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Foreign waste issue remains unsolved

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FM receives assurance from Kiev as regards agricultural waste

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka is still struggling to complete the re-exportation of 263 containers of hazardous waste, including body parts from mortuaries clandestinely imported during the previous administration from the UK. Amidst ongoing efforts to complete the process, Sri Lanka recently received a consignment of agricultural waste from Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said that the government was in the process of tackling both issues. She said so when The Island raised the issue of attempts being made to use Sri Lanka as an international trash dump.

The British garbage containers that had arrived at the Colombo Port between September 2017 and January 2018 were found in different locations during the previous administration. The process of reshipping them didn’t start until late Oct, 2020. As the yahapalana government with President Sirisena as the Environment Minister did not take action to send back the British waste, the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) petitioned the Court of Appeal.

The Island sought Foreign Ministry’s response to the following questions? “Did FM take up the UK garbage issue with BHC, Colombo or with relevant authorities in London through our HC there? If not, Why?

And finally, will FM take up Ukraine’s garbage issue with Kiev?”

The spokesperson said: “The Central Environment Authority (CEA), as the designated National Competent Authority for the implementation of the Basel Convention under Article 5, took necessary actions in this regard. Sri Lanka Customs facilitated re-exportation of the waste to the UK. The Foreign Ministry coordinated the communications between Government authorities in Sri Lanka and Government authorities in UK through its Mission in the UK and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka. The British High Commission also provided updates to the Foreign Ministry on the progress of the re-export and action being taken by the UK to expedite the process.

“Similarly, with regard to the Ukraine garbage issue, the Foreign Ministry has requested relevant Government authorities for details of the issue and the Ukraine Govt has also requested Sri Lanka for details to address the same.”

Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, CEJ, told The Island that they had intervened as the then government had turned a blind eye to the foreign waste racket. Asked to mention the measures taken by the CEJ once the group realised the government wasn’t going to take tangible measures in this regard, Withanage said that initially the Court was moved against the Customs and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). Subsequently, the Board of Investment (BoI), too, had been included in the case-the first of its kind undertaken, Withanage said, adding that during the proceedings it was revealed that the Ceylon Metal Processing Corporation (Pvt) Limited, freight forwarding company ETL Colombo (Pvt) Ltd and Hayleys Free Zone as those being involved in the operation.

Withanage said that at the time the CEJ moved the Court of Appeal, authorities had detected 130, 40 foot containers at one location and 112 at another before a third lot was found bringing the total number of UK garbage containers to 263. Withanage said that there was documentary proof that Vengaads Ltd, a foreign entity established in May 2017 arranged the shipment of garbage containers.

The environmentalist said that Sri Lanka should address the issue in such a manner so that no country would allow waste exports to Sri Lanka.

Responding to another query, the civil society activist said that the parliament should be concerned and proper measures should be adopted to prevent exploitation of Sri Lanka.

According to Withanage Sri Lanka so far sent back 133 containers, while the rest had been re-packed into 330, 20 foot containers and held under guard pending re-export.

Withanage emphasized a major effort was required to prevent Western countries from turning Sri Lanka into a trash dump. He stressed the importance of the government taking joint measures with other countries targeted for garbage exports and developing a mechanism to counter the threat.

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government has appointed former JVP lawmaker Siripala Amarasinghe as the Chairman of the CEA.

Withanage warned of dire consequences unless an effective system was put in place to stop unscrupulous businessmen engaging in the lucrative garbage trade. The failure on the part of successive governments to take meaningful measures in that regard was worrying, he said.

 



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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