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Tuesday November 29th, 2022

Honouring the Victims of 21 April 2019 Through Togetherness and Unity

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Easter Sunday attacks, in which eight IS terrorists senselessly murdered 269 Catholic and Christian worshippers and tourists, shattering our collective sense of unity and togetherness.  Families celebrating Christianity’s holiest day and tourists visiting our beautiful shores were massacred by those who claimed Islam only in name.

Joe lost his wife and a child in the blast at St. Sabastian’s Church in Negombo that killed 115 people, including 27 children. He is still holding on to their photos, even tighter when he talked about them; “I wish that day did not happen in my life. It was so brutal and bloody”. He further asked “why did they do this to us? We lived peacefully here and I want to see that again but when so many of us are shattered, it is difficult to heal. Their memory and the bombings are what lingers on in our head”.

Theepamallar’s son, Arun Prasanth, was killed in Protestant Zion church bombing in Batticaloa. He was 30 years old and lost his father to the war when he was one year old. Theepamallar could not hold her tears and said “Arun looked after me and after his father’s death I brought him up so carefully but who knew that he will be killed like this. I am now homeless too. Tomorrow I do not know whether the church will have a service but I will go to the cemetery.”

Verl, drives a three-wheeler. He lost 03 family members, his son Jackson (age 13), his sister and brother in law. His two other sisters and the deceased sister’s child who is seven years old are badly injured; paralysed and lost eyesight. “one year has passed by and I still hear their voices and laughter in this house. Everyone has forgotten us, even during wartime we managed to survive without loss of life but, after the war, when leading a normal life, this tragedy and agony hoisted upon us. It seems everyone has moved on except the victims and their families. With COVID-19, the church will not have a service, but we will go to the cemetery in the evening and will light an oil lamp. Maybe others will also do so.”

Sumathi (aged 53) lost her eyesight and her precious daughter Uma. “My child is gone and one year on I feel like she will come to me. She did so much of social work and have been very active. I had a big dream for her.” Uma was 22 and was a 1st-year art faculty student at Eastern University.

Dhulsini was visiting Sri Lanka from America so her son Kiran could visit her grandmother.  She lost Kiran in the Cinnamon Grand hotel blast.  A year on, she struggles to rebuild without answers.  In a BBC interview, she says “We’ve had no acknowledgement that we’ve lost the most precious person in our lives from the Sri Lankan government.  Nothing at all.  Not even a condolence.”

These and so many other families are still struggling to make sense of what happened and need our collective support to heal. But a year later, our country is consumed by COVID-19. The virus has prevented families from gathering for Easter service this year or coming together to mourn on the anniversary of the attacks.  In these challenging times, it is critical to work together. With no avenue for physical togetherness, we must instead find togetherness in our hearts and minds.

Early on after the attacks, communities worked hard to build unity from the ashes.  Moderate religious leaders worked to bring people together for interfaith dialogue and create safe spaces for exchange.  A group of Catholic nuns, church leaders, and civil society groups in Negombo welcomed Muslim community members and started working together to neutralize tensions and build trust through a genuine exchange.  Church leaders in Negombo were also on the frontlines in protecting Muslims from mob attacks.

The Muslim community also took part.  Muslim shopkeepers closed all their businesses in Negombo until Catholics had buried the last body of the victims killed in the St. Sebastian’s Church attack.  Community leaders came forward with lectures and writings to explain how Islam teaches nonviolence and translating the Quran to Sinhala.  Mosques opened their doors to interfaith dialogues and discussions.  And throughout Negombo, houses and businesses belonging to all communities had hoisted white flags for weeks in mourning.

Although some interfaith exchanges continue at an individual level, broader efforts have declined.  They need to restart and continue.  No faith promotes hatred toward fellow beings.  We as Sri Lankans have throughout our history suffered from a different kind of virus – racism – which has no cure until we develop compassion for different ethnicities, different cultural and religious values. It is that trust, that faith in each other that is built through mutual respect and secular values, that is vital not only to keep us all safe in this pandemic but also to building a brighter shared future.

In these pandemic times, we face a difficult path ahead. Muslims are being stigmatized and accused of spreading the virus. The compulsory cremation policy further alienates this community, making them less likely to seek treatment.  Instead of empowering communities to counter the pandemic, the media broadcasts fake news and vilifies affected patients even after their death.

Civil society organizations that usually work with war-affected communities are now shattered, preventing us from protesting the complete militarized handling of the pandemic.  We are powerless to gather details of those arrested and investigate the charges brought.  New gazettes and government guidelines are introduced, and we only hear about it in the media.  Parliament stands dissolved since March 2nd, due to the locked down the courts have been silent. The President alone is making all the decisions.

Although we are humbled by the service of our frontline healthcare workers and officers keeping us safe, weaponizing this virus for political purposes is not only counterproductive, it kills our humanity.  At a time when we need healing, we are socially distancing each other in our hearts and minds based on unchecked information and smear campaigns.

A year after the heinous attacks, let us collectively stand with the affected families and mourn the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings.  Let us share their loss and pray with them to honour and remember our brothers and sisters lost.  Let us also pray for those affected by the COVID-19 virus and for us to beat the even deadlier virus of racism that threatens us all.

In our lives, there are dividing lines across religion, wealth, race, social status and political ideology.  But today, we are brought together as one through COVID-19, an invisible virus capable of breaking down powerful economies, borders and walls.  The next few months will be stressful and we may lose many more precious lives.  Healthcare providers will be under incredible stress to save lives while politicians and dividers persist in cynical politics.  It is the resilience of the human spirit that can salvage us from both the pandemic and the politicking.  In some way, there is a silver lining in this dark time—by coming together through collective struggle and sacrifice, we will unite to overcome this challenge.  Let us learn that lesson today in honour of those taken away from us on 2019 Easter Sunday.

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A new Sri Lanka monetary law may have prevented 2019 tax cuts?

ECONOMYNEXT – A new monetary law planned in 2019, if it had been enacted may have prevented the steep tax cuts made in that year which was followed by unprecedented money printing, ex-Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy said.

The bill for the central bank law was ready in 2019 but the then administration ran out of parliamentary time to enact it, he said.

Economists backing the new administration slashed taxes in December 2019 and placed price controls on Treasuries auctions bought new and maturing securities, claiming that there was a ‘persistent output gap’.

Coomaraswamy said he keeps wondering whether “someone sitting in the Treasury would have implemented those tax cuts” if the law had been enacted.

“We would never know,” he told an investor forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, a Colombo-based brokerage.

The new law however will sill allow open market operations under a highly discretionary ‘flexible’ inflation targeting regime.

A reserve collecting central bank which injects money to push down interest rates as domestic credit recovers triggers forex shortages.

The currency is then depreciated to cover the policy error through what is known as a ‘flexible exchange rate’ which is neither a clean float nor a hard peg.

From 2015 to 2019 two currency crises were triggered mainly through open market operations amid public opposition to direct purchases of Treasury bills, analysts have shown.

Sri Lanka’s central bank generally triggers currency crises in the second or third year of the credit cycle by purchasing maturing bills from existing holders (monetizing the gross financing requirement) as private loan demand pick up and not necessarily to monetize current year deficits, critics have pointed out.

Past deficits can be monetized as long as open market operations are permitted through outright purchases of bill in the hands of banks and other holders.

In Latin America central banks trigger currency crises mainly by their failure to roll-over sterilization securities. (Colombo/Nov29/2022)

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Sri Lanka cabinet clears CEB re-structure proposal: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cabinet has cleared proposals by a committee to re-structure state-run Ceylon Electricity Board, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijeskera said.

“Cabinet approval was granted today to the recommendations proposed by the committee on Restructuring CEB,” he said in a twitter.com message.

“The Electricity Reforms Bill will be drafted within a month to begin the unbundling process of CEB & work on a rapid timeline to get the approval of the Parliament needed.”

Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Electricity Board finances had been hit by failure to operate cost reflective tariffs and there are capacity shortfalls due to failure to implement planned generators in time. (Colombo/Nov28/2022)

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Sri Lanka new CB law to cabinet soon as IMF prior action

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new central bank law will be submitted to the cabinet as a prior action of International Monetary Fund with clauses to improve governance and legalize ‘flexible’ inflation targeting, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.

Under the new law members of the monetary board will be appointed by the country’s Constitutional Council replacing the current system of the Finance Minister making appointments.

“It will be a bipartisan approach,” Governor Weerasinghe told an investor forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, Colombo-based brokerage.

“The central bank’s ability to finance the budget deficit will be taken out. Thirdly the flexible inflation targeting regime will be recognized in the law as the framework.”

The law will also make macro-prudential surveillance formally under the bank.

There will be two governing boards, one for the management of the agency and one to conduct monetary policy.

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