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Tuesday September 26th, 2023

Sri Lanka government heading into a perfect storm: Opinion

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is heading for a perfect storm around the end of the year as political and community opposition to the government rises amid looming food and fuel shortages.
Just in the past few days there have been more significant protest campaigns that should worry the government.

Hundreds of Catholics, including many priests and nuns lined the road leading to the Supreme Court on Nov 8 as a petition filed by Rev Cyril Gamini Fernando, a spokesman for the Catholic church calling on the apex court to prevent his arrest by the Criminal Investigation Department was heard. The protestors who were joined by some members of the Buddhist Clergy as well, did not shout slogans or hold placards. Instead, some silently prayed the Rosary.

Fr Cyril Gamini, as he is popularly known, had earned ire of the head of the State Intelligence Service Major General Suresh Salley by raising the question of how the intelligence agencies could have been unaware of the existence of the National Towheed Jamaat and its leader Mohammed Zaharan. He was participating in a webinar along with Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith on Oct 24 hosted by a group of Sri Lankan expatriates based in Australia. This group is among many that have formed overseas by concerned Sri Lankan Catholics calling for justice for the Easter Sunday attacks.

Maj Gen Salley complained that he had been defamed by this comment and called for an investigationalleging that the priest had endangered national security and incited communal disharmony. He could have been charged under the Sri Lankan Law modelled on the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The law has been abused by the Sri Lanka police in prosecuting several people including a Sinhala short story writer in the Kurunegala area and a Tamil language poet from Kattankudy.

Links between the intelligence services and Zaharan have been spoken of before. Prof Rajan Hoole in his book on the Easter Tragedy enumerated the many times Zaharan had been arrested but had been released due to pressure from the Security Forces. Several cabinet ministers have spoken about it and former Army Commander and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Sarath Fonseka gave more details in a speech in Parliament.

The Supreme Court ruled in Fr Cyril Gamini’s favor and the Attorney General’s Department pledged that the priest would not be arrested.

The following day saw a mass protest, a raucous parade of several thousand angry people from the Negombo area, a predominantly Catholic region of the island. They were calling for justice for the Easter Sunday attacks as well as protesting a government move to acquire and sell lands around the Negombo lagoon. The lands are within the Muthurajawela wet zone protected under the Ramsar treaty.Many people said they would lose their property if the government goes ahead and acquires their lands. The protest shut down the Negombo urban area and the police did not intervene. The protestors were joined by members of the Catholic clergy from parishes in the area.

The Catholic Church’s demand that the investigations into the Easter attack reveal who was the mastermind behind the blasts that killed some 260 people is gathering strength. The Church has shown it is unstoppable and is willing to fight for answers. Cardinal Ranjith has openly expressed his anger and disappointment against the government for failing to come up with answers to questions his congregationhas raised.

The Cardinal who was seen as leaning towards the Rajapaksas in the past has stood firm with his congregation on this issue. Fr Cyril Gamini is the public face of the protest and has been addressing concerned Catholic groups that are agitating for answers.

In the meantime, many famers’ groups worried about low yields after the government abruptly stopped the import of artificial fertilizer have continued to protest against the government, burning effigies of Agriculture Minister Mahindanda Aluthgamage and staging demonstrations in many areas.

The country’s teachers and Principals are also on the warpath after promised salary revisions were not granted to their protest. In early November teachers and principals in the Mawanella area surrounded a local police station alleging that the police had failed to arrest a governing party local councilor who had assaulted protesting teachers and parents.

And now riding on this wave of anti-government feeling the main opposition SJB wants to organize mass protests led by farmers next week on Nov 16. SJB MP Dr Harsha de Silva was quoted as saying “anyone” can join.

Inside the government the eleven smaller parties in the coalition have been making meek sounds of protest as well. These parties which include the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Wimal Weerawansha’s National Freedom Front and Udaya Gammanpila’s Pivithuru Hela Urumaya have tried to form a caucus within the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna alliance. Although they have had several meetings with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to address their concerns, they are yet to leave the government or appear to reconcile.

The SLFP has been complaining of poor treatment by the leaders of the government and the SLPP General Secretary Sagala Kariyawasam told reporters that the smaller parties could leave the government if they wished to. While most of the dissidents are not raising their voice too high veteran Communist Party Member D E W Gunesekara called the current Cabinet the worst he has ever seen and “a bunch of buffaloes.” He also said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a “scarecrow” using a Sinhala term that can also mean he is without life.

Prime Minister Mahinda, however, seems to be more in touch with the feelings of the SLPP’s constituency. At the party convention held last week he upbraided the SLPP members for not being in touch with constituents. “We have to do politics with the farmers, teachers and others,” he said.

Coming up shortly of course are the Budget proposals. Most Sri Lankans are hoping there will be some relief for them from the rising cost of living and lack of jobs. But Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has not been promising anything. Most likely the government may go ahead with cutting government pensions and other measures to pull the government out of its financial woes.

With rising protests, embarrassing questions over the Easter Sunday attacksand a perception among the ordinary people that the government is inept, the ingredients are there for a perfect storm.

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Sri Lanka to optimize investments in mineral resources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is exploring the optimal utilization of its mineral resources to bolster the nation’s economic growth, and the potential for creating value-added products from these resources, a state minister said.

“Given our nation’s rich mineral resources, we have devised plans to expand investment opportunities,” State minister of Urban Development and Housing, Arundika Fernando said.

“We have taken the decision to extend investment prospects along our coastline, collaborating closely with agencies such as the Investment Promotion Board and the Ministry of Lands,” Fernando said.

The minster said they were considering the introduction of a specialized bank dedicated to the development of domestic industries and introducing new legislation.

“We are committed to introducing a new environmental protection and ocean protection bill in our country. This legislation will play a vital role in safeguarding our natural resources.”

“The Department of Coastal Conservation actively participates in initiatives aimed at enhancing the value of our mineral resources. These resources have the potential to yield significant value through the production of value-added goods.”

“Our primary focus must centre on pioneering innovative programs that contribute to our country’s economic recovery. Timely and effective resource management is crucial for initiating income-generating initiatives.

From a geographical standpoint, Sri Lanka occupies a strategically vital position in Asia.

India has been eyeing Trincomalee, the mineral resource rich district, for decades. A mineral sand deposit in its northern part contains Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon, Monazite, Garnet, Sillimanite, and other heavy minerals, Export Development Board (EDB) data shows.

Sri Lanka’s state-run Lanka Mineral Sands Limited is to export 60,000 metric tonnes of ilmenite to China this month after a shipment of 30,000 tonnes of Zircon mineral sands was shipped out of Trincomalee harbour earlier this month.

The EDB said it had identified the value-added mineral products sector as a potential sector to be developed and promoted in the international market, and met with members of the Chamber of Mineral Exporters (CME) to discuss growing the mineral-based industry in Sri Lanka.

CME members requested the government foster foreign investments and proposed that the state conduct a comprehensive ore reserves study to maintain transparency and informed decision-making within the industry.

They asked for government support in research and development, and a 300% tax rebate for research and development activities in collaboration with Sri Lankan educational institutions.

They also requested revising royalty systems grounded in pithead value, in line with international norms and pointed out the need for an equitable approach to royalty calculations to ease the financial burden on mining entities.

Securing international accreditation for the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau laboratory in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Standards Institution to enhance global credibility was also discussed.

CME pointed out the untapped potential of numerous pocket mines in Sri Lanka, and advocated for the development of support industries equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Members also urged the government to consider duty waivers for the import of new technology and pertinent spare parts to foster innovation and elevate the sector to international standards. (Colombo/Sep26/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s Inland revenue to give tax concessions to institutions for disabled children

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers has approved a proposal to amend the Inland Revenue Act to allow tax concessions to registered institutions collaborating with the government to provide health and education services to disabled children.

The Inland Revenue Act No. 24 of 2017 is to be amended to give tax relief to legitimate charity establishments collaborating with the government health services/education system in providing health facilities to children with disabilities, and prioritising the wellbeing of differently abled children.

Government data shows around 4 percent of the island nation’s 22 million population has some disability. The government has increased allocations for the disabled to empower them.

A new Disability Bill, aimed at safeguarding the rights of the disabled community, will be presented to Parliament this year.

The bill also aims to reduce disabled people’s dependence on government support.

“The comprehensive legislation seeks to ensure the protection of the rights of disabled individuals and their empowerment within society. This includes providing access, education and technology to all members of the disabled community,” State Social Empowerment Minister Anupa Pasqual said. (Colombo/Sep26/2023)

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Sri Lanka aims to boost jobs for disabled; targets 10% in 2023

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Future SJB govt to “refine” Sri Lanka’s agreement with IMF: Harsha de Silva

ECONOMYNEXT – A future government led by the incumbent main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) will “refine” Sri Lanka’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), SJB legislator Harsha de Silva said.

The MP tweeted Monday September 26 morning that a closed-door discussion between the SJB and an IMF team that’s currently in Sri Lanka to review the ongoing programme was productive and had focused on governance, transparency and equity in the reform process.

“It was a good discussion. We were quite frank,” said de Silva in a clip he shared of him speaking to the privately owned NewsFirst network.

“Yes, we said we agree as the SJB that we need to work with the IMF, and that we accept that large-scale economic reform will have to take place. That was the baseline.

“However, the leader of the opposition said that, under our government, certain modifications will have to happen,” said de Silva.

The MP, who also chairs the parliament’s Committee on Public Finance (COPF), said this is because the people “obviously see that there is inequity in the implementation of this agreement”.

News footage of the SJB’s latest round of talks with the IMF team showed that SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa along with de Silva and a handful of his colleagues in the party were joined by former Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs who were vocal supporters of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. MPs Nalaka Godahewa and G L Peiris also seen joining a group photo with the IMF and the SJB lawmakers.

The SJB was among the first to demand that the then government of ex-President Rajapaksa approach the IMF before Sri Lanka’s currency crashed in 2022. Over the months since incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration embarked on an IMF-prescribed reform agenda, the opposition party has adopted a more critical position on the international lender.

In May,  SJB MP Kabir Hashim speaking at a public event in Monaragala alluded to a unique vision his party possesses with regard to macroeconomic development that doesn’t necessarily include the IMF.


Sri Lanka’s SJB no longer enamoured of IMF, promises new govt in three moons

The SJB’s position with regard to the IMF programme, Sri Lanka’s 17th so far, has been less than consistent. The party, which was among the first to call for a deal with the iInternational lender at the onset of the island nation’s worst currency crisis in decades, abstained from voting for the agreement in a vote taken in parliament in April.

While the SJB hasn’t quite had a drastic departure from its original pro-IMF stance, the party has been increasingly vocal of late about the socioeconomic impact of the deal.

SJB leader Premadasa earlier this year reportedly said a future SJB government would not be obligated to honour deals made by the incumbent government headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. MP de Silva explained later that what his party leader had meant was that Sri Lanka must negotiate terms favourable to the country when dealing with the IMF. (Colombo/Sep26/2023)

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