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Sunday May 26th, 2024

Sri Lanka small businesses lockdown town centres; TUs issue ultimatum

SHUTTTERED: A screen grab from Sri Lanka’s privately run Sirasa TV shows a row of closed shops

ECONOMYNEXT – Trade associations have put up shutters in several town centres to control soaring Coronavirus cases while trade unions have issued a lockdown ultimatum after authorities rejected calls by doctors for an official one.

The self-imposed lockdown by local business associations in Ambalangoda, Gampaha, Kegalle, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Matale, Puttalum and part of Colombo came amid an unprecedented daily death toll and number of active cases.

“Keyzer Street Wholesale Merchants have decided to close down for 10 days (from August 18-28) due to rapid spreading of Covid-19,” the business owners of Keyzer Street in Sri Lanka’s busiest market in capital Colombo said in a statement.

“Please consider that all these are done for the safety of your family. Ensuring the safety of all is our responsibility.”

Sri Lanka’s latest data showed the daily death toll had spiked to a fresh record 171 on Monday and the number of daily infected people has been over 3,500.

The island nation’s active Covid-19 patients also have risen to a record 45,080 out of the total 365,689 as of August 17, official data showed while the Sri Lanka Medical Association has said the actual number may be three times as high.

The total official death toll is at 6,434, but health officials have raised doubts of the accuracy of data.

“People have realized that the government is in a wrong path. Now the people are imposing lockdown on themselves,” opposition legislator Mujibur Rahman told the parliament.

The opposition also criticized the government for not empowering the health officials to face the new situation unfolding.

The government, however, is blaming the opposition-backed island wide teachers’ trade union protest for the current spike of the pandemic.

“There is no need for a curfew if the people of this country properly follow the heath guidelines,” Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando told media on Monday (16).

“Why are we only talking about a lockdown? If that is the case, we should also impose the curfew for health sector as well because both doctors and nurses should get more infected than others,” he said after the government’s cabinet reshuffle.

“Politics is behind this. There is a group of time-wasting opposition in this country waiting for the people to die. They ask lockdowns and when we lockdown they ask to open”

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka was ranked fourth among the countries that had highest deaths per million persons after Georgia and Tunisia and Malaysia among countries with a population over a million, an analysis of global data showed.

The island nation saw the 6,000 death mark on Sunday (15) with the last 1,000 deaths being reported in just eight days, compared to 15 days for the previous 1000.

Health authorities have warned of a major tragedy if the government fails to lockdown.

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has said the country needs a 90 percent lockdown to prevent such a tragedy.

“The relevant authority should decide if they should go for a lockdown or curfew or any other measure,” GMOA’s Nalinda Heath told reporters on Tuesday (17).

Pictures and videos of overwhelming Covid-19 patients in state hospitals with some are on the floor, three-wheels carrying lower cost coffins, stacked coffins outside state hospitals, and dead bodies kept outside the mortuary and crematorium have gone viral in social media, unfolding the emerging crisis.

Ultimatum by TUs

Several trade unions have said it authorities do not impose an official lockdown by Friday, the trade unions will be compelled to force for a lockdown by next Monday (23)

“The government has to keep aside its stubbornness and listen to what we say,” Ravi Kumudesh, Convener for the Health Trade Union Confederation (HTUC) told media on Tuesday.

“Otherwise we will have to lockdown the country by force next Monday.”

In the absence of stricter measures, the country will see some 30,000 deaths by January 2022, an expert group of Sri Lankans in the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned.

According to the group, daily deaths are expected to increase up to 220 a day by early October meanwhile, with current levels of mobility restrictions, the daily caseload is set to increase up to 6,000 a day by mid-September.

The trade unions including health, plantation, transport, and postal, demanded a “scientific lockdown” to reduce the deaths.

The government has said the livelihood of the people is as important as strict health measures to prevent both health and an economic crisis.

Though the provided 5,000 rupees for lower income families during the past two lockdowns, tens of thousands of mainly daily wage earners have complained of lack of income as they could not have any employment.

The government is also giving full salaries to all state workers. Money printed after tax cuts in December 2019 and the Coronavirus shock has created a foreign exchange crisis in the country with reserves depleting rapidly.

Authorities are also speeding up vaccination to contain the spread as well as deaths. However doctors say it takes at least two weeks after the second dose for them to be effective. (Colombo/Aug18/2021)

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Sri Lanka power outages from falling trees worsened by unfilled vacancies: CEB union

HEAVY WINDS: Heavy rains and gusting winds have brought down trees on many location in Sri Lanka.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power grid has been hit by 300,000 outages as heavy winds brought down trees, restoring supply has been delayed by unfilled vacancies of breakdown staff, a union statement said.

Despite electricity being declared an essential service, vacancies have not been filled, the CEB Engineers Union said.

“In this already challenging situation, the Acting General Manager of CEB issued a circular on May 21, 2024, abolishing several essential service positions, including the Maintenance Electrical Engineer in the Area Engineer Offices, Construction Units, and Distribution Maintenance Units,” the Union said.

“This decision, made without any scientific basis, significantly reduces our capacity to provide adequate services to the public during this emergency.

“On behalf of all the staff of CEB, we express our deep regret for the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

High winds had rains have brought down trees across power lines and transformers, the statement said.

In the past few day over 300,000 power outages have been reported nationwide, with some areas experiencing over 30,000 outages within an hour.

“Our limited technical staff at the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are making extraordinary efforts to restore power as quickly as possible,” the union said.

“We deeply regret that due to the high volume of calls, there are times when we are unable to respond to all customer inquiries.

“We kindly ask consumers to support our restoration teams and to report any fallen live electrical wires or devices to the Electricity Board immediately without attempting to handle them.

The union said there were not enough workers to restore power quickly when such a large volume of breakdowns happens.

“We want to clarify that the additional groups mentioned by the minister have not yet been received by the CEB,” the union said.

“Despite the government’s designation of electricity as an essential service, neither the government, the minister in charge, nor the CEB board of directors have taken adequate steps to fill the relevant vacancies or retain current employees.

“We believe they should be held directly responsible for the delays in addressing the power outages due to the shortage of staff.”

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Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings


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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.


Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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