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Thursday February 29th, 2024

Sri Lanka’s overcrowded jails tense over COVID 19

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s overcrowded prisons are constantly simmering with tensions, and the threat of COVID19 entering them has raised anxiety to a new level and placed jailors and inmates on edge.

Already the current situation has resulted in two deaths at the Anuradhapura jail when jail guards opened fire to quell a riot that grew out of a protest by inmates on March 21. At least six other inmates were injured in the shooting.

The incident at Anuradhapura began because of the restrictions the jail placed on visits to the inmates by close relatives as a measure to control the spread of COVID19. The primary complaint when such restrictions are placed is about food, says President of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) Senaka Perera.

It is often alleged that due to corruption in the Prisons the quantity of food the Department provides inmates is grossly insufficient and it requires food from home to keep the inmates adequately fed.

Perera, who is an attorney, told EconomyNext the “situation was made worse because there were rumours that an inmate infected with COVID19 has been transferred to the jail.”

Senior Prison staff were quoted in the media that a number of regular guards had not reported to work that day following the rumours.

Finally, to quell the riot and restore order the Police Special Task Force had to be called in. Police said that the deaths and injuries to the inmates had been caused due to firing by Prison Guards.

On March 16 CPRP submitted a paper to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa calling for the release of certain groups of prisoners to ease the overcrowding.

They included those who could not pay a small fine, those who could not afford to post bail or meet other bail conditions and others who were ill or over 72.

At present the premier jail, Welikada houses over 5,000 inmates in a space built during colonial times to accommodate 850. In Kegalle, another hot spot, there are 800 in a facility meant for 300.

“It is impossible to keep the distance required for personal space as recommended by the Health Authorities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our jails,” Perera pointed out. “If someone who is infected is detained, then the overcrowding and the unsanitary conditions could cause it to spread quickly,” he said.

On March 24 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa discussed the issue with a new committee appointed to take “relief measures for the prisons,” his Media Spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said.

The committee was specifically asked to ease congestion in Prisons.

The committee that includes Prison Department Chief Jayasiri Tennakoon and the President of the Bar Association Kalinga Indatissa was to have met yesterday with the President.

Across the world, dozens of prisoners have died in overcrowded prisons ranging from Columbia to Italy to India as the COVID19 threat made prisoners restive.

In Italy at least 50 jails have seen riots connected to the coronavirus threat mostly over the extraordinary restrictions imposed on visitors. Thirteen inmates have died in these incidents.

In Colombia, more than 23 inmates were killed and dozens of guards injured in a riot in the capital Bogota’s prison, officials said. The government triggered provisions which would allow for the release of prisoners over 60.

Sri Lanka’s incidents where inmates have been killed in Sri Lanka’s prisons have been reported in the past. Among the worst of the incidents was the murder of Tamil prisoners in 1983 at Welikada, at Bindunuwewa in 2000, Vavuniya in 2012 and the most recent massacre again at Welikada in 2012.

Writing in Groundviews Human Rights activist Ruki Fernando urged the authorities to take action to prevent such incidents.

He said that society should acknowledge that “prisoners are amongst the most vulnerable, have limited contacts with anxious families and the outside world and have less access to reliable information. They may panic and take desperate measures to protect and remove themselves from real or perceived harm from COVID-19 and may even resort to irrational, illegal or violent behaviour. Anxious and overworked prison staff and authorities may be hard-pressed to control such behaviour” Fernando said. (Colombo, March 27, 2020)





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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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