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Thursday September 21st, 2023

Forced quarantine of protestors: Teachers’ unions in Sri Lanka refuse to teach online

ECONOMYNEXT – Eighteen school teacher unions in Sri Lanka will refrain from conducting online classes from Monday (12) in protest of what they call the forced quarantine of 16 union members.

The Ceylon Independent Teachers’ Services Union (ITSU) and 17 other unions representing school principals and teachers that were engaged in online distance education in light of the pandemic are now on strike in solidarity with the quarantined activists, the union said in a joint statement.

Among the unions’ demands is the release of Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) secretary general Joseph Stalin and 15 others who the unions charge were forcibly sent off to a quarantine centre in Mullaitivu after they were released on bail Friday afternoon (09).

The teachers’ unions also demand solutions to teacher principal salary anomalies and problems in online teaching.

Meanwhile, Director of Catholic Schools Fr Gamunu Dias said on Sunday that the Catholic schools will also not hold online classes from Monday and will join the teachers protest as they stand for the rights of education in the country.

Sri Lanka police arrested over 40 protestors in Colombo and elsewhere last Thursday (08) for allegedly violating quarantine regulations, even as government supporters were seen celebrating the swearing in of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa by lighting firecrackers and  gathering in small groups.

A majority of the arrests were made at a protest held near parliament in Sri Jayawrdenapura, Kotte, against the proposed Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) bill.

Related: Sri Lanka police arrest over 45 for organising protests in violation of ban

Thirty-one people including Stalin were arrested near the parliament roundabout. The protest was jointly organised by the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF), the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Union and the Frontline Socialist Party.

The protestors were granted bail but were subsequently packed off in buses to be quarantined, citing a comminuque from Health Services Director General Dr Asela Gunawardena that protests and public meetings must be temporarily banned in light of the COVID-19 situation.

On Friday, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa questioned the legal basis for directing individuals who were released on bail without even a COVID test.

“Police arrested the protestors and produced them in court where they were given bail,” Premadasa told parliament.

“But without a PCR or antigen test, not even with a public health inspector (PHI) checking them, the police, contravening all these rules and regulations, decided to quarantine them. That should have been done by a health official, not the police.

“How do they decide to quarantine people who got bailed, without doing an antigen or PCR test?” he said.

Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara responded that the decision to quarantine the protestors were taken by PHIs. However, media reports quoting PHI Union Chairman Upul Rohana said no such consultation had taken place.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka said Sunday (11) that authorities should not use quarantine rules to suppress peaceful protest, violating constitutional rights of the people, especially when they were bailed out by courts.

Related: Bar Association of Sri Lanka warns against using quarantine to suppress peaceful protest

The top United Nations official in Colombo also said Sri Lanka should not use quarantine rules to suppress peaceful protest.

Related: UN says Sri Lanka should not use Coronavirus quarantine to suppress peaceful protests


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Sri Lanka government to develop Arugam Bay tourism sector

ECONOMYNEXT – The Arugam Bay Tourism Development Plan, which focuses on challenges to infrastructure development in the area and obstacles hindering the growth of the tourism sector, was discussed by government officials and key stakeholders yesterday (20).

Participants from heads of relevant organizations, the Police and district officers met at the Presidential Secretariat to discuss how each institution could contribute to finding solutions to these challenges, the president’s media division said in a statement.

The main tourism plan for Arugam Bay, prepared by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) was presented by chief of presidential staff, Sagala Rathnayaka.

904,318 tourists visited Sri Lanka from January to August 2023, an increase from the 719,978 tourists that arrived in the country during the whole of 2022, statistics provided by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority show.
“A tourist will spend an average of 185 -195 dollars a day,” Sri Lanka Tourism Development Chairman, Priyantha Fernando, told EconomyNext.

Sri Lanka’s government aims to attract five million tourists a year, and has mooted the establishment of an Investment Infrastructure Corporation, a decision-making council and regional committees under provincial tourism boards. (Colombo/Sep21/2023)

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Sri Lanka gets 19.23 mn US dollar grant from USA

ECONOMYNEXT – The United States yesterday (20) announced the commitment of more than 19 million US dollars in additional funds to further the development of Sri Lanka.

The 19.23 million US dollar (6.2 billion rupees) is obligated through the Development Objective Grant Agreement between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Sri Lanka government.

“This development assistance will support economic growth and democratic governance activities and demonstrates the ongoing US commitment to its partnership with Sri Lanka and in building lasting people-to-people ties,” a statement by the Embassy of the United States of America read.

“This investment demonstrates the United States’ ongoing commitment to our partnership with Sri Lanka and our steadfast support to the people of this stunning, opportunity-filled country, as USAID Administrator Samantha Power and President Wickremesinghe discussed in New York,” said Gabriel Grau, USAID Sri Lanka and Maldives Mission Director.

“With these funds we’ll continue to work with the government of Sri Lanka to improve economic growth and democratic governance and advocate for vulnerable populations.”

USAID is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance.

The United States has provided more than 2 billion US dollars (nearly 720 billion rupees) in assistance to Sri Lanka since 1956. (Colombo/Sep21/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s 2022 EPF returns falls to lowest, single digit in near two decades – CB data

ECONOMYNEXT – The 2022 annual average return on Sri Lanka’s largest contributory pension scheme, the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), has fallen to its lowest in nearly two decades, Central Bank data showed.

The annual average return in the last year fell to 9.52 percent from the previous year’s 11.40 percent, a central bank response to a Right to Information (RTI) request showed.

Returns on EPF has raised concerns among contributors after the government decided to include EPF investments in the government treasury bonds under the domestic debt optimization (DDO) process.

Last year’s lower return has been recorded despite market interest rates being more than 30 percent towards the end of the year. In contrast, the fund has given a double digit return in 2020 when the market interest rates hovered in single digits.

Analysts have predicted the returns to be further low with the central bank opting for the government’s DDO option.

A central bank analysis on DDO showed the return on EPF could fall to as low as 6.79 percent if the DDO option was not chosen within the next 12 years as against 8.02 percent if opted for DDO.

Trade unions and some politically motivated fractions opposed the government move to include the EPF investments under the DDO. However, parliament approved the move early this month.

According to the data made available from 2005, the central bank, which is the custodian of the EPF, has given the highest return of 16.03 percent in 2009.

The island nation’s largest pension fund has almost 21-million member accounts including 18.3 million non-contributing accounts due to some members having multiple number of accounts.

The 3.38 trillion-rupee ($10.6 billion) worth fund as of end 2022 is managed by the central bank, including its investment decisions.

As of end 2022, the central bank has invested 3.23 trillion rupees or 95.7 percent of the total EPF in government securities, while 84.1 billion rupees has been invested in listed companies in the Colombo Stock Exchange, the central bank said quoting the EPF audited financial statement. (Colombo/September 21/2023)

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