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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Sri Lanka president finds unlikely ally in standoff against protesting teachers

Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during the 2019 Presidntial campaign

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) appears to have all but sided with President Ranil Wickremesinghe in a standoff with protesting teachers with the party taking a position against trade union action that “holds children’s future to ransom”.

SJB parliamentarian Nalin Bandara told reporters in Colombo on Thursday April 20 that teachers can resort to alternative forms of agitation to win their demands.

“We are against trade union action when it comes to marking papers. Unions may have their concerns, but union action must be taken without holding children’s future to ransom. This is a serious situation.

“These children have a lost a year or year and a half of their lives due to exam delays. This is unfair by the children who sat for their exams. Their goals are being delayed,” said Bandara.

President Wickremesinghe in a controversial statement made on Wednesday issued a one-week ultimatum to education sector trade unions who have been protesting against an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed tax hike. The union campaign has resulted in paper marking of students who sat for university entrance being delayed.

A total of 331,709 candidates sat for the GCE Advanced Level exams held between January 23 and February 17, but the marking of examination answer scripts has yet to be commenced due to a protest campaign organised by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) together with a number of teachers’ unions.

The two-month delay has already seen the schedule for releasing results being disrupted, which has also delayed this year’s exams.

President Wickremsinghe at a meeting with Education Ministry officials on Wednesday warned that he would make education an essential service under emergency law and initiate legal action against teachers who did not comply with the law.

“All those marked the papers last time, must be available for service now. If not, I will prosecute them and take their property also,” Wickremesinghe told the officials.

“You can’t stop the education of children. What nonsense is this? By next week, I will tell the AG (Attorney General) to be ready with the emergency regulations.”

Under emergency regulations, the country’s normal laws would not be applied, with the security forces given wide powers.

While the SJB has not indicated that it supports the call for making education an essential service or for using emergency regulations, MP Bandara’s remark that they do not support the teachers’ chosen course of action is a notable departure from the party’s sustained opposition to President Wickremesinghe since his appointment in July last year.

“We request teachers and university lecturers not to use this as part of their trade union action. That is the SJB’s position., because our children is more valuable us. Trade union actions must be fair.

“The government too must not be lazy and come to a middle ground and resolve this issue quickly,” he said.

Asked what choice trade unions are left with, Bandara said: “There are many alternative courses of action they can take. Exam paper marking is a sensitive matter. We as the SJB don’t approve of this game being played our youth. There are other forms of agitation they can take. Resort to those.”

The MP was almost echoing Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party (UNP), which the SJB broke off from in 2020, when he said teachers’ unions should not hold children’s future to ransom.

Wickremesinghe said at Wednesday’s meeting: “Tell them if you don’t come and want to have a confrontation, we are willing to come for a confrontation, but no one is going to hold the education of the children hostage.” (Colombo/Apr20/2023)

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.


“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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