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Blamed for current crisis, Monetary Board before House Committee today



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (CoPF) Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, MP, says they’ll inquire into the possibility of bringing former Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal before the Watchdog Committee inquiring into the conduct of the Monetary Board pertaining to the current crisis.

Governor, CBSL chairs the five-member Monetary Board.

Cabraal, who succeeded Prof. W.A. Lakshman as Governor, CBSL, in Sept last year, announced his resignation on Monday (04) with the resignation of virtually the entire Cabinet as the economic crisis triggered political mayhem with unprecedented protests that began with one outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence at Mirihana.

SLPP lawmaker Yapa said that the Monetary Board members were scheduled to appear before the CoPF today (06).

Earlier, the Monetary Board was scheduled to appear before the CoPF on March 21. It was later rescheduled for March 24 but at the last moment, the CBSL informed the CoPF that the entire Monetary Board couldn’t attend the meeting as board member S. R. Attygalle, Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, was to hold discussions with the World Bank on that day.

Subsequently, the CoPF tried to arrange the meeting scheduled for April 01.

The Monetary Board consists of the Governor of the Central Bank (ex-officio), Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle (ex-officio), President’s Counsel Sanjeeva Jayawardena, Dr. Rani Jayamaha and Samantha Kumarasinghe.

Recently, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Dr. W.A. Wijewardena in a brief interview with The Island asserted that the country wouldn’t have landed in the current predicament if the Central Bank floated the Rupee in April 2021 during the tenure of Prof W.D. Lakshman as the Governor of the Central Bank.

Dr. Wijewardena said that the current crisis should be studied against the backdrop of the CBSL delaying the depreciation of the rupee till early March this year.

CoPF member Dr. Harsha de Silva said that Cabraal, who had served as the State Finance Minister before receiving the appointment as Governor, CBSL, quit the job within six months. Lawmaker de Silva asked what had happened to the former Governor’s six-month road map (Oct 2021-March 2022) meant to pave the way for economic recovery.

Alleging that the Monetary Board was responsible for the current predicament of the country, the former UNP State Minister said that the Monetary Board should be removed. The Colombo District lawmaker emphasised that the Monetary Board couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility as all decisions taken by the outfit proved wrong.

MP de Silva said that the Monetary Board couldn’t be silent on the government’s failure to initiate talks with the IMF early last year when the SJB led the calls for IMF’s intervention. The MP emphasised that the government repeatedly rejected the SJB’s calls for IMF intervention. Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, former Secretary to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, steadfastly opposed IMF’s intervention.

Former Senior Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Nandalal Weerasinghe, now domiciled in Australia, has been approached by the government to take over the position of Central Bank Governor.

Former Governor of the CBSL, Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy would help the government in an advisory capacity. Sources said so when asked whether Dr. Coomaraswamy would be accommodated in some relevant capacity to assist the government.

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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI



Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue



The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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