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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Top ministers trade places in Sri Lanka’s snap cabinet reshuffle

The previous cabinet that was sworn in on August 12, 2020

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday (16) reshuffled the cabinet of ministers with seven key portfolios including health, education, power and transport swapped between senior members of the government.

According to president’s spokesman Kingsly Rathnayaka, former education minister Prof G L Peiris and foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena have traded places.

An ongoing teachers’ strike over salary anomalies, now into its second month, under the watch of Peiris as education minister has crippled online education in the country amid constant school closures due to the pandemic.

Gunawardena will inherit the teachers’ crisis and related issues along with a raging controversy over a defence university bill, while Prof Peiris will have the task of clearing Sri Lanka’s name in the eyes of the international community with regard to its human rights record. In June this year, the island nation was on the receiving end of criticism by the Human Rights Watch over problematic provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) following the release of murder-convict former MP Duminda Silva. The HRW statement came close on the heels of a resolution adopted by the European Parliament that proposed a temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s access to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concession, also over the PTA and other concerns.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who held the health ministry till Monday, has been appointed the new minister of transport, with former media minister Keheliya Rambukwella taking her place as the new health minister.

Wanniarachchi, who has been seeing the health ministry through the COVID-19 crisis, has been out of the limelight in recent weeks, with opposition members calling for the appointment of State Minister for COVID Control Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle as health minister instead. COVID-19 in Sri Lanka has taken a turn for the worse in recent months, with daily deaths and case numbers surging as hospitals run out of capacity.

Rambukwella just last week defended a government move to introduce legislation that will target websites that post content deemed “defamatory” and have no visible ownership. He also went on record saying last week that the government will continue to fulfill its responsibility in vaccinating the population against COVID-19 and that the rest is “in God’s hands”.

Gamini Lokuge, who held the transport portfolio, is the new power minister, while his predecessor Dullas Alahapperuma replaces Rambukwella as media minister.

Related: Sri Lanka govt mulls ways to control websites amid rising online activism

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa, meanwhile, will take on a new role as minister of development coordination and supervision, in addition to his existing portfolio of sports and youth affairs. (Colombo/Aug16/2021)

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Sri Lanka food producers on countdown; 6-months to reduce trans fat content

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan food manufacturers only have another six months to reduce the amount of trans fat in food items as the government plans to ban high trans-fat food from January 2024 onwards, an official said.

“A six-month grace period has been given to existing manufacturers, sellers and distributors whose products contain trans-fat,” an official of the Ministry of Health told EconomyNext requesting anonymity.

According to a Ministry of Health gazette issued on… a person shall not sell, offer for sale, expose or keep for sale or advertise for sale, any packaged food product containing trans-fat unless the total amount of trans-fat of such food product per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food product is declared on the label of such packaged food product.

However, these regulations will not be applicable for export oriented food products.

Trans-fat is a type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils.

Eating trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Sri Lanka for enacting a legislation on trans-fat to protect health and prevent premature deaths from coronary heart disease, a statement from the WHO said.

“Eliminating trans-fats from food supplies is a cost-effective measure with enormous health benefits,” the statement quoting Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“By enacting legislation on trans-fat, Sri Lanka has once again demonstrated its resolve to protect and promote the health of its people”.

The regulations are coming into effect as Sri Lanka is struggling with food insecurity as the country recovers from its worst economic crisis.

However, an improvement in food security across all provinces has been recorded, according to an assessment by a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) of two UN agencies. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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India extends under utilized $1 bln credit facility to Sri Lanka by one year 

ECONOMYNEXT – India has extended a $1 billion credit facility to Sri Lanka by another year after the loan that was given to help the crisis-hit island nation to continue import of essentials was not fully utilized in the 12 month period originally agreed, officials said.

Sri Lanka faced with a looming sovereign default signed the credit facility in March 2022 for one year through March 2024. However, the full $1 billion had not been utilized yet.

The Facility has been used for urgent procurement of fuel, medicines, food items and industrial raw materials, as per the requirements and priorities of Sri Lanka.

“The initial agreement was signed in 2022 March and out of the 1000 million US dollars allocated materials were imported for $576.75 mil,” Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister said in his official twitter platform.

“The agreement is extended for the remaining $423.25 mil. We will prioritize the import of essential medicines till March 2024.”

Indian High Commission in Colombo said the State Bank of India (SBI) has extended the tenure of the $1 billion Credit Facility provided to Sri Lanka in response to a request from the Government of Sri Lanka.  (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka President cleared to discuss cancelled LRT after soured Japan relations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe discuss resuming a Japan funded. Light Rail Transit (LRT) project cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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