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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Mangala steps away from Parliament, where will he go now?

ECONOMYNEXT – In Sri Lankan political terms Mangala Samaraweera has done the unthinkable. After being a major player in the break- up of the United National Party (UNP) and the creation of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), he has withdrawn his candidacy from the forthcoming parliamentary election.

The much-delayed and deeply troubled Poll is now hazily visible in the distance, although masked and gowned against COVID 19.

But a key figure in the pantheon of the country’s leading politicians, Samaraweera, will be absent.

Samaraweera did not announce his decision at a media conference but at an apparently carefully arranged meeting with long-time supporters, drawn from Local Government Councilors and activists at his ancestral home in Matara.

“Don’t vote for me at the election as I am leaving Parliamentary politics, but this is not a retirement from politics,” was his core message to the faithful delivered on June 9.

Many are asking why anyone would be in politics except to be in Parliament where the pay, the duty free permits, pensions and perks are there for the taking.

Before his announcement Samaraweera had paid a courtesy call on the SJB leadership.

SJB General-Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara told EconomyNext that Samaraweera made it clear to Sajith Premadasa that he was retiring from Parliamentary politics and “not joining anyone else.”

In his address to his supporters, Samaraweera slammed the door on a possibility of joining President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.

“Many people, even those who used to vote for us, believed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa could build this country. But that has not happened, in six months he has undone the good work we did,” he said.

However the long standing relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa is still at the top of his mind.

He told the gathering that he “entered politics to advance Human Rights and a free media during the period of terror in the 1980s. During that period Mahinda Rajapaksa and I started the Mothers’ Front here in Matara. After that we launched the Free Media Movement.”

He reminded the audience that he was the campaign manager for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first Presidential campaign which was won by a whisker.

He said he parted ways with the current Prime Minister when he saw “Mahinda moving the Sri Lanka Freedom Party towards becoming fascistic and ultra-Right wing.”

He claimed to have sent a hand written letter to Mahinda warning him of the wrong direction the party was moving in and was sacked from the Cabinet of Ministers within a month.

Samaraweera also had a hand in another momentous happening in Sri Lanka’s political history. He was a prime mover in the breakup of the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government in 2004 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked several Ministers and then dissolved Parliament.

At that time the Sri Lankan government was backed by a powerful international coalition and was negotiating a contentious peace deal with the LTTE.

Kumaratunga’s precipitous actions torpedoed the peace efforts and led to a resurgence of Sinhala Right-Wing Nationalism which eventually brought Mahinda to power.

Samaraweera’s detractors say the main reason for him to give up Parliamentary politics is that there is every possibility that he could lose his seat, on August 5.

In the 2019 Presidential elections, the UNP-led NDF won less than 30 per cent of the votes, and even if incumbency eats into the massive majority the SLPP got that time, the SJB is not likely to win more than one seat.

That seat is likely to go to Buddhika Pathirana who beat Samaraweera in 2015 on preferential votes. Also snapping at the heels of the veteran are new and youthful politicians such as Chathura Galapatti and Reyhan Jayewickreme.

Samaraweera is a liberal democrat in every sense of the word and has not attempted to hide his sexual orientation. When former President Maithripala Sirisena used the word Butterfly – a Sinhala language euphemism for being gay – to describe him, Samaraweera’s riposte was that “it is better to be a Butterfly than a Leech.”

He has also, as an MP representing a mainly Sinhala Buddhist electorate been unafraid to call for reform in the Buddhist clergy. He has taken on Monks who are frequently interviewed by TV news channels calling them “Voice Cut” Theros.

Other politicians have not dared to address the subject fearing a backlash from the powerful Buddhist clergy that will seriously dent their chances of being elected.

It is no secret that Sajith Premadasa, the SJB leader, who has positioned himself as a Buddhist leader and been given awards and honorary positions in the Buddhists hierarchy is uncomfortable with what Samaraweera says about the Buddhist Clergy.

These attributes make him somewhat of a misfit in a conventional political party, a fact that he referred to in last week’s speech.

“If I go to Parliament I will have to join a party or a group and be confined. I want to be freer. There are many people in this country who want politics to be free of the parties” he said.

That opens up the tantalizing prospect of Samaraweera leading a Civil Action group that advocates for Human Rights and freedom of expression.

With his obvious oratorical skills, knowledge and wide range of connections he could become a real force as there are many young citizens in the country disgusted with the way politics is practiced and with the people in leadership.

So after 32-years Samaraweera will not seek the Matara seat again, although he does appear on the ballot paper.

It will certainly be a loss for the legislature, not having him in parliament.

But if he does emerge as a civil activist, he should infuse energy into the Rights community which has become fairly quiet since the Presidential election last November.

Last week he fired the first salvo, telling the meeting he detects a creeping militarization of the administration and comparing the Task Force to create a virtuous society to similar bodies in the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

He will be going back to his roots, which made him take to politics in the first place

(Colombo, June 14, 2020)




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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.


“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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