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Sri Lanka’s SJB supports devolution but position on full 13A still unclear

SJB general secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), which boycotted a recent all-party conference (APC) on the ethnic issue, says it supports devolution of power, but the party has yet to articulate its position on the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution.

SJB general secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara told EconomyNext on Monday January 30 that President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who convened the APC, must first present the government’s proposals on devolution of power.

“We expressed our consent to power sharing at the first meeting. Instead of talking about this every day, present the government’s set of proposals,” said the MP.

Speaking at the APC, President Wickremesinghe said he wished to fully implement the 13th amendment to the constitution, which was aimed at giving more autonomy to provinces in a bid to solve the island nation’s decades-long ethnic conflict.

The solution is backed by India, which has expressed its support for Sri Lanka’s debt re-structuring plans.

Related:

Sri Lanka President says will fully implement 13th amendment

Wickremesinghe, flanked by former presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, told party leaders that, as executive president, he is required to fully implement the amendment.

“If it is not implemented, someone should bring another amendment and abolish it. We cannot stay on the fence saying we will not abolish it and we will not implement it,” he said.

The SJB was conspicuous by its absence at the APC, save for its MP Rajitha Senaratne who had been speculated to join the Wickremesinghe administration but so far remains an opposition legislator. He was heard speaking supportively of the president’s plan to fully implement the 13th amendment.

MP Madduma Bandara, however, insists that the president must present its proposals for devolution.

“We cannot sign a blank document,” he said.

President Wickremesinghe has reiterated his commitment to finding a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s enduring ethnic issue. He recently told a gathering at the National Thai Pongal Festival in Jaffna that the amendment will be fully implemented and a Social Justice Commission will be established to “build a country where everyone can live in harmony, by solving the problems of the people belonging to all sections of the population.”

The 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution emerged from the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 as a purported solution to the worsening ethnic conflict, four years after war broke out. Provincial councils came in the wake of this amendment, though land and police powers have yet to be devolved to the provinces as originally envisioned. Both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalists have historically opposed the amendment, the former claiming it devolved too much, the latter complaining it didn’t devolve enough.

A full implementation of the amendment will see land and police powers devolved to the provinces, a development that is not likely to garner support from Sri Lanka’s more nationalist-oriented parties including sections of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

SLPP MPs Gevindu Kumaratunga and Sarath Weerasekara said at the APC that the president lacke the mandate to go that far, a claim that Wickremesinghe defiantly refuted, arguing that as executive president elected by parliament he has the authority to fully implement the constitution.

However, the president said he does not support federalism, a solution which the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has indicated that it is open to.

Related:

Sri Lanka president pledges full implementation of 13th amendment; TNA sceptical

Federalism has been a highly controversial and politically inflammable idea in Sri Lanka over the years, with many nationalist or even some moderate parties in the south vehemently opposing the very suggestion of it. It is unclear whether this stance has softened over the 13 years since the end of the war, but to date no Sinhalese-dominated party – the SJB and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) included – has come out in support for it.

Asked if the SJB is open to devolving land and police powers, the party’s general secretary reiterated to EconomyNext that the government hasn’t clearly articulated its proposals.

“[President Wickremesinghe says full 13. [Ex president] Mahinda Rajapaksa said 13 Plus. We need to have some kind of note to look at and discuss,” said Madduma Bandara.

“Tell us what will be implemented in the 13th amendment. DIscussions can only take place around those proposals,” he said.

However, he stressed that the party does support devolution of power.

Does it support full devolution, however?

“Let’s see what the government has to say.”

Asked what form devolution of power would take under an SJB government, the opposition legislator said: “If we had a government, we would inform what form it would take.

Madduma Bandara repeated that the government, which holds parliamentary majority and has the president on its side, must release its proposals.

“No point us asking about our proposals now. Ask after we have been given power,” he said. (Colombo/Jan30/2023)

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  1. Buddhist says:

    The general view of the opposition leader is that he cannot make any decisions. This is an opportunity for him to prove this statement is wrong. He should come out and in detail explain SJB’s stand on the 13th amendment to the citizens of the country.

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  1. Buddhist says:

    The general view of the opposition leader is that he cannot make any decisions. This is an opportunity for him to prove this statement is wrong. He should come out and in detail explain SJB’s stand on the 13th amendment to the citizens of the country.

India supports Sri Lanka Coast Guard to boost maritime security

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given 1.2 million US dollars’ worth spare parts to Sri Lanka’s Coast Guard to be used in a vessel also gifted to the Indian Ocean Island on an earlier occasion, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“Handing over of the large consignment of spares symbolizes India’s commitment to support capability building towards addressing the shared challenges of Maritime Security in the region,” the Indian High Commission said

The spare parts were brought to Sri Lanka on the Indian Coast Guard Ship Sachet, an offshore patrol vessel that was on a two-day visit to the island.

The spares were formally handed over to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard Ship Suraksha which was gifted to Sri Lanka in October 2017 by India.

India has gifted spare parts for the ship in June 2021 and April 2022 and also provided assistance in refilling of Halon cylinders in January 2024. (Colombo/June23/2024)

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Sri Lanka Water Board makes profits, tax-payers inject Rs28bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run National Water Supply and Drainage Board has made a profit of 5.2 billion rupees in the year to December 2023, after a tariff increase despite not getting money for 25 percent of its water it pumps out.

Total revenues went up to 61.8 billion rupees in 2023 from 35.4 billion rupees, a Finance Ministry report said.

Water revenue surged to 58.5 billion rupees from 33.1 billion rupees, cost of sales also went up to 32.8 billion rupees from 23.14 billion rupees, helping boost gross profits from 12.3 billion rupees to 29.0 billion rupees.

Finance costs surged to 14.9 billion rupees from 3.9 billion rupees,

NSWD reported net profits of 5.2 billion rupees for the year, against a loss of 2.7 billion rupees a year earlier.

The Treasury had given 28 billion rupees from tax payer money to settle loans.

During the Rajapaksa administration, macroeconomists who ran the Finance Ministry made state enterprises borrow money from banks through Treasury guarantees listing them as ‘contingent liabilities’, claiming they were ‘off balance sheet’.

The Road Development Authority, which had no revenues to speak of borrowed large amounts of money from banks which were listed as ‘contingent liabilities’ though they were a responsibility of the state from day one, allowing macroeconomists to understate both the budget deficit and national debt, critics say.

The water tariffs were raised by 81 percent after macroeconomists printed money to supress interest rates for flexible inflation targeting/potential output targeting. The currency collapsed after macroeconomists tried to float the rupee with a surrender rule in place.

Non-revenue water for which no money is collected was 25.2 percent. The agency was supposed to reduce non-revenue water. In some districts religious establishments are responsible for non-revenue water, according to an official who said it on condition of anonymity.

The water board is also unable to collect money from some services like common toilets for underserved communities. (Colombo/June23/2024 – Update II)

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Sri Lanka will expedite Indian projects: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will expedite Indian-backed projects in the island, President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Indian business people after a visit by Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar this week.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Modi the need to accelerate the joint program that we have decided, agreed on. So the major ones are identified, and Foreign Minister Jaishankar came down today [20] to have a discussion. Now this will show the new path we are taking,” president Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“It won’t be individual projects. We’ve discussed a fair number of them. First is the grid interconnection between Sri Lanka and India, so that sustainable energy can be transmitted to India.

“We have the Sampur solar power project, which is a Government to Government (G2G) project, and a three island project, which is where we hope the ground breaking can take place in July,” he told Indian business people at the 31st All India Partner’s Meet 2024 (AIPM 2024), held at ICT Ratnadipa in Colombo.

The AIPM 2024 which was organised by KPGM Sri Lanka and India provided a platform for both countries to reaffirm their commitment to collaborative projects that promise to redefine bilateral relations and propel socio-economic growth.

“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have you in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, holding this meeting. It shows on one hand the close friendship that our two countries have, and on the other hand, the confidence that you have in Sri Lanka.

“Having now survived two difficult years, I must acknowledge that this was possible because India gave us a loan of $3.5 billion. All that will be repaid.”

Cooperation between the two nations needed to be enhanced, particularly in the energy sector, aiming to foster new development for the Northern region, Wickremesinghe said.

“We are looking at developing Palk Straight for wind energy and solar energy, both countries to get together and have a large farm for solar energy, for renewable energy. It also means that we will have a new economy for the northern province, which was worst affected by the war.”

Several Indian-backed projects in Sri Lanka have stalled due to protests from some parties, with some going to courts.

India is helping expand the Kankesanturai port, and is discussing development of the Palali and Colombo airports.

The National Livestock Development Board of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with India’s Amul Dairy Company, is involved in a project to enhance liquid milk production in the country.

The two nations are also considering establishing land connectivity.

Discussions have also taken place regarding expediting the Trincomalee Development Project, which encompasses industrial investment zones and tourist areas.

“Plans are underway to construct a multi-product oil pipeline from Nagapatnam to Trincomalee, pending the final observation report. Trincomalee is poised to become a hub for oil refining, with the development of ports and investment zones, transforming Trincomalee Port into a significant hub on the Bay of Bengal.

“Today, the entire East Coast is being opened up for tourism, with additional land earmarked for hotels in Galle and southern areas. Moreover, there are plans to establish more investment zones across the country, alongside expanding our professional training programs. In these endeavours, we are collaborating closely with India.” (Colombo/Jun22/2024)

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