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Monday April 15th, 2024

Registering tamed elephants: Conservationists cry foul over Cabinet paper

Conservationists and animal rights groups are up in arms over an alleged Cabinet proposal approved earlier this month to release illegally captured baby elephants that are now in Wildlife Department custody back to their captors.

Justice for Animals, a group of conservationists working under the Sri Bodhiraja Foundation, accused the Government yesterday (21) of the move.

Wildlife Protection Society (WPS) Secretary Nayanaka Ranwella told reporters at a jointly organised press conference that, if implemented, the proposal would not only worsen the plight of elephants in Sri Lanka but also undermine every effort made by conservationists to protect the country’s dwindling elephant population.

“This proposal was recently presented to the Cabinet with the signatures of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Wildlife Minister John Amaratunga and [former Wildlife] Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera. We believe all three of them did it intentionally,” said Ranwella.

The Cabinet paper in question was a joint memorandum presented by the Prime Minister’s Office together with the Ministry of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs. The memorandum, approved by Cabinet on 1 October, contained provisions on the regulation and transfer of possession of tamed elephants in the custody of the National Zoological Gardens and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) pending investigations and court cases. 

The conservationists point to a provision in the Cabinet proposal that they find particularly problematic, which recommends formally registering tamed elephants under existing owners, irrespective of whether or not said owners hold a licence or ‘Sannas Pathra’ for their respective elephant.

Ranwella argues that this could lead to illegally captured elephants being returned to their captors. The memorandum also proposes dismissing current legal proceedings through a nolle prosequi, he said.

“Through this, the efforts of a lot of people will be undermined. Waylayers will be able to own elephants — animals considered public property in Sri Lanka. There was an instance where a baby elephant named ‘Rani’ that was released to the Lunugamvehera National Park from the Yala Elephant Transit Home was stolen. The history of elephants in this country has been a bloody one, and through this proposal they’re trying to give life to that bloody history again,” said Ranwella.

The activist also accused the previous government of allowing illegal activity relating to elephants.

“Under the Rajapaksa government, the situation was even worse. According to the statistics we have, baby elephants were brought to Colombo in Defenders and Nissan Patrols. From what we know, around 15 baby elephants died in this process. Even the Edward Dissanayake committee report noted that these baby elephants were captured after brutally killing their mothers,” Ranwella added.

Speaking to RepublicNext, however, Minister Amaratunga dismissed concerns raised by the rights groups regarding the new Cabinet paper.

“I deny the accusations. There is no truth in it,” he said.

“Nothing will be carried out during the election period,” the Minister added.

Meanwhile DWC Director General M. G. C. Sooriyabandara acknowledged receipt of the paper, adding that a committee was appointed to implement its directives.

However, he declined to comment on whether it could mean a return of illegally captured baby elephants to their owners.

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Iran President to visit Sr Lanka on April 24 anid rising tension, inaugurate Omaoya power project

ECONOMYNEXT – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 24 on a one-day official visit to inaugurate Tehran-assisted $529 million worth Uma Oya multipurpose development project with 120MW hydro power generation capacity, official sources said.

The announcement on President Raisi’s visit comes two days after Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.

“The President is visiting to inaugurate the Omaoya project. He will be on a one-day visit,” an official at Iran embassy in Colombo told EconomyNext.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official confirmed the move.

This is the first time an Iranian President coming to Sri Lanka Iranian after then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

The Omaoya project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but had been delayed several times due to unexpected issued faced during the project cycle and funding issue after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran and economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

The project was started in 2010 and the funding was to be received as loan grant from the Iranian government. However, Iran was able to provide $50 million before the sanctions. Sri Lanka has to bear the cost after the sanctions.

The project includes storing water in two reservoirs with dams before being brought through a 23 km tunnel to two turbines located underground and generating hydro power with a capacity of 120 megawatts and added to the national grid.

After power generation, the water is expected to be brought to three reservoirs while supplying water to 20,000 acres of old and new paddy fields in both the Yala and Maha cultivating seasons.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction was signed between the two countries in 2007 while Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the execution of the contract agreement between the Executing Agency, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management (MOIWM) of the GOSL and Iran’s FARAB Energy and Water Projects (FC).

When commencing the project on March 15, 2010, the scheduled date of completion of the project was on March 15, 2015. But the schedule completion date was extended to December 31, 2020 due to the unexpected water ingress into the head race tunnel and followed by social impacts.

The trade between the both countries suffered after the US sanctions. However, Sri Lanka inked a deal in December 2021 with Iran to set off export of tea to Iran against a legacy oil credit owed by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to the National Iranian Oil Company.

Sri Lanka owes $251 million for crude imported before the US imposed sanctions on Iran. (Colombo/April 15/2024)

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Sri Lanka to discuss two contentious points with bondholders: report

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and sovereign bondholders are to discuss two matters in the near future which the two sides failed to reach agreement at March talks in London, a media report quoting a top aide to President Wickremesinghe as saying.

Sri Lanka and bondholders had discussed four matters on restructuring international sovereign bonds in late March and agreement had been reached on two, President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake was quoted as saying on state-run ITN television.

A restructuring proposal by bondholders was not in line with IMF requirements, and Sri Lanka had sent a counter proposal, he said.

The matters will be discussed at round of talks in the near future.

Sri Lanka was optimistic of reaching an agreement with the bondholders before June, officials have said.

According to matters already in the public domain, sovereign bond holders are keen to get a bond tied to dollar gross domestic product, as they feel IMF growth projections are too low.

In past re-structuring so-called value recovery instruments, a type of warrant, gave their owners extra payments if a country did better than expected and were tied to items like oil prices.

Bondholders had initially proposed bond which would have a lower hair cut initially, and it will have additional hair cuts if growth is low (about 3.1 percent) as projected in an IMF debt sustainability analysis. (Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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BIMSTEC Secretary General visits Sri Lanka, discusses regional cooperation

ECONOMYNEXT – The Secretary General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), discussed measures to enhance regional cooperation, during his visit to the island last week.

Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Secretary General of BIMSTEC visited Sri Lanka from 07 – 12 April 2024, following his assumption of office as Secretary General of BIMSTEC in January this year.

The Secretary General “met with senior officials of relevant Ministries/Agencies to discuss measures to enhance regional cooperation under various BIMSTEC initiatives,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Several BIMSTEC countries have bilateral trade agreements, such as Sri Lanka and India, Thailand and Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, but no collective regional agreement to enable intra-regional leverage.

During the visit, Secretary General Pandey held discussions with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and paid courtesy calls on the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary General Pandey participated at an event on “Regional Cooperation through BIMSTEC” organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) on 9 April. (Colombo/April15/2024)

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