have to take place. That was the baseline.

“However, the leader of the opposition said that, under our government, certain modifications will have to happen,” said de Silva.

The MP, who also chairs the parliament’s Committee on Public Finance (COPF), said this is because the people “obviously see that there is inequity in the implementation of this agreement”.

News footage of the SJB’s latest round of talks with the IMF team showed that SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa along with de Silva and a handful of his colleagues in the party were joined by former Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs who were vocal supporters of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. MPs Nalaka Godahewa and G L Peiris also seen joining a group photo with the IMF and the SJB lawmakers.

The SJB was among the first to demand that the then government of ex-President Rajapaksa approach the IMF before Sri Lanka’s currency crashed in 2022. Over the months since incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration embarked on an IMF-prescribed reform agenda, the opposition party has adopted a more critical position on the international lender.

In May,  SJB MP Kabir Hashim speaking at a public event in Monaragala alluded to a unique vision his party possesses with regard to macroeconomic development that doesn’t necessarily include the IMF.


Sri Lanka’s SJB no longer enamoured of IMF, promises new govt in three moons

The SJB’s position with regard to the IMF programme, Sri Lanka’s 17th so far, has been less than consistent. The party, which was among the first to call for a deal with the iInternational lender at the onset of the island nation’s worst currency crisis in decades, abstained from voting for the agreement in a vote taken in parliament in April.

While the SJB hasn’t quite had a drastic departure from its original pro-IMF stance, the party has been increasingly vocal of late about the socioeconomic impact of the deal.

SJB leader Premadasa earlier this year reportedly said a future SJB government would not be obligated to honour deals made by the incumbent government headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. MP de Silva explained later that what his party leader had meant was that Sri Lanka must negotiate terms favourable to the country when dealing with the IMF. (Colombo/Sep26/2023)

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