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Colombo Port City Bill frontal attack on working people T.M.R. Rasseedin



General Secretay, Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL)

The Colombo Port City Bill establishes an all-powerful Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) in the newly extended territory of Sri Lanka known as the Port City. The economic policy it seeks to pursue is directed first and foremost to the attraction to Sri Lanka in a major way of big foreign capital. The CPCEC would administer the territory and through exemptions and the power to modify laws would render them nugatory in the Port City. It will in effect be a separate government with its own legal, economic, administrative and political system functioning independently from the rest of the country.

What is worse is that there is provision for the Commission during the first five years, probably extendable if we look at past history, to permit companies operating outside the Port City area to become part of it and enjoy the benefits of the Bill. Laws which are or can be made inapplicable by the Bill or the Commission are those which private Capital, especially foreign, regards as being fetters on their super profit seeking activities. They include laws covering labour, citizenship, banking, exchange control, Inland Revenue Act, the Customs ordinance and the Monetary Law Act all of which can be made inapplicable, modified or provided with exemption by the Commission.

The right of unhindered exploitation of local labour and local resources; the right to take away their proceeds and when there is no more to be got to take away their capital. All this and more to mobilise foreign capital for economic development of Sri Lanka !

The Bill provides for a reduction in environmental safeguards, freedom from taxes, provisions for freehold sale of land to foreigners/foreign companies through a Land Grant by government of the area to the CPCEC, openings for money laundering through lax regulation for offshore companies and banking and for casinos and gaming. It allows loosely defined “businesses of strategic importance” to be identified by CPCEC and given tax and other benefits for 40 years on approval by Cabinet, not Parliament. It also requires all government institutions including courts to give priority to Port City work, hampering day-to-day requirements of our citizens, whose future access to resources will also be impacted by provision of water, electricity and garbage disposal facilities to meet Port City needs.


Policy of Hire and Fire

The Ceylon Federation of Labour (CFL) is particularly perturbed by the attempt being made to exempt such companies from the provisions of the Termination of Employment of Workmen (Special Provisions) Act No.45 of 1971 (TEWA). As the organization that successfully thwarted the attempt of the JR Government of 1978 to deprive workers of the Free Trade Zones of labour law protection through the Greater Colombo Economic Commission Bill, the CFL is alarmed by the attempt of the present government to follow the footsteps of JRJ and deny employees security of employment by singling out the TEWA for exemption. It is worth remembering that of the many protective labour laws operative in Sri Lanka, the TEWA is the singular piece of legislation for whose repeal, employers, the trade chambers and international lending institutions have been persistently agitating.

The TEWA was enacted at the behest of the JCTUO in which the CFL played no mean role by the SLFP-LSSP-CP United Front Government to counter the intentional termination of workmen on the grounds of lack of raw materials and business losses. Under its provisions, no employer was allowed to terminate any workman without (a) the prior consent in writing of the workman or (b) the prior written approval of the Commissioner-General of Labour, except on disciplinary grounds.

The provisions of TEWA taken in its entirety ensured security of service of employee by curtailing the employer’s right to terminate at his/her will and pleasure. The protection it affords against non-disciplinary termination is laudable. The critics of this protective net for workman have tried to make out that this is unique to Sri Lanka. It is not so. In fact the International Labour Organization (ILO) as far back as 1963 adopted Recommendation 119 laying down the basic criteria related to the requirement of a valid reason for terminating the employment of an employee. It suggested periods of notice, income assurance through severance allowance, etc and provided for the right of appeal against termination to bodies empowered to award appropriate relief when termination was not justified and for a certificate of service.

This position was greatly strengthened in 1982 with ILO Convention 158 and Recommendation 166. Today, most countries offer legislative protection against unjustified dismissals, lay-offs and retrenchment in one form or other. In most countries the authorities must be notified in advance of workplace reductions. Several countries require prior approval for dismissals, for whatever reason, by an authority external to the undertaking.

TEWA is essential from the standpoint of workers as it provides some relief in the present environment where employment is vulnerable to market forces and increased external trade through liberalisation of trade and investment. The present employment climate is such that the unilateral discretion of employers to dismiss employees must indeed be subject to neutral review.

This vital piece of labour protective legislation has come under threat in the territory coming under the CPCEC and to companies outside approved by it. Should this Bill be enacted, we will be going back to an era when “hire and fire” ruled employer-employee relationships. Investors appear to enjoy such an environment and the very fact that TEWA is the sole Labour law listed as being amenable to exemptions in Schedule II of the Bill suggests that the move has been made to placate their interests. Thus will begin a pincer movement against the labour laws of the country.

Labour attained its current level through a long march involving immense sacrifices, bitter fights, bloodshed and even loss of life but in actual practice, still remains relatively disadvantaged compared with employers. Meddling with the TEWA in the Port City will only intensify this inequality in employment relationship and should be defeated. The CFL succeeded against the JR regime in 1978 under conditions very different from today as the CFL petitioned the Constitutional Court created by the 1972 first Republican Constitution. Today, the objectives of the authoritarian JR regime are being facilitated by Rajapaksa’s 20th Amendment enabling a tighter grip over the affairs of the people, governance, defence, law and order and justice. In such an environment justice and fair play falls by the wayside.

The CFL calls on the workers of Sri Lanka to prepare for the worst, while struggling for the best. The last say will be with the people although the Government tries to persuade itself that the General Election result is for all time. The centre of politics has shifted from Parliament to the outside very much faster than perhaps anybody expected. This Government has shown itself to be incapable of finding a solution to our problems, but pandering to foreign capital will neither provide a solution nor contribute to enhancing its popularity.

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Police failure to contain May 2022 violence explained



Police inaction to prevent arson attacks against SLPP politicians in the Western province on May 9 may have been due to orders not to carry weapons to deal with protesters, a new investigation has revealed.A review of the role of the police at the time showed Senior Deputy Inspector General Deshabandu Tennakoon had ordered all officers under him to ensure that no personnel were issued with arms and ammunition in the run up to the May 9 violence.

In his two-page instructions to DIGs, SSPs, SPs, ASPs and officers in charge of all stations in the districts of Colombo, Kalutara and Gampaha, Tennakoon had said no weapons or ammunition should be issued under any circumstances to officers deployed to deal with the protesters.

This order dated May 5 had not come to the attention of a three-member investigation panel headed by former navy chief Wasantha Karannagoda appointed to look into the security lapses. However, the panel had uncovered an order similar to that of Tennakoon issued by the then army chief Shavendra Silva.

Deploying police without even their own personal protection is seen as a violation of departmental orders and an internal investigation had begun, a top official source said.Meanwhile, the private residence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe was torched despite 400 air force men being deployed to protect it. The airmen did not open fire to deter a handful of attackers who scaled walls to enter the premises and set it on fire.

Instead of dealing with the arsonists, a police Special Task Force (STF) unit outside the Fifth Lane residence of Wickremesinghe attacked a television crew angering the protesters and encouraging more people to congregate there.

Several people identified through CCTV footage have already been arrested in connection with the arson at Wickremesinghe’s residence.However, action is yet to be taken against police and security personnel who failed to ensure law and order.

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SL will engage major T-bond holders for voluntary optimization: Governor



ECONOMYNEXT –Sri Lanka will not re-structure Treasury bills outside of central bank holdings and will engage with major T-bond holders for voluntary ‘optimization’ Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.

“There will be some treatment on central bank held Treasury bills,” Governor Nandal Weeasinghe told a creditor presentation Thursday.

“Other Treasury bill holdings will not be treated. Treasury bonds we envisage voluntary optimization.”

Sri Lanka has to at least extend the maturities of bonds to reach a gross financing need target averaging 13 percent of GDP in 2027-2032 based on projections in an IMF debt sustainability analysis. Of that foreign debt service has be below 4.5 percent of GDP on average.

“Local currency creditors participation in a debt optimization will help reaching the DSA targets,” Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena said.

“Authorities are exploring options for domestic debt operations aimed at liquidity relief while preserving financial stability to avoid further eroding Sri Lanka’s repayment capacity.”

The government and advisors will “invite consultations with major T-bond holders to gauge options and constraints”, he said.Governor Weerasinghe and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardene said Sri Lanka is likely to outperform the growth targets in the IMF debt sustainability analysis given past history. The IMF DSA is projecting 3.1 percent growth in the next few years.

Sri Lanka grew at rates around 4 to 5 percent during a 30 year war, but growth started to fall after serial currency crises hit the country under flexible inflation targeting with output gap targeting (monetary stimulus) during peacetime. In 2020 taxes were also cut for stimulus, going beyond open market operations and outright purchases of bonds seen earlier.

Meanwhile state spending went up from 17 to 20 percent of GDP under state expansionist revenue based fiscal consolation after spending based consolidation (cost cutting) was thrown out of the window from 2015 to 2019, critics say.

Sri Lanka is now trying to cut spending and excessive growth of the public sector, based on normal economic principles, to limit the burden of the unaffordable state on productive sectors and the poor, while preserving essential spending.According to the latest IMF program, fiscal consolidation will be “primarily” revenue based.

Sri Lanka’s Treasury bill and bond yields were higher than required due to uncertainty over whether they will be re-structured and the so-called ‘gilt’ status will no longer apply.

The lack of an early cut off date for domestic debt is a key problem in the IMF’s current debt resolution framework as domestic bond buyers are the last resort lenders after most foreign creditors stop lending, when the IMF says a country’s debt is no longer sustainable.

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Sri Lanka and debt advisors will engage with major Treasury bond holders, Weerasinghe said.

Key T-bond holders are Employment Provident Fund, Employment Trust Fund, insurance companies and banks.

Sri Lanka is also conducting an asset quality of review of banks.

Based on its results a debt optimization options will be offered paying attention to asset liability mis-matches, Weerasinghe said.

By preserving banking sector stability foreign investors are more likely to get repaid.

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BASL slams attempts to hinder Saliya Pieris, PC, appearing for a client



The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has issued a statement on the recent string of protests launched against former BASL President Saliya Pieris’s decision to represent a client who had retained him. In the statement signed by BASL President Kaushalya Nawaratne and Secretary Isuru Balapatabendi, the BASL noted that the protests in question not only hinders the senior lawyer’s right to represent a client, but also acts as an attack on the profession at large.

Further, they noted that Article 13(3) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka specifically guarantees every person the right to a fair trial and the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice.

The BASL also cited the 2019 Supreme Court judgment delivered in a landmark case together with the Judicature Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Civil Procedure Code in favour of their argument. The Bar Association strongly demanded that the relevant authorities ensure that Pieris’s professional duties and safety remain unhindered.

Excerpts from text of the statement:

“The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) observes that there has been a series of organized protests in Colombo, in relation to Mr. Saliya Pieris PC, the Former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, conducting his professional duties with regard to a particular client.

“We are of the view that the said protest, not only seriously hinders his right to represent a client, a professional right which has been safeguarded by law, but also an attack on the profession at large.

“In the case of Wijesundara Mudiyanselage Naveen Nayantha Bandara Wijesundara v Sirwardena and Others (SCFR 13/2019), the Supreme Court observed that: ‘The first piece of legislation passed by the Parliament soon after the promulgation of the 1978 Constitution was the Judicature Act No. 02 of 1978.

‘As the administration of justice in any civilized society cannot be effectively implemented without lawyers, the legislature in its wisdom, through the Judicature Act, established the legal profession. Thus, there is no dispute that the legal profession is a sine qua non for the due administration of justice in this country and for that matter in any civilized society. The said profession is essential for the maintenance of the Rule of Law and maintenance of law and order and its due existence is of paramount importance to the organized functioning of the society which is primarily the basis for the smooth functioning of the country as a whole.’

“Our constitution specifically guarantees the right to legal representation in Article 13(3) and

the Civil Procedure Code also provides for the right to legal representation in civil cases. Specifically, Section 24 of the Code allows parties to be represented by lawyers or other authorized representatives in court.

“Overall, Sri Lankan law recognizes and protects the right to legal representation, both in criminal as well as civil cases.

“Therefore, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka strongly demands that the authorities ensure that Mr. Peiris’s professional duties as an Attorney-at-law, are not hindered and, ensure his safety.”

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