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BASL asks govt. to inform SC how it intends to address crisis

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second case before five-judge bench also to be mentioned today

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Amidst economic chaos caused by the disruption of fuel and LP gas supplies as well as severe shortage of food and medicine, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has filed a motion requesting the Supreme Court to take up cases pertaining to alleged violation of fundamental rights due to the deprival of basic requirements of the people. A senior spokesperson for the BASL yesterday told The Island that they would be represented by Dr. Kanag Iswaran, PC, Uditha Egalahewa, PC, Suren Gnanaraj, Pulasthi Hewamanne, Lakshmanan Jeyakumar and Niranjan Arulpragasam instructed by GG Arulpragasam. The cases would be taken up today (04). The BASL is seeking interim relief.

The BASL has acted in terms of Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution. The motion has been filed in respect of cases over fundamental rights violations under Articles 11, 12(1), 13(4), 14(1)(g), 14(1)(b), and 14 A of the Constitution.

The BASL spokesperson said that the cases were to be taken up today for the Counsel for the respondents to inform the apex court of measures taken to improve the situation. Copies of the motion, affidavit and the annexures have been delivered to the Attorney General.

The respondents are the Attorney General, both former and present members of the Cabinet, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, both former and present members of the Monetary Board, several other officials and three stare enterprises, CEB, CPC and SPC.

Responding to a query, the BASL Spokesperson said that the BASL had amended the affidavit to include those who accepted cabinet portfolios following the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister on 12 May. The official pointed out that a week after the appointment of the new Premier, the Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe had declared that Sri Lanka was suspending debt repayment pending negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The BASL has brought to the notice of the Supreme Court several pertinent matters namely disruptions to the supply of petrol, diesel, LP gas, kerosene, electricity and medicine, the inability of the public to engage in income-generating activities owing to the disruptions to public and private transport and health services, food supply and court proceedings, and the likelihood of breakdown law and order.

The affidavit also includes a section of BASL statement issued on 27 June on the continuing fuel shortage and its impact on the people. The BASL has urged the government to inform the public immediately of its plans to ensure the continuous supply of fuel in the short term, present a roadmap for the fuel crisis, and to devise, after proper consultation with the relevant stakeholders, an effective plan to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of fuel to the people taking into account the need to ensure that public transportation and essential services are not hindered.

Referring to contradictory statements issued by those who represented the government, including Sagala Ratnayake, Chief of Staff of Premier Wickremesinghe, the BASL has stated that none of the respondents has so far informed the public of measures to alleviate the suffering of the people.Meanwhile, a fundamental rights violation case in which Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has been named as the first respondent as regards the economic crisis will be mentioned today (04) to fix a date for support. The case will be taken up before a bench of five judges.

Dr. Athula Kumara Samarakoon of the Open University, Sri Lanka, Soosaiappu Neavis Morais and Dr. Mahim Mendis have petitioned the Supreme Court. The application filed in terms of the Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution has named the entire Cabinet of Ministers, including former PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa and Ali Sabry, PC as respondents. Among others named are former presidential secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, ex-CBSL Governors, Prof. W.D. Lakshman and Ajith Nivard Cabraal and ex-Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

Members of the CIABOC (Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption), too, have been made respondents; the petitioners have in a letter, asked the CIABOC members to investigate the mismanagement of the economy by former members of the Monetary in violation of Section 70 of the Bribery Act as well as lawmakers Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa. The petition cited the controversial decision taken to reduce a range of taxes in terms of SLPP presidential election candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto titled, ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ as one of the major causes of the current crisis.

The petitioners have stated that as at April 2022, the price of essential goods had increased from the previous year as follows: (a) The price of Petrol increased by 85%; (b) The price of Diesel increased by 69%; (c) The price of a cylinder of Liquid Petroleum Gas increased by 84%; (d) The price of turmeric increased by 443%; (e) The price of bread increased by 433%; (f) The price of rice increased by 93%; and (g) The price of dhal had increased by 171%

The petitioners have cited incumbent CBSL Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe’s statement before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) on 25 May in support of their argument. Dr. Weerasinghe was quoted as having told COPE that the government lacked foreign currency reserves to pay its foreign debt or buy essential imports, and the assistance of the International Monetary Fund and foreign nations was required.

The petitioners have also quoted statements made by ex-Finance Minister Sabry to underscore the crisis created by what they call the wrong policies of the then government. They cited President Rajapaksa’s unilateral decision to prohibit the use of chemical fertiliser and agrochemicals as another reason for the crisis. Issues such as the government using foreign reserves to prevent the depreciation of the rupee have also been raised by the petitioners. Statements made by Dr. Ranee Jayamaha and Sanjeeva Jayawardena PC, two appointed members of the Monetary Board, before the COPE were also cited in support of the petition. They were quoted as having said that they received instructions to use dollar reserves to hold the rupee as Rs. 203 in spite of their strong objections



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CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials

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‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’

Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.

“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.

“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.

“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.

“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.

The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.

“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)

(See related stories in the business section)

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CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini

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By Norman Palihawadana

Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.

SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.

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Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289

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ByShamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.

Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.

In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.

The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.

It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.

Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & G.de Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.

Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.

At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.

Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.

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