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Tuesday February 7th, 2023

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

ECONOMYNEXT – The head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, is courting controversy again, this time claiming 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.

“… 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.

“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 Catholic leader was speaking at a Zoom conference last Saturday (16) with the Sri Lankan expatriate community living in Australia. At least two mainstream Sri Lankan television networks aired a recorded segment of the call in their primetime news bulletin on Sunday.

Video courtesy: NewsFirst

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.

“At a meeting held immediately after his victory with the Bishops conference and with me, he assured us and promised us that he will carry on with the decisions of the commission and he will implement all its decisions.

“But what happened was, when he received the copies of the report he immediately picked a group of ministers of his own government which was a political decision, which was not an independent decision, to pick and choose whatever has to be implemented in order to protect his interests and whatever should be not implemented in order to also protect his interests (sp),” claimed Ranjith.

The archbishop has repeatedly expressed his frustration over what he has claimed is lack of progress in finding 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

Speaking on Saturday’s Zoom call, the archbishop said, quoting the report, that the PCoI had recommended that the Attorney General request intelligence agencies to “inquire into a whole series of suspicious grey areas”.

“But nothing has been done because we know from inside that it is only words that they mentioned. It is only a camouflage. The people who were expecting justice and to know the truth behind these attacks have been let down very badly by the present government and the present leadership (sp),” he said.

“We’re absolutely shocked and horrified about this attitude,” he added.

Twenty-two volumes of the PCoI report, purportedly containing sensitive information, were submitted to the Attorney General on March 12, this year, over a month after the ‘final’ PCoI report was handed over to the president.

The PCoI recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena and others over the incident.

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

The government has been claiming for some months now that Maulavi (Islamic preacher) Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Naufer and one Rasheed Hajjul Akbar, both of whom are in custody, had been identified as the only confirmed masterminds of the attack. Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara told reporters in May that no other suspect had been identified as having masterminded the attacks and stressed that the government has no intention to hide its findings.

Related: FBI confirmed Maulavi Naufar masterminded Sri Lanka Easter attacks: Minister

The cardinal also spoke of his efforts to prevent further bloodshed in the wake of the bombings.

“We don’t want to take revenge from anybody. We’re not out for other people’s blood. When the incidents happened, there was a serious possibility of riots in Sri Lanka. We did everything possible – the church – to prevent this. We made repeated appeals along with Ven Itthapane Dhammalankara thero.

“I repeatedly asked my people not to attack the Muslims. I protected the Muslims because we knew this attack could not have been done by seven or eight extremist Muslims. There was something big behind,” he said.

“We want to know what is this big thing that happened behind this attack. Until we know that, we will not be satisfied (sp),” he added.

The archbishop then repeated a previous call for international assistance.

“We want the international community to back us in this struggle to find out what really happened under Easter Sunday, who really did it, who made use of those characters in order to achieve political aims. We want to know that (sp),” he said. (Colombo/Oct18/2021)

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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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