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Discussions with China underway to resolve economic crisis

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USD 2.5 bn funding:

Amb Zhenhong silent on IMF intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The cash-strapped Sri Lankan government is negotiating with China for funds amounting to USD 2.5 bn in addition to USD 2.8 bn obtained since the global epidemic Covid-19 eruption in early 2020.

Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong disclosed Sri Lanka’s request at the onset of a media briefing held at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo yesterday (21).

The disclosure was made close on the heels of the finalisation of USD 1 bn loan facility provided by India and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s declaration of his readiness to seek IMF assistance. Amb. Zhenhong declined to comment on Sri Lanka’s decision to resume negotiations with the IMF.

Sri Lanka announced plans for talks with the IMF in the wake of an increase in prices of all essential items and services following the floating of the Rupee in the first week of March.

Amb. Zhenhong said that China recently received requests for USD 1 billion financing facility and USD 1.5 bn buyer’s credit. The Chinese envoy declared: “We understand the urgency in Sri Lanka’s need. Relevant authorities are studying the request.”

In spite of repeated questions, Amb Zhenhong refrained from going into details, including Sri Lanka’s specific needs while reiterating their commitment to help a friendly country.

Zhenhong presented his credentials to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in mid Nov 2020 at the height of the first Covid-19 wave.

At the commencement of the briefing attended by local and Colombo based international media, Amb. Zhenhong said a range of events and activities conducted so far this year to mark 65th anniversary of China-Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice pact.

Responding to a query raised by Reuters, Amb Zhenhong said that USD 1 bn term financing facility had been provided on March 18, 2020 and April 12, 2020 (USD 500 mn each) with maturity period of 10 years. That was followed by CNY 2 bn (approximately USD 300 mn) term financing facility provided on Aug. 17, 2021, Amb Zhenhong said, adding CNY 10 bn (approximately USD1.5 bn) bilateral currency SWAP agreement was finalized in March 2021.

The Chinese envoy sidestepped a specific query on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request to restructure debt repayments to overcome the financial crisis.

President Rajapaksa made the request during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in early January this year.

New requests for USD 2.5 bn (USD 1 bn financing facility and USD 1.5 bn buyer’s credit) are believed to have been made following the Chinese Foreign Minister’s high profile visit.

Asked whether India has overtaken China in providing assistance and investments here, Amb Zhenhong listed Chinese loans and investments while asserting consistency, scale and comprehensiveness in their role.  The Chinese envoy didn’t respond to the query on Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa being too close to India and pursuing an agenda at the expense of Beijing.

Amb Zhenhong dismissed assertions that the failure on the part of the Colombo Port City to attract investments and concerns over proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between China and Sri Lanka. Amb Zhenhong assured: “We’ll never take advantage of FTA with Sri Lanka.” The Chinese envoy said so when the media queried the absence of a draft of FTA and serious concerns over its content against the backdrop of the previous Sri Lanka administration finalizing FTA with Singapore under controversial circumstances.

Amb Zhenhong said that the experts of both sides could handle the issues at hand.

Amb Zhenhong said that in spite of Covid-19 eruption China sustained its projects here with over 11,000 locals hired. Referring to major Chinese projects underway here namely Colombo Port City, Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) and Hambantota International Port (HIP), Amb Zhenhong emphasized their ventures were on track.

The envoy questioned the unexplained suspension of ADB funded power projects in the North while declining to respond to questions regarding the status of them. The Chinese envoy advised that such an attitude on Sri Lanka’s part would be inimical to ongoing efforts to attract foreign investment.

The Chinese envoy avoided responding to queries regarding growing Indian presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka and instances of India objecting to Chinese taking up projects. However, Amb Zhenhong explained the projects undertaken by China in Tamil dominated region, investments and grants made in support of the civilian community there.



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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code

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by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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