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Cabraal sets record straight on the debt burden left behind by Yahapalana regime and JVP claims

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By Saman Indrajith

Sri Lanka’s success story of countering the COVID-19 crisis could have been a more effective and advantageous if not for the debilitation of the economy under the yahapalana regime, Parliament was told on Wednesday.

Winding up the debate at the time of the adjournment of the House, State Minister of Money and Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal said that the performance of the previous government had weakened the economy as never before.

 “There is a shortage of reserves and that has resulted in limiting our import options. We would have been able to do much better after overcoming the COVID-19 crisis if there had been enough reserves. The previous government also increased the debt burden. Debts stood at 71 percent of total GDP at the time they came to power. They increased it to 91 percent.

 “We managed somehow. But we could have given more relief to the people. We could have made use of some opportunities on the economic front to boost the small and medium scale enterprises if there had been enough reserves.

 “During our time we recorded a 6.5 per cent growth and an increase of GDP from 24 billion US dollars to 79 billion US dollars. Inflation shot up causing suffering to the people due to the collapse of the economy under the previous government.

 “Now, we are planning to get the national economy back on the track by 2021. You can get an idea of the current situation from the Central Bank 2019 annual report before you understand the challenge before us. We have to rebuild the economy and help the public. It is a big challenge but we are not afraid because we are sure that we can turn the tide; we have the expertise to do. We’ll fast-track the development process. We are introducing some tools to attract foreign direct investments”, Cabraal said. 

 The State Minister said that he would not take the predictions of the Opposition Leader seriously as the latter had a record of making wrong predictions. “I remember that he was shouting in 2007 and 2008 that the economy would collapse any time. That did not happen.”

Responding to JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s allegations that the economy had suffered a loss by investing in Greek bonds while he was the Governor of the Central Bank, the Minister said: “That is a topic they keep harping on while the rest of the world has moved ahead. I have explained this in my book ‘The Great Bond Scam’ in detail. There on Page 313 this matter has been dealt with in detail. Then there is a judgment by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court presided by Chief Justice K Sripavan. It has put all these allegation to rest. The MPs who come here to talk should do their homework. I do not know whether they deliberately hide facts to mislead the public. There is one such example, it was stated in this House today that our decision to invest EPF monies was wrong because we suffered a 3,071- million-rupee loss. The Opposition however did not say that while the loss was standing at that amount for some loss making shares, we had earned a Rs 17,577 million profit. In 2011, the capital profit from EPF investment was at Rs. 2,678 million. In 2012 it increased to Rs. 3,016 million in 2013 and Rs. 3,339 million. In 2014, the profit rose to Rs. 5,544 million. I table a copy of my book because it has answers to some questions the MPs raised though they have passed their shelf life. The matter of a forensic audit has been raised. I have explained that on page 149 of this book.”

Referring to the contribution made by the JVP to the national economy, the state minister read out a list of damages and destruction attributed to the Marxist party during its second insurrection in the period of terror from 1989-90. “They destroyed 684 post offices, 13 telecommunications centers, 550 buses, 75 tea factories, 40 estate bungalows, 130 CEB transformers, 12 trains and six railway stations. The total loss by those actions has been estimated at Rs. 55 billion rupees.”

Cabraal said that while he was the Governor of the Central Bank he had heard of the same allegations being made in the House but he could not respond as an official. “Today, I am a member of this House and I can respond to these wild allegations and inform the House the truth. I thank colleague member Prof Ranjith Bandara for moving this motion for debate,” the minister said.

 

 



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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