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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Sri Lanka to receive “priceless” artefacts from Netherlands amid concerns over robberies

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka will receive “the first batch” of artefacts including a golden sword that were taken during the Dutch occupation period in the island nation after the South Asian  government made a request to the Dutch, its Cultural Affairs Minister said.

But concerns are raised over how they are going to be protected from robberies, which have taken place at the National Museum in the past.

The request was made by Vidura Wickremenayake, the Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs, to the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The Dutch authorities have agreed to return the artefacts – a Kandyan cannon, a golden sword, a silver sword, two guns and a knife which was used by ancient Sinhalese rulers.

“This is just the first batch. We do not know how many batches are there. I do not want to pressurize them,” Wickremenayake told Economy Next on Wednesday (12).

He said the value of the artefacts are priceless.

“How can you value artefacts? Can you value your grandparents? We cannot say an exact amount.”

The Dutch government is currently in the process of returning 478 cultural objects to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

The six artefacts that are currently being returned are in the custody of the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands which has historical products since 1200.

The Dutch ruled Sri Lanka, which was popularly known as Ceylon for nearly 140 years until they were expelled by the British in 1796.

“As far as Sri Lanka’s colonial occupiers go, the Netherlands has taken the lead in the space of artefact restitution. The Netherland’s decision to return several objects from Sri Lanka to the island is thus a welcome one, and a testament to the former coloniser’s desire to make some amends,” Shamara Wettimunny, a historian and political analyst, told EconomyNext.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander on July 1 formally apologized for the Netherlands’ involvement in slavery, saying he felt “personally and intensely” affected.

“The Dutch government has, however, ruled out the idea of reparations for now. Although not all objects taken from Sri Lanka are due to be returned, included in the returns is the beautifully adorned Lewke Cannon, taken as war loot from the Kandyan Kingdom in 1765,”  Wettimunny said.

“This announcement of artefact restitution should be seen as a process, which we are just embarking on, rather than concluding. The important question for us in Sri Lanka is, what will become of those artefacts once they return to the island? Where will they be kept and how well will they be looked after? Who owns an object that was gifted to a monarchy that no longer exists in Sri Lanka?”

“Robberies at the National Museum in 2012 and 2017 and the inadequate protection provided to such important heritage sites give cause for concern for the future of restituted artefacts in Sri Lanka.”

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Sri Lanka halts parate execution of defaulted SME loans

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will suspend the procedure for banks to acquire properties used as a collateral in the event the loans are not paid off, until December this year.

“Various parties have pointed out issues existing in paying off the loans obtained by small and medium scale businessmen from banks,” Cabinet spokesman minister Bandula Gunawardena said Tuesday.

“Therefore, it is apparent that a sufficient grace period to pay off relevant debts without being a burden to the banking system should be allowed.”

“Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers granted approval to the proposal furnished by the President in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, Economic Stabılızation and National Policies to suspend the procedure by the banks to acquire properties of loans not paid off, until 15 December 2024, and to amend Section 4 of the Recovery of Loans by Banks (Special Provisions) Act No, 4 of 1990 to impose legal provisions required for the above.” (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Sri Lanka parliamentary committee says electricity tariffs should be reduced by 20 pct

ECONOMYNEXT — A parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Alleviating the Impact of the Economic Crisis has recommended to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) that electricity tariffs be reduced by at least 20 percent.

A statement from parliament said on Monday February 26 that, following an analytical review of the figures presented by the Electricity Board, Public Utilities Commission, etc. and taking into consideration all other factors affecting the price of electricity, including considering the opinion given by experts that the existing electricity price can be reduced by about 33%, price of electricity should be reduced by at least 20% in the year 2024 so that the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) will not suffer any loss.

PUCSL officials have informed the Committee that by the end of this month, they can submit the necessary recommendations to reduce the electricity bill, according to the statement.

The matter was taken up for discussion when the committee, chaired by MP Gamini Waleboda, met in the Parliament on February 22.

Officials from the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Public Utilities Commission, Industry Development Board, Enterprise Development Authority, Department of Population and Statistics, Department of Inland Revenue and from government institutions including the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Industries Board and a group of industrialists had also been called for the meeting.

“The Committee gave several directives to the relevant institutions and officials to identify the micro, small and medium scale industries that are directly affected by the economic crisis and to activate the local economy and increase the foreign exchange earnings by reviving the industry sector.

“The Committee pointed out that due to the increase in electricity bills, the number of electricity connection cuts reported across the island has exceeded one million. It was also emphasised that in order to alleviate the pressure on the industry and the society, it should be arranged to provide electricity connections again by charging only 50 percent of the outstanding charges at the initial stage with the concessional basis of payment of outstanding electricity charges on installment basis,” the statement said.

The committee was also of the view to allow the customer to pay the connection fee in installments so as to avoid discouraging new entrepreneurs to start micro, small and financial industries due to high charges for getting fixed electricity connection and instructed to review the new connection fee and work to reduce it as much as possible.

The committee chair has instructed the PUCSL to conduct an audit on the electricity consumption in the public sector as an approach to ensure energy security.

“The Committee recommended to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank to start a loan scheme at subsidised interest for the purchase of solar panel systems with a view to promoting solar energy as a source of energy supply to industries. The Ministry of Finance expressed its agreement to provide refinancing facilities subject to a maximum as per the proposal made by the Committee to implement a loan scheme targeting micro, small and medium scale industrialists under subsidized interest rates.

The committee has also recommended that raw materials that must be imported from abroad and impose tax concessions on such raw materials be identified to ensure the supply of raw materials required for the smooth running of micro, small and medium scale industries. Copper, lead, aluminum and other industrial scraps used as raw materials in various domestic industries currently being sold by the CEB to external buyers and other entities should also be issued to micro, small and medium scale industrialists recommended by the Ministry of Industry and the Industrial Development Board, the committee has recommended.

The definition used by the Department of Population and Statistics for micro, small and medium industries and the definition used by other institutions such as the Industrial Development Board and the Central Bank for those industries are different from each other, which is an obstacle in making policy decisions, the committee had noted, directing the Department of Population and Statistics to support to the policymakers by releasing statistical data based on a common definition.

“The committee also recommended that the Credit Information Bureau should take prompt action to remove their credit information from the blacklists so as to facilitate access to credit facilities for micro, small and medium scale industries facing financial crisis to activate their balance sheets and to review all existing laws and procedures for registration of micro, small and medium scale industries as well as to obtain licenses and introduce a simple system.

“The committee informed all the parties to establish a steering Committee headed by the Ministry of Industry to implement the recommendations given by the Committee and to report its progress within a week,” the statement said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Sri Lanka sets up fund to help children of Gaza

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is mandated to provide education, health, relief and social services, and emergency assistance to refugees. (Pic courtesy UNWRA)

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers have approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to set up a fund to help children caught in the war in Gaza, a statement said.

The government will contribute a million US dollars and use funds allocated by state agencies for Ifthar celebrations.

Public contributions are also called.

The Presidential Secretariat is requesting public donations citizens for the “Children of Gaza Fund” to be contributed to account number 7040016 at Bank of Ceylon (7010), Taprobane Branch (747) by 11th April.

Deposit receipts should to be forwarded to 0779730396 via WhatsApp. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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