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Sunday December 3rd, 2023

Leading the Nation through inclusion, equality and educational reforms

Eight of the women who spoke: L-R Aruni Amunugama-Fernando. Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Sara Kabir, Nilshani de Silva, Prof Janitha Liyanage, Amina Hussein, Samadani Kiriwandeniya and Dr Santhushya Fernando

ECONOMYNEXT – Nilshani de Silva envisages a Sri Lanka where women, children and those with special needs will have equal opportunities in life, and be treated with dignity and respect. Under her leadership, respect for all beings will be taught to children at a very young age, as they, as the future generations of the country, would then learn, very early in life the importance of living in peace and harmony with all.

De Silva will draw from her own experience, she says, when, as the first student with special needs to be admitted to Bishops College, Colombo, her classmates, who had not been asked to help her, would nevertheless be at the school gate to welcome and assist her. She was placed in a regular class, with children who had no special needs. Her classmates were drawn from all communities, Sinhala, Tamil, Burgher and Muslim. When children, says De Silva, work together and understand each other from their young days, they learn to remain friends and respect each other.

De Silva is a motivational speaker and a crafts teacher at her Alma Mater. She was one amongst ten women selected from diverse fields to share their vision for the country if ever they became the President. The event, jointly organised to celebrate International Women’s Day, by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Sri Lanka and the cross-party youth group NextGenSL, was held at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo on March 8th.

Along with Nilshani de Silva,( Sri Lanka Association for Child Development award winner of Reaching for the Stars) were Ameena Hussain, an author and publisher, Samadani Kiriwandeniya, the former chairperson of Sanasa International, Sara Kabir, writer, researcher and author, Dr Santhushya Fernando, Public Health Specialist and Deputy Director, Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital, Indeewari Amuwatte, Head of English news at Derana (who was unable to attend), Sriyani Kulawansa, former Olympic Athlete, Prof. Janitha Liyanage, the Vice-Chancellor Gampaha Wickramarachchi University of Indigenous Medicine, Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Group CEO of Hemas Holdings PLC, and Varuni Amunugama-Fernando, Director at Derana and Joint Managing Director, Triad.

The women were invited to share their vision for the country, in a ten-minute presentation, if they ever have the opportunity of leading the country.

De Silva went on to say that as the President, she would overhaul the education system to ensure that all children, irrespective of their abilities would have equal access to learning so that even persons with special needs will have the opportunity of becoming productive citizens and enjoy respect and dignity. She would also bring changes to the judiciary. Reminding invitees to the event of the young man with special needs who had been abused by a staff member where he worked, she pointed out, how that young boy was denied justice, simply because he was unable to articulate his traumatic experience to the court. People with special needs experience similar setbacks when they go to the police to make a complaint, de Silva said, adding that it is no different for women and children.

In a country she leads, she will also ensure village women have the same chance as those in urban areas for employment, offer finances and reskilling training for those who lose their jobs to restart life, work with the private sector to train those with special needs and prepare them for the job market and set up a support system that would care for such individuals when their parents are no more.

Scene-stealer Santhushya Fernando

Indeed, almost all of the women who spoke that evening expressed similar sentiments. Dr Santhushya Fernando perhaps stole the night with her impassioned and heartfelt presentation. She would, she said, start with a constitution that is secular, unlike the current one, which she points out is based on archaic Roman-Dutch laws, which even the Netherlands, Italy and the UK have abandoned. She will draw from Sri Lanka’s ‘Shishtacharaya’ of compassion and non-violence, where a constitution would protect all religions, and all from religion.

All beings will be respected, says Fernando, where less government would really mean more government, bring back our migrant works who provide the lifeblood to our country, over repatriating friends and the privileged and where the best of science, irrespective of ethnicity and religion will be drawn upon to uplift the country.

Under Fernando’s leadership, education would be modernised and de-brutalised. She would, she said, ensure that our young girls would not have to miss school owing to the lack of affordable sanitary napkins or the facilities to manage menstrual issues with dignity. If such actions would earn her the moniker of ‘Padwoman’, she declared she would wear that badge like the way Susanthika wears her Olympic medal!

Deploring the fact that after 15 years, the Ministry for Women and Children has been abolished and downgraded, in a country she leads, there would be, she said punitive and restorative justice. If any in the audience had shared ‘suitcase jokes’ (referring to the discovery of a woman’s headless body in a travelling bag recently), she said ‘you are part of the problem.’ In this country where laws and documents are not in gender-neutral language, women and gay people have no rights.

Despite everything, Fernando points out that politics is the best weapon against despotism, and in a country she leads, there will be forgiveness, irrespective of who committed a crime first. That, she said is necessary if we are to make peace in our lifetime.

Former Olympic Athlete Sriyani Kulawansa spoke of a country that would ensure that those whose goal is to reach their pinnacle in sports would still be assisted with their studies.

Policies would be formulated in keeping with the values and the country, but would not change with every administration. Governments must take the blame that its citizens remain in poverty, but the people too must play their part in being united, withstanding divisions that negatively impacts unity. A country she leads would not be focussed on simply beautifying the place with tarred roads and electrification, but will be infused with a change of attitude to develop the country; to take Sri Lanka to the place everyone wants it to be.

Wilson bemoans politicisation of the Civil Service

Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, meanwhile, said that following the 1972 constitution appointments of ministry secretaries were politicised. Politics must be separated from the civil service, where politicians will formulate policies and leave the professionals to implement those. Education, she said needs an overhaul where skills and the right attitude is included in the syllabus. “We hire for attitude and train for skill.’

In a system geared to using politicians to get things done, citizens should learn to think and act differently. She envisions a country that cannot be divided by race or religion and that, she says could be achieved when teachers and parents are taught to do it right; embrace diversity and inclusion and refrain from compartmentalising people according to their ethnic, religious or gender identities.

Professor Janitha Liyanage meanwhile, will direct her energy on changing the education system, where students will be exposed to skills and extra-curricular activities instead of learning by rote where examinations play a big part. In such a situation, both teachers and parents will need to change their way of thinking. Teamwork and leadership, she said come through extra-curricular activities. Unfortunately in today’s systems, even university students have to be spoon-fed and are constrained by a ‘batch topper’ mentality.

Echoing the thoughts of speakers before her, Liyanage too emphasised that education policies should not change with each new regime.

Writer and Publisher Ameena Hussain bemoaned her belief when younger, that 2021 would have changed for the better for women, yet, today, it is ‘more repressive, less liberal and conservative.’ Where organised religion and patriarchy take pride of place, women are relegated to a backseat. In an intensely traditional Sri Lanka, the appointment of the first woman Deputy Inspector General of Police is being contested by 32 male Senior Superintendents of Police, who, instead of suing to have the regulations amended, seek to block her promotion merely because the rules do not include the word ‘woman.’

In a country she leads, the citizenry could look forward to schools that are not segregated on language, religious or ethnic lines. Holland, where its 17 million people speak Dutch, teaches English, German and French as foreign languages so her people are able to compete with the region and elsewhere in the world. Consider that with Sri Lanka, where amongst the 22million population, many cannot speak English the link language or even the second national language.

Schools will teach comparative religion so students will learn and understand the core values of not only their own faith but that of others. Hers would be a country where there will be zero tolerance of discriminatory practices, abuse and sexual harassment of women and the LGBTQ community. The Arts, which makes up the soul of a country, will have a bigger financial allocation than the defence budget.

The policies she would introduce she said, would make it ‘more difficult to have a government of malice.’

Samadani Kiriwandeniya will reforest the central hills

Kiriwandeniya will lead a country, where social, environmental and economic policies will take centre stage. In Kiriwandeniya’s Sri Lanka, birth certificates will not denote one nationality, though she acknowledges such a move would be controversial.

It will be an inclusive nation where public servant would be bilingual and also know English, and if religion must be taught in schools, it must include the values of multi-religions.

The existing forest cover will be increased, and the lost environment recovered. The central hills will be reforested she said

On the economic front more than making money and profits, she will include social data also as part of wealth.

People will be seen as humans with potential, and not as Muslim, Hindus, Catholics or women, she says.

Presenting her case in poetic form, Sara Kabir said; ‘I wouldn’t make my decisions based on a second term, I wouldn’t centralise, but my power I would devolve.

My committees would not be just for optics, or friends,
They would represent all, And to make this country better, a hand they would lend.’

Kabir addressed many fronts and ills the nation faces, adding that the division of ‘class’ has remained a problem for a long time and that she would provide equal opportunity for all, for that would ensure the success of a nation. She would not provide a platform for racists and misogynists but would facilitate a sense of belonging where all would celebrate Independence Day with pride, irrespective of the language chosen to sing it. Her leadership would create a space for all Sri Lankans citizens, where truth over pseudo-nationalism and empathy over apathy would be the hallmarks.

In contrast to the sentiments of inclusivity expressed by all the other women, Varuni Amunugama- Fernando began her presentation singing hosannas to the current regime, making one wonder whether this was an event of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. When she did get to sharing her vision for a country she would lead, Amunugama- Fernando said she would make teaching English compulsory and get the services of religious leaders in temples and parishes to identify those who are genuinely in need of “Samurdhi handouts.” It is politicised now, she says. Everyone else will be expected to work and change their mindset of expecting everything to be free.

‘Misinformation, said Amunugama- Fernando, is killing the future generation’, therefore, she would have a ‘war room’, where she would first control social media. Acknowledging that censorship would be unpopular, she would nevertheless, through the war room, gather, assimilate and control the flow of information. Amunugama- Fernando will lead by example, through honesty and integrity, so future generations could do the same. And to that end, she said, she would ensure that positive news about the country is imparted daily. It would then create a positive Sri Lanka, a country citizens would be proud of.

The event also showcased Ashcharya Peiris Jayakody, Aneetha Warusavithana, Yamuna Ranjini, Dharshi Keerthisena and Princy Mangalika, all of who have either overcome or are paving the way for women to challenge the barriers life throws their way and succeed.

The event can be viewed here;
(Colombo, March 15, 2021)

By Kshama Ranawana

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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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