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China, Lanka in upbeat mood

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Colombo seeks Beijing’s help to boost foreign investment

China and Sri Lanka yesterday (28) reiterated their commitment to building stronger relations between the two nations, during separate talks the visiting Chinese State Councillor and Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

A brief communique issued by the President’s Media Division quoted General Fenghe as having said that bilateral discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa were extremely fruitful and the relations were further strengthened by the visit.

Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong, Deputy Chief of staff of Joint Staff Department under the China’s Central Military Commission Lieutenant General Shao Yuanming, Major General Ci Guowei and Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera participated in the discussion.

A top-level delegation led by the Chinese Defence Minister arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Tuesday night (27). Defence Secretary Gen (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne, Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne and Air Force Chief of Staff Air Vice Marshal Prasanna Payoe welcomed the delegation. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong, too, was there to welcome the delegation.

At the onset of talks with General Fenghe, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa appreciated China going ahead with the visit in spite of the fresh Covid-19 eruption. Having thanked China for donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine and Personal Protective Equipment, PM Rajapaksa assured that in spite of the increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the Government wouldn’t declare countrywide lockdowns due to the impact such lockdowns would have on the economy and society.  

The Prime Minister’s Office quoted the PM as having told General Fenghe: “I’m sure you’ll agree that there is still a lot that needs to be done for post-pandemic economic recovery. One of our main priorities in this effort is to attract investments from around the world. I look forward to your support in rebuilding investor confidence in Sri Lanka.” 

Among those ministers present were Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris. 

Both statements issued by the President’s Office and the Prime Minister’s didn’t make reference to the biggest China funded project in Sri Lanka, Colombo Port City. 

The Supreme Court over a period of five days beginning April 19 heard 19 petitions filed against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill. The SC is expected to inform the President and the Speaker of its ruling soon, as per constitutional requirements. 

General Fenghe’s visit follows high level talks senior Chinese leader and top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi had in Colombo in the third week of October 2020. Jiechi was followed by then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who asked Sri Lanka to decide whether it wanted to continue relationship with China as if in an ultimatum. (SF)



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Pandora Papers disclosure: Int’l cooperation essential to hold wrongdoers accountable – TISL

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Three RTI applications filed calling for information about asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) says international cooperation through diplomatic channels is essential to hold offshore enablers and asset destinations accountable.

TISL has said that in addition to a complaint filed with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), three RTI (Right to Information) applications have been filed seeking asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa. TISL has also written to the FIU (Financial Investigation Unit) calling for immediate investigation into potential money laundering claims.

TISL has said in a media statement: “The Pandora Papers exposé provides clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and demonstrates the importance of ensuring the transparency of beneficial ownership of entities. Particularly in Sri Lanka, the Pandora Papers refer to extensive assets held offshore by former Deputy Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan. TISL in its initial statement following the revelations, called on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that independent investigations are carried out expeditiously into the revelations made by tPandora Papers. Since then, the President has called on the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) to investigate the claims made by Pandora Papers.

TISL has taken several steps since the initial statement, pertaining to the revelations made by Pandora Papers.

One 07 October 2021, TISL filed a complaint with CIABOC, calling for an investigation into the alleged unexplained assets of the former Deputy Minister and her husband who has been identified as Politically Exposed Persons (PEP). TISL noted that the transactions revealed through this exposé could amount to offences under Section 23A of the Bribery Act, Section 4(1) of the CIABOC Act, and relevant provisions of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, and requested the Commission to probe into the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa relating to her tenure as a Member of Parliament. TISL requested CIABOC to investigate whether public funds have been embezzled and laundered to these foreign safe havens.

TISL also wrote to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on 13th October, calling on them to coordinate with relevant law enforcement authorities at both local and international level to investigate potential money laundering allegedly committed by the former Member of Parliament and her spouse. The FIU, as the central independent body established in terms of the provisions of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 06 of 2006 (FTRA), is empowered to facilitate the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences related to money laundering and terrorist financing.

Through the letter TISL requested the FIU to take further steps to furnish the authorities with evidence, examining the financial transactions that have flowed in and out of Sri Lanka by coordinating with local and foreign financial institutions connected to these two individuals.

TISL has also filed three Right to Information Requests to the Elections Commission, Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Presidential Secretariat, calling for the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa as an election candidate, Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister respectively

 The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No 1 of 1975 makes it mandatory for Parliamentarians and senior public officials to annually submit a declaration of assets and liabilities, which includes the assets and liabilities of their spouse and dependent children. If the former Parliamentarian has not disclosed the overseas assets revealed through Pandora Papers, she will be in breach of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. Therefore, her asset declarations would be a key tool to identify whether the overseas assets of the deputy minister, her spouse and children revealed through Pandora Papers have been disclosed at the time.”

TISL Executive Director, Nadishani Perera, commenting on the matter stated “We urge the relevant authorities in the country to take immediate action to independently investigate the revelations made by Pandora Papers. It is important that the due process is followed without any interference, obstructions or delays. For the PEPs implicated, there remains a path to clearing their name, if they were to heed the call of the public by making the relevant asset declarations public. A thorough and impartial investigation will also bolster faith in the law enforcement agencies of the country and prove to be an important deterrent against perpetrators of white-collar crimes.”

The TISL Executive Director also noted that “while it is important to take stringent action to prevent foreign currency unlawfully flowing out of the country into secrecy jurisdictions, it is also imperative that countries like Sri Lanka take this issue up on a diplomatic level in order to ensure financial institutions in countries such as Singapore are also held accountable and that steps are taken to recover any proceeds of crime back to our country from these asset destinations.”

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German flight delay caused by pilot’s credit card problem, says AASL chief

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By Sirimanta Ratanasekera

Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka (AASL) Ltd, Maj Gen (Retd) G. A. Chandrasiri said that a false and malicious accusation had been levelled that the officials attached to the Bandaranaike International Airport had unnecessarily delayed a German charter flight that arrived at the airport for emergency landing with 226 passengers.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri denied the allegation.

A Condor flight with 226 passengers travelling from Germany to the Maldives made an emergency landing on 26 Sept at the BIA around 11.25 am due to inclement weather in the Maldivian air space.

However, when the flight attempted to leave Sri Lanka around 1 pm, officials of the German charter airline, Condor, faced delays of about one hour when paying landing fees, since their credit cards had not been activated to make international payments.

“Now some parties, with vested interests to tarnish the good name of our airport, are spreading false rumours that the credit machines at the airport were dysfunctional. This is a malicious accusation,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

He said that a three-member committee, led by a President’s Counsel, had been appointed to conduct an investigation and he would receive the investigation report within two days.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri said that the German charter airline so far had not raised any issue or made any complaint in the incident. He said that the AASL would inform the Condor airline of the situation after he received the report.

“As at 2020 January, the BIA had been an airport catering to around 20,000 passengers daily. This came to a halt following the pandemic. Now, it is coming back to its former situation. It is at this juncture those with malicious interests try to tarnish our name. If the flight in question made a normal landing it would have been our responsibility but it was an emergency,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

AASL Operational Director Shehan Sumanasekera said that there had been some false media reports about the incident. “I myself monitored the entire scenario from CCTV and made inquiries from relevant officials. There were no lapses on the part of the airport or officials. It was a problem with the credit cards of the pilots of the flight.

State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development DV Chanaka said that he too had called for a report on the matter, which is due to be submitted tomorrow.

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Verite shows how Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics

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Verité Research, a private think tank that provides strategic analysis for Asia, hosted the online discussion Steering out of the Debt Crisis: Recipe for Budget 2022 on Oct 14. The event was anchored around addressing Sri Lanka’s debt and USD liquidity crisis, and featured presentations by Executive Director, Nishan de Mel, Research Director, Deshal de Mel, and Analyst Anushan Kapilan. An expert panel included Dr. Shantayanan Devaranjan (Georgetown University), Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe (former Senior Deputy Governor – CBSL) and Dr. Mick Moore (Institute of Development Studies – UK).

A press release issued by the think tank said: Verité Research presented analysis pertaining to debt management and fiscal measures, including specific proposals to increase government revenue and improve the allocation of expenditure.

The Verité Research analysis showed that Sri Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics by meeting two conditions with regard to its domestic debt, and two further conditions with regard to its foreign debt. The presentation explained that, despite some challenges, achieving these conditions was feasible for Sri Lanka – provided policy-makers choose to do so.

The main challenges arise from poorly formulated fiscal/budget measures, coupled with the pandemic-induced setbacks which have resulted in successive downgrades of Sri Lanka’s credit ratings. As a result, Sri Lanka has been locked out of global capital markets, and rapidly depleted its foreign reserves, as it has continued to pay back foreign bondholders, at the expense of negative feedback on the local economy.

The Verité Research analysis showed that the worst is yet to come. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserve would be completely depleted by the end of 2022 if no surprise inflows materialise, and even if they did, the crisis would simply re-emerge in 2023. This means that even if Sri Lanka can claim to be technically solvent, it does not have the liquidity to sustainably pay back its foreign debt until the country credit rating is improved by at least two notches.

The current path of repaying debt offers a high return to bondholders at the expense of huge pain to domestic businesses and consumers, and makes the credit rating outlook even more precarious. The solution is to share the pain with bondholders by pre-emptively restructuring the debt. This can improve the foreign reserve position more quickly, and thereby improve the country’s credit rating more quickly as well. This alternative path is less painful to the local economy, offers a faster recovery, with a higher probability of success. It is a better path for the Sri Lankan economy than repaying foreign bondholders in full, even if it were able to do so.

A clear distinction needs to be made between a forced restructuring which would occur if a country were to default in a disorderly way without negotiating with creditors, and an orderly pre-emptive restructuring of debt following negotiations with creditors. The sooner Sri Lanka moves to an orderly pre-emptive debt restructure, the easier it would be to do so, and the more favourable it would be for the Sri Lankan economy. Delaying the decision is damaging and can result in outcomes that are highly disruptive.

Currently the primary deficit is at 7.4% of GDP. At the current GDP growth rate of a little under 4% (predicted by Verité Research), it is necessary to reduce the primary deficit to around 2% of GDP or less to help stabilise the debt.

The Verité Research analysis showed that in the base case scenario with no policy changes, the debt to GDP Ratio would increase to 123.08% by 2025, however with prudent fiscal measures it can be kept down to 108.8% by 2025.

The fiscal measures proposed included the reduction of the personal income threshold to LKR 1 Mn per Annum; the reintroduction of PAYE with a threshold of LKR 1.5Mn; reintroduction of WHT on interest income; increasing the VAT rate to 10% in 2022 and to 12% in 2023; reducing the VAT free thresholds from LKR 300 Mn to LKR 150 Mn in 2022; simplifying the corporate tax regime to a three-tier regime; and increasing the total taxes on cigarettes and alcohol in line with increases in inflation and GDP according to a tobacco taxation formula introduced in the 2019 budget.

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