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Friday December 8th, 2023

National security concerns over Sri Lanka Telecom shares sale unfounded: Harsha

ECONOMYNEXT – Robust regulation is the best way to address any national security concerns associated with telecommunication services, and questions of ownership are largely immaterial, according to opposition MP Harsha de Silva.

The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) legislator told EconomyNext Saturday June 10 morning that fears of a national security risk posed by the proposed sale of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT)’s shares have no basis in fact.

While risks certainly exist, said de Silva, appropriate regulation is the way to mitigate them.

The MP, who also chairs the parliamentary Committee on Public Finance (COPF), was commenting on a recommendation made by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security that SLT should not be further divested as doing so could “expose the country’s strategic communication infrastructure and sensitive information to private companies that are motivated by profit, which could pose a threat to national security”.

MP de Silva said that, since telecom operators are issued a license to use the frequency spectrum, which is public property, the regulator has the authority to withdraw the license in the event of any violation. It is the regulator’s responsibility, he said, to enforce adherence to standards of quality of service, cyber security, data protection and other considerations.

“Therefore, the ownership of the infrastructure is not really going to be a deciding factor,” he said, noting also that the phone numbers for the president, prime minister and the chief of defence staff saved on his own phone were all issued by a private operator.

“What happens if somebody calls from a Mobitel phone to [said private operator’s] number?”

Incidentally, Mobitel, SLT’s mobile network, was a build-operate-transfer project by Australia’s Telstra.

“It is how you make regulations and operating procedures that will ensure the safety of data. I do appreciate that there is a possibility for snooping, and cyber security threats do exist. But the way to mitigate those risks is through appropriate regulation,” said de Silva, citing examples from the United States and elsewhere.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in November 2022 banned approvals of new telecommunications equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE citing an “unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security.

This, too, was done through regulation, noted the MP, reiterating that a robust regulatory framework  was “absolutely” sufficient.

While this is the MP’s personal view, the SJB has yet to officially communicate the party’s position on the committee’s recommendation. However, de Silva said his party will likely share his opinion on the matter upon discussion.

“I can’t tell you exactly what the party view is going to be, but as a senior member I can tell you that my views would certainly influence the view of the party at the end of the day,” he said.

The SJB as recently as early May expressed opposition to the privatisation of strategically important state-owned enterprises (SOEs) while also advocating an end to state monopoly in sectors like power and energy through competition.


Sri Lanka’s SJB opposes sale of strategic SOEs, wants competition

Meanwhile, the president’s office has all but snubbed the Sectoral Oversight Committee’s report on the sale of SLT’s shares, noting that it “lacks a logical or scientific data analysis pertaining to the subject matter.”

However, the cabinet of ministers will peruse the committee report and also consider recommendations from the information and communications technology (ICT) sector before arriving at a final decision on Monday June 10, a statement from the president’s office said Friday evening.

Former Director General of Telecommunications Prof Rohan Samarajiva has also dismissed the concerns raised by the oversight committee. Its recommendations were baseless and betrayed an ignorance of the history of Sri Lanka’s telecommunications sector as well as developments in the region, he told EconomyNext on Friday.


Opposing Sri Lanka Telecom share sale on national security grounds baseless: expert

The subject of SOE reforms in the wake of Sri Lanka’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been politically sensitive with various groups including sections of the opposition accusing the government of “selling national assets”, which critics say has become a euphemism for increased state participation in the economy. It has also been a rallying cry of the leftist National People’s Power, led by the Marxist-Leninist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which has historically opposed privatisation of most SOEs. The administration of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, however, has defended their reform agenda as being vital for economic recovery as well as for Sri Lanka’s long term development. (Colombo/Jun10/2023)

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  1. Trevor Perera says:

    Harsha, are you now saying this because you were given the Chairmanship by the ruling Government? You would probably say the complete opposite if you were denied this position. Furthermore, you are no expert in this field to make such a judgement.

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  1. Trevor Perera says:

    Harsha, are you now saying this because you were given the Chairmanship by the ruling Government? You would probably say the complete opposite if you were denied this position. Furthermore, you are no expert in this field to make such a judgement.

SLPP enjoying “great demand” from potential presidential candidates: Namal

FILE PHOTO – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with nephew Namal at the opening of the last part of the Southern Expressway/PMD

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) enjoys “great demand” from potential presidential candidates, and the party will have to take a call on working with incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP Namal Rajapaksa said.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday December 07, Rajapaksa claimed several names have come up concerning the SLPP’s candidate at next year’s presidential election.

“There is great demand: entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, are all there. There are presidents too, ready to come forward with our party,” he said.

“Out of all these people, we will put forward on behalf of our party the candidate that can take the country forward while stabilising the economy,” he added.

Commenting on continued support for President Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa said the while SLPP at present works with the former in the present government, the party will have to decide whether that relationship continues going forward.

“The matter of whether we work with the United National Party (UNP) in the future – this is not a politics dependent on individuals; the SLPP is a party. We will talk as a party with other parties, but no discussions will be held centred around individuals,” he said.

Rajapaksa noted that Wickremesinghe was the only member of parliament representing the UNP at the time of his election by parliament following the resignation of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa .

“If we are to collaborate with the UNP in the future, we’ll have to discuss that. Once the party has decided on that, we can get a start on those discussions. Today, we work with the president in the present government,” he said.

Last month, when asked to comment on President Wickremesinghe’s 2024 budget, MP Rajapkasa sounded rather sceptical of the president’s ambitions for turning the crisis-hit economy around.

“We must study the budget. He had presented a lot of these proposals in last year’s budget too. They don’t seem to have been implemented,” Namal Rajapaksa said, speaking to reporters after the budget presentation Monday November 13 afternoon.

Rajapaksa’s father and leader of the SLPP former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, spoke in favour of Wickremesinghe’s budget.


Sri Lanka’s “forward-looking” 2024 budget will instill fiscal discipline: MR

While not without its shortcomings, the older Rajapaksa said, the 2024 budget is a forward-looking one that aims to ensure fiscal discipline and put Sri Lanka on the path to recovery. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka ruling party MP contradicts poll to claim his party is overtaking president’s

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is rising from the ashes albeit at a slower than anticipated pace, while President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) still commands only 1-2 percent of the vote, an SLPP legislator said.

MP S B Dissanayake, who is not a member of the cabinet of ministers headed by President Wickremesinghe, told reporters on Thursday December 07 that support for any major political party of the island nation is on a downward trend while the SLPP alone is gaining ground.

An independent poll by the Institute for Health Policy (IHP) however shows that this is decidedly not the case. Polling data for October showed that the leftist National People’s Power (NPP) had enjoyed support from 40 percent of likely voters, having dipped 2 percent from September, while the main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) stood at 26 percent, increasing four percent from 22 percent in September. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP’s support decreased marginally to 11 percent in October from September’s 13 percent. The SLPP also saw a decrease to 5 percent from the previous month’s 8 percent.

“You can’t gamble with elections. The election must be held. We always say electrons must be held. The presidential election must be held next year. There is no alternative,” said Dissanayake.

“Parliamentary elections can be called if needed. But that’s not how it is with the presidential election. Nominations for that will have to be called by September, October next year,” he added.

Asked by a reporter if the SLPP is ready for elections, Dissanayake acknowledged that support for his party had eroded, to nothing.

“We crashed to zero. We were turned to ashes. But we will rise from those ashes. We’re not where we thought we were. The 6.9 million [votes received at the 2019 presidential election] no longer applies. We’re at about half of that. But we’re rising, like this,” he said, gesturing upwards.

“As other major parties go in the opposite direction, we’re rising slowly. But the UNP is not. It’s still on the ground, and still at 1 to 2 percent,” he claimed.

“The SLFP is there too. Those who left us are the same. Even together they cannot form 1 percent. But we’re climbing,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka president appoints main opposition MP advisor

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed MP Vadivel Suresh as a Senior Advisor aimed at “fostering the integration of Hill Country Tamils into Sri Lankan society”, the president’s office said.

A statement from the President’s Media Divison (PMD) said Suresh’s “pivotal role will centre around overseeing the comprehensive integration of Hill Country Tamils, particularly focusing on the districts of Badulla, Nuwara Eliya and Rathnapura”.

“The Senior Advisor will play a key role in coordinating various initiatives related to the welfare of Plantation Companies, the promotion of women, safeguarding children, addressing disparities in Tamil schools and upgrading the delivery of health services,” the statement said.

In May this year, Suresh, who represents the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) in parliament and also serves as the general secretary of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union, made headlines when he issued an ultimatum to opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, demanding an apology for a perceived slight on the Indian-origin Tamil community that Suresh represents. He also spoke favourably of President Wickremesinghe, hinting at a possible cross over.

Sri Lanka’s Indian-origin Tamils, most of whom have historically worked in the plantation sector and live in dire conditions on wages widely considered unacceptably low. Speaking at a May Day rally, the Badulla district MP said Premadasa must apologise to the estate Tamils for allegedly snubbing them at an event in Madulsima that he failed to attend.

“I would like to say to our leader, sir, do not take us for granted,” said Suresh.

“If you need us to stay with you, come right now to Madulsima and apologise to my people and then we shall restart our journey. Otherwise I won’t be part of that journey. There will be no Vadivel Suresh. If you don’t apologise to my people, I won’t be with the SJB,” he said.

Making matters worse, the MP also expressed a willingness to join President Wickremesinghe if he was able to raise the daily wage of plantation workers and resolve their grievances. He also said the president has been successful in containing the disruptions caused by the currency crisis.

“On this May Day, we say to both the opposition leader and the president, I and my people would join hands with a leader that worked to increase [estate workers’] wages and give them [access to the Samurdhi welfare scheme] and include them in national policy,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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