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Friday December 9th, 2022

Sri Lanka’s top businesses express solidarity with protestors, call for solutions, stability

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s top corporates have issued statements about the ongoing economic crisis, with some expressing solidarity with mass protests taking place islandwide, with others calling for social, political, economic stability as the financial meltdown is precipitating a political crisis and social unrest.

John Keells Holdings (JKH), one of the largest conglomerates having businesses in hospitality, leisure, logistics, real estate, and consumer foods, said in a statement on Thursday (21) that it is gravely concerned about the current situation in the country and wants immediate measures to be taken.

JKH, one of the country’s top employers and dollar earners, called on the country’s leadership to take decisive action and heed to the people’s call for good governance and change to avoid unrest.

For Sri Lanka to rise from the current challenges, the company advises all the parties to come together to ensure social stability and pollical stability to avoid an economic catastrophe.

“We urge all key parties to reach consensus, within the construct of the constitution of the country and due process being followed, in respecting the will of the people.”

Other top business leaders and organisations have shared similar views.

Kasturi Chellaraja, Group CEO of Hemas Holdings, in a statement shared on her social media on Thursday said the company supports its staff’s freedom to non-violently express themselves and called on the government to take measures to set the country on a corruption-free path.

“We call upon our nation’s leaders to hear the cry of our people and come together to immediately undertake the necessary political and economic reforms and set our country on the right path, based on the principles of good governance, free of corruption and ethnic division,” she said.

Hemas has business in health care, personal care, leisure, transportation and strategic investments.

Both Hemas and JKH had previously issued statements on April 04 regarding the wave of protests that have erupted across the country against the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Meanwhile, Softlogic Holdings, which has interests in retail, leisure, financial services information technology and healthcare, said Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis is a result of policy irregularities spanning over 70 years.

“The problem in the country today is the product of successive policy irregularities spanning a period of 70 years. In an ideal society, all sections of society should benefit from a benign policy regime which are essentially long term and hard to find. But we are optimistic that the right people have been put in the right positions to discuss these processing matters with the international funding agencies and bi-lateral partners, which is the need of the hour,” the conglomerate said in a statement on Friday (22).

Finding solutions to the crisis is going to be hard no matter what government is in charge, it said.

“Many countries are similarly facing these urgent challenges at the same time given the unprecedented post-pandemic recovery, while finding a solution to such persistent problems is not easy whatever government is in charge,” the statement said.

Urging all political forces to reach common ground and work together while shunning partisan views, the company said a stable government is a prerequisite for economic stability.

“It is the need fo the hour, to put the country first rather than to find political self-interest interfering with the emergence of a tractable solution,” it added.

Hospitality company Jetwing said in a statement that it has it expresses its concern at the events unfolding in Sri Lanka and effects the crisis has had on the economy, communities and individuals due to poor governance and near-sighted decisions.

“The people of Sri Lanka have long stood behind us and we stand with everyone who wishes to engage in peaceful protest and support the right to freedom of expression,” the company said.

Ceylon Biscuits Limited (CBL) expressed similar sentiments.

“As an organisation that takes immense pride in contributing to the growth of our nation, we are saddened by the pain and hardship faced by its people. CBL remains committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s recovery and to dong our part to catalyze positive change,” it said.

Telecommunications giant Dialog Axiata, meanwhile, said it stands firmly behind the call for systemic change and a future enriched with elevated levels of good governance, transparency and an empowered meritocracy.

“We believe that with bold and responsible action today, our resilient nation will emerge stronger than ever before.

“We call on those who have the power and opportunity to solve the prevailing crisis, to act selflessly towards the achievement of this greater good – a progressive and stable future for Sri Lanka and its people,” it said.

Apparel exporter MAS Holdings said on Wednesday (20) that, given the ensuing events, the company reiterates the need for immediate and decisive action to resolve the current economic and social crisis, in a peaceful and sustainable manner.

“As a responsible organisation, we unconditionally support the call for change and good governance, and earnestly request the nation’s leaders to heed the voice of the people and act on it, whilst respecting legal and constitutional due process.” (Colombo/Apr23/2022)

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Sri Lanka president slams power regulator chief after conflicting with minister

ECONOMYNET – The powers to change the electricity tariff in Sri Lanka is vested with the Minister of Power and not the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL), President Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Parliament.

The minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekara has requested an upward price revision to be implemented in two phases both in January and July next year, saying the recent tariff hike was not enough for the state-run utility provider Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to continue uninterrupted power supply.

However, Jaynaka Ratnayake, the Chairman of the PUCSL had said  the recent tariff hike is enough for the CEB to cover the cost of production and it will not allow another price hike. However, he has said a twice a year price revision is necessary though it should be in April and October instead of January and July.

President Wickremesinghe said the PUCSL chief was opposing the tariff hike due to his personal reasons.

“The power is vested with the Minister and me. I am the one who made the PUCSL act and I know what is in it,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament on Thursday. quoting a letter from the Attorney General which mentioned provisions in the island nation’s Electricity Act.

Accordingly the Act, the PUCSL would be statutorily obliged to give effect to such policy. It is observed that neither the Act nor the PUCSL Act contains any provisions that empowers the PUCSL to change or act invariant of such policy guidelines.

“The Chairman of the PUCSL is misguiding the general public. I have to meet him and see,” Wickremesinghe said.

WIckremesinghe said the Chairman does not want the tariff hike because he owns one of the highest electricity consuming companies.

“He is the Chairman of the Trillium corporation. It is the firm that takes up the most energy”, he said.

The Trillium group is managed by Janaka Ratnayake and he also holds positions as the chairman and CEO of Trillium Property Management & Services Ltd., City Housing and Real Estate PLC, Trillium Residencies Ltd., Computer Care (Pvt) Ltd., and Rent a Comp Services (Pvt) Ltd., and JR Management Consultants (Pvt) Ltd.

“It means when the electricity bill increases, his expenses increase as well”

He said the CEB still has a loss of 300 billion rupees since 2013 and it needs to be covered.

The CEB issue can be solved only in three ways, either printing more money, increasing value added tax or increasing the tariffm, he said. (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Sri Lanka President bemoans over inconsistent LNG deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe bemoaned over successive governments’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal that has brought in all the world powers into the discussion.

Wickremesinghe’s center-right United National Party (UNP) had discussions with India and Japan between 2002-2004 for an LNG project.

“Following dialogues with India and Japan, the UNP government could come to agreements to get two LNG power plants. After we were defeated the successor government, without cancelling those agreements granted it to New Fortress company in USA,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament.

“Thereafter, as they did not like New Fortress, they gave it back to Pakistan and China. So within the same premises, there were China, Pakistan, India, USA, Japan and only Russia was not there.”

“It was wonderful that a world war did not ignited there as there were five main powers in the world.”

“Now there is no LNG or anything here and now they ask me to solve this issue.”

Wickremesighe’s outburst comes as his government is forced to raise tariffs on power prices after successive governments failed to implement cheap and renewable power generation projects.

He said a total loss for the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board since 2013 was 300 billion rupees and a possible drought next year could increase the 2023 electricity cost to 420 billion rupees.

“If it rained, we need Rs. 352 billion while Rs. 295 is required if rained so much to have floods. How are we going to find this money? We would have to print money, but Rupee would depreciate. We would have to increase VAT but it would increase the price of all commodities or to charge it direct.” (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Air quality drop forces Sri Lanka to close schools; public warned

ECONOMYNEXT – A rapid drop in air quality in Sri Lanka has forced the Colombo government to close all schools across the country after a deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal, officials said.

The Education Ministry, issuing a special notice on Thursday said, it has decided to close all government schools for Friday, after discussing with the officials in Meteorology Department and Disaster Management Center.

An official said the drop was due to the deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal carrying the air from India.

Due to the depression over South east Bay of Bengal (370 km east of Trincomalee) has concentrated into a cyclonic storm “Mandous” by Wednesday night.

“Cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that is the prime reason for the increase in the pollution load as we receive more wind from India,” H.D.S.Premasiri, Senior Scientist, Coordinator-Air Quality, noise and vibrations at National Building Research Organization (NBRO) told EconomyNext on Thursday.

Officials said there is a likelihood of the cyclone moving west-northwestwards and further intensify into a severe cyclonic storm tonight and cross North Tamil-Nadu, Puducherry and South Andhra Pradesh coast around midnight of 09 th December and the maximum wind speeds will be 70-90 km per hour and can increase up to 90 in sea areas.

“Hopefully, today we can expect normalization in the environment and the effects of the fog will disappear”.

According to the NBRO’s real time Air Quality Index Indicator, the quality of air in northwestern coastal district of Puttalam has dropped drastically and indicated a particular matter (PM) 132, while Kegalle (85) and Mannar (84) were the districts which had next worst air quality.

According to NBRO, Battaramulla, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kegalle, Mannar and Puttalam indicate a poor quality of air due to higher PM.

“The fog will lead to lung and breathing issues,” Premasiri said.

“So the public is warned to wear a mask when they travel outside. The pollution highly prevails in city areas and has a less impact on the other parts of the areas.” (Colombo/ Dec08/2022)

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