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Friday March 1st, 2024

Sri Lanka to reopen 5,000 schools, but teachers on strike refuse to budge

Schools remain closed in Sri Lanka as COVID-19 cases continue to surge

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has decided to reopen some 5,000 schools with a maximum of 200 students each over the next two to three weeks, a top minister said, though school teachers and principals have yet to call off a two-month-long strike.

A policy decision in this regard was taken at a meeting held at the health ministry with the national COVID-19 task force, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters on Thursday (16).

The government also expects to reopen preschools and primary schools (grades 1 to 6) in the near future, he added.

However, Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin said teachers will not resume work until long-standing salary anomalies in their service are not resolved.

Trade unions of teachers and principals have been on strike since July 11 and have withdrawn from online education and from issuing results of the GCE Ordinary Level exam held early this year over the issue.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said despite financial difficulties, a special allowance of 5,000 rupees will be granted to teachers and principals who report to duty in September and October, the months in which the government plans to hold the GCE Advanced Level and Grade 5 scholarship exams.

“The Secretary to the Ministry of Education has reportedly said that if principals don’t hand over the applications for the exams, they will look at alternatives. I wish to ask him if that’s a threat,” said Stalin.

“This can be resolved only through discussion,” he added.

The teachers’ and principals’ strike is continuing for the 67th day today (17).

Minister Gunawardena 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 implementation of the national decision to close down the teachers’ service will be implemented in the next few months,” Gunawardena said at the time, adding that the cabinet had decided to issue a gazette before November 20 declaring the services a closed service.

“All these decisions are taken to provide solutions to existing problems and the decisions are made taking into consideration the 4.3 million children in the country and their teachers who will pave the way for their future.”

The closed service move comes in line with the recommendation by a four-member cabinet subcommittee which looked into the salary anomalies of teachers and principals.

The minister also said implementation of the salary revisions will be done in stages through a 2022 budget proposal. Full implementation will be done in the next four years.

A decision was taken on August 30 to implement these measures in parts before the next four years to find a permanent solution.

Teachers, however, have rejected the offer.

“But we do not accept the 5,000-rupee allowance. We want our salary anomalies to be fixed as a part of the previous Subodhini committee report. We don’t accept these increments or allowances otherwise we will continue our strikes if that does not happen,” Stalin said.

However, a trade union affiliated with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the SLPP Education Services Association, said with Basil Rajapaksa taking the Financial Minister position, they believe a better solution will be provided.

“We request teachers and principals to resume duties concerning students who are facing the exams this year,” SLPP Education Services Association organiser Sisira Kumara Rathnayaka told reporters.

“This is not supporting the government, but rather doing our duty as responsible teachers,” he added. (Colombo/Sep16/2021)

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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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