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‘Changing medication will not help unless we change the doctor to solve the country’s problems’ – Eran Wickramaratne, MP

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MP Eran Wickramaratne speaking in the debate on the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) annual report – 2020 in Parliament last week said that under this government, Sri Lanka is currently facing crises such as higher spending than revenue, higher import expenditure than exports indicating a deficit in the current account and widening budget deficit.

He said what needs to be done is to change the doctor rather than changing the medication to resolve these problems faced in the country.

He further said that the cost of living and the price of petrol have gone up and the country was facing huge problems. Even a school child realizes that government revenue has declined. Now 70% of government revenue is spent on interest on loan repayment. Lebanon is the only country in the world that pays higher interest than Sri Lanka as a percentage of national revenue.

Wickramaratne said that it was first thought that changing ministers was useless for this issue and the policies should be changed. But the Government ministers were saying that though the opposition was pinpointing the disease they did not propose any solution.

The solution to the problem in this country is to change the doctor. There is no point in changing the medication, he suggested.

Today Sri Lanka is facing a dual crises. One is that spending is higher than our national revenue. This is an average deficit of 7.6 per cent of GDP since 1990. Incomes began to fall since 1995. This problem has been exacerbated by the gradual decline in the country’s revenue from 17.3% to 11.6% of GDP from 2006 to 2014 under the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“However, the previous government had set its sights on the increase of revenue in 2018. We then said that we should take a basic step to reduce the budget deficit and increase revenue. Accordingly, the good governance government was able to increase the revenue to 13.5% by 2018. But due to the 2018 coup, government revenue fell to 12.6 percent, Wickramaratne further said.

The second structural crisis is the deficit in the current account. Since 2000 exports revenue continue to decline as a percentage of GDP. As a result of these two issues, we have to borrow internationally and locally, he said.

Governments in our country have not addressed these fundamental issues. Even today this government does not seem to have focused on this need. If there is a change in policy, we look forward to hearing about that change in the next budget.

Minister Cabraal, who spoke today, for the first time in 2007 went to the international market as the Governor of the Central bank and obtained a $ 500 million ISB (International Sovereign Bond) loan to address the issues of the budget deficit.

Of course, he is now delivering sermons telling different stories that the government does not need international money. That was the first time Sri Lanka had obtained an ISB loan through Mr. Cabraal. The then government started borrowing in 2007 as a new source to cover the fiscal deficit. Since then, it has continued to borrow dollars at higher interest rates. This is the problem faced by this country now.

Under such a context who will come and invest in Sri Lanka? We borrowed and created white elephants. This Government during its previous regime launched projects such as Nelum Kuluna and Hambantota Conference Hall that do not directly benefit the people or the country. Implementing such projects making use of loans is not an appropriate decision. Bandaranaike Conference Hall is a gift from China.

Even in the future, if we take a loan, we should invest them in a project that would generate income for the masses and the country.

Everyone remembers that in the last quarter of 2018, the foreign reserves stood at $ 7.8 billion. But by the time of the 2018 coup, it was down by $ 1 billion. Sri Lankan rupee depreciated by 10 rupees. Although GDP was said to have declined during the previous government, the average growth rate remained at 4.3% until the third quarter of 2018. This government has lied that growth has slowed. This problem in this country arose because of the conspiracy that preceded the Easter attack.

The previous government introduced a modernized Finance Bill for national accounting. The accounting system was changed. The income from it gradually increased. Now it must be said that the Central Bank has done some mathematical gimmicks with its report.

The Central Bank report 2020 showed that expenditure has decreased in that year. The national accounting by the CBSL continues to be calculated on cash basis. CBSL has changed the accounting system into accrual basis in 2020 and though it showed that the budget deficit is 11 % by transferring the expenses of Rs 420 billion to previous year’s account. Actually the deficit is 14 % of GDP, the highest fiscal deficit recorded in this country in 38 years.

Another gimmick was to show that the total debt to GDP ratio by 2020 was 101%, but it is 109% when combined with loans obtained by state-owned enterprises separately. In addition, the Petroleum Corporation’s debt of Rs. 345 billion increased by 16% by 2020. In 2019 it went up from Rs 297 b to Rs 345 b while the world oil prices were low, while the country used less oil because of the lockdown. When the oil prices fell the government did not pass on the benefit to consumers.

There was a third gimmick in this report. Although it is said that our foreign borrowing has come down, this is really a numbered game. The value of international sovereign bonds is stated in market value, but it should have been stated based on the face value. The billion dollar ISB paid recently was also based on face value. Therefore, in order to know the true value of the loan, the face value of the loan must be stated. If the face value is mentioned, the amount of foreign loans will increase further.

Wickramratne urged not to use this numbered game if we are to create credibility and the confidence in investors and rating agencies when building a country. He also called on the members of the Monetary Board to protect the independence of the Central Bank.



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President instructs officials to vaccinate kids with Pfizer

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Health Ministry still deliberating pros and cons

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed health officers to inoculate children between the age 15 to 19 with Pfizer vaccine, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said yesterday.

General Silva added that the President had also instructed officials to inoculate children with special needs above the age of 12, with the Pfizer vaccines. He there are around 50,000 children with special needs.

General Silva said Sri Lanka would receive adequate Pfizer vaccine doses in the coming weeks. During the Presidential Task Force meeting, on Covid-19, it was decided to allow the Department of Motor Traffic, and the Land Registry to operate during the lockdown, which was extended until 01 October. However, a few hours before this statement was made, Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath told the media that no decision had been taken on vaccinating children.

He, however, said that discussions were ongoing about vaccinating children.

“There are a number of discussions on this because this is a serious matter. We have also decided that when we vaccinate the priority will be given to children with comorbidities. Then the rest will be vaccinated based on age groups. But we have not decided on anything else,” he said.

The dates, the brand and other details would be announced once the Health Ministry was done with consultations with experts. Once the decisions were taken the Ministry would prepare guidelines which would then be made available to the public, he said.

“So, I urge the parents not to worry or panic. They can vaccinate their children once we issue guidelines. We will ensure that this will be done safely and with virtually no side-effects or shortages,” Dr. Herath said.

The Deputy Director General of Health Services also urged people not to be misled by claims that those who had been double jabbed and being treated at home were dying in increasing numbers. Some people with serious underlying issues could die even if they were double jabbed, he said.

“However, as we vaccinate an increasing number of Sri Lankans, the deaths and those who need ICU treatment will decline rapidly. Don’t be fooled by various unscientific claims. We are a nation that has universal vaccine rates and we should maintain that tradition with COVID,” he said.

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Sumanthiran demands immediate due process against Lohan

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Immediate legal action including arrest and prosecution must be taken against Lohan Ratwatte and others who were involved in the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said on Thursday. He said Ratwatte’s mere resignation from one portfolio would not do.

“The Presidential Secretariat has issued a statement that Lohan Ratwatte has taken responsibility for the incidents that transpired at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. Although Ratwatte is said to have resigned from his post as Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he continues to be a minister in charge of other subjects. This is not something we can accept,” he said.

The TNA MP said that the State Minister should be removed from all his positions immediately and the pistol he carried with him should be taken away from him.

“Otherwise, it’s a grave threat to the public at large,” Sumanthiran said. There had been other incidents where Ratwatte brandished his weapon in public spaces, he added.

The TNA MP said that an independent investigation should be held with regard to those incidents and Ratwatte and others involved in entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons should be arrested and charged.

“The police have still not taken any action in this regard. The question that must be posed is how he was able to carry his personal firearm inside the prison premises. Prison officials must answer these questions,” he said.

MP Sumanthiran said that given that the prisoners were wards of the state, their security was in the hands of the state.

“Therefore, this is a very serious incident. Action must be taken accordingly,” he said.

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Taking contradictory stand on 2015 Geneva Resolution

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‘Govt. seeking credit for accountability mechanisms set up by previous administration

UNHRC 48th sessions:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena has alleged that the government’s stand on accountability issues at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is contradictory to its much publicised opposition to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the previous administration.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015. The then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that the UNP-led government had President Maithripala Sirisena’s consent to go ahead with the co-sponsorship.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media spokesperson Gunawardena yesterday (17) pointed out that the government, at the ongoing 48th sessions of the UNHRC, has reiterated its commitment to key accountability mechanisms set up in terms of the Geneva Resolution.

Civil society activist Gunawardena, who also functioned as the Director General, Information Department during the previous administration said that the assurance given by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last Tuesday (14) should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from 30/1 resolution.

Prof. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena announced Sri Lanka’s withdrawal at the Feb-March 2020 sessions.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation, Gunawardena stressed, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Stop playing politics at the expense of our international relations,” Gunawardena said, underscoring the need for what he called a national consensus on the post-war reconciliation process.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that FM Prof. Peiris in his address to the Geneva sessions discussed the progress in what he described as a domestic process in respect of accountability issues. Reference was made to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). However, the FM conveniently failed to acknowledge that the OMP, OR and ONUR had been established in keeping with the 2015 Geneva Resolution that covered broader understanding of transitional justice.

The SLPP, while taking credit for the ongoing transitional justice process, continued to publicly reject 30/1, the very basis of the solution, Gunawardena said. “In other words, the SLPP’s actions are very different from their pledges before the electorate in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Referring to the assurance given by Prof. Peiris at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka Human Rights Council was carrying on its mandate, Gunawardena challenged the government to prove its sincerity by allowing no holds barred investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons on Sept 6 and 12, respectively.

The announcement made by the HRCSL regarding its decision to initiate an inquiry of its own in the absence of police investigation received public attention and appreciation, Gunawardena said.

Commenting on the declaration that Sri Lanka was engaged in an integrated process to bring the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with international norms and best practices, lawyer Gunawardena urged the government to study the work done by the previous government in that regard. Referring to statements made by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in that regard, Gunawardena said that the then Joint

Opposition quite maliciously rejected the move. “They should be ashamed of theirconduct,” relevant ministers and the Attorney General Department couldn’t be unaware of the agreement on new anti-terrorism law.

Gunawardena said that the SLPP administration shouldn’t hesitate to appreciate the previous government’s achievements. “We are quite pleased that mechanisms accepted by the previous government continue to be in operation even though the progress seems slow. However, the SLPP cannot deprive the UNP-led administration of the credit it deserved,” lawyer Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena urged the government to examine the report of the Committee appointed by then Premier Wickremesinghe to develop what he called the policy and legal framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka. He said that a politically motivated campaign derailed that effort whereas the Opposition propagated the lie the yahapalana government intended to deprive Sri Lanka of anti-terrorism law.

Asked to comment on the revelation of the SLPP government having talks with a group of civil society activists to explore ways and means to strengthening the reconciliation process, Gunawardena said that a 13-page Foreign Ministry note dated Aug. 31, 2021 addressed to Colombo-based diplomatic missions acknowledged the pivotal role played by the civil society. Having always accused the civil society of being part of a Western strategy, the same lot exposed their duplicity by meeting a group of civil society activists.

Gunawardena was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ministers, Basil Rakapaksa, Prof. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ali Sabry, PC, and Namal Rajapaksa having separate meetings with SLCC (Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus) in the run-up to the Geneva confab. SLCC comprises 16 individuals.

Gunawardena noted the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, too, in her hard-hitting Sept 13 statement on Sri Lanka referred to President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the SLCC.

Gunawardena said that in addition to the SLCC, another group styled itself as the Civil Society Platform (CSP) in a statement issued on Sept. 13 made its position clear on a range of accountability issues as well as stepped up pressure on the civil society. CSP consists of 30 organizations and 36 individuals.

Responding to declarations by FM Prof Peiris and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that external investigations wouldn’t be acceptable, lawyer Gunawardena said that instead of rejecting the investigation the government should furbish whatever information in its hands or had access to the new investigative mechanism. The government couldn’t ignore the fact that the UNHRC authorized the fresh investigative mechanism at the 46th session with an overwhelming majority with 22 countries voting for the resolution, 11 against and 14 missing the vote.

Gunawardena urged the government to take a realistic view as Sri Lanka didn’t have time and space to engage in silly maneuvers. The bottom line was that the March 2020 announcement that Sri Lanka withdrew from 30/1 was nothing but a farce, Gunawardena said.

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