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Saturday May 18th, 2024

Sri Lanka standup comedian arrest stifles free speech: CPA

ECONOMYNEXT – The arrest of a Sri Lankan standup comedian under provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act was a move to stifle freedom of speech, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said.

Natasha Edirisooriya, who had made a controversial remark on the young Bodhisatva at a recent performance, was taken into custody on May 28 for allegedly “insulting” Buddhism, Sri Lanka’s most widely practised faith.

The CPA said in a statement on Wednesday May 31 that Edirisooriya’s arrest is the “latest move to stifle freedom of speech in the guise of protecting religious harmony”.

Referring to media reports that people who attended the standup event were also to be questioned by the police, the CPA raised concern over what it called the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka, adding that it has had a chilling effect on dissent.

“Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act makes it an offence for a person to propagate war or to advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Arrests made under the pretext of curbing speech that threatens ethnic and religious harmony, under this provision – without any serious consideration of whether such speech amounts to incitement, discrimination, hostility or violence – is violative of the fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the ICCPR itself,” the CPA said in its statement.

Sri Lanka’s use of the ICCPR Act has been the subject of controversy since the arrest of writer Shakthika Sathkumara, who faced up to 10 years in prison if he was found guilty as he was charged under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act and Art 291(B) of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka. Sathkumara, who was in pre-trial detention for months over a controversial short story, was discharged in February 2021 days ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) session.

In August 2022, the Human Rights Watch called for amendments to the ICCPR Act to prevent its abuse in prosecuting members of ethnic and religious minorities for speech that is protected under international human rights law.

The CPA in its statement further said it had previously highlighted how such provisions are abused and weaponised to target individuals belonging to minority groups, stifle dissenting voices, and criminalise free speech, serving as a distraction from more pressing socio-economic and political issues at a time of an exceptional crisis.

“CPA also notes media reports indicating the introduction of new laws meant to safeguard and uphold religious harmony. Such an announcement is in a context where there is a plethora of laws with the actual challenge not due to a lack of laws but to the lack of proper implementation of such laws and holding perpetrators accountable for incitement and violence. This is confirmed with Sri Lanka’s recent experiences where despite the availability of evidence, no action was taken against alleged perpetrators. In some instances, rather than pursue accountability, authorities appointed individuals accused of incitement to state mechanisms, further entrenching ethno–nationalism and impunity in Sri Lanka,” the statement said.

Against such a backdrop, the CPA said it urges authorities to desist with efforts to restrict fundamental rights and measures that erode the rule of law and weaken Sri Lanka’s fragile peace. (Colombo/Jun01/2023)

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Sri Lanka suffers over $138mn foreign outflow from govt bonds in 2024 after rate cuts

ECONOMYNEXT – Foreign investors have dumped 41.6 billion-rupee ($138.6 million) worth of Sri Lanka government securities in the first 20 weeks of 2024, the central bank data showed, after reduction in the key policy interest rates.

The foreign holding in Sri Lanka’s treasury bills and treasury bonds fell to 75.9 billion rupees on the week ended on Friday (17), May 2024, from 117.4 billion rupees on the week ended on December 29.

The central bank rate has reduced the key policy rates by 50 basis points so far in 2024, extending the rates cut by 700 basis points since June last year.

The rupee appreciated 9.1 percent in the first four months, but the gain failed to attract foreign investors amid a dragged debt restructuring negotiation with external private creditors.

Currency dealers said lackluster demand for dollars due to dampened imports with heavy controls, boom in both tourism revenue and remittances have helped to increase the dollar liquidity in the market, leading to the appreciation of the local currency.

The dealers said foreign investors can earn capital gain if they had bought government securities before the appreciation and now the offshore investors might be selling their bonds.

“They are also discouraged by policy rate cut because that will reduce their returns from the rupee bond investments,” a currency dealer said.

The yield in 12-month T-bills has fallen 336 basis points in the first four months of this year, the central bank data showed.

The central bank also reduced the Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) of commercial banks by 200 basis points in August last year to boost liquidity in the market with an aim to reduce market interest rates.

Under tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions for its $3 billion loan program, the central bank raised key monetary policy rates in 2022 and last year to bring down inflation which hit over 70 percent in 2022. The inflation has fallen to the lower single digit now.

The rupee has appreciated to around 300 against the US dollar this week from around 330 level early in November. The local currency was at 365 rupees against the US dollar in early 2022. Depreciation causes capital loss for foreign investors. (Colombo/May 18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourist fair seeks to involve universities

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourism fair kicked off this week to promote interaction between industry stakeholders and relevant Government bodies, including the Tourist Police, and also universities.

“Several universities, including Colombo, Uva Wellasa, Kelaniya, Sabaragamuwa and Rajarata were given free stalls to facilitate student interaction with industry professionals,” Chairman of the Sancharaka Udawa Organising Committee, Charith De De Alwis said in a statement.

The event takes place today (18) at the BMICH and houses stalls for hoteliers, tour and transport services, with a goal of attracting 10,000 visitors.

Organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the 11th edition of Sancharaka Udawa offers a platform for both B2B and B2C sectors.

“Sancharaka Udawa houses over 170 exhibitors and a footfall of more than 10,000 visitors,” De Alwis said.

This year’s edition will include participants from outbound tourism sectors to facilitate capacity building. The event provides networking opportunities for industry newcomers and veterans.

“The networking platform offers opportunity for small and medium-sized service providers integrating them into the broader tourism landscape. The anticipated outcome is a substantial increase in bookings particularly for regional small-scale tourism service providers.” (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s CEB sells LTL shares to West Coast IPP for Rs26bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board has sold shares of an affiliate to West Coast Power Company Limited, an independent power producer giving profits of 25.9 billion rupees in the March 2024 quarter, interim accounts showed.

The sale has been carried out as a transfer.

“Twenty-eight percent (28-pct) of share ownership of CEB within LTL Holding’s equity capital has been transferred to West Coast Power Company Ltd for a total consideration of Rs 26 billion as part of a partial settlement of outstanding dues…” the March interim accounts said.

“This transaction resulted in a net gain of Rs25.9 billion rupees which has been recognized and reflected in the ‘Gain from Share Disposal’ in the individual financial statement in CEB.”

LTL Holdings is a former transformer making unit of the CEB set up with ABB where the foreign holding was sold to its management.

The firm has since set up several IPPs.

West Coast Power operates a 300MW combined cycle IPP in Kerawalapitiya promoted by LTL group liked firms in which both the Treasury and Employees Provident Fund also have shares.

Its operational and maintenance contract is with Lakdhanavi, another private IPP. The firm has been paying dividends.

The capital gain from the transfer of shares helped the CEB post profits to 84 billion rupees for the March 2024 quarter.

CEB reported gross profits of 62.7 billion rupees from energy sales and 30.6 billion rupees in other income and gains in the March 2024 quarter. Other income was only 3.1 billion rupees in last year. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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