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BASL concerned about impact of economic crisis on rule of law and democracy

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has said that it is gravely concerned about the signs of a looming economic crisis in Sri Lanka and its possible impact on the rule of law and democracy and on the living conditions of the people.

Secretary to the BASL, Rajeev Amarasuriya has said that the spiraling inflation, shortages of essential goods including cooking gas, the unavailability of foreign currency, people’s inability to remit monies overseas, the downgrading of Sri Lanka’s ratings by multiple international rating agencies, the temporary closure of the oil refinery at Sapugaskanda, reports of the operations of certain foreign airlines being suspended, warnings of a possible power crisis are all indicators which demonstrate the urgency of the need for the government to address the economic crisis without any further delay.

Text of the BASL statement: “A downturn in the economy can have far reaching adverse consequences to the Rule of Law and Governance of a Country. At its worst, economic decline can result in a complete breakdown of Law and Order, but even prior to that, serious repercussions flow from growing financial hardships that have to be borne by citizens that perpetuates inequality and the ability of citizens to enjoy or vindicate their rights, be they public or private rights. It goes without saying that the worst affected by economic hardship are the most vulnerable in society,” Amarasuriya said

Given below are excerpts of the press release: “It is an undisputed fact that since March 2020 there has been a gradual erosion of foreign reserves from approximately USD 7 billion. Although it was announced by the Central Bank that the reserves have increased to USD 3 billion, it remains to be ascertained how much of that are usable reserves to repay the debt and used to redress the prevailing balance of payments crisis. Even out of the available reserves a large proportion contains moneys obtained in the form of short-term foreign exchange swaps.

“There have been several sovereign credit ratings downgrades in the corresponding period by all the major credit rating agencies. The latest being the downgrades by Fitch Rating Agency to CC and Standard and Poor’s (S & P) to CCC. The International Sovereign Bonds yields across all tenures have remained in double digits for over a period of 2 years. This has made rollover of maturing sovereign bonds not feasible.

“There have also been reports of a flight of foreign capital both from the equities and as well as the money markets. Foreign participation in both markets at present is only negligible. The Economist magazine named Sri Lanka as one of the most vulnerable countries to the expected fallout in emerging markets from the anticipated raising of interest rates by the Federal Reserve of the United States. Debt to GDP from approximately 85% in 2019 is now estimated to have risen to approximately 104% of GDP. However, in the same period the government revenue as a percentage of the GDP has fallen from approximately 12% to 10%. Year on Year headline inflation in the month of November 2021 was recorded at 9.92% and December 2021 recorded a double digit figure of 12%, the highest in the past 7 years. The Net International Reserve Position of the Country has been negative for over three months consecutively. All of this has resulted in the scarcity of foreign exchange to sustain essential imports.

“The ability of the government to meet its total dollar requirements of approximately USD 6.9 billion in 2022 is being questioned, although the Central Bank has pledged that such commitments will be met. Questions as to the stability of the financial sector are also being raised.

“The BASL notes with deep concern the statement made in late December by the Joint Chambers of Commerce calling upon the government that if actions as envisaged by the recently announced Roadmap by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka are not materialized within the anticipated timeframes to reconsider other alternative courses of action available to the country such as engaging with the IMF to explore the funding options they can offer. The Joint Chambers have warned that if conditions do not improve many local companies would look to relocate their business operations overseas and that the ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country will be constrained.

“The BASL acknowledges that the government has been confronted with extraordinary challenges in the form of the pandemic which has caused disruptions to the economic activities. It also recognizes the fact that the government has taken measures to address the challenges arising thereof. Similarly, the Government has sought to undertake remedial measures to address the fallout from the prevalent crisis consequent to the loss of access to financial markets and the resulting paucity of foreign exchange domestically thereof. However, none of those measures have brought about the desired results and have failed to build confidence to reverse the flight of foreign capital from the equities and money markets. Neither have these steps resulted in regaining access to international financial markets to raise debt.

“Enjoyment of a living standard based on desired lifestyle choices and income has become a challenge. Our members who are mostly self-employed are particularly vulnerable and adversely impacted by these events as savings and assets form the bedrock of their economic safety net. Some of the measures taken by the Government have directly impeded the ability of our members to perform their professional duties, particularly the purported regulation that compels the conversion of foreign inflows into rupees within a stipulated time period.

“We believe that the present crisis is the crescendo of the crisis emanating from the systematic undermining of the rule of law and governance based on executive convenience and expediency rather than on institutional independence and autonomy over a long period of time by successive governments.

“In these circumstances, the BASL calls upon the government to seek the assistance of acknowledged independent and non-partisan experts both domestically and internationally and also of multilateral institutions that have a proven record of providing resources financially as well as in the form of technical expertise that will enable sustainable solutions to this crisis. It is our belief that such assistance will result in the prescriptions that manifest to the world Sri Lanka’s belief in institutions as a country where effective governance is not contingent on personalities. It will manifest the fact that Sri Lanka has the desire and institutional capacity to respond to the exigencies brought by the present crisis via prescriptions that subscribe to the Rule of Law. Moreover, it is our belief that only such a response will create the institutional framework that ensures the efficient collection of revenue and the result in the efficient allocation of scarce resources and the formulation of monetary policy that ensures economic stability rather than a permissive one which facilitates executive expediency and convenience. The achievement of these outcomes is in our opinion indispensable to resolve the crisis at hand.”



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NGO to move SC against acquittal and discharge of first accused

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Welikada Prison killings

‘The BASL should make its position clear now’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, says his outfit will soon move the Supreme Court against the acquittal and discharging of Inspector Neomal Moses Rangajiva, the first accused in the Welikada Prison killings.

The civil society activist, in a brief interview with The Island, over the weekend, said that the relatives of those who perished in the violence in the Welikada Prison compound on Nov 09 and 10, 2012, had requested him to pursue this matter.

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar last Wednesday (12) sentenced to death ex-Welikada Prisons Chief Lamahewage Emil Ranjan over the Welikada killings. He was the second accused in the high-profile case, whereas Rangajiva, at that time attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), was acquitted and released from all charges.

Lawyer Perera said that as the verdict had been given by a Trial-at-Bar, the appeal would have to be made to the Supreme Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court judges Gihan Kulathunga (President), Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakarathna was unanimous in its decisions.

The Trial-at-Bar said that the prosecution failed to prove its case against the PNB officer beyond reasonable doubt.

Responding to questions, Senaka Perera said that if it hadn’t been a Trial-at-Bar, his group would have moved the Court of Appeal. Senaka Perera explained: “We intend to write to Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, in this regard. We are of the view the AG should appeal against the acquittal and discharging of Rangajiva. However, if the AG refrained from doing so,  the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners will accept the responsibility.”

In terms of the Trial-at-Bar proceedings, the eight prison inmates who were killed in the incident are Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan, Attapattu Sangakkara Nirmala Atapattu, Mohammed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila, Harshan Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Raigamage Susantha Perera alias Mala Susantha, Devamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.

However, lawyer Senaka Perera said that altogether 27 inmates had been killed after the deployment of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Army inside the Welikada Prison. According to official records, in addition to 27 deaths, at least 43 other inmates received injuries. The then Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera informed Parliament of the deaths of 27 inmates.

The then Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakoday said that inmates had triggered violence as the STF was looking for drugs and hand phones inside the prison.

The Attorney General filed indictments against IP Rangajeewa, Lamahewage Emil Ranjan and Indika Sampath, an officer attached to the Prisons intelligence unit under 33 counts, including committing murder, conspiring to commit murder after being members of an unlawful assembly.

The Court proceeded in spite of the third accused Indika Sampath who managed to evade the police so far.

The human rights activist recalled how Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, named a Trial-at-Bar to hear the Welikada case on a request made by Rajaratnam’s predecessor, Dappula de Livera, PC. The latter made the request in late June 2019. Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera in late May 2021.

The Prisons Department and the Justice Ministry couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for ensuring safety and security of those in their care, lawyer Senaka Perera said. Those who had been remanded and sentenced could be serious offenders and some may even deserve a death sentence but the State shouldn’t under any circumstances resort to extra judicial measures, the public litigation activist said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that he believed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should examine the Welikada case and make its position known to the public. “Perhaps, the BASL, too, should consider moving the SC against the acquittal and discharging of the first accused,” the lawyer said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that before the former AG made an intervention the progress in investigations had been slow. In fact, real progress was made since 2017, two years after the change of government following the 2015 presidential election, the lawyer said, alleging that the powers that be continuously hindered the investigations.

According to lawyer Perera and other sources, there had been four separate investigations at different levels beginning with the one launched by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) immediately after the Welikada killings. Subsequently the then Prisons Minister the late Chandrasiri Gajadeera named a three-member team to inquire into the Welikada killings. The committee comprising retired High Court judge Bandula Atapattu, retired DIG Gunasena Thenabadu and Prisons Ministry Legal Officer Lalith Andrahannadi produced two reports in Feb 2013 and Nov 2013. There had been two other investigations ordered by the then Prisons Chief P.W. Kodipillai and the Human Rights Commission.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that the four investigations undertaken during the Rajapaksa administration should be examined. The lawyer emphasized the importance of appraisal of the investigations as the Trial-at-Bar declared that the progress had been made only since 2017.

In addition to those four investigations, there had been another report prepared by the three-member committee comprising retired High Court judge Wimal Nambuwasam, retired Senior DIG Asoka Wijeyatilleke and senior public servant S.K. Liyanage. Appointed on January 22, 2015, less than two weeks after the presidential election, the committee handed over its report to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, on June 09, 2015 as the latter appointed it.

Lawyer Perera said that the former Prisons Chief claimed that the inmates after having broken into the Prisons armoury seized weapons, including machine guns.

The activist pointed out that the 2012 incidents were the worst since the 1983 massacre of Tamil terrorist suspects. The public have lost faith in law enforcement authorities and the political leadership regardless of the party that held power, the lawyer said. There couldn’t be better example than how the current dispensation handled the then State Minister for Prisons Lohan Ratwatte’s ‘raids’ on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September last year.

The report prepared by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena into the incidents involving Ratwatte should be made public as the police were yet to at least record the State Minister’s statement, lawyer Perera said.

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China donates shipment of rice to Sri Lanka

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By Anura Balasuriya

China will soon send a shipment of rice to Sri Lanka as a donation, a Ministry of Trade spokesman said.

The donation comes in the wake of the 70 year anniversary of the Sri Lanka – China Rubber Rice pact on 1952.

Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardane had discussed the matter recently with a senior Chinese Embassy officia, the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

“The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is already doing the needful. The Trade Ministry has informed China of the varieties of rice that Sri Lankan consumers like,” the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

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Rating downgrades discourage investors – JVP

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JVP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, on Friday (14) day, said investors were discouraged by the continuous downgrading of the country’s credit ratings.

Speaking at an event in Colombo, MP Amarasuriya said import costs had increased as the country was going through a forex crisis. The President’s agricultural policy had been a disaster and that in the coming months, the government would have to import large volumes of food.

Amarasuriya added that Sri Lanka’s relations with other nations had deteriorated and that too would have an adverse impact on the country.

Dr. Amarasuriya said that international rating agencies were independent and that their ratings were very important for investors to make decisions.

“Investors don’t consult Ajith Nivard Cabraal before investing. Besides, in other countries, it is economic experts, not politicians, who become Central Bank Governors,” she added.

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