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Monday June 24th, 2024

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

Prof Rohan Samarajiva – Image credit: LIRNEasia

ECONOMYNEXT – Objections raised by a parliamentary committee to the proposed sale of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) on national security grounds hold no water and have no basis in historical fact, according to former Director General of Telecommunications Prof Rohan Samarajiva.

Speaking to EconomyNext on Friday June 09, Samarajiva said the concerns raised by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security displays an ignorance of the history of Sri Lanka’s telecommunications sector as well as developments in the region.

Government MP Sarath Weerasekara who chairs committee in question told parliament Friday June 09 morning that divestment of the 49.5 percent stake in SLT held by the government 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”.

The claim came despite satellite links and international cables connecting the country being built and managed by foreign conglomerates in which many connected countries are also shareholders. The committee will not recommend a sell down of shares, the MP said, adding that any individual or organisation proscribed or otherwise that “aided terrorists or extremists” must not be allowed to purchase shares or control Sri Lanka’s national assets.

Weerasekara also suggested that the government retain the right to repurchase shares held by the majority shareholder of SLT whose second biggest shareholder is Malaysia-based Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd with a 44.9 percent stake in the company.

Most of Sri Lanka’s mobile firms were also built and owned not just by private firms but foreign ones. SLT’s own mobile network, Mobitel, was a build-operate-transfer project by Australia’s Telstra.


Sri Lanka Telecom share sale opposed on ‘national security’ grounds

According to Samarajiva, trade unions had made the same arguments in 1989 when the then government mooted privatising SLT, which was a corporation at the time. The unions, he said, even managed to persuade then Minister of National Security Lalith Athulathmudali that selling SLT would pose a national security threat.

By 1997 when the war between government security forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers was raging, the professor said, the ‘national security’ argument no longer had any weight.

“Not only did we privatise the company, but we also gave complete management control to the minority investor,” he said, referring to the 35 percent stake sold to the Tokyo-based Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) group.

The Japanese company would go on to hold management control of SLT for several years.

“This was in the middle of a war and nothing untoward happened. If these fears were true, something bad should’ve happened, but it didn’t,” said Samarajiva, recalling the new connections and parallel developments that were taking place through competition.

He noted that, prior to privatisation, the state-owned corporation had in fact been “extremely neglectful” of national security-related vulnerabilities.

SLT’s entire international gateway at the time had continued to be located on Lotus Road, the site of more than one bomb blast, with no backup nor restoration capabilities. Samarajiva said that upon his directives as Telecommunications DG, the Japanese company was quick to create a backup facility so that, in the event of a security incident, the operations could be quickly resumed from another location.

“Now that is a concrete threat to national security, and we can see how state ownership dealt with it and how private ownership with regulation dealt with it,” he said.

Samarajiva also invited parties concerned about national security purportedly posed by SLT’s proposed privatisation to consider international examples. Australia, which has concerns about Chinese infiltration, for instance, does not have a state-owned provider, while military-run Pakistan has privatised its fixed line operator.

One way to address national security concerns, according to Prof Samarajiva, is to ensure the stringent functioning of SLT’s management and to ensure resource adequacy for investments for backup facilities and the like. Additionally, the Data Protection Act has provisions that could deal with any concerns regarding records purportedly being used by foreign entities.

Appointments to key positions of the company could be not only Sri Lankan citizens but have gone through a strict security clearance process and are party to agreements and mandates that are in line with the country’s national security objectives.

“That is how you do these things,” said Samarajiva.

He added that what exactly constitutes a ‘national security concern’ must be established first.

“A specific example would be the international gateway, which is a software based facility, in a place where there is no backup and no restoration capabilities. That to me is a national security concern,” he said.

The professor said that he would be happy to work with anybody to address national security concerns of that nature. With regard to records, he said, special safeguards can be put in place in addition to protections provided by the new Data Protection Act.

“National security is not a slogan. National security takes specific forms. Most people who talk about national security talk about it as a slogan; but people like me, who have thought about it, will talk about its operationalised forms,” he said. (Colombo/Jun09/2023)

Comments (4)

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  1. Donald Gaminitilake says:

    In other countries fiber is 1000 and also going to 5G. SLT is mute.

  2. Emil van der Poorten says:

    Thank goodness for the likes of Professor Samarajiva!

  3. Shanthilal Nanayakkara says:

    There is a strong likelihood that there is a potential security threat unless otherwise appropriate legislative arrangements for regulatory aspects are put in place.

  4. shanthilal nanayakkara says:

    There is the likelihood of ‘security threats’ unless appropriate legislative arrangements are put in place prior to the sale.

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Comments (4)

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Donald Gaminitilake says:

    In other countries fiber is 1000 and also going to 5G. SLT is mute.

  2. Emil van der Poorten says:

    Thank goodness for the likes of Professor Samarajiva!

  3. Shanthilal Nanayakkara says:

    There is a strong likelihood that there is a potential security threat unless otherwise appropriate legislative arrangements for regulatory aspects are put in place.

  4. shanthilal nanayakkara says:

    There is the likelihood of ‘security threats’ unless appropriate legislative arrangements are put in place prior to the sale.

Sri Lanka central bank appoints two Deputy Governors

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s central bank said Assistant Governors A A M Thassim and J P R Karunaratne were promoted to the post of Deputy Governor.

The full statement is reproduced below:


In terms of the provisions in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Act, No. 16 of 2023, Hon. Minister of Finance, as recommended by the Governing Board, has appointed Mr. A A M Thassim, Assistant Governor and Secretary to the Governing Board, and Mr. J P R Karunaratne, Assistant Governor, as Deputy Governors of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka with effect from 20.06.2024 and 24.06.2024, respectively.

Mr. A A M Thassim

Mr. A.A.M. Thassim has over 31 years of service at Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in different capacities in the areas of Supervision and Regulation of Banking Institutions, International Operations, Communication, Payments and Settlements, Employees Provident Fund, Finance, Risk Management, Deposit Insurance, Security Services and Information Technology.

He has served as the Director of Bank Supervision (DBS), Director of International Operation (DIO) and Director of Communications (DCM) and has contributed towards strengthening the legal framework, governance, implementation the Basel 3 international guidelines for capital and liquidity and adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 9 to the banking sector, thereby strengthening the resilience of the Financial Sector.

Further, as the DIO, Mr. Thassim was responsible for the investments and management of foreign reserves of the country and exchange rate management. Mr. Thassim has also gained experience and knowledge in the field of payment systems and was involved in the implementation of the Cheque Imaging and Truncation System. In addition, he has also served on several high-level internal committees including in the areas of monetary policy, financial system stability and international reserves.

Prior to the appointment as the Deputy Governor, Mr. Thassim held the position of Assistant Governor and was in charge of several key departments including the Bank Supervision Department. He also served as the Secretary to the Governing Board, Monetary Policy Board, Audit Committee, Board Risk Oversight Committee, Ethics Committee and Financial Sector Crisis Management Committee.

At present, Mr. Thassim is a board member of the Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation and the Vice Chairman of the Institute of Bankers of Sri Lanka (IBSL). Further, he has also served as a board member of the Credit Information Bureau of Sri Lanka and LankaClear (Pvt) Ltd.,

Mr. Thassim is an Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (ACMA) United Kingdom and possesses a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ). He has also completed a programme on Gold Reserves Management from Hass School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

He is also an Alumni of Harvard University, USA having successfully completed the executive programme on Leaders in Development conducted by the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Mr. J P R Karunaratne

Mr. J P R Karunaratne has over 33 years of service at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in different capacities in the areas of supervision and regulation of Banks and Non-Bank financial institutions, Currency management, public debt, Secretariat, Finance, policy review and monitoring. He has served as the Director of Supervision of Non-Bank Financial Institutions (DSNBFI) and the Superintendent of Currency (SC) and has contributed towards strengthening the legal and regulatory framework in the Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector and has played a prominent role in the consolidation of the Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector. Prior to the appointment as a Deputy Governor, Mr. J P R Karunaratne held the position of Assistant Governor and was in-charge of the Department of Supervision of Non-Bank Financial Institutions, Finance Department and the Facilities Management Department.

As an Assistant Governor Mr. Karunaratne has previously overseen several other departments namely, Macroprudential Surveillance, Resolution and Enforcement, Foreign Exchange, Currency, Regional Development, Legal and Compliance, Risk Management, Center for Banking Studies, Security Services and Staff Services Management.

He has also served as the Secretary to the Monetary Board, Secretary to the Board Risk Oversight Committee, Monetary Board Advisory Audit Committee and the Ethics Committee. Further, He was on release to the Ministry of Defence, where he served as a Financial Advisor. He was also appointed as the Chief Operating Officer for the Secretariat of Committee of Chartered Accountants appointed by the Supreme Court in 2009.

He has served as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Accounting and Auditing Standards Monitoring Board and has been a Council Member of the Certified Management Accountants (CMA) of Sri Lanka. Mr. Karunaratne was awarded the CMA Sri Lanka Business Excellence Award at the CMA Sri Lanka National Management Accounting Conference 2023 in recognition of his service to the profession. He has also received “Long Service Award” of the IBSL in 2019 in recognition of his long career and contribution as a resource person at IBSL.

He was the Project Team Leader of the South East Asian Central Banks (SEACEN) Malaysia, research project on “Implementation of Basel III Challenges and Opportunities in SEACEN Countries” and SEACEN published the research in 2013. He serves as a member of several internal and external committees at present.

Mr. Karunaratne holds a Master of Commerce Degree in Finance from the University of New South Wales, Australia and a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Statistics and a Bachelor of Science (Physical Science) Degree with a First class from the University of Colombo. He is a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), UK and a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). Further, he is an Associate Member of the CMA Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka opposition questions claims that IMF housing tax is only for kulaks

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s opposition has questioned claims made by government spokesmen that a tax on housing proposed in an International Monetary Fund deal is only limited to rich people but if as promised by President one house is exempt, it is welcome, legislator Harsha de Silva said.

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe made a promise in parliament that the first house of a citizen will be excluded from the property tax.

Related Sri Lanka to exempt one house from imputed rent wealth tax: President

But opposition legislator Harsha de Silva pointed out that the IMF program documents clearly says taxes will be levied on owner occupied houses on ‘imputed taxes’, not second houses.

Under current inland revenue laws, actual rent income from a second house is already captured as part of taxable income.

The IMF document mentions a threshold value from which taxes will be exempt but not that a whole owner-occupied primary residence will be exempt.

“The tax is imposed on the income of individuals (rather than real property itself) and thus raises central government revenue in accordance with the constitution,” IMF staff said in their report.

“A similar tax was previously included in the Inland Revenue Act. No. 10 of 2006.

“Under this regime, primary residences were exempt and the assessed values for rating purposes were used to determine the base.

“Given the broad exemption and the use of outdated and downward biased annual values, the tax generated hardly any revenue.”

Meanwhile Sri Lanka has promised to impose the housing tax from April 01, 2025.

“…[W]e will introduce an imputed rental income tax on owner-occupied and vacant residential properties before the beginning of the tax year on April 1st, 2025,” the memorandum of economic policies agreed with the IMF said.

“An exemption threshold and a graduated tax rate schedule would make this tax highly progressive.

“The full revenue yield from this tax is estimated at 0.4 percent and would materialize in 2026 (with a partial yield of 0.15 percent in 2025).

“This yield would still fall short by 1 percent of GDP relative to the expected yield of 1.2 percent of GDP from the property tax envisaged for 2025 onwards.”

Presidential Undertaking

“Whatever the President said the IMF agreement says owner occupied house,” De Silva told in parliament.

“It is not the second house that is mentioned in the agreement.

“But there is one thing. I am happy as Samagi Jana Balawegaya, that we have been able to save the middle class in society from a massive tax that was to be imposed.”

In Sri Lanka there is a belief that the most productive citizens are fair game for excessive or expropriationary taxation, just like kulaks were targeted in the Soviet Union for actual expropriation, critics say.

Wealth taxes have had disastrous effects on some US cities like Baltimore, leading to falling populations and dilapidated houses.

Sri Lanka is currently facing a brain drain due to high income tax after on top of depreciation from severe monetary debasement from a flexible exchange rate, which is neither a hard peg nor a clean float.

Sri Lanka has imposed a wide range of taxes on the people to maintain a bloated state, after inflationists engaged in extreme macro-economic policy (tax and rate cuts) glorified in Saltwater-Cambridge doctrine to boost growth, throwing classical economic principles and monetary stability to the winds and driving the country into external default.

The IMF itself gave technical assistance the central bank to calculate potential output inviting the agency to cut rates to close the perceived econometric ‘output gap’.

In the run up to the default, rate cuts triggered multiple external crises, leading to output shocks as stabilization programs were implemented.

Macro-economic Policy

Macro-economic policy as known now was devised by Cambridge academic J M Keynes in the wake of the Great Depression triggered by the Federal Reserve after it invented open market operations and policy rates in the 1920s and also popularized by Harvard academic Alvin Hansen among others.

Macro-economic policy started to de-stabilize countries in peacetime in the interwar years and after World War II it led to the collapse of the Bretton Woods system.

The Great Depression was also a peacetime collapse of what was later known as the roaring 20s’ monetary bubble.

“They have blithely ignored the warnings of economists,” classical economist Ludwig von Mises wrote of European nations which got into trouble from rate cuts and Keynesian stimulus, which brought currency depreciation and protectionism in its wake from the 1930s.

“They have erected trade barriers, they have fostered credit expansion and an easy money policy, they have taken recourse to price control, to minimum wage rates, and to subsidies.

“They have transformed taxation into confiscation and expropriation; they have proclaimed heedless spending as the best method to increase wealth and welfare.

“But when the inevitable consequences of such policies, long before predicted by the economists, became more and more obvious, public opinion did not place the blame on these cherished policies…”


In Sri Lanka however there is some understanding of the role played by macro-economists in the most recent crisis.

There are rumblings of unhappiness about ‘central bank independence’ given to an agency to create 5 to 7 percent inflation and currency debasement under a flexible exchange rate and its constitutional status relating to parliamentary control of public finances.

Sri Lanka’s central bank’s current flexible inflation targeting (inflation targeting without a floating rate) regime as well as its 1980s money supply targeting without floating rate has busted the national currency for decades and made it impossible to run budgets, made it difficult for people build houses which are now to be taxed, and also for millions to live and work in the country of their birth.

Fiscal metrics deteriorate each time rate cuts drive the country into currency crises and new taxes are brought in stabilization programs, ousting reformist governments and leading to policy reversals.

Sri Lanka’s citizens have suffered for decades from the privilege given to a few macroeconomists to print money to cut rates with inflationary open market operations and trigger forex shortages.

Related How Sri Lanka’s elections are decided by macro-economists and the IMF: Bellwether

Critics have pointed out that since 1954 in particular, central bank rates cuts which drive the country into external crises and the stabilization programs that follow, have been the main determinant of elections in the country and election of fringe political parties. (Colombo/June13/2024)

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India supports Sri Lanka Coast Guard to boost maritime security

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given 1.2 million US dollars’ worth spare parts to Sri Lanka’s Coast Guard to be used in a vessel also gifted to the Indian Ocean Island on an earlier occasion, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“Handing over of the large consignment of spares symbolizes India’s commitment to support capability building towards addressing the shared challenges of Maritime Security in the region,” the Indian High Commission said

The spare parts were brought to Sri Lanka on the Indian Coast Guard Ship Sachet, an offshore patrol vessel that was on a two-day visit to the island.

The spares were formally handed over to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard Ship Suraksha which was gifted to Sri Lanka in October 2017 by India.

India has gifted spare parts for the ship in June 2021 and April 2022 and also provided assistance in refilling of Halon cylinders in January 2024. (Colombo/June23/2024)

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