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Govt. assures procurement process followed to the letter

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… seeks House approval for measures to ease pressure on foreign reserves

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) assured that the incumbent government followed the procurement process to the letter.

Rambukwella, who is also the media minister, told the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Information Department that the government didn’t operate outside the laid down procurement process.

The minister said so when The Island asked about Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s proposal to finalise an agreement with Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) to procure 8,400,000 barrels of Murban crude over a period of eight months commencing Oct 1, 2020.

Rambukwella was flanked by co-cabinet spokesperson Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Director General, Information, Nalaka Kaluwewa. The other co-cabinet spokesperson Udaya Gammanpila was not present.

Acknowledging that the government shouldn’t resort to emergency purchases, Minister Rambukwella said that there were instances the government had no option but to do so under certain circumstances.

Pointing out that the government had taken a series of steps to ease growing pressure on foreign reserves and also sought international assistance at the ongoing UNHRC sessions to save the national economies of countries ruined by COVID pandemic, The Island asked how the new parliament could curb waste, corruption and irregularities as COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and PAC (Public Accounts Committee) faulted successive governments. Minister Rambukwella took up the stand that the current dispensation followed procedures.

At the commencement of the briefing, the media was informed ot a government decision to secure parliamentary approval for specific action taken in terms of Imports and Exports (Control) Act, No 1 of 1969 to ease pressure on foreign reserves. A committee appointed in line with proposals made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 1, 2020, the government imposed severe restrictions on imports after having categorised imports into three classes.

Minister Rambuwella said that the balance of payments was an issue as even far bigger countries struggled to tackle due to the difficulties caused by the continuing COVID pandemic.

The Cabinet at its meeting on Sept 16, 2020, decided to submit four special gazette notifications issued in terms of Imports and Exports (Control) Act, No 1 of 1969 for parliamentary approval.

Minister Rambukwella also said his proposal to print passports as well as confidential documents locally had received the attention of the Cabinet of ministers. The Cabinet had decided to undertake a comprehensive study to ascertain whether the Government Printer could handle the tasks, he added.

The media also raised the issue of the alleged liberalisation of policy to facilitate the proposed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. Denying such allegations, the ministers said the government decision was to provide state land to the needy in line with the President’s 2019 election manifesto.

The media sought an explanation as to how the government proceeded with land distribution on the basis of recommendation/approval provided by grama sevakas. Asked whether a deliberate attempt was being made to distribute state land in a haphazard manner against a series of wanton destruction of forest land, the ministers denied the accusations.

The ministers assured that the government wouldn’t interfere in the ongoing investigations into the destruction of Ramsar wetlands at Anavilundawa allegedly by former Chairman of Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Jagath Samantha. The media asked whether the suspect remained at large because of government interference as he was the elder brother of State Minister Sanath Nishantha.

The media said that in spite of a committee appointed by the government having identified Jagath Samantha as the main suspect, the police were yet to arrest him. The ministers pointed out that the government members had raised the issue in Parliament therefore there was no basis for accusations of an attempted cover up of the Anavilundawa incident.



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CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials

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‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’

Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.

“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.

“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.

“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.

“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.

The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.

“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)

(See related stories in the business section)

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CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini

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By Norman Palihawadana

Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.

SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.

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Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289

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ByShamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.

Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.

In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.

The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.

It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.

Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & G.de Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.

Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.

At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.

Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.

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