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Saturday June 3rd, 2023

Five-member committee to probe Mahara prison riots; govt suspects “invisible hand”

ECONOMYNEXT – Justice Minister Ali Sabry appointed a five-member committee on Monday (Nov 30) to investigate the riots and violence that erupted at the Mahara prison Sunday evening.

According to a statement from the ministry, the committee is chaired by retired High Court Judge Sarojini Kusala Weerawardena and includes Chief Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Justice U R De Silva, Justice Ministry Additional Secretary Rohana Hapugaswatte, Police Media Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana and former Prisons Commissioner Gamini Jayasinghe.

The committee is expected to submit an interim report within one week and another with recommendations for short and long-term actions within a month, the ministry said.

Earlier yesterday, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Rtd Maj Gen Kamal Gunarathna instructed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who in turn ordered the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to carry out a separate investigation into the incident.

A media release from the Ministry of Defence claimed that initially prison officials had gotten involved in “easing off the situation” Sunday evening.

“However, when it was noticed that the incident escalated to an intense riot, they summoned the Police and Special Task Force (STF) to the premises and strengthened the security of the outer perimeter of the prison,” the statement said.

The Ministry further said that the agitated inmates had set fire to the Prison Health Office and its storage areas – a fire that raged until last morning.

The Department of Prisons confirmed later yesterday that the fire was completely doused and that routine prison operations had resumed.

Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana meanwhile said that apart from the actions of the prison inmates, the carelessness of one prison official had led to escalated tensions. Rohana said the police hopes to take disciplinary and legal action against the prison officer in question.

According to the police, the incident took place around 5pm Sunday when certain inmates tried to escape from the prison through gate 1 and 2 of the facility. Prison officials had used the powers granted to them by Prison Ordinance in an effort to stop the inmates from escaping when one inmate had died.

Upon requests made by the Prison Department, 400 police officers and 200 STF personnel were deployed to the Mahara prison, “but they never got inside the facility,” said Rohana.

The prison archive, prison superintendents’ and assistant superintendents’ offices, food storage, cafeteria and some prison cells were completely destroyed in the chaos, he said, noting however that prison officials were able to secure the weapons storage.

Police said eight people died and 71 were wounded in the incident.

Meanwhile, Deputy Director of Ragama Hospital Dr Sarath Premasiri told reporters yesterday that 26 inmates out of the 71 inmates admitted to the Ragama hospital following the unrest have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Premasiri, 48 rapid antigen tests were carried out on the inmates admitted to the hospital over injuries sustained during the confrontation. Ten are in critical condition, he said.

Family members of the inmates staged protests in front of the Mahara prison and Ragama hospital yesterday demanding to see the dead and the injured.

Secretary for the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisons Suresh Nandimal Silva charged that when a group of prisoners met the prison officials on Sunday to ask why COVID-19 positive inmates had not been separated from the rest, the officers had attacked the group.

The inmates had then staged a protest on the prison roof, said Silva, to which the officials had responded by opening fire. Is this how the government intends to respond to everyone who opposes it, the activist asked, accusing the authorities of greeting prisoners who demand basic rights with bullets.

Meanwhile, state Minister of Prison Reforms & Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle told parliament earlier yesterday that the government suspects an “invisible hand” was behind the riots.

A clash between remand prisoners and convicted prisoners had escalated to a full blown riot, Fernandopulle claimed, adding that it had occurred when prison officials were trying to prevent a number of inmates from escaping the facility by opening fire at them.

“Yesterday, some inmates tried to escape the Mahara prison, but prison officials were able to stop them by opening fire at them. Meanwhile the remand prisoners, a majority of whom had been remanded for drug cases, clashed with the prison inmates, causing massive damages to the prison properties,” the state minister said. (Colombo/Nov30/2020)

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Sri Lanka to ramp up weekend fuel deliveries after petrol price cut

More deaths reported at Sri Lanka fuel queues

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation will be operating on the weekend to complete all fuel deliveries to end vehicle queues forming outside fuel stations after the price revision earlier in the week, Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said.

“Instructions have been given to CPC and Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals to continue fuel deliveries on Saturday and Sunday this week to supply sufficient stocks to all fuel stations,” Minister Wijesekera said in a TWITTER.COM MESSAGE

“To reduce expenses on overtime, CPC and CPSTL have not been operating on Sundays and public holidays in the last 4 months,” Wijesekera said.

“Non-placement of orders by fuel stations from last Saturday, anticipating a price reduction, not maintaining minimum stocks, immediate increase in demand by consumers after the price revision, and quota increase have created shortages in the fuel stations.”

The Minister in April 2023 said all fuel stations would be required to maintain a minimum of 50 percent of stock tank capacity.

“I have asked CPC to review and suspend the license of fuel stations that had not maintained minimum stocks.” (Colombo/ June 02/ 2023)

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Sri Lanka bonds yield up at close, rupee at 291.75/292.50 against the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s bonds closed steady on Friday, dealers said, following the central bank’s decision to cut its main policy rate by 250 basis points.

The Spot US dollar closed at 291.75/292.50 rupees, dealers said.

The rupee opened at 290.25/75 to the US dollar Thursday and closed at 292.50/295.50 to the US dollar.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 24.70/90 percent up from 24.50/90 percent a day earlier, dealers said.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 25.75/26.25 percent up from 25.00/26.00 percent a day earlier.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2025 closed at 27.00/30 percent, up from 26.30/27.00 per cent at last close.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 20.25/21.00 percent, up from 20.00/40 per cent at last close.
(Colombo/ June 02/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s shares edge up on positive macroeconomic sentiments

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares closed higher in trade on Friday, over positive macro-sentiments encouraging investors to redeem their interest towards buying, an analyst said.

The main All Share Price Index was up 0.72 percent or 62.19 points to 8,753.80,  while the most liquid index S&P SL20 was up 0.68 percent or 16.87 points to 2,487.29.

Sri Lanka’s inflation in the 12-months to May 2023 has eased to 25.2 percent from 35.3 percent a month earlier according to a revised Colombo Consumer Price Index calculated by the state statistics office.

Prior to the Monetary Policy investors were quite optimistic that inflation is to lower and interest rates will decrease and since exp, an analyst said.

Sri Lanka Central Bank is waiting for the government proposal on the domestic debt restructuring (DDR), the central bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said amid uncertainty over DDR and speculations over instability in the banking sector.

“On debt restructuring, the borrower is the ministry of finance’s treasury. Certainly we will announce what the strategy will be. We are waiting for a government proposal,” Weerasinghe said.

Sri Lanka’s investors are waiting on assurances to be made on debt restructuring and optimization, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said, “It is up to the government to clear the uncertainty, because from our side we have done that part.”

The central bank cut the key policy rates by 250 basis points to spur a faltering economic growth as inflation was decelerating faster than it projected.

The speculation of DDR has hit the market and the risk premium has kept the market lending rates well above the central bank’s policy rates. The government has yet to present its plans on DDR.

Weerasinghe said the central bank has done its best to reduce the risk premium through bringing down the market lending rates while keeping the policy rates unchanged.

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe has discussed progress of International Monetary Fund program and debt restructuring during a visit of Deputy Managing Director Kenji Okamura, statement said.

“The discussion primarily focused on the progress of the IMF program between Sri Lanka and the IMF,” a statement from President’s office said.

“Attention was also paid to the on-going debt restructuring negotiations.”

However Officials from IMF have said Sri Lanka has to focus on expanding taxes.

“We discussed the importance of fiscal measures, in particular revenue measures, for a return to macroeconomic stability,” Deputy Managing Director Kenji Okamura said in a statement.

The finance ministry this week issued rules requiring everyone above 18 year of age to register to pay income tax.

“I was encouraged by the authorities’ commitment to negotiate a debt strategy in a timely and transparent manner.

The market generated a revenue of 738 million rupees, while the daily average was 1 billion rupees.

Top gainers in trade were Vallibel One, LOLC Finance and Browns Investment. (Colombo/June02/2023)

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