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Sunday April 14th, 2024

Sri Lanka president reiterates call for 13th amendment

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has reiterated his call for implementing an India-backed constitutional amendment aimed at resolving the country’s ethnic issue, amid muted opposition from various parties including sections of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday August 09, Wickremesinghe said there are various issues pertaining to the implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution as well as the provincial council system that it birthed.

“We have to resolve these issues in order to move forward as a country,” he said.

The amendment must be implemented in a way that is suitable to Sri Lanka’s future growth, but this can only be achieved only through consensus built on open and comprehensive dialogue between parties represented in parliament, said Wickremesinghe.

Thanking everyone that attended an all party conference on July 26 to discuss the ethnic issue, the president acknowledged that no consensus was arrived at that day on the objective of the 13th amendment: devolution of power.

“No ideas on a consolidated power devolution mechanism were openly expressed there. It was evident that some parties were either hesitant or a bit reluctant to express their views, while some other parties attended the conference with distrust,” he said.

Wickremesinghe suggested that this element of distrust could be attributed to bad experiences at previous all-party conferences.

“Let’s change this at least now,” he said, calling for a more inclusive political culture of government-opposition collaboration and a departure from the established tradition of rivalry for the sake of it.

The nation’s development relies on the joint efforts of following a fresh path with this new approach of consensus, he said.

The president’s media division (PMD) quoted Wickremesinghe as urging all MPs to avoid engaging in personal debates and instead focus on envisioning the nation’s future. He called for sincere unity among parliamentarians to collaboratively make decisions that prioritise the country’s long-term interests, the PMD said.

The 13th amendment holds the utmost legal significance in the country, the president said, emphasising the necessity of respecting and adhering to it and stressing that both the executive and legislature have a responsibility to uphold and implement its provisions.

Calling for a comprehensive review of his proposals on the amendment, Wickremesinghe invited all parliamentarians to share their thoughts, as the ultimate decision about the role and future of provincial councils lies solely within parliament’s jurisdiction.

By reaching a consensus with universal support, he said, Sri Lanka could protect its identity, enhance unity, and decentralise power for greater accessibility.

Plans to revise provincial council laws and introduce new ones with parliamentary agreement were highlighted by Wickremesinghe who also proposed changes including adopting the District Proportional System for voting, enabling Members of Parliament to join provincial council elections, and increasing women’s representation to 25 percent or higher.

On presidential pardons for prisoners, Wickremesinghe said, of the three categories of prisoners namely remand prisoners, those on death row and those serving other sentences, those in the last two will be considered for a pardon, based on the recommendations of the Minister of Justice. Presidential approval has been granted to release 11 prisoners from the category of those with other sentences, he said.

The president said efforts are underway to accelerate the formation of the National Land Commission (NLC) and a National Land Policy. A preliminary NLC law has been created and is being reviewed for crafting a policy on State land usage. A Land Commission Policy Act is anticipated by September to provide direction for NLC’s operations.

The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has initiated efforts to locate missing individuals and measures are under way to speed up the data entry process, with the goal of completing it within three months, said Wickremesnghe. The issuance of the Certificate of Absence (COA) is also being fast-tracked, he added.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has also received a list of 2,678 Sri Lankans residing in South Indian Rehabilitation Camps, among whom individuals possessing both Sri Lankan birth certificates and National Identity Cards (NICs) are eligible for All Country Passports, he said. The process for issuing this documentation is expected to take two to four weeks.

A significant portion of the land occupied by the security forces and police in 2009, around 90 to 92 percent, has been gradually released, said the president, noting that this includes 22,919 acres, consisting of 817 acres of state-owned land and 22,101 acres of privately owned land. The occupied land area by security forces and police is 3,754 acres, with 862 acres being state-owned and 2,892 acres being privately owned, he said.

Wickremesinghe also highlighted the importance of improving air and sea connectivity in the northern region. Plans include enhancing the KKS Harbour, Vavuniya and Palali Airports, and establishing a ferry service between the Northern Province and South India, he said. Additionally, efforts are underway to create Investment Promotion Zones in KKS, Paranthan, and Mankulam, he added.

President Wickremesinghe assured MPs that he would not engage in actions that threaten the country’s sovereignty and unity. He called on all parliamentarians to participate constructively in the pursuit of national reconciliation, emphasising that the people’s interests are fundamental to the nation’s development, the PMD said.

The enactment of the Election Expenses Control Act, aimed at curbing financial abuses and irregularities during elections, was also highlighted by the president.

“External entities or foreign countries cannot resolve the nation’s challenges on our behalf,” said Wickremesinghe, calling for unity among citizens to independently address Sri Lanka’s issues and steer the country towards rapid economic and social progress. (Colombo/Aug09/2023)

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LGBTQIA+ Rights: Europe and South Asia See Similar Discriminatory Practices

ECONOMYNEXT – The rights and protections of the LGBTQIA+ community have been fraught with challenges and continue to be so, despite the many gains achieved in recent years.

Nor are those handful of rights universally applied, a recent discussion which looked at the European and South Asian perspectives on same-sex rights and unions revealed. Most developed nations have introduced protections for those identifying as LGBTQIA+, and a view from a distant lens paints a picture of tolerance. Yet, a closer look at the European arena throws up the many gaps that are evident in the application of the law.

In the so-called conservative South Asian nations, changes to legislation are slow to be implemented. That may come as a surprise, for, contrary to popular belief, same-sex relationships were culturally acceptable in the South Asian region and is not a Western concept points out Ruhaan Joshi, a Public Policy Practitioner from India.

Society’s view on same-sex relationships dimmed with the imposition of Western values and the criminalisation of such relationships with the advent of colonial rule.

While the LGBTQIA+ communities in South Asian countries currently battle to have same-sex relationships decriminalised and their unions legally accepted, the irony is that countries that first made such relationships punishable by law have moved on to be more welcoming, though some discriminatory practices continue.

Joshi was part of a discussion themed ‘On Being Queer and LGBTQIA+ in South Asia and Europe, held in Germany on April 9 this year. The discussion which included the release of two papers which examined the rights and protections of the LGBTQIA+ community in Europe and South Asia, respectively, was organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Joining Joshi in the discussion were lawyer and parliamentarian Premnath C Dolawatte from Sri Lanka, Milosz Hodun, President, Projekt Polska Foundation, Poland, Michael Kauch, a Member of the European Parliament and RENEW Europe Group and Inaya Zarakhel, a Dutch-Pakistani actress and an activist on Queer Rights, who moderated the discussion. The two papers were presented by Hodun and Joshi, respectively.

In his opening remarks, Kauch pointed out that while the view of the liberals is that the rights recognized in one member nation of the EU must be accepted by all member countries, that is not the ground reality, the issue of Rainbow families being a case in point.

In the context of the European Union, though the Court of Justice has ruled on the freedom of movement of those in same-sex partnerships and their families, the ruling is not universally applied by member nations.

In Italy, and some European nations, surrogacy which helps childless couples to become parents is illegal. In other situations where same-sex parents are of different nationalities a child in that union faces restriction of movement or the possibility of being stateless if one parent hails from a country where such parental rights are not recognised.

Hodun meanwhile stated that in Poland transgender persons must first sue their parents for the gender assigned to them at birth, to have their gender marker changed on documents.

Some countries such as Russia and Azerbaijan resort to State-sponsored homophobia, and in many instances politicians and political parties promote such biases to boost their voter base it was pointed out. Even where laws are in place for the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights, there is no political will to implement them.

In Europe where migrants arrive in droves seeking asylum, and are frowned upon by many of those countries, LGBTQIA+ members face even more discrimination Hodun says, both by other refugees and governments, where most often the state ignores the situation despite the guidelines issued by the UN and the European Court of Justice. Hate speech and hate crimes too are on the rise he adds stating that at least 80 per cent go unreported.

Increasingly the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced a diminishing of their safe spaces as right-wing and populist governments are elected across the globe. Taking a dig at feminism, meanwhile, Kauch states that though feminists uphold a woman’s right to opt for an abortion, they take a different approach on the topic of surrogacy.

Dolawatte who waded into unchartered waters when he presented a Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise same-sex relationships through an amendment to section 365 of the Penal Code and the repealing of section 365A in its totality, is hopeful that the Bill will pass its third reading. It’s been an uphill battle he says, referring to the case filed in the Supreme Court against the Bill. The court ruled in his favour.

He had little or no support from his own party members, but says the President of the country, and younger party members are with him on this issue. Apart from making Sri Lanka a safe space, it would encourage foreign nationals identifying as LGBTQIA+ to visit without fear, and thus boost tourism he opines.

As Joshi states society has come a long way from when LGBTQIA+ were made fun of and were subject to violence to the positive portrayal in movies. Such movies are also well-received by society. Transgender identity has a distinct recognition in South Asian religious beliefs. Hijra, Khwaja Sara or Kinnar are some names given to transgender folk and they have, since ancient times been an accepted group in society. On the one hand, there’s Afghanistan and the Maldives which make no allowances for the LGBTQIA+ community, while Nepal became the first South Asian nation in 2023, to register a same-sex marriage, Joshi states. In most South Asian nations, the courts have ruled in favour of relaxing the rules against this community, and, like in Europe, it is the governments that drag their feet.

For governments to change their stance, society must take the lead in fighting for the unconditional dignity of the individual, freedom of movement, and safeguarding the tenets of democracy, he says adding that it must also run parallel with the LGBTQIA+ community looking beyond themselves at issues that impact democratic values, and the societal restrictions non-LGBTIQIA+ groups face, such as opposition to inter-caste marriage and the right to adopt outside their caste systems and equal access to many other privileges.

While the panellists advocated working together across the global divide as a step towards achieving equal rights for all, Dolawatte also called for caution; too much pressure on such issues from Europe he said may not be welcome, and must be handled with care.

With right-wing and populist governments getting elected across the globe, Kauch claims the forthcoming EU elections will prove crucial in deciding how future and current governments ensure tolerance and diversity amongst their citizenry.

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Sri Lanka making new economic laws to embed structural reforms

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is making new laws and also revising old legislation following a comprehensive review of past experience and lessons learned, Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana has said.

Most of these new laws focus on structural changes of the existing executive and administrative structures, Siriwardana was quoted as saying in a speech to ministry officials on April 08.

The laws related to public finance, procurement, public private partnerships, state enterprises and also a law on the offshore economy.

The following new laws are being made:

a. Public Financial Management Bill
b. Public Debt Management Bill
c. Economic Transformation Bill
d. Management of State Owned Enterprises Law
e. Public Private Partnership (PPP) Law
f. Investment Law
g. Public Procurement Bill
h. Unified Labor Law Bill
i. Food Security Bill
j. Public Asset Management Bill
k. Microfinance and Credit Regulatory Authority Bill
l. Secured Transaction Bill
m.Offshore Economic Management Bill
n. New law for facilitating proposed agricultural land lease programme
Public Service Employment Bill
o. Sri Lanka Accounting and Standard Monitoring Act

Changes are planned to the following laws

a. Amendments to Agrarian Development Act
b. Amendments to Excise Ordinance
c. Amendments to Customs Ordinance
d. Amendments to Finance Act
e. Amendments to Foreign Exchange Act. Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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After PM’s Chinese visit, US NSA talks to Sri Lanka President’s advisor on peace, security

ECONOMYNEXT – The United States National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan held talks with Sri Lanka President’s Senior Advisor on National Security Sagala Ratnayaka focusing on regional security issues this week.

The conversation between the two comes days after Sri Lanka Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena ended an official visit to China in which he met President Xi Jinping and his counterpart Li Qiang in Beijing amid discussions over further investments in Sri Lanka and concerns over banning Chinese research ships.

The United States along with India is highly concerned over increasing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, which is located in a strategic location in the Asia.

China already owns a port and a proclaimed land next to the main Colombo port in Sri Lanka and analysts say the Beijing’s ownership of assets has raised doubts if China is planning to use Sri Lanka as a military base. China has denied this and said its relationship with Sri Lanka is only based on commercial aspects.

The discussion between Sullivan and Ratnayaka focused on a range of crucial topics aimed at bolstering bilateral relations between the two nations, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

“Central to their discussion was the unwavering U.S. commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s security and sovereignty,” the PMD said in a statement.

“Acknowledging Sri Lanka’s ongoing endeavours, Sullivan emphasized the importance of completing the fiscal, monetary, and governance aspects of the IMF program.”

The US along with India has raised possible threats of increasing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, government officials have said. Both  countries see China as a security threat to the Indian Ocean region, they say.

“The conversation also delved into future prospects for collaboration between the two countries, exploring avenues for enhanced cooperation in various spheres,” the PMD said.

“Sullivan conveyed his keen interest in fostering continued engagement with Sri Lanka, underscoring the mutual objective of advancing peace and security in the region.”

“This dialogue marks a pivotal moment in U.S.-Sri Lanka relations, demonstrating a shared commitment to promoting stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.” (Colombo/April 13/2024)

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