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Thursday May 23rd, 2024

New twist in VFS Global visa deal, officials dodge COPF summons

ECONOMYNEXT – In a new twist to the controversial VFS Global visa deal which has shaken the country’s tourism sector, immigration and security ministry officials have dodged summons by the Committee of Public Finance, Sri Lanka’s parliament said.

The COPF expressed deep displeasure after officials of the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Ministry of Public Security failed to turn up at a meeting, the statement said.

After agreeing to be present meeting last week, suddenly informing last evening that they will not turn up for the meeting was disrespecting the parliamentary committee, COPF Chief Harsha de Silva had said.

De Silva today made a statement in parliament. Officials had said they cannot come because some files are missing from a move in 2016.

“This is violation of the privileges of the parliament,” de Silva said. “This is unacceptable. Sometimes people get sick and cannot come. But not a single person came.

IVS-GBS and VFS Global was given a deal to issue online visas to tourists which led to a 51 dollar visa going up to 100.77 with 18.50 fee and another 7 dollar hidden fee as well as a hike in the underlying fee to 75 dollars.

The firm stood to make 841 million dollars over the next 12-year contract period based on the original fees, according to projections revealed in parliament.

The deal was awarded without a tender.

The VFS Global deal hit the country just as the country was committed to reduce corruption under International Monetary Fund reform program, opposition legislators pointed out.

Related Sri Lanka VFS Global visa deal despite IMF anti-corruption requirements: opposition

High costs and the user-unfriendly website led to protests from the tourism sector. It was alleged that VFS Global was collecting a lot of information from tourists including social media handles of tourists.

A 50 dollar visa was then promised with opposition legislators alleging that VFS Global was now collecting 10 dollars leading to a loss of revenue to the government which is taxing its citizens heavily after money printing led to an external default as well as other fees.

However the website remains complex and difficult to use, unlike an earlier website operated by state-run Mobitel for the immigration department for one dollar each.

The firm is also collecting fees from ‘free’ visas approved by the cabinet of ministers.

The firm is still collecting 18.50 dollars and more fees from other visas according to its website.

Mobitel which developed the user friendly earlier website which charged 1 dollar had turned up the COPF meeting. (Colombo/May14/2024)

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Sri Lanka President calls for unity, sacrificing for a better tomorrow on Vesak day

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has recalled a sermon from the Buddha about sacrificing for a better tomorrow, and called for unity to heal and rebuild the country, as Buddhists celebrate Vesak.

Buddhists celebrate Vesak as commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha.

“At this challenging moment, we as a nation should cultivate the same great zeal for enlightenment that Buddha exemplified, inspired by his sermon, “Maththasukha parichchaga- passé che vipulan sukhan” – to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow,” President Wickremesinghe said in his Vesak day message.

“We must remember the advice of Lord Buddha, “Sabbattha Sammanaso,” to treat everyone equally and ensure we put it into practice as a country. This is the greatest offering we can present to the Buddha on this Vesak day.

“Regardless of race, religion, caste, or political affiliation, we must all unite to heal and rebuild our country. ”

The full statement is reproduced below:

The Vesak festival is a profoundly sacred day for Buddhists worldwide, commemorating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and passing. Buddhists in Sri Lanka, along with their brethren around the globe, celebrate Vesak with deep devotion. They spend this period engaging in religious observances and venerating the Buddha with fervent devotion.

At this challenging moment, we as a nation should cultivate the same great zeal for enlightenment that Buddha exemplified, inspired by his sermon, “Maththasukha parichchaga- passé che vipulan sukhan” – to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow.

We must remember the advice of Lord Buddha, “Sabbattha Sammanaso,” to treat everyone equally and ensure we put it into practice as a country. This is the greatest offering we can present to the Buddha on this Vesak day. Regardless of race, religion, caste, or political affiliation, we must all unite to heal and rebuild our country. The principles of Lichchavi Raja Dharmaya will guide us in this endeavour.

Let us keep in mind that the primary aim of the Vesak festival is to foster spiritual growth and character development in a world rapidly advancing physically. I wish everyone a blessed Vesak festival.

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Sri Lanka to host foreign artistes, Sigiriya fashion show to promote tourism

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka plans to bring down international artistes, and hold water festivals to boost tourists, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu said.

“We will be hosting a few international artists in September to December,” Gajabahu told EconomyNext.

“We would also be having a fashion show in Sigiriya.”

Sri Lanka is targeting 2.3 million tourists in the year 2024 with expectations that it may go up to 2.5 million Gajabahu said.

Sri Lanka is also planning on having a water festival in coastal towns such as Trincomalee, Arugambay  and Kalpitiya in order to showcase Sri Lanka’s capacity for watersports, Gajabahu said. (Colombo/May22/2024)

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Sri Lanka opposition drops bombshell on Mannar wind power tender

ECONOMYNEXT – A tender for a 50 MegaWatt wind power plant by state-run Ceylon Electricity Board has been blocked to prevent sharply lower power purchase prices from competitive bidding being revealed to the public, opposition legislator Kabir Hashim charged in parliament.

A technical evaluation of three companies which had submitted bids had been completed according to information coming to him, Hashim told parliament Wednesday.

“The financial bids were due to be opened on May 17 based on information we are receiving,” Hashim said.

“But due to pressure from certain officials we are learning that there is an attempt to cancel the financial bid. I am asking why the bid was not opened on May 17.

“We learn that the Sustainable Energy Authority Chairman and officials have engaged in a big operation to stop this. I do not know who these people are representing.”

“This is something that is required for the country. We believe the wind power unit could be purchased at a price below 6.0 cents t under competitive tender.

“This tender has been blocked to stop this. So, blocking this is big problem.”

Hashim said he was demanding an answer.

“I do not know whether some corrupt officials are connected to some companies and acting on behalf of these companies (kade yanawader danney ne). I am asking the chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, Harsha de Silva, to summon the officials and ask them to open the bids.”

Hashim said he had urged Sri Lanka authorities in parliament itself on earlier occasions not to agree on a power purchase price for a 484MW plant by India’s Adani group which came without tender until competitive bids for the smaller Mannar plant were opened.

Related Sri Lanka to buy wind power from Adani for 8.26 US cents

The energy ministry said Adani would be paid 8.26 cents per unit for its Mannar and Pooneryn plant project for 484 MegaWatts.

India’s Adani project has come as a government-to-government project, by passing tender, officials said.

CEB’s own plant in Mannar, built before an economic crisis with Asian Development Bank funds, was estimated to have a levelized cost of only 4.2 US cents over its lifetime.

But at commercial rates of borrowing, a profitable project could be run at around 6.0 US cents, according to industry analysts.

Mannar in particular is an area with high winds.

The CEB’s old wind farm with a shorter height has experienced an actual plant factor of 44 percent last year, according to sources with knowledge of the matter. (Colombo/May22/2024)

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