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Friday December 9th, 2022

Maldives Supreme Court in U-turn over freeing dissidents

AFP – The Maldives’ highest court Tuesday revoked an order to release high-profile political prisoners a day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency in the honeymoon islands and arrested two top judges on corruption charges.

The remaining three judges of the Supreme Court said they were rescinding their February 1 order to release the prisoners "in light of the concerns raised by the President".

"The Supreme Court bench hereby rescinds number 5 of its order to release the individuals," a statement said.

The court’s original decision signed by all five judges of the apex court had quashed a terrorism conviction against former president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, among others.

The shock move was seen as clearing the way for Nasheed to end his self-imposed exile and return to the country to contest elections later this year.

But Yameen refused to comply with the order and instead declared the 15-day state of emergency, giving sweeping powers to troops to arrest and detain individuals while curtailing the powers of the judiciary and the legislature.

Maldives Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge were then arrested at dawn Tuesday, after security forces stormed the court complex in the capital Male.

The latest U-turn of the court would take Nasheed back to square one, and is seen by opposition activists as a blow to their attempts at toppling Yameen — accused of plunging the tiny Indian Ocean nation into political turmoil.

However, the Supreme Court made no change to their other order to restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party.

This in theory gives the dissidents a majority in the assembly, but they are prevented from ousting the president because the declaration of a state of emergency takes away parliament’s power to impeach.

– Military intervention –

Nasheed has accused Yameen of acting illegally and called on the international community to step in and help remove him from office.

On Tuesday, he urged India to send troops to the strategically located archipelago, which has grown increasingly close to regional rival China under Yameen’s leadership.

"President Yameen has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power," said Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, in a statement.

"We would like the Indian government to send an envoy, backed by its military, to free the judges and the political detainees."

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the U-turn of the Supreme Court was due to pressure brought on the three judges.

"Yameen has used coercion to get the original decision revoked," MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told AFP in Colombo.

Yameen has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent since he came to power in 2013, battering the image of the upmarket holiday paradise.

London-based Amnesty International called for the immediate release of the detained judges warning that the "eyes of the world" were on the worsening crisis in the troubled archipelago.

The United States said earlier it was "troubled and disappointed" at the declaration of a state of emergency and called on Yameen to comply with the rule of law.

Several countries have warned against travel to the country, which depends heavily on tourism, at the peak of the season.

– Coup plot –

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen accused the judges of being part of a plot to overthrow him.

"I had to declare a national emergency because there was no other way to investigate these judges," he said.

"We had to find out how thick the plot or coup was."

Yameen has had almost all the political opposition jailed since he came to power.

On Monday he ordered the arrest of his estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main opposition.

The 80-year-old — president for 30 years until the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 — was taken from his home in the capital Male around midnight on Monday, hours after the emergency was declared.

"I have not done anything to be arrested," Gayoom said in a video message to supporters posted on Twitter.

"I urge you to remain steadfast in your resolve too. We will not give up on the reform work we are doing."

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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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