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Tuesday February 7th, 2023

Sri Lanka president pledges full implementation of 13th amendment; TNA sceptical

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged a full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution as a solution to the country’s decades-long ethnic issue, though the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is spectical.

TNA parliamentarian M A Sumanthiran told EconomyNext on Monday January 16 that successive governments have made the same promise for 35 years, to no avail.

“Nobody takes it with any seriousness because it has been constantly promised. It’s a question of implementing it. The president with his executive powers can do it,” he said.

President Wickremesinghe told a gathering at the National Thai Pongal Festival in Jaffna on Sunday that a Social Justice Commission will be established to “build a country where everyone can live in harmony, by solving the problems of the people belonging to all sections of the population.”

In his speech, Wickremesinghe assured the audience that the ever elusive full implementation of the amendment will be finally realised.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry also told an Indian news network in November that Sri Lanka is keen on implementing the amendment.

The 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution emerged from the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 as a purported solution to the worsening ethnic conflict, four years after war broke out. Provincial councils came in the wake of this amendment, though land and police powers have yet to be devolved to the provinces as originally envisioned. Both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalists have historically opposed the amendment, the former claiming it devolved too much, the latter complaining it didn’t devolve enough.

President Wickremesinghe in November 2022 expressed his intention to find a final solution to the ethnic issue by February 04 this year when Sri Lanka celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British.

This deadline is now appearing increasingly unrealistic, with talks between the government and the TNA being less than successful.

“Talks have not been successful. In fact, there is disappointment because several things had been promised to be finalised by January, but hardly anything has been done,” said Sumanthiran.

As recently as Sunday January 15, the MP claimed, the government had made repeated assurances of releasing prisoners and military-occupied land, but there is still no progress on this front.

“There is no delivery on the ground yet.”

Asked if the TNA would welcome a fully implemented 13th amendment, the Jaffna district legislator said any provision that’s already in the constitution must be implemented.

“The law of the country must prevail,” he said.

It will not be the final solution being sought by the TNA, however.

“What we’re talking about is meaningful power sharing arrangements. If you can’t even implement what is already in the constitution, then what hope is there?”

Sumanthiran said the president has had many opportunities to resolve the issue.

“I don’t think he’ll be able to do it this time either, but we won’t stand in the way. We will help as much as possible,” he said.

Southern opposition parties have also pledged their support for a meaningful final solution, the MP claimed.

However, the position of Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Alliance (NPA) have yet to make their positions clear. Meanwhile, critics of the TNA argue that the alliance does not speak for all Tamil voters and that there are diverse views within the Tamil political establishment vis-à-vis a solution to grievances of the community.

Asked what the proposed final solution will look like from the TNA’s perspective, Sumanthiran reiterated that it will involve a “meaningful power sharing arrangement.”

“There have been certain blockages in implementing power sharing arrangements. Those must be removed,” he said, referring to existing mechanisms as enabled by the constitution.

The TNA has on previous occasions touted federalism as a possible solution to the ethnic issue, and according to Sumanthiran, the alliance is still committed to it.

“Our proposal is that it must be a federal constitution. There is no question about that. We may not insist on the word federal being used, but certainly it must have the features of a federal constitution,” he said.

Federalism has been a highly controversial and politically inflammable idea in Sri Lanka over the years, with many nationalist or even some moderate parties in the south vehemently opposing the very suggestion of it. It is unclear whether this stance has softened over the 13 years since the end of the war, but to date no Sinhalese-dominated party – the SJB and JVP included – has come out in support for it.

However, Sumanthiran is hopeful that other opposition parties will be open to a lasting solution that is in line with provisions of the constitution.

“They’ve all agreed to full implementation of the provisions of the constitution,” he said.

If the southern parties change their mind, they will have gone back on their word, he added.

Though the TNA is far from optimistic of the success of the ongoing talks, Sumanthiran said the alliance will continue to engage.

“We’re going through the process, so as not to be blamed for the breakdown in talks,” he said, adding the TNA is awaiting a report that’s due Tuesday January 17. (Colombo/Jan16/2023)

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  1. Thanga says:

    If Ceylon would have had a federal constitution from the very beginning the country would have prospered like Singapore. Singapore with 75% Chinese has declared 4 languages as official, including Tamil spoken by only 5% of the populace. The Sinhalese leaders thought that by depriving Tamils of their fair share in governance, the Sinhalese will prosper. This has been wrong as the present economic meltdown indicates.

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  1. Thanga says:

    If Ceylon would have had a federal constitution from the very beginning the country would have prospered like Singapore. Singapore with 75% Chinese has declared 4 languages as official, including Tamil spoken by only 5% of the populace. The Sinhalese leaders thought that by depriving Tamils of their fair share in governance, the Sinhalese will prosper. This has been wrong as the present economic meltdown indicates.

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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