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Friday December 9th, 2022

Maldives crisis deepens as court orders Yameen to comply

AFP – The Maldivian Supreme Court dealt another blow to beleaguered President Abdulla Yameen Sunday, asking him to comply with its order to release political prisoners and reinstate dissident lawmakers.

The government had expressed "concerns" over the judicial order and resisted complying with it, but the court said there can be no excuses.

Dissidents must be released because their trials were politically motivated and flawed, the Supreme Court said in a statement.

"There is nothing preventing the prosecutor general from seeking a re-trial after the order has been implemented (and prisoners released)," it added.

Thursday’s order to restore the seats of 12 government MPs who defected to the opposition would effectively reduce Yameen’s party to a minority and expose him to the risk of impeachment.

Police detained two opposition lawmakers who returned to the country Sunday as the political crisis in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation deepened with its top court pitted against the president.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said its MPs tried to stage a meeting in defiance of a weekend order suspending parliament, but they were pushed back by armed troops.

Security forces have been deployed inside the national parliament — known as the People’s Majlis — since March last year when Yameen ordered them to evict dissident lawmakers.

– ‘Unconstitutional and illegal’ –

The president’s crackdown on dissent has tarnished the Maldives’ image as an upmarket holiday paradise and sparked calls from the United Nations and several countries to restore the rule of law in the fledgling democracy.

But the Yameen government has so far refused to comply with the shock ruling, resisting international pressure.

In a national television address on Sunday, Attorney General Mohamed Anil remained defiant.

"Any Supreme Court order to arrest the president would be unconstitutional and illegal," Anil said. "So I have asked the police and the army not to implement any unconstitutional order."

Yameen also sacked two police chiefs after the court’s decision.

Atul Keshap, the US ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, led international criticism of the Yameen government’s refusal to respect court orders.

"What security risk prevents the #Maldives #Majlis from meeting tomorrow? Why are MPs pepper sprayed in the streets and arrested on arrival at airport?" he tweeted Sunday.

– Political pressure –

Former president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed described the government’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court as a "coup".

Nasheed, who was controversially convicted of a terrorism charge and jailed for 13 years in 2015, urged police and troops to uphold the constitution.

"Statements made today by AG Anil… to disobey SC orders is tantamount to a coup. They, and President Yameen must resign immediately," he tweeted on Sunday.

"Security services must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people."

Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, was toppled in 2012. He was barred from contesting elections after his 2015 terrorism conviction, which was internationally criticised as politically motivated.

He has been in exile since 2016, when he left on prison leave for medical treatment. He is currently in Colombo, meeting Maldivian dissidents based in Sri Lanka.

The MDP — which is led by Nasheed — has expressed fears that any move by the government to resist the Supreme Court’s order may trigger unrest in the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims.

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Sri Lanka president slams power regulator chief after conflicting with minister

ECONOMYNET – The powers to change the electricity tariff in Sri Lanka is vested with the Minister of Power and not the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL), President Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Parliament.

The minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekara has requested an upward price revision to be implemented in two phases both in January and July next year, saying the recent tariff hike was not enough for the state-run utility provider Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to continue uninterrupted power supply.

However, Jaynaka Ratnayake, the Chairman of the PUCSL had said  the recent tariff hike is enough for the CEB to cover the cost of production and it will not allow another price hike. However, he has said a twice a year price revision is necessary though it should be in April and October instead of January and July.

President Wickremesinghe said the PUCSL chief was opposing the tariff hike due to his personal reasons.

“The power is vested with the Minister and me. I am the one who made the PUCSL act and I know what is in it,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament on Thursday. quoting a letter from the Attorney General which mentioned provisions in the island nation’s Electricity Act.

Accordingly the Act, the PUCSL would be statutorily obliged to give effect to such policy. It is observed that neither the Act nor the PUCSL Act contains any provisions that empowers the PUCSL to change or act invariant of such policy guidelines.

“The Chairman of the PUCSL is misguiding the general public. I have to meet him and see,” Wickremesinghe said.

WIckremesinghe said the Chairman does not want the tariff hike because he owns one of the highest electricity consuming companies.

“He is the Chairman of the Trillium corporation. It is the firm that takes up the most energy”, he said.

The Trillium group is managed by Janaka Ratnayake and he also holds positions as the chairman and CEO of Trillium Property Management & Services Ltd., City Housing and Real Estate PLC, Trillium Residencies Ltd., Computer Care (Pvt) Ltd., and Rent a Comp Services (Pvt) Ltd., and JR Management Consultants (Pvt) Ltd.

“It means when the electricity bill increases, his expenses increase as well”

He said the CEB still has a loss of 300 billion rupees since 2013 and it needs to be covered.

The CEB issue can be solved only in three ways, either printing more money, increasing value added tax or increasing the tariffm, he said. (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Sri Lanka President bemoans over inconsistent LNG deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe bemoaned over successive governments’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal that has brought in all the world powers into the discussion.

Wickremesinghe’s center-right United National Party (UNP) had discussions with India and Japan between 2002-2004 for an LNG project.

“Following dialogues with India and Japan, the UNP government could come to agreements to get two LNG power plants. After we were defeated the successor government, without cancelling those agreements granted it to New Fortress company in USA,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament.

“Thereafter, as they did not like New Fortress, they gave it back to Pakistan and China. So within the same premises, there were China, Pakistan, India, USA, Japan and only Russia was not there.”

“It was wonderful that a world war did not ignited there as there were five main powers in the world.”

“Now there is no LNG or anything here and now they ask me to solve this issue.”

Wickremesighe’s outburst comes as his government is forced to raise tariffs on power prices after successive governments failed to implement cheap and renewable power generation projects.

He said a total loss for the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board since 2013 was 300 billion rupees and a possible drought next year could increase the 2023 electricity cost to 420 billion rupees.

“If it rained, we need Rs. 352 billion while Rs. 295 is required if rained so much to have floods. How are we going to find this money? We would have to print money, but Rupee would depreciate. We would have to increase VAT but it would increase the price of all commodities or to charge it direct.” (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Air quality drop forces Sri Lanka to close schools; public warned

ECONOMYNEXT – A rapid drop in air quality in Sri Lanka has forced the Colombo government to close all schools across the country after a deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal, officials said.

The Education Ministry, issuing a special notice on Thursday said, it has decided to close all government schools for Friday, after discussing with the officials in Meteorology Department and Disaster Management Center.

An official said the drop was due to the deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal carrying the air from India.

Due to the depression over South east Bay of Bengal (370 km east of Trincomalee) has concentrated into a cyclonic storm “Mandous” by Wednesday night.

“Cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that is the prime reason for the increase in the pollution load as we receive more wind from India,” H.D.S.Premasiri, Senior Scientist, Coordinator-Air Quality, noise and vibrations at National Building Research Organization (NBRO) told EconomyNext on Thursday.

Officials said there is a likelihood of the cyclone moving west-northwestwards and further intensify into a severe cyclonic storm tonight and cross North Tamil-Nadu, Puducherry and South Andhra Pradesh coast around midnight of 09 th December and the maximum wind speeds will be 70-90 km per hour and can increase up to 90 in sea areas.

“Hopefully, today we can expect normalization in the environment and the effects of the fog will disappear”.

According to the NBRO’s real time Air Quality Index Indicator, the quality of air in northwestern coastal district of Puttalam has dropped drastically and indicated a particular matter (PM) 132, while Kegalle (85) and Mannar (84) were the districts which had next worst air quality.

According to NBRO, Battaramulla, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kegalle, Mannar and Puttalam indicate a poor quality of air due to higher PM.

“The fog will lead to lung and breathing issues,” Premasiri said.

“So the public is warned to wear a mask when they travel outside. The pollution highly prevails in city areas and has a less impact on the other parts of the areas.” (Colombo/ Dec08/2022)

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