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Sri Lanka govt resorting to delay tactics, no plans to hold local polls: opposition

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ruling party has no intention of holding local government elections soon, the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) said, claiming that attempts are under way to use government agents to delay the polls.

SJB general secretary and MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara told reporters on Thursday December 22 that the president had met the chairman of the elections commission the previous day but no decision had been made about when to hold the local government polls, which ought to be held before March 20 next year.

“The election commissioner said in a discussion with us that the polls must be held at least a month early. So for it to be held by at least the end of February, the election should’ve been called by now,” said the MP.

A collective of 16 opposition parties including the SJB had met with the Elections Commission to discuss the local government polls. MP Madduma Bandara said the commission had pledged timely elections.

“But we learned that last week the president had convened the Election Commission. He had met them yesterday too, but no decision was made about holding the election.

“We also heard that GAs will be called and a problem will be created through them to delay the election. They’re apparently going to be asked if the conditions are right for an election,” the MP claimed.

“The government is afraid of elections. They cannot go before the people,” he added.

Leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya and former government heavyweight Udaya Gammanpila speaking at a separate press conference shared the SJB general secretary’s sentiments.

The EC’s enthusiasm for holding elections is contrasted by the government’s lack of enthusiasm for an election, he said.

The MP, who now sits in the opposition as an independent, claimed that there are three reasons the government won’t go to the polls yet. The newly introduced personal income tax hike, which will come into effect on January 01, warnings by trade unions of longer power cuts in the new year, and the apparent delay in the IMF board approval for its eagerly awaited bailout package.

“We will not allow the government to rob the people of their right to an election,” said Gammanpila.

A number of opposition parties have claimed that the government’s proposal to cut down the number of local councillors by half – from a staggering 8,000 to 4,000 – and the lengthy delimitation process that it would require is a delay tactic.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), meanwhile), claimed that it is ready to face elections.

SLPP MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena told reporters that the party has already prepared its nomination lists for a local government election.

Meanwhile, the United National Party (UNP), the party led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe and represented in parliament by a single MP, is even more ambitious.

UNP general secretary said on December 20 that what is most timely at present would be a presidential election.

“We will field President Wickremesinghe as the candidate to save the nation,” he said.

Responding to Bandara’s comment, SJB general secretary Maduma Bandara told the privately owned NewsFirst network that evening that while the SJB was indeed ready for any election, a presidential election cannot be held constitutionally at the moment.

The time was right for local government polls, he said, claiming that the government was resorting to tricks to delay the local government elections.

“We say allow the people to elect a government of their choice,” he said. (Colombo/Dec22/2022)

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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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Sri Lanka Water Board makes profits, tax-payers inject Rs28bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run National Water Supply and Drainage Board has made a profit of 5.2 billion rupees in the year to December 2023, after a tariff increase despite not getting money for 25 percent of its water it pumps out.

Total revenues went up to 61.8 billion rupees in 2023 from 35.4 billion rupees, a Finance Ministry report said.

Water revenue surged to 58.5 billion rupees from 33.1 billion rupees, cost of sales also went up to 32.8 billion rupees from 23.14 billion rupees, helping boost gross profits from 12.3 billion rupees to 29.0 billion rupees.

Finance costs surged to 14.9 billion rupees from 3.9 billion rupees,

NSWD reported net profits of 5.2 billion rupees for the year, against a loss of 2.7 billion rupees a year earlier.

The Treasury had given 28 billion rupees from tax payer money to settle loans.

During the Rajapaksa administration, macroeconomists who ran the Finance Ministry made state enterprises borrow money from banks through Treasury guarantees listing them as ‘contingent liabilities’, claiming they were ‘off balance sheet’.

The Road Development Authority, which had no revenues to speak of borrowed large amounts of money from banks which were listed as ‘contingent liabilities’ though they were a responsibility of the state from day one, allowing macroeconomists to understate both the budget deficit and national debt, critics say.

The water tariffs were raised by 81 percent after macroeconomists printed money to supress interest rates for flexible inflation targeting/potential output targeting. The currency collapsed after macroeconomists tried to float the rupee with a surrender rule in place.

Non-revenue water for which no money is collected was 25.2 percent. The agency was supposed to reduce non-revenue water. In some districts religious establishments are responsible for non-revenue water, according to an official who said it on condition of anonymity.

The water board is also unable to collect money from some services like common toilets for underserved communities. (Colombo/June23/2024 – Update II)

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Sri Lanka will expedite Indian projects: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will expedite Indian-backed projects in the island, President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Indian business people after a visit by Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar this week.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Modi the need to accelerate the joint program that we have decided, agreed on. So the major ones are identified, and Foreign Minister Jaishankar came down today [20] to have a discussion. Now this will show the new path we are taking,” president Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“It won’t be individual projects. We’ve discussed a fair number of them. First is the grid interconnection between Sri Lanka and India, so that sustainable energy can be transmitted to India.

“We have the Sampur solar power project, which is a Government to Government (G2G) project, and a three island project, which is where we hope the ground breaking can take place in July,” he told Indian business people at the 31st All India Partner’s Meet 2024 (AIPM 2024), held at ICT Ratnadipa in Colombo.

The AIPM 2024 which was organised by KPGM Sri Lanka and India provided a platform for both countries to reaffirm their commitment to collaborative projects that promise to redefine bilateral relations and propel socio-economic growth.

“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have you in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, holding this meeting. It shows on one hand the close friendship that our two countries have, and on the other hand, the confidence that you have in Sri Lanka.

“Having now survived two difficult years, I must acknowledge that this was possible because India gave us a loan of $3.5 billion. All that will be repaid.”

Cooperation between the two nations needed to be enhanced, particularly in the energy sector, aiming to foster new development for the Northern region, Wickremesinghe said.

“We are looking at developing Palk Straight for wind energy and solar energy, both countries to get together and have a large farm for solar energy, for renewable energy. It also means that we will have a new economy for the northern province, which was worst affected by the war.”

Several Indian-backed projects in Sri Lanka have stalled due to protests from some parties, with some going to courts.

India is helping expand the Kankesanturai port, and is discussing development of the Palali and Colombo airports.

The National Livestock Development Board of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with India’s Amul Dairy Company, is involved in a project to enhance liquid milk production in the country.

The two nations are also considering establishing land connectivity.

Discussions have also taken place regarding expediting the Trincomalee Development Project, which encompasses industrial investment zones and tourist areas.

“Plans are underway to construct a multi-product oil pipeline from Nagapatnam to Trincomalee, pending the final observation report. Trincomalee is poised to become a hub for oil refining, with the development of ports and investment zones, transforming Trincomalee Port into a significant hub on the Bay of Bengal.

“Today, the entire East Coast is being opened up for tourism, with additional land earmarked for hotels in Galle and southern areas. Moreover, there are plans to establish more investment zones across the country, alongside expanding our professional training programs. In these endeavours, we are collaborating closely with India.” (Colombo/Jun22/2024)

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