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Tuesday February 7th, 2023

Sri Lanka Catholic church head doubtful Easter victims will find justice under present admin

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith

ECONOMYNEXT – The head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has expressed doubt that justice will be done for the victims of the 2019 Easter bombings under the present administration.

Anyone who comes to power through the blood of innocents will earn God’s wrath and will not enjoy that power for long, Cardinal Ranjjith said at a commemoration event on Thursday (21) marking 30 months since the 2019 Easter bombings.

“The rule of has been brought to ridicule today.

“When friends are accused, they are acquitted. Opponents are punished even where no wrong has been done. In this context, it is clear we will not be able to get the recommendations of the [presidential commission of inquiry on the attack] implemented in the present administrative structure,” he said.

The cardinal, who has been increasingly and scathingly critical of what he claims is the slow pace of government probe into the bombings, once again demanded to know what was happening with the investigations that were promised by the government that came to power in the months that followed the attack.

“If one is innocent, why not allow the freedom to probe it? Why not empower the officials? Why the attempt to brush this under the carpet?” he said.

“One might do this only if they are guilty, if they realise that their nakedness will be exposed.

“The guilty tries to pin the blame on others and hide away,” the archbishop said.

“Those who shed the blood of innocents will never know peace. That must be remembered,” he added.

The archbishop has repeatedly expressed his frustration over the pace of the investigations and an alleged inability to find the masterminds of the attack, which he has implied on several occasions was the result of a “grand conspiracy” – a claim originally attributed to former Attorney General Dappula de Livera.

Related: Sri Lanka Attorney General claims “grand conspiracy” behind Easter attack

The Easter bombings were carried out by a small band of suspected Islamist terrorists, though opposition parties in Sri Lanka, some members of the Catholic community and others have expressed scepticism over the official narrative.

In August this year, Ranjith also questioned claims that the terrorists had been backed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Related: Head of Sri Lanka Catholic church alleges attempt to pin Easter attack on ISIS

In July, Ranjith said he was sceptical of what he called a politically compromised law enforcement’s ability to probe the “grand conspiracy” behind the bombings.

Related: Sri Lanka Easter attack probe: Cardinal sceptical of politically compromised law enforcement

On Monday (18), the cardinal claimed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had told him that he could not implement certain “unpopular” recommendations made by a presidential commission of inquiry (PCoI) on the 2019 Easter bombings.

Related: Sri Lanka Easter attack probe: Prez said he couldn’t implement some recommendations, claims cardinal

“… two days after the [PCoI] report was handed over, [the president] called me, and he asked me ‘how I cannot do all this, because there are some provisions in the report that if I implement, I will become unpopular’ (sp),” the cardinal claimed on Monday.

“The government has not implemented most of the recommendations of this report. The report has been a waste of time and a waste of hope to all of us,” he said, calling for international assistance in uncovering the truth.

The recommendations made by the PCoI included criminal proceedings to be instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena and others. The report also identified a number of Islamist groups accused of causing or supporting “racial and religious disturbances” and the Sinhalese Buddhist organisation known as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which the report said had “contributed to the events”.

Related: Sri Lanka Easter attacks commission recommends criminal proceedings against President Sirisena

The cardinal said that, in the run-up to the November 2019 presidential polls, Rajapaksa assured the public that the Easter attack – which had killed 269 people and injured over 500 – would be probed as soon as he came to power.

Speaking at the commemoration ceremony on Thursday, held at the St Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade – one of the bomb sites – Ranjith said: “A majority of 269 victims lost their lives in churches. Those who came to the house of God to thank Jesus for his sacrifice were shred to pieces and hung on the beams of this roof. Their blood was everywhere in these holy grounds.”

“If anyone attempted to come to power through the blood of innocents, God’s wrath (udahasa) would be upon them and they will never be able to enjoy that power. They must remember that,” he said.

Invoking divine intervention, the cardinal said the country has been cursed possibly as a result of the Easter tragedy, referring to an “a disastrous situation in the country like nothing ever seen before”.

“If they are not guilty, they must allow these investigations to take place independently. If they’re not linked to these, action must be taken against those the PCoI have named as guilty, without fear. They must be brought before the law.

“The question arises to all of us, are they being protected because [those who promised investigations] are party to the wrongdoing?” he added.

Cardinal Ranjith said he would pray to God to reveal the truth and mete out justice to the victims.

“We pray to St Anthony to expose every force behind the attack. Please perform that miracle for us,” he said. (Colombo/Oct21/2021)

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Sri Lanka Railways to seek PPPs to boost revenue streams

CURFEW RUSH: Commuters scrambling to get home after curfew was declared in Sri Lanka on March 20, 2020.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Railway department hopes to expand Public Private Partnerships and earn more non-passenger revenues to offset recurring operational costs, an official said.

“For the past 10 years, except the last few years, the Railway operational income only covers around 50 percent of the operational expense of the Department,” the General Manager of the Railway, D.S. Gunasinghe told EconomyNext.

“Our plan is to increase the non-passenger revenue of the Railway department.

“And we cannot expect and do not hope for money from the government.”

Sri Lanka Railways already has agreements with Prima, a food firm, and Insee Cement, which is bringing in additional income, Gunasinghe said.

“We had agreements for material transportation such as sand in the past, however it was canceled but we hope to start it again” he said.

The department will rent out its storage facilities and circuit bungalows for the tourism sector to create additional revenue streams.

Sri Lanka Railways recorded an operating loss of 10.3 billion rupees during 2021, compared to a loss of 10.1 billion rupees in 2020, the Central Bank 2021 annual report showed.

The total revenue of the SLR stood at 2.7 billion rupees, a 41.3 percent drop from a year ago.

(Colombo/ Feb 06/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s doctors distribute anti-tax hike leaflets to train commuters

ECONOMYNEXT – Doctors representing Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) distributed leaflets outside the Colombo Fort railway station against a progressive tax hike, threatening to address the government in a “language it speaks”.

GMOA Secretary Haritha Aluthge told reporters outside the busy Fort railway station Monday February 06 afternoon that all professional associations have collectively agreed to oppose the personal income tax hike.

“The government is taking a lethargic approach. They cannot keep doing this. They have a responsibility towards the citizens, the country and society,” said Aluthge.

The medical officer claimed that the government was acting arbitrarily (අත්තනෝමතික).

“If it cannot understand the language they’ve been speaking, if the government’s plan is to put all professionals out on the street, if it doesn’t present a solution, all professional unions have decided unanimously to address the government in a language it speaks, ,” he said.

Aluthge and other GMOA members were seen distributing leaflets to commuters leaving the railway station. Doctors in Sri Lanka in general are likely to earn higher salaries than the average train commuter, and a vast majority of Sri Lanka’s population, most of whom take public transport, don’t fall into the government’s new tax bracket. Many doctors, though certainly not all, collect substantial sums of money at the end of every month as doctor’s fees in private consultations.

About two miles away from the doctors, the Ceylon Blank Employees’ Union, too, engaged in a similar distribution leaflet campaign on Monday at the Maradana railway station. A spokesman promised “tough trade union” action if there was no solution offered by next week.

Sri Lanka’s cash-strapped government has imposed a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax on all Sri Lankans who earn an income above 100,000 rupees monthly, with the tax rate progressively increasing for higher earners, from 6 percent to 36 percent.

A person who paid a tax of 9,000 rupees on a 400,000 rupee monthly income will now have to pay 70,500 rupees as income tax, the latest data showed. This has triggered a growing wave of anti-government protests mostly organised by public sector trade unions and professional associations.

Even employees of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank recently joined a week-long “black protest” campaign organised by state sector unions against the sharp hike in personal income tax, even as Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said painful measures were needed for the country to recover from its worst currency crisis in decades.

The government, however, defends the tax hike arguing that it is starved for cash as Sri Lanka, still far from a complete recovery, is struggling to make even the most basic payments, to say nothing of the billions needed for public sector salaries.

Economists say Sri Lanka’s bloated public service is a burden for taxpayers in the best of times, and under the present circumstances, it is getting harder and harder to pay salaries and benefits.

Sri Lanka’s new tax regime has both its defenders and detractors. Critics who are opposed to progressive taxation say it serves as a disincentive to industry and capital which can otherwise be invested in growth and employment-generating business ventures. Instead, they call for a flat rate of taxation where everyone is taxed at the same rate, irrespective of income.

Others, however, contend that the new taxes only affect some 10-12 percent of the population and, given the country’s economic situation, is necessary, if not vital, at least for a year or two.

Critics of the protesting workers argue that most of the workers earn high salaries that most ordinary people can only dream of, and, they argue, though there may be some cases where breadwinners could be taxed more equitably, overall, Sri Lanka’s tax rates remain low and are not unfair.  (Colombo/Feb06/2023)

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Sri Lanka bond Yields end steady

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s bond yields closed steady on Monday, dealers said while a guidance peg for interbank transactions remained unchanged.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2025 closed at 32.15/30 percent, steady from Friday’s 32.05/10 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2027 closed at 28.90/29.10, steady from Friday’s 28.90/20.05 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank US dollar transactions appreciated by one cent to 361.96 rupees against the US dollar.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers at 370.35 rupees on Monday, data showed. (Colombo/Feb 06/2023)

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