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Monday February 6th, 2023

Sri Lanka’s anti-terror law under scrutiny again as protestor detention continues

File photo of IUSF protest

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which temporarily cost the country the EU’s GSP Plus trade concession in 2010, is once again under scrutiny after it was enforced to arrest and detain protestors involved in the Aragalaya (Struggle) protest movement that caused a sitting president to resign.

First billed as a temporary Act in 1978, the PTA has been used sporadically throughout Sri Lanka’s recent history.

It was used in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, after the initial protests in front of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksha’s private residence in Colombo suburb, and most recently to detain three anti-government protestors.

The protestors,  Convenor of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Wasantha Mudalige, Convener of Inter University Bhikku Federation Galwewa Siridhamma Thero, and member of the Kelaniya University Students’ Union Hashantha Jawantha Gunathilake, have all been served a 90 day detention order by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This development came  hours after UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor requested President Wickremesinghe to not to sign the detention orders.


Top UN officials asks Sri Lanka president to not to sign detention orders on IUSF convenor

Historically accused of being used against minorities, the PTA was drafted by Wickremesinghe’s uncle, then President J R Jayawardena, to quell activity of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

Critics say the Act’s vague wording made it possible for law enforcement to arrest civilians on the slightest suspicion of anti-state activity including but not limited to intimidating a population, preventing governments or international organisations from functioning, or causing damage to any property, public or private.

After civilians took to the streets en masse in March against rising costs and shortages amid Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since Independence, protests were largely peaceful.

The first protest at Mirihana ended with the burning of a bus. In May, retaliatory mob violence after supporters of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksha attacked peaceful protestors ended with the burning and looting of vehicles and houses belonging to MPs, and the death of one government MP.

In July, Wickremesinghe’s private residence was burned down. Protestors had taken over several official buildings including the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s office, and the president’s official residence, causing some damage to public property, all causes for arrest under the PTA.

“It is not just bringing in bombs or guns and murdering people that can be construed as terrorism,” an official said speaking to EconomyNext asking not to be named.

“Intimidation, destruction of or damage to public property, burning down houses, this is all terrorism.”

With the imposition of the Emergency Law – which has now lapsed – and removal of the protestors’ main occupation site at Colombo’s Galle Face Green, protestors have become less outspoken, many going into hiding out of fear arrest.

Arrests made under the PTA have strengthened that fear, and International agencies such as the European Union have already voiced their concerns.


EU concerned Sri Lanka may use anti-terror law on democratic protestors

Amnesty International tweeted on Friday August 19: “Arbitrarily detaining protesters and charging them with serious criminal offences that are not justified by their actions, such as terrorism-related charges, is against international law.”

Protestors have been arrested for sitting in the president’s chair and taking selfies in the president’s official residence, while calls to investigate the pro-government mobs that attacked protestors on May 09 have gone unanswered, activists say.

Wickremesinghe effectively ended the Galle Face Occupation within 19 days of his swearing in, but dissent is still ongoing, with some protestors demanding an election.

While the State of Emergency has effectively lapsed, the PTA arrests have made protestors both more wary and more determined to take down the Wickremesinghe regime, they say. (Colombo/Aug22/2022)

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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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