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Sri Lanka president reiterates commitment to devolution within unitary state

ECONOMYNEXT – President Ranil Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to devolution of power within a unitary state as a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue even as Buddhist monks intensified protests against the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution.

Addressing parliament on Wednesday February 08, President Wickremesinghe said, however, that there will be no division of the country, contrary to fears expressed by sections of the Buddhist clergy.

Wickremesinghe said that both he and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan were elected to parliament in 1977 and both have long dreamed of a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem during their tenure in parliament.

“Ever since, we have been discussing that dream and have been making efforts towards its achievement. All previous attempts have failed, but we wish to succeed this time. We expect your support to this end,” said Wickremesinghe.

TNA MPs were among the only opposition legislators to remain in the House during the president’s “throne speech” on Wednesday’s opening of the new parliamentary session after MPs representing the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya and the National People’s Power (NPP) staged a walkout.

However, TNA MP M A Sumanthiran has expressed his disappointment with ongoing talks with the government.

“The conflict in the North and East affected the entire nation and many areas were severely damaged. The Northern Province entirely and several areas in the Eastern and North Central Provinces suffered immensely from the war. We are taking steps to put more weight on the development of these areas. A general plan is being implemented in this regard,” said Wickremesinghe.

“We know that there are still unresolved issues related to land in the North. In the Jaffna district, there are 3,300 acres of state land including security camps. The extent of 100 acres that had been taken over for the Palali Camp were recently released. A decision has to be made regarding more land to be released for which discussions are being held with the Army and other parties. Discussions have also been initiated regarding the lands around other security camps,” he said.

Devolving land and police powers to the provinces under the 13th amendment has been controversial, with monks and other nationalist quarters expressing strong opposition.

Wickremesinghe has repeatedly stated that he plans a full implementation of 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.

A full implementation of the amendment will see land and police powers devolved to the provinces, a development that is not likely to garner support from Sri Lanka’s more nationalist-oriented parties including sections of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

The main opposition SJB’s position on this is also unclear. The party boycotted a recent all-party conference (APC) on the ethnic issue and said it supports devolution of power, but the party has yet to articulate its position on the amendment’s full implementation.

Related:

Sri Lanka’s SJB supports devolution but position on full 13A still unclear

President Wickremesinghe in his parliamentary address on Wednesday said the government is streamlining and expediting the process of tracing missing persons. The mechanism of the Office on Missing Persons will be strengthened, he said.

“Our attention has also been focused on the people who have been imprisoned for being involved in terrorist activities. They have been imprisoned for many years without trial. We are taking measures to systematically release these prisoners,” he added.

Drafts are being prepared to establish a National Land Council and a National Land Policy, said the president.

“It is alleged that due to certain practices of the Central Government, the powers of the Provincial Councils have been reduced in the fields of education and health. Therefore, we envision bringing new laws regarding the implementation of powers of the Provincial Councils in these fields.

“Amendment will be introduced to the following Acts in order to regularize and streamline the delegation process. The Transfer of Powers (Divisional Secretaries) Act, No. 58 of 1992, the Provincial Councils (Consequential Provisions) Act, No. 12 of 1989 and Provincial Councils (Amendment) Act No. 28 of 1990.”

The government also expects to establish a modern system for the District Development Councils to streamline the coordination functions between the Provincial Councils and the Central Government, said Wickremesinghe.

“We will present all these Ordinances and Bills to the National Council of the Parliament. The responsibility of making the final decision is assigned to the National Council.”

DIG divisional boundaries are currently not based on provincial boundaries, due to which a number of practical difficulties have arisen and the government plans to determine the boundaries of DIG divisions according to the provinces, the president said.

“There is no change in police powers,” he said.

The report of the Presidential Commission headed by A H M D Nawaz, Supreme Court Judge to investigate the violation of human rights, serious violations of international human rights laws, has now been received. According to Wickremesignhe, its recommendations are currently being studied.

“A separate plan is being implemented for the development of the North, which was the most damaged due to the conflict. Malwatu Oya development project will be commenced. Necessary measures will be taken for the river and water management in the Eastern Province, restoration of Vadamarachchi lake and lagoon, and accordingly, which will provide water for drinking and agricultural purposes.

“The electricity requirement in these areas is expected to be generated through renewable energy. Solar and green hydrogen power are also used for this purpose. More opportunities will be created in the tourism sector. Investment zones will be established. The required technology and facilities will be provided for the modernisation of agriculture.

“The Kankasanthurai Port is being modernised and expanded. Trincomalee is being developed as a modern international city. A special development plan is also being launched for the Eastern and North-Central provinces that have suffered economic and social setbacks during the conflict,” he said.

The president also spoke of plans to resolve issues pertaining to the upcountry Tamil community, adding that plans were underway to develop the plantation industry.

“Soumyamurthy Thondaman, who rendered yeoman service towards the plantation sector and I were in the Cabinet of Ministers together. Both of us worked together for the welfare of the plantation community. We have already granted all their legal rights. However, many problems related to economic and social rights still remain. To solve these problems, we expect to discuss with the MPs representing the plantation sector and take necessary measures. The Plantation community, which has been struggling to feed the Sri Lankan economy for two centuries, should be integrated as a whole in the Sri Lankan community,” he said.

On issues faced by the Muslim community, Wickremesinghe: “When I was elected to the Parliament, my Cabinet Minister was A C S Hamid who made me aware of the unique situations faced by Sri Lankan Muslims. We know that the Muslim community faces various problems from time to time and they have our full support.”

“The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination.

“Considering all the facts, we expect to devolve power within a Unitary State. However, I wish to reiterate a fact that has been emphasised on many occasions. There will be no division of the country,” he said.

“I will implement all these proposals through the National Assembly of the Parliament. In addition, we regulate the Jana Sabha Act for the function of representing public opinion,” he added. (Colombo/Feb08/2023)

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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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