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Intl scientists ask UCLA to reverse Lankan origin ecologist’s suspension



Hundreds of internationally renowned scientists have come together to petition the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), against its decision to suspend Lankan origin award winning ecologist, Priyanga Amarasekare, international media reports said.

A report published by the Nature, on its official site, said that the UCLA’s suspension of ecologist Amarasekare, without salary or benefits, for one year, and will cut her salary by 20% for two more years, and the sanctions on, have baffled the international scientist community who think they are retaliation for speaking out against discrimination.

The Nature report said that “in April last year, the Ecological Society of America awarded Priyanga Amarasekare one of the highest honours in the field of ecology: the Robert H. MacArthur Award. A little over two months later, the UCLA, placed Amarasekare on a one-year suspension, without pay or benefits, and forbade her from accessing her laboratory, maintaining her insect colonies, managing her grants or contacting students. Now scientists from around the world, who call Amarasekare a

“highly distinguished ecologist”, “a committed teacher and outstanding mentor” and a “tireless advocate for under-represented groups”, are calling for her reinstatement.”

Amarasekare holds B.Sc. Honours degree in Zoology from the University of Colombo, and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from University of California Irvine. She was elected a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America in 2017. She served on the Editorial boards of Ecology Letters, Journal of Animal Ecology, and Theoretical Ecology. She is the co-Chief Editor of the Models in Ecology and Evolution section of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

The report by said that the precise allegations that led to her suspension are unknown. UCLA has declined to release them, and barred Amarasekare from discussing the matter publicly. But long-standing tensions between Amarasekare and the university are no secret. Originally from Sri Lanka and one of two women of colour who have tenure in UCLA’s ecology and evolution department, Amarasekare has previously accused the university of discrimination for repeatedly denying her promotions that were granted to colleagues. Former students and faculty members who are familiar with the situation think that Amarasekare’s suspension was retaliation for speaking out.

Some 315 scientists have raised concerns about her suspension in a petition that was delivered to the university on 23 January, arguing that Amarasekare “has long been denied significant advancement within her department, out of keeping with her contributions to the field”. Moreover, the sanctions levied against Amarasekare — including the one-year suspension and a 20% salary reduction for an additional two years — represent “the kind of punishment normally applied only to the most egregious wrongdoings”, including scientific misconduct and sexual harassment, the petitioners write.

In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, the scientists ask that UCLA rescind the disciplinary actions and fully compensate Amarasekare.

Officials at UCLA say that the university “supports freedom of expression and does not condone retaliation of any sort”. They declined to discuss the accusations against Amarasekare or the statements of those who support her, saying the university is “bound to respect the privacy of the numerous individuals involved in this matter”. Amarasekare also declined to comment.

Amarasekare’s colleagues told Nature that she is the rare ecologist whose research spans theoretical, computational and experimental realms. One project in her laboratory that touches on all of these areas focuses on the impact of climate change on insect communities. “She’s really several years ahead of everybody else,” says Andy Dobson, an ecologist at Princeton University in New Jersey who helped to lead the petition. Dobson has written letters to support Amarasekare’s various applications for promotion at UCLA and says he has been baffled by the university’s decisions. “She complained, and most of what’s happened seems to be a reaction against that,” he says.

Nature spoke to several former students and faculty members who defended Amarasekare in administrative hearings in September 2021. Although no one knew the specific details of the charges against her, they all thought she was targeted for speaking out against what she saw as discrimination in the department. In particular, they said Amarasekare vented about her own experience at UCLA on a departmental e-mail listserv created to discuss issues of racism and discrimination in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, whose death in May 2020 sparked international protests.

“That’s why she got into trouble. She ended up criticizing pretty much the entire department — with good reason,” says Marcel Vaz, an ecologist at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who was a graduate student in the department at the time. He and other students came forward to support her. “We demanded some explanation,” Vaz says, “but we never got any feedback.”

Peter Kareiva, a former UCLA faculty member who spoke on Amarasekare’s behalf during the administrative proceedings, calls her a brilliant scientist as well as a terrific teacher and student mentor. Kareiva witnessed Amarasekare raise uncomfortable issues and challenge internal policies in faculty meetings. He says she might have made mistakes in terms of “facilitating harmony” among fellow faculty members, but that her goal was always to improve the department.

“I am still incredulous by the punishment levied,” says Kareiva, who now serves as president of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

It is unclear what happens next, but scientists contacted by Nature are concerned about the impact of the suspension on Amarasekare’s current students, the disruption of her federally funded research and the potentially irretrievable loss of time-sensitive experiments that could provide insights into the ecological impacts of climate change.

As the recipient of the MacArthur award, Amarasekare is expected to discuss this research when she delivers her keynote address at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, in August.

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Lanka to lend US$2.5bn to US and top-rated borrowers in 2023 under IMF deal: analysis



ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is projected to lend 2,533 million US dollars mainly to the US and Euro areas during an International Monetary Fund deal in 2023 including a mandatory 1.4 billion US dollars collected from exports and remittances, according to official documents.

Sri Lanka is expected to get two tranches of 331.2 million dollar (254 million special drawing rights each) in March and September 2023 from the IMF.In 2023 Sri Lanka has to repay 256.4 million dollars from an earlier IMF loan taken during an earlier currency crisis.

Net inflows from the IMF would be 406.12 million US dollars in 2023 if the first review is completed in September 2023.Sri Lanka has committed to collect at least 1.4 billion US dollars from remittances and exports and lend to the US and other developed nations during 2023 under the IMF deal.

A large volume has already been collected. An ad hoc peg is now operated under the IMF deal to buy dollars and export to the West, as ‘below-the-line outflows. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are usually loaned to highly rated sovereign or sovereign linked borrowers, mainly in the US.

But there have been amounts of Euro assets in Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves at times, triggering forex losses when the dollar to Euro parity changed.Under the IMF program there is a performance criterion to increase net international reserves by 1,948 million dollars during 2023.

Sri Lanka is also expected to repay a 200 million US dollar swap to Bangladesh during 2023, which will also raise the NIR.At the moment Sri Lanka’s central bank is in debt after borrowing from India, Bangladesh, India including on Asian Clearing Union dues as well as the IMF. Year end net international reserves would still be negative.

Sri Lanka’s gross reserves are expected to rise by 2.5 billion US dollars to 4.4 billion US dollars in 2023 indicating that the country will lend 2.5 billion US dollars to the US and other highly rated borrowers. It may include re-invested interest coupons.

Sri Lanka is also expected to get 650 million dollars from the Asian Development Bank and 250 million dollars from the World Bank as part of partner support for the IMF deal. Outside of core monetary reserves linked to reserve money, balances in Treasury accounts are also counted as forex reserves.

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BASL writes to IGP over protest against Saliya Peiris



The BAR Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has condemned a protest staged outside the Law of Chamber of BASL President Saliya Pieris, PC on Friday.The protest was staged against the representation of Saliya Pieris, PC for notorious Sri Lankan drug kingpin Nadun Chinthaka alias “Harak Kata”.

Condemning the protest, BASL said in a statement that Saliya Pieris, PC was only conducting his professional duties with regard to a particular client.

“We are of the view the said protest seriously hinders his right to represent a client, a professional right which has been safeguarded by law,” it pointed out.

The BASL called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to take action to ensure that Saliya Peiris’s professional duties as an Attorney-at-law, are not hindered and to ensure his safety.

Full text of the letter: ” We write with reference to an organized protest outside the chamber of Mr Saliya Pieris, President of the \Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

We have been made aware the said protest relates to Mr. Pieris conducting his professional duties with regard to a particular client. We are of the view the said protest seriously hinders his right to represent a client, a professional right which has been safeguarded by law.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.”

Further, Section 41 of the Judicature Act which has clearly set out the right of representation, and, has further shed light on the above mechanism established for implementing the administration of justice in the country.

It is as follows; Section 41 of the Judicature Act (Right of Representation)

(1) Every attorney-at-law shall be entitled to assist and advise clients and to appear, plead or act in every court or other institution established by law for the administration of justice and every person who is a party to or has or claims to have the right to be heard in any proceeding in any such court or other such institution shall be entitled to be represented by an attorney-at-law.

(2) Every person who is a party to any proceeding before any person or tribunal exercising quasi-judicial powers and every person who has or claims to have the right to be heard before any such person or tribunal shall unless otherwise”

Therefore, we strongly demand that you take action to ensure that Mr. Peiris’s professional duties as an Attorney-at-law, are not hindered and to ensure his safety.”

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State need not do business, says Ranil, seven SOEs to be divested



ECONOMYNEXT – The State need not engage in business as its mandate is to provide services such as education and maintain law and order, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said Thursday defending plans to divest government-held shares of seven state owned enterprises (SOEs).

At a discussion at the presidential secretariat on Thursday morning, Wickremesinghe responding to a question about the decision said that Sri Lanka must no longer hold on to corporations and enterprises owned by the government.

Sri Lanka has been spending more on the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) than it has on education, he said.The following seven SOEs will undergo the divestment of state-held shares: Sri Lankan Airlines Ltd including Sri Lankan Catering Ltd, Sri Lanka Telecom PLC, Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Ltd,

Canwill Holdings Pvt. Ltd., (Grand Hyatt Hotel), Hotel Developers Lanka Ltd., (Hilton Hotel Colombo), Litro Gas Lanka Ltd., including Litro Gas Terminals (Pvt) Ltd., (LPG retailing), and Lanka Hospital Corporation PLC

The State Owned Enterprises Restructuring Unit of the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies will oversee the process, a statement said.

“Not all of them are loss making. But we do have to repay debt. You can’t keep these and pay back loans.

“If we can’t pay off our loans, we might have to sell something in the house and pay it,” said Wickremesnghe.

Asked why Sri Lanka should sell SOEs that aren’t making losses, he responded: “Why is the state engaged in business? That’s not our mandate. The state has no business engaging in business.”

“In what country is there a law that these (businesses) should be (held by the state)?” he added.

Noting that the crisis-hit nation is trying to embark on a path of recovery and rapid development, the president said Sri Lanka must follow India’s example.

“India is selling their airports, profit making ones. India has come to that stage. We have to go there too.”

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