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Sri Lanka’s “elderly” MPs must resign to make way for youth protestors: bus union chief

File Picture of protest

ECONOMYNEXT – President Ranil Wickremesinghe must see to it that at least five “elderly” MPs vacate their parliamentary seats to make way for representatives of Sri Lanka’s youth-led protest movement, Chairman of Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) Gemunu Wijeratne said

Speaking to reporters on Monday August 01, Wijearatne suggested that five key individuals from the ‘Aragalaya’ (Struggle) protest movement must enter parliament through the national list.

Sri Lanka’s youth have been demonstrating against the government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis since April and their protests saw the ouster of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country on July 13.

One of the demands of the Galle Face protestors is more youth participation in parliament. Wijearatne told EconomyNext that “elderly” members of parliament should resign of their own accord to make way for new personalities with new ideas.

We have ministers that can’t walk and we expect them to be able to run a country. So I make this suggestion in good faith, to give the young generation a chance to have their voices heard.”

“The president must decide which parliamentary seats will be replaced,” he said.

A majority have been asking for elections after President Wickremesinghe was sworn in, the private bus union chief said.

“Even if there is an election under this proportional representation voting system, the youth will never be able to get elected to parliament, because every day it’s the same wine in a new bottle,” he said.

Wijeratne, who is not directly affiliated with the Aragalaya, said he’s making this proposal as a solution to Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since Independence. He claimed he has been a witness to injustice and disparity within the system, hence his call for youth leadership in Sri Lanka.

S V Nadarajah, a protestor who has been in the struggle since its inception, is not hostile to Wijeratne’s proposal.

“Most politicians are in their retirement age and there is no inflow of new ideas nor any vision. When the youngsters enter parliament, it will change,” she said, adding that the younger generation is looking to join active politics.

“Sri Lanka is following 74-year-old politics which doesn’t work for today,” she said.

However, not all protestors are interested in entering parliament and working with the establishment. Chathura Bandara, a frequent protestor, said: “Five members of the Aragalaya against 220 existing members of parliament will not, once again, be a reflection of the people.”

One of the main arguments of the anti-government protestors is that the current parliament is not representative of the public and that the present set of rulers are not in touch with the people and their hardships.

“If we wanted to join the parliament, we would have campaigned during elections. That is not what we want. We want a system change, but we don’t want a system change with the existing 225 [members of parliament],” said Bandara.

Despite some setbacks, sections of the Aragalaya are persistent with their demand that President Wickremesinghe also vacate his office. This has been particularly the case since what critics claimed was an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors on July 22 when the military allegedly attacked protestors at Galle Face and forcefully evicted them the Presidential Secretariat even after a prior notice that they would be leaving.

“We didn’t come to protest to fill a vacant seat in parliament,” says Melanie Gunathilaka, an occupant at Galle Face who has been protesting since April..

Wickremesinghe was elected president by parliament with 134 votes out of 225. On Sunday July 31, he renewed his call for an all-party government to lead Sri Lanka out of its economic crisis.

A Wall Street Journal interview on Sunday saw him reiterate his call for political stability.

Related:

Political stability will help Sri Lanka turn a corner, president tells WSJ

The president has also controversially claimed that the Aragalaya has been hijacked by what he calls fascist elements aiming to destabilise the country. He has pointed to acts of violence including acts of arson and the killing of government MP Amarakeerthi Atukorala as evidence.

Since the protest is a decentralised movement with the participation of a wide array of citizens, said Gunatillake, some may be fond of the idea getting into parliament. But this was go against the core demands of the Aragalaya, she said.

“This is a move to bring new young faces with the bunch of old faces. You can’t have new when you’re surrounded by the old,” she said. (Colombo/Aug01/2022)

Comments (1)

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  1. Rubu Fernando says:

    There definitely must be certain criteria for MP’s.
    1. Minimum a university edcation
    2. Proficent in all 3 languages – English a must
    3. No more than 65 years of age
    4. Must have a proven track record
    5. No crimial records, including traffic violations
    6. Should follow a minimum 3 month course on parliamentary norms, behavior rules and etiquett and pass a rigid test
    7 Basically follow the Singapore model.

    Ministers of the cabinet should be subject matter experts with education, knowlege of the subject and experience from corporate.

    Government should vacate from owning and operating businesses and MP chit system of recruitment to Government jobs cease forthwith. Government should not be in the business of providing employment – it should be left to free market enterprises to do so.

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  1. Rubu Fernando says:

    There definitely must be certain criteria for MP’s.
    1. Minimum a university edcation
    2. Proficent in all 3 languages – English a must
    3. No more than 65 years of age
    4. Must have a proven track record
    5. No crimial records, including traffic violations
    6. Should follow a minimum 3 month course on parliamentary norms, behavior rules and etiquett and pass a rigid test
    7 Basically follow the Singapore model.

    Ministers of the cabinet should be subject matter experts with education, knowlege of the subject and experience from corporate.

    Government should vacate from owning and operating businesses and MP chit system of recruitment to Government jobs cease forthwith. Government should not be in the business of providing employment – it should be left to free market enterprises to do so.

Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings

(Colombo/May25/2024)

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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.

Related

Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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300 out of 1,200 Sri Lanka central bank staff works on EPF: CB Governor

ECONOMYNEXT – About 300 central bank staff out of 1,200 are employed in the Employees Provident Fund and related work, Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said, with the function due to be transferred to a separate agency after a revamp of its governing law.

“When it comes to the EPF there is an obvious conflict of interest. We are very happy to take that function out,” Governor Weerasinghe told a forum organized by Colombo-based Advocata Institute.

“We have about 300 staff out of 1,200 including contract staff, almost 150 of permanent staff is employed to run this huge operation. I don’t think the central bank should be doing this business,”

The EPF had come under fire in the past over questionable investments in stocks and also bonds.

In addition, the central bank also faced a conflict of interest because it had another agency function to sell bonds for the Treasury at the lowest possible price, not to mention its monetary policy functions.

“There has been a lot of allegations on the management of this fund. This is the biggest fund of the private sector; about 2.6 million active, I think about 10 million accounts.

“When it comes to EPF, obviously there’s another thing. We obviously have, in terms of resources, on the Central Bank, that has a clear conflict because we are responsible for the members.

“We have to give them a, as a custodian of the fund, we have to give them a maximum return for the members.

“For us to get the maximum return, on one hand, we determine the interest rates as multi-policy. On the other hand, we are managing public debt as a, raising funds for the government.

“And on the third hand, this EPF is investing 90 percent in government securities. And also, interest rates we determine, and they want to get the maximum interest. That’s a clear conflict, obviously, there’s no question.”

A separate agency is to be set up, he said.

“It’s up to the government or the members to determine to establish a new institution that has a trust and credibility and confidence of the members that this institution will be able to manage and secure an interest and give them a reasonable return, good return for their lifetime savings,” Governor Weerasinghe said.

“The question is that how whether we have whether we can develop that institution, whether we have the strong institution with accountability and the proper governance for this thing.

“I don’t think it should be given completely to a private sector business to run that. Because one is that here we have no regulatory institution. Pension funds are not a regulated business.

“First one is we need to establish, government should establish a regulatory agency to regulate not only the EPF business fund, there are several other similar funds are not properly regulated.

“Once we have proper regulations like we regulate banks, then we can have a can ensure proper practices are basically adopted by all these institutions.

“Then you can develop an institution that we who can run this and can be taken back by the Labour Department. I’m not sure Labour Department has the capacity to do all these things.”

While some EPF managers had come under scrutiny during the bondscam and for questionable stock investments, in recent years, it had earned better returns under the central bank management than some private funds that underwent debt restructuring according to capital market analysts with knowledge of he matter. (Colombo/May24/2024)

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