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From mine to market – showcasing Sri Lanka’s jewellery legacy to the world

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The Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association (SLGJA) hosted its second Key Persons’ Forum for the industry with the objective of facilitating the sector during the pandemic and to boost overall tourism in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism.

The Forum was conducted with Prasanna Ranatunga, State Minister of Tourism, Lohan Ratwatte, State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related Industries, Ahsan Refai, Chairman of SLGJA and Kimarli Fernando, Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. The event created a platform for a two-way discussion between the gem and jewellery industry and Ministry of Tourism and was attended by executive members of the SLGJA, the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) and many local gem and jewellery traders. The main focus was on enhancing the partnership between the Gem and Jewellery industry and the SLTPB to promote the precious facets of Sri Lanka to the world.

The collaboration between the gem and jewellery industry and the tourism sector will be capable of maximizing an influx of visitors to the country, especially attracting the up-market tourists. With the potential to be one of the largest foreign revenue earners by generating around $500 million foreign exchange through the sale of gems and jewellery to foreign travelers, the industry will be an immense support to uplift the tourism sector.

The prestige of the Ceylon Sapphire is world renowned. In his opening remarks by SLGJA Chairman Ahsan Refai spoke of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage in producing high quality gemstones as a unique opportunity to promote and market gemstones to the world.

“A concentrated marketing campaign with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority would greatly benefit the promotion of gem and jewellery trade. This will encourage more tourists to visit our country to experience our gem mines that are set against the backdrop of the beautiful paddy and mountain landscapes. The gem and jewellery industry in Sri Lanka spans over centuries in history with able miners, talented crafts people and traders carrying the treasures of the land beyond oceans, and bringing in much wealth back to the country”, he noted.

As shopping is a key feature of any tourist experience, allying the Ceylon Sapphire as part of Sri Lanka’s tourism campaigns would be an ideal way to increase tourism, especially upmarket tourists looking to spend, he said.

Minister of Tourism, Prasanna Ranatunga, acknowledged the need to marry the efforts of the two industries, saying “It is our responsibility to protect and expand the brand recognition we have for our gem and jewellery industry”.

He said the Ministry of Tourism is positive about drawing the necessary action plans to implement campaigns where tourism will call attention to the gem and jewellery sector as part of promoting the destination.

Speaking on behalf of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and emphasizing the evident benefits of the two industries working together, Chairperson Kimarli Fernando assured the promotion of the gem and jewellery industry through the SLTPB in all future campaigns.

She positively emphasized the significant impact that can be achieved through this association. She also spoke of a tourism travel app, currently in the development stages with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. Accordingly, it was offered to add the names of all the gem and jewellery traders, who are licensed by the authority on the app to help tourists locate the shops as ‘places to visit’.

Lohan Ratwatte, thanked Minister Ranatunga and the members of the gem and jewellery industry for their unyielding support of his Ministry. He also assured the support of the Ministry in industrial growth and in promoting the industry on a larger scale through support for business operations and creating a conducive environment for the sector to grow.

The Minister offered his support by proposing the appointment of a steering committee with the Ministry of Tourism to explore mutually beneficial strategies.

The possibility of holding the Facets International Gem and Jewellery Show in January 2022, as addressed by Altaf Iqbal, Chairman of the event, was also discussed. As the main event that draws a large number of foreign buyers, Facets is one of the campaigns that can truly leverage tourism to the country. The need for further promotion of Sri Lanka as a tourist destination with the inclusion of the Gem and Jewellery associations in the promotional campaigns, the increase in foreign exchange earnings and the overall quarantine process for tourists coming into the country were also highlighted.

Having agreed upon the fact that the promotion of Sri Lanka as a tourist destination is severely lacking, the potential for the gem and jewellery industry to be one of the country’s biggest foreign exchange earners with the implementation of well thought out policies adapted in consultation/partnership with the trade, was also acknowledged.

Akram Cassim, Vice Chairman of the Jewellery Segment of SLGJA said, “The mystery, magic, myths and legends along with the history, crafts and skills of Sri Lanka’s gem and jewellery legacy should be showcased to the world through tourism. Our amazing island is home to the finest of coloured gemstones – the Ceylon Sapphire. A gem like no other, in a country like no other… We have something so unique that no other country can offer to tourists anywhere in the world. So let us work together to create an amazing Ceylon Sapphire experience for tourists visiting this island.



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Govt. eases restrictions on foreigners as Covid-19 rips through country

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DGHS, IGP informed of SLTDA decision

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In what many thought was a shocking decision, the Tourism Ministry yesterday (16) declared that tourists would be able to travel across the country despite movement restrictions in force since last Thursday (14) to control the rapid spread of Covid-19.

 Tourism Ministry, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon (16) quoted Director General of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Dhammika Wijesinhe as having said that the foreigners in the country could travel in what she called a bio bubble. Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Asela Gunawardena and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne had been informed of the arrangements, she said.

The announcement was made as the government struggled to cope with an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases as well as deaths. It came close on the heels of Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga declaring that the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) wouldn’t be closed. When The Island sought an explanation from the Tourism Ministry how such a decision was taken regardless of tough quarantine laws and health guidelines in place to control the spread of rampaging Covid-19 epidemic, an authoritative official said that the Ministry issued a statement received from the SLTDA.

DG Wijesinghe said that those individuals and firms responsible for bringing in tourists had been instructed to strictly follow health guidelines or face the consequences.

Declaring that tourism has been categorized as an export industry, DG Wijesinghe said that the SLTDA stepped in the wake of complaints that foreigners experienced difficulties as a result of travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the latest Covid-19 eruption.

The Tourism Ministry further quoted the official as having stressed that arrangements were now in place to ensure tourists could travel in a bio bubble without hindrance.

Police headquarters said that after the lifting of ‘lockdown’ on Monday at 4 am, travel restrictions from 11 pm to 4 am on a daily basis during May would continue.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) spokesperson Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that the government seemed hell-bent on causing further chaos. Having allowed influential parties to bring in foreigners for quarantine in the country, the government caused the deterioration and now restrictions were done away at the risk of further intensification of the spread of the virus.

Dr. Bellana recalled how the government permitted the England cricket tour of Sri Lanka to go ahead in January this year at a time the UK was in a grave crisis over a new deadlier variant of Covid-19 spreading there and also allowed groups of Ukrainians in when Ukraine was in lockdown.

Responding to another query, Dr. Bellana pointed out that the shocking declaration that restrictions would not apply to foreigners meant that the government was yet to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Dr. Bellana said that the government seemed to be blind to the fact that the death toll was on the verge of passing 1,000 and the cases nearing 150,000. If those at the helm of administration really believed tourists could move across the country safely in bio bubbles let them create the same for others, Dr. Bellana said.

According to the GMOF, the government was pulling in different directions in the absence of a cohesive strategy to meet the daunting Covid-19 challenge. The failure to understand the need to apply the same set of quarantine laws and health guidelines to all was one of the primary reasons for the deterioration of the problem.  Dr. Bellana asked how the government did away with restrictions while the doctors reported the detection of at least six Covid-19 variants.

Dr. Bellana said that he expected experts would oppose the government’s short-sighted policies.

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Gaza conflict: Parliament calls for truce; govt. silent yet

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP Dr. Suren Raghavan, on behalf of the Sri Lanka-Palestinian Parliament Friendship Association has urged the government and the Opposition to join the international community in calling for an immediate cessation of violence in the latest conflict involving Israel and Hamas.

The recently formed Association in a statement issued on May 13 called for cessation of hostilities in Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Association represents both government and the Opposition.

Citing international media reports, the Association expressed concerns over suffering of civilians on both sides due to military action during the month of Ramazan. Dr. Raghavan, the only SLFPer accommodated on the SLPP National List made reference to indiscriminate rocket attacks carried out by Hamas and Israeli air strikes.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday (16) acknowledged the government was yet to issue a statement on the situation in Gaza.

According to international media reports, an Israeli airstrike on Saturday destroyed a high-rise building that housed The Associated Press offices in the Gaza Strip. The airstrike came about an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to leave the building. The building houses the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and a number of offices and apartments.

Meanwhile, Israel Solidarity Movement (ISM) strongly condemned Hamas for attacking civilian targets in Israel. Calling Hamas a terrorist organization, the ISM pointed out that terrorists used Palestinians as a human shield while attacking Israeli civilians.  Pointing out that Hamas actions had placed the Palestinian community in peril, the IMS recalled how Sri Lanka suffered during the war against the LTTE. Making reference to sufferings caused by 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, the ISM stood solidly with those who backed whatever Israeli action taken to neutralize the Hamas challenge.

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Central Bank: No immediate threat of inflation rise from monetary expansion

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By Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka was currently experiencing high monetary expansion, but the Central Bank did not expect an acceleration of inflation in the near future, Economic Research Director at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara told The Island yesterday.

Answering a query on the broad money growth and its wider implications, Dr. Amarasekera said, “At the end of 2020, broad money expanded by 23.4% compared to the end 2019. The extraordinary circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic required increased credit to the government from Sri Lanka’s banking system, and the historically low interest rate structure also resulted in a pickup in the growth of credit to the private sector in the second half of the year. This policy driven expansion in broad money supply was essential for the country to dampen the effects of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”

“As the Sri Lankan economy is operating below its potential, we do not project a demand-driven acceleration in inflation in the near term. Even the relatively high economic growth projected for 2021 will be partly driven by the low base in the previous year, and therefore, it is unlikely that there will be an overheating of the economy in 2021 as well, although we envisage a monetary expansion of 21%.”

“However, as the authority responsible for the money stock of the country, the Central Bank remains cautious about any excessive expansion in money growth. Nevertheless, the close relationship between money and inflation that we used to see in the past is no longer in existence. For example, during the most part of a period of single digit inflation that Sri Lanka experienced since 2009, broad money growth has remained above 15%. The breakdown of the close relationship between money growth and inflation is also one reason for the Central Bank to move away from a monetary targeting framework towards a flexible inflation targeting framework to conduct monetary policy. Anchoring of inflation expectations has also helped curb the inflationary effects of exchange rate movements as well. Many other countries have also experienced similar situations.”

“When the economy recovers and demand conditions improve, the Central Bank will take appropriate action to make necessary policy adjustments to ensure the continuation of inflation at the desirable levels of mid-single digits without disrupting the growth process,” Dr. Amarasekara said.

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