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Cash-strapped govt. seeks Indian lifeline: Basil to visit New Delhi



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Declaring that Sri Lanka was experiencing the worst ever post-independence economic crisis, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday said Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s forthcoming visit to New Delhi might give the country an opportunity to explore ways and means of overcoming the overwhelming challenges.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, emphasised that the Finance Minister’s visit was meant to seek not only loans but also wider cooperation on a range of other matters, including investment, trade and tourism.

Addressing the regular weekly SLPP briefing at its Battaramulla party office yesterday (22), Prof. Peiris said Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay and Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi Milinda Moragoda had made arrangements for Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s visit.

Minister Rajapaksa is scheduled to meet Indian Premier Narendra Modi, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and other officials.

Both Prof. Peiris and SLPP General Secretary Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam strongly argued against repeated calls led by the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) for seeking the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Prof. Peiris asserted that the IMF wasn’t the only solution but one of the alternatives whereas lawmaker Kariyawasam asked whether any country had benefited from such a course of action.

Referring to the unprecedented crisis triggered by Covid-19 eruption in early 2020, Prof. Peiris said there were external factors, and current challenges couldn’t be taken in isolation. Emphasising that Sri Lanka maintained friendly relations with all foreign governments, Prof. Peiris explained the special relations Sri Lanka was having with India.

Finance Minister Rajapaksa on 12 Nov. presented Budget 2022. He declared that the government was confident that the country would not default on its debts and would work to improve its foreign exchange reserves. “Sri Lanka has never defaulted in its history and that record will be maintained,” Minister Rajapaksa assured.

The Indian High Commission in Colombo has repeatedly stated that Sri Lanka would receive priority in line with India’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ widely described as Premier Narendra Modi’s signature foreign policy initiative that sought to develop better relations with the country’s neighbours.

Prof. Peiris also briefed the media on the status of the drafting of the new Constitution undertaken by an expert committee, and the Parliamentary Select Committee handling electoral reforms. The SLPP Chairman said that the government was going ahead with the process in spite of other issues at hand and confident of bringing the project to a successful conclusion. Prof. Peiris said that a new Constitution was a long felt need. The public expected electoral reforms as all accepted the need for far reaching changes.

Quad member India is a major investor in Sri Lanka. Recently, India has reached agreement with Sri Lanka as regards the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT) against the backdrop Sri Lanka reneging previous tripartite agreement involving India and Japan to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) amidst stiff opposition from port unions. The Quad security alliance comprises the US, Japan, Australia and India.

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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare



Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions



Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread



Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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