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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

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

NETWORK TREES: Students in remote areas travel to ‘network trees’ instead of school for online classes. High taxes makes it difficult for companies to rollout network to rural areas with low population density.

ECONOMYNEXT – Having rejected a government proposal to increase their salaries in two installments from 2022, an alliance of school teachers’ and principals’ trade unions in Sri Lanka said on Wednesday (13) that they will continue what has turned out to be one of the longest strikes in the island’s history.

Now into its fourth month, the strike is likely to derail the government’s plans to reopen around 5,000 schools out of over 10,000 that have been closed for the better part of the year due to the COVID-19 epidemic. The strike has already hampered distant learning efforts, as teachers have stayed away from online education since July.

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.

“We decided to continue our strike, asking the government to implement the Subodhini report’s recommendations in order to solve our issue,” Ceylon Teachers Union Secretary Joseph Stalin told the privately owned television network Derana on Wednesday.

In place of the Subodhini recommendations, Stalin said, trade unions are receptive to another report by the current cabinet, but are against its proposal to increase their pay in four stages. The trade unions demand the increment in a single step, he said.

“We noticed that [Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa] was trying to give us what we ask for, but the secretary to the treasury and the budget proposal director [was] saying it cannot be done,” Stalin said.

A crucial round of talks was held between the union leaders and a group of ministers led by Prime Rajapalsa on Tuesday (12). The meeting ended without a decision.

“It was said at the meeting that they still havem’t allocated money for this in the budget. If a final decision is not given by October 21, when they say they will open some schools, we will take a decision on whether to go to school or not,” Stalin told Derana TV.

“We will continue our strike with online education as well. We would have started online education by now had these discussions happened earlier. The cabinet decision was given on August 30. We continued asking for a meeting with higher authorities, and only yesterday we got the chance.”

Meanwhile, ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna MP S B Dissanayaka said both the president and the prime minister have been trying to resolve the issue amicably.

“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,” Dissanayake told reporters on Tuesday.

The teachers’ and principals’ strike over salary anomalies has been continuing for 94 days as of Wednesday.

School teachers and principals have been at loggerheads with the government demanding a solution to salary issues that have plagued the service for 24 years.

Tuesday’s meeting sought to bring the strike to an end before starting small schools with a student population of fewer than 200 on October 21.

The government at the Tuesday meeting proposed to reduce the increment installment to two from an earlier three and stood its ground that it cannot be given at once in the 2022 budget, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena had said.

The lingering strike has already drawn public criticism, particularly over the government’s handling of the teachers’ issue.

Minister Gunawardena had previously declared school teachers’ and principals’ services as a “closed service” on August 31.

Both teachers’ and principals’ services are under the public service. But declaring them a closed service will allow the government to treat teachers and principals separately from the rest of the public service when resolving their demands of salary anomalies, wages, transfers, and other benefits.

This will also mean that cadres from the teachers and principals services cannot be transferred to any other public services.

The government earlier announced a special allowance of 5,000 rupees for teachers and principals who will be on duty during September and October 2021, the months in which the government had planned to hold GCE Advanced Level and grade 5 scholarship examinations.

The education ministry had postponed the two key exams, amid much public criticism. (Colombo/Oct13/2021)

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.

TARIFF CUT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED 

“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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