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Monday February 6th, 2023

Sri Lanka to hold ground at UNHRC vote on Oct 06: foreign minister

Mohamed Ali Sabry PC/Facebook

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has decided to hold its ground at the latest United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva, expressing strong opposition to a newer and tougher resolution to be taken up for a vote on Thursday October 06.

Noting that the odds are stacked heavily against the island nation what with powerful Western nations lobbying hard for votes, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said on Wednesday that his government is particularly opposed to operative paragraph number 8, which he claimed is directly in confrontation with Sri Lanka’s constitution.

The paragraph reads: “Recognises the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decides to extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction.”

Speaking to journalists in the run-up to the Thursday’s vote, Minister Sabry said over a Zoom call from Geneva that countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who lead the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

“This is not a fair reflection of the people’s will. This is heavy lobbying. This is geopolitics,” he said.

The composition of the UNHRC has changed and many countries that previously voted in support of Sri Lanka are no longer members of the council, said Sabry, indicating that the country will fare poorly at Thursday’s vote.

The minister complained that neither the West nor the diaspora groups are ever satisfied with the steps taken by Sri Lanka under successive governments to promote reconciliation through its own homegrown mechanisms and are determined to perpetually keep the “small country” trapped.

“Whatever you deliver, they will continue with a new theme and this will remain,” he said, falling back on Sri Lanka’s usual defence that human rights are being used as a tool of control.

With the exception of the Yahapalana government period from 2015 to 2019, Sri Lanka has, since 2009, taken a defensive if not confrontational approach to handling the UNHRC’s attempts to hold the state accountable for human rights violations alleged to have taken place in the final phase of a brutal 26-year with the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Minister Sabry said in September that Sri Lanka’s government under new president Ranil Wickremesinghe – who, incidentally, was prime minister in the Yahapalana government – does not want any confrontation with any international partner at the 51st UNHRC sessions but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.


Sri Lanka does not want confrontation at UNHRC, but will oppose anti-constitutional moves

In his address to journalists on the eve of the vote, Sabry said that Western machinations notwithstanding, Sri Lanka is committed to establishing a truth-seeking mechanism of its own and will go ahead with efforts at reconciliation that are in line with the constitution and do not violate the country’s sovereignty or the independence of the judiciary. Proponents of an external mechanism, however, have questioned the reliability of any internal investigation.

A truth-seeking mechanism that’s acceptable to the international community will be established after a rapport has been submitted by a presidential commission of inquiry, he said.

The Prevention of Terrosism Act (PTA), Sri Lanka’s controversial anti-terror law, already amended in April will also be repalced with new legislation, he added.

The PTA and its use in detaining anti-government protestors have also been highlighted in the new UNHRC resolution.

Sabry complained that countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Germany do not acknowledge measures taken by Sri Lanka over the years such as the rehabilitation and release of 12,9000 Tiger cadres who had surrendered to the army and the release of some 94 percent of Tamil-owned land previously occupied by the military.

The Tamil people of the country’s north and east, claimed Sabry, are not asking for a hybrid court or foreign judges but for employment opportunities and economic assistance.

The minister reiterated his government’s opposition to operative paragraph 8, which he called dangerous and a “targeted act against war heroes”.

“We cannot agree to this. We can’t do it even if we do agree,” he said, noting that having foreign judges investigate Sri Lankan troops or having troops prosecuted abroad would be a violation of the constitution.

“Since 2009, the peace benefits have been enjoyed by everybody, be they Sinhalese, Tamil, or Muslim. There has been massive development in various parts of the country. Until the unfortunate recent economic crisis, Sri Lanka was on a good path. People have now forgotten,” he said, adding that the dividends of peace are “everywhere”.

The latest UNHRC resolution on “promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, sponsored by 26 countries, also makes reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis.

Operative paragraph 13 calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to “address the ongoing economic crisis, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including where committed by public and former public officials, and stands ready to assist and support independent, impartial and transparent efforts in this regard.”

Minister Sabry said Sri Lanka objects to this too, on the grounds that the UNHRC has no jurisdiction on economic matters.

“We are all agreed that economic reform is needed. But is that the specialisation of the UNHRC? That’s the area of the IMF and the World Bank. We have been perpetually put here. They’re interfering in everything, whether it’s within their purview or not,” he said.

Next they’ll say they need to investigate cricket, he added.

“What we’re saying at this crucial juncture is [that Sri Lanka needs] unity international support. We don’t want division and polarisation in the council,” said Sabry.

“We have engaged the core group and told them that we need time and space to deliver,” he added. (Colombo/Oct05/2022)

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Sri Lanka to address SME tax problems at first opportunity: State Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Problems faced by Sri Lanka’s small and medium enterprises from recent tax changes will be addressed at the first opportunity, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said.

Business chambers had raised questions about hikes in Value Added Tax, Corporate Income Tax and the Social Security Contribution Levy (SSCL) that’s been imposed.

It should be explored on how to amend the Inland Revenue Act, Siyamabalapitiya said, adding that the future months should be considered as a period where the country is being stabilized.

Both the VAT and SSCL are effectively paid by customers, but the SSCL is a cascading tax that makes running businesses difficult.

In Sri Lanka SMEs make up a large part of the economy, accounting for 80 per cent of all businesses according to according to the island’s National Human Resources and Employment Policy.

(Colombo/ Feb 05/2023)

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Sri Lanka revenues Rs158.7bn in Jan 2023 up 51-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government revenues were 158.7 billion rupees in January 2023 but expenditure and debt service remained high, Cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardana said.

In January 2022 total revenues were Rs104.5 billion according to central bank data.

Sri Lanka’s tax revenues have risen sharply amid an inflationary blow off which had boosted nominal GDP while President Ranil Wickremesinghe has also raised taxes.

Departing from a previous strategy advocated by the IMF expanding the state and not cutting expenses, called revenue based fiscal consolidation, he is attempting to do classical fiscal consolidation with spending restraint.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has presented a note to cabinet requesting state expenditure to be controlled, Gunawardana told reporters.

State Salaries cost 87.4 billion rupees.

Pensions and income supplements (Samurdhi program) were29.5 billion rupees.

Other expenses were 10.8 billion rupees.

Capital spending was   21 billion rupees.

Debt service was 377.6 billion rupees for January which has to be done with borrowings from Treasury bills, bonds and a central bank provisional advance of 100 billion rupees, Gunawardana said.

Interest costs were not separately given. (Colombo/Feb05/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Tea prices down for second week

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Tea prices fell for the second week at an auction on January 31, with teas from all elevations seeing a decline, data showed.

“In retrospect, the decline in prices would be a price correction owing to the overall product quality and less interest from some key importers due to the arrival of cargo at destinations ahead of schedule,” Forbes and Walker tea brokers said.

The weekly sale average fell from 1475.79 rupees to 1465.40 rupees from a week ago, according to data from Ceylon Tea Brokers.

The tea prices are down for two weeks in a row.

High Growns

The High Grown sale average was down by 20.90 rupees to 1380.23 rupees, Ceylon Tea Brokers said.

High grown BOP and BOPF was down about 100 rupees.

“Ex-Estate offerings which totalled 0.75 M/Kg saw a slight decline in quality over the previous week” Forbes and Walker said.

OP/OPA’s in general were steady to marginally down.

Low Growns

In Low Grown Teas, FBOP 1 was down by 100 rupees and FBOP was down by 50 rupees while PEK was up by 150 rupees.

The Low Growns sale average was down by 8.55 rupees to 1547.93 rupees.

A few select Best BOP1s along with Below Best varieties maintained.

OP1                     Select Best OP1’s were steady, whilst improved/clean Below Best varieties maintained.   Others and poorer sorts were easier.

PEKOE                 Well- made PEK/PEK1s in general were steady, whilst others and poorer sorts were down.

Leafy and Semi Leafy catalogues met with fair demand,” Forbes and Walker brokers said.

“However, the Small Leaf and Premium catalogues continued to decline.

“Shippers to Iran were very selective, whilst shippers to Türkiye and Russia were fairly active.”

This week  2.2 million Kilograms of Low Growns were sold.

Medium Growns

Medium Grown BOP and BOPF fell by around 100 rupees

The Medium Growns sale average was down by 33.40 rupees to 1199.4 rupees.

“Medium CTC teas in the higher price bracket witnessed a similar trend, whilst teas at the lower end were somewhat maintained subject to quality,” Forbes and Walker brokers said.

“Improved activity from the local trade and perhaps South Africa helped to stabilize prices to some extent.”

OP/OPA grades were steady while PEKOE/PEKOE1 were firm, while some gained 50-100 rupees at times.

Well-made FBOP/FBOPF1’s were down by 50-100 rupees per kg and more at times.

(Colombo/Feb 5/2023)

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