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Friday March 1st, 2024

Sri Lanka teachers’ strike: minister threatens legal action if teachers disrupt school reopening

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara has promised tough legal action against any school teacher unionists who attempt to sabotage government plans to reopen some schools on October 21.

Speaking at an event in Colombo on Thursday (14), Weerasekara drew parallels between a dragging teachers’ strike – now into its fourth month – and Sri Lanka’s civil war.

“If teachers’ salaries are low, we must definitely give them higher pay. But there is something like this: We destroyed terrorism. Whether the root cause of that terrorism was fair or not, terrorism cannot be justified, because it is innocent civilians who die from it. Similarly, whether or not the teachers’ grievance is fair, we cannot justify their strike because it is our children who suffer from it,” the minister said.

Teachers and principals in Sri Lanka have been on strike for 95 days as of Friday (15) over long-standing salary anomalies, in what has become one of the longest trade union campaigns in the island’s history. Having rejected a government proposal to increase their salaries in two installments from 2022, union leaders said on Wednesday (13) that they will continue the strike until a solution acceptable to them is provided.

Ceylon Teachers Union Secretary Joseph Stalin told reporters on Thursday that if there is no solution by October 21, the alliance of unions engaged in the strike will “take a decision”. October 21 is when the government plans to reopen some 5,000 schools out of over 10,000 after a months-long closure due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

The trade unions are stubbornly clinging to a demand that salary recommendations proposed in the Subodhini Committee report be implemented. The Subhodnii report is a document formulated by a committee that was appointed by a former education minister.

Claiming that the unions have compromised in accepting the Subodhini proposals, Stalin dismissed the notion that the government cannot afford the increment demanded by them.

“We know that the government has now decided to allocate 120 million rupees to district development coordinating committees’ chairmen and deputy chairmen clearly targeting the provincial council polls.

“The government has money for expenses like this, but not to resolve the teachers’ salary issue,” he said.

Related: Sri Lanka teachers’ trade unions stick to their guns, continue strike

Minister Weerasekara, meanwhile, claimed that some teachers have personally told him that they would like to come to work.

“Please report to work and give these children their education. A lot of teachers have said to me: ‘Sir, we’re not doing this willingly but under pressure’,” said Weerasekara.

“As minister of public security, if there are any threats against teachers who do report to duty, I stress earnestly that we will take tough action against them. If they are harassed even with a single word, as public security minister I will take responsibility for it and take legal action against them,” he said.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Minister Weerasekara threatened action against the the teachers on strike.

On September 30, he said in a televised interview that the authorities had been too soft on teachers who engaged in massive protests in July and August over the unresolved salary anomalies. His comments drew flak from the school teachers’ unions who claimed the minister’s words were a clear threat to their right to protest and signalled a keenness for militarisation.

Related: Sri Lanka teachers unions angered by police minister’s call for “tough” measures

Issuing a different type of veiled threat, ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna MP S B Dissanayaka told reporters on Tuesday: “Teachers should come to school and start work. Otherwise we have to defeat and suppress the strike and restart the schools. It has been done in the past. Advanced rich countries such as Singapore have done it. Otherwise they will still be like us.” (Colombo/Oct15/2021)

Video credit: NewsFirst

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Sri Lanka’s RAMIS online tax collection system “not operatable”: IT Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s online tax collection system RAMIS is “not operatable”, and the Ministry of Information Technology is ready to do for an independent audit to find the shortcomings, State IT Minister Kanaka Herath said.

The Revenue Administration Management Information System (RAMIS) was introduced to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) when the island nation signed for its 16th International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme in 2016.

However, trade unions at the IRD protested the move, claiming that the system was malfunctioning despite billions being spent for it amid allegations that the new system was reducing the direct contacts between taxpayers and the IRD to reduce corruption.

The RAMIS had to be stopped after taxpayers faced massive penalties because of blunders made by heads of the IT division, computer operators and system errors at the IRD, government officials have said.

“The whole of Sri Lanka admits RAMIS is a failure. The annual fee is very high for that. This should be told in public,” Herath told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Thursday (29)

“In future, we want all the ministries to get the guidelines from our ministry when they go for ERP (Enterprise resource planning).”

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government said the RAMIS system will be operational from December last year.

However, the failure has delayed some tax collection which could have been paid via online.

“It is not under our ministry. It is under the finance ministry. We have no involvement with it, but still, it is not operatable,” Herath said.

“So, there are so many issues going on and I have no idea what the technical part of it. We can carry out an independent audit to find out the shortcomings of the software.”

Finance Ministry officials say IRD employees and trade unions had been resisting the RAMIS because it prevents direct interactions with taxpayers and possible bribes for defaulting or under paying taxes.

The crisis-hit island nation is struggling to boost its revenue in line with the target it has committed to the IMF in return for a 3 billion-dollar extended fund facility. (Colombo/Feb 29/2024) 

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Sri Lanka aims to boost SME with Sancharaka Udawa tourism expo

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is hosting Sancharaka Udawa, a tourism industry exhibition which will bring together businesses ranging from hotels to travel agents and airlines, and will allow the small and medium sector build links with the rest of the industry, officials said.

There will be over 250 exhibitors, with the annual event held for the 11th time expected to draw around 10,000 visitors, the organizers said.

“SMEs play a big role, from homestays to under three-star categories,” Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, Chalaka Gajabahu told reporters.

“It is very important that we develop those markets as well.”

The Sancharaka Udawa fair comes as the Indian Ocean island is experiencing a tourism revival.

Sri Lanka had welcomed 191,000 tourists up to February 25, compared to 107,639 in February 2023.

“We have been hitting back-to-back double centuries,” Gajabahu said. “January was over 200,000.”

The exhibition to be held on May 17-18, is organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.

It aims to establish a networking platform for small and medium sized service providers within the industry including the smallest sector.

“Homestays have been increasingly popular in areas such as Ella, Down South, Knuckles and Kandy,” SLAITO President, Nishad Wijethunga, said.

In the northern Jaffna peninsula, both domestic and international tourism was helping hotels.

A representative of the Northern Province Tourism Sector said that the Northern Province has 170 hotels, all of which have 60-70 percent occupancy.

Further, domestic airlines from Colombo to Palali and the inter-city train have been popular with local and international visitors, especially Indian tourists. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 309.50/70 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 309.50/70 to the US dollar Thursday, from 310.00/15 on Wednesday, dealers said.

Bond yields were slightly higher.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed at 10.50/70 percent down from 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.90/12.10 percent from 11.90/12.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 12.20/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.30/45 percent up from 12.20/50 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.35/50 percent up from 12.25/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.55/13.00 percent up from 12.50/90 percent. (Colombo/Feb29/2024)

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