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Japan warns of threat of global downturn



Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Akira Sugiyama recently said that although Sri Lanka had been successful in combating Covid-19 pandemic, the continuing global crisis caused serious difficulty to the Sri Lankan economy, especially in export and tourism sectors.

Ambassador Sugiyama said so at the 41st Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka-Japan Business Council held recently at the JAIC Hilton where Merrick Gooneratne received the appointment as President of the Sri Lanka–Japan Business Council

The Ambassador said: First of all, on behalf of the Government of Japan, I would like to express our solidarity with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka in combatting COVID-19, while commending the strong leadership of the Government and the business leaders of Sri Lanka in tackling successfully the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. Japan has provided USD9.6M grant aid to help Sri Lanka’s fight against COVID-19, including procurement of essential medical equipment like MRI system and CT scanners and improvement of hospital facilities.

The COVID-19 has had a serious negative impact on the global economy. Both Sri Lanka and Japan, like other countries in the world, are tackling the challenge of resuming and rebuilding economic activities while controlling the spread of the virus.

“Sri Lanka effectively implemented the curfew to contain the spread of the virus, while ensuring the people’s access to basic needs, including food and medicine, and without disrupting essential services in both public and private sectors. Now, the virus infection in Sri Lanka is successfully under control with zero community transmission. This is a commendable achievement. The global pandemic, however, caused serious difficulty to the Sri Lankan economy, especially in export sector and tourism. The Government of Sri Lanka announced several financial and monetary measures to mitigate this economic difficulty, and, most assuredly, they could lead to significant positive impacts on the Sri Lankan economy.

“Japan’s economy is in severe difficulty. The Government of Japan declared a State of Emergency on April 7th to request that the people and business community limit their activities to the minimum, although on a voluntary basis, to contain the COVID-19. Although the state of emergency was lifted on May 25 after pulling off the crisis, we still see new cases of infection every day. As disruption of social and economic activities in Japan and abroad takes a heavy toll on our economy. Japan’s economy contracted by 7.9 % in the second quarter of this year compared with the first quarter, which is equivalent to 28.1 % decline on an annualized basis. Japan is now struggling to strike an appropriate balance between reviving the economy and containing the virus spread. New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed in his first press conference, the most urgent agenda for the new Government is of course how we will get our economy back on track.

“Let me briefly discuss how consumer habits have changed in Japan after the COVID-19 pandemic, although I have to say that this is my layman’s view.

“As people start to work from home and spend more time at home because of the pandemic, their lifestyle and way of consumption have significantly changed. First, the COVID-19 has brought a considerable shift in the consumer’s style of shopping – from store shopping to on-line shopping. Because of stay-at-home requirement, consumers who were not familiar with online services such as restaurant delivery applications are now experimenting with these new devices. This has stimulated the uptake of digital commerce among more Japanese. Second, we are seeing an increasing demand for the goods and services which make working-from-home easy and efficient and staying-at-home more comfortable and enjoyable, including electronic appliances and online video services. In Japan, such consumption trend is called “nesting consumption”, which means that, like nesting birds, people stay and work at home and buy things online to keep their home tidy and comfortable.

“Next, products essential for the health and wellbeing of people such as masks and alcohol disinfectants are high in demand among consumers since people are now more conscious about hygiene and good health. In this connection, it should be noted that the COVID-19 has caused serious disruptions to global supply chains, resulting in shortages of various products, including such hygiene products. We keenly feel the need to diversify production bases of those products.

“Staying at home and health concerns are also changing payment methods of Japanese people. As some of you may know, Japanese people still have a preference for cash payment in daily lives, but prevalence of online shopping and hygiene concerns about touching money make people go for credit cards or prepaid cards more frequently.

“Since people stay home and do not go out, they do not pay for travel and hospitality services. As in Sri Lanka, in Japan tourism and hospitality business have lost business substantially because of the COVID-19. Since the tourism industry in Japan is increasingly dependent on inbound tourists, the entry ban of foreign tourists has been giving a serious negative impact on the tourism industry, especially local (outside Tokyo) businesses. To address this issue by promoting domestic travel, the Government of Japan has embarked on “Go to Travel Campaign” which gives domestic travelers a discount on travel costs, including hotel accommodations, if hotels or restaurants they use take strict health precautionary measures against the COVID-19.

“Of course, business people like you have much better ideas about these new trends. Having said that, I think that some of these changes will be here to stay even after the COVID-19 threat passes and could even open up new business opportunities.

With the lessons learnt from this pandemic, our two countries should come up with proper strategic moves to convert the global pandemic challenge into opportunities and I hope this would turn a new leaf in Japan-Sri Lanka business relations.”

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Current wave of COVID-19:



AG asks police to probe alleged negligence of Brandix, others

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has called for an immediate investigation into circumstances that led to the coronavirus eruption at the Brandix apparel manufacturing facility at Minuwangoda early this month.

AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne told The Island that a progress report had been called  by or before Nov 13.

The AG stepped in amidst Opposition political parties, both in and outside Parliament questioning the failure on the part of health authorities to establish how the eruption had taken place.

Instructions were issued yesterday (27) when the AG summoned DIG Ajith Rohana, a senior officer in charge of the police Legal Division. The State Counsel said that the AG wanted the Brandix management, its agents and government servants probed as regards their negligence and carelessness.

Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera recently told The Island that they were yet to ascertain the cause of the current wave. Health Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sujeewa Munasinghe said they had probed several leads and were now close to bringing the inquiry into successful conclusion.

Both Dr. Samaraweera and Head of the National COVID-19 Task Force Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva have said the 39-year-old Brandix employee who was the first to be tested positive is not the patient zero as regards the garment cluster.

The AG intervened in the absence of a police investigation into various accusations regarding the second wave with the number of positive cases rapidly nearing 9,000.

Brandix, in response to The Island queries, has assured that it followed health guidelines when 341 workers attached to its facility in India and their families were repatriated in three batches. The company said that it would fully cooperate with government authorities inquiring into the outbreak.

The Opposition lambasted the government for the deteriorating situation during last Friday’s debate on the epidemic now threatening to overwhelm the health facilities.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe yesterday said that a comprehensive inquiry was needed to establish the truth. (SF)



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An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: 



Don’t try to sign agreements in secret

Issued by the Sri Lanka
Study Circle 

We, the members of the Sri Lanka Study Circle in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement – the largest organised grouping of Nations after the UN – that initiated a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1971 which was unanimously adopted by the entire World to make forever the Indian Ocean a zone of peace within which area no Nuclear weapons whatsoever would be permitted are a bit confused about the status of your visit to Sri Lanka due to a lack of transparency. 

Initially, your embassy in Colombo, when questioned about rumours of a possible visit by you to our country, denied those rumours. Several days later, the embassy made an announcement that you would be visiting our country for a day. 

We surmise therefore that you are visiting our country, not at our invitation but at your request, at a time when the ugly head of COVID is raising its head once again due to, what appears to be, the criminal negligence of a Company funded and mentored by your Government. 

We must express our dismay and protest that the forerunners to your visit have dampened the spirit and purpose of your visit by flagrantly violating the basic health guidelines, required to be followed by all entering our country, to bring under control the pandemic which has caused thus far the deaths of 218000 people in your country. 

 We trust that you and your entourage would subject yourself to the mandatory health checks, especially travelling from India which ranks number two, next to your country, in the number of COVID related deaths. 

We note that your visit has been preceded by many communiques appearing in the media.  

To comment on some of them: You seem to harbour an illusion that your country and ours has a common vision. No, we do not have a common vision; your country is a Capitalist country where the engine of growth is the private sector. Ours, Mr. Pompeo, as per our Constitution and the thinking of our people, is a Socialist State where, in perfect harmony with Buddhist principles, public interest prevails over private interest.  

The factors of production like Land are held by the State and not private individuals. That is why MCC goes against the very grain of Sri Lankan thinking, Buddhism and culture and does not have the people’s mandate. 

You have ‘advised’ our Government to take necessary and difficult decisions to secure her economic independence. Mr. Chairman MCC, we request you to keep your unsolicited advice to yourself. We are indeed sorry if some members of our country had portrayed themselves to you, as imbeciles. The majority of them are not capable of sagacious and independent thought.   

You seem to suggest that some of our donors’ conditions are not transparent and our discriminatory. In fact this is the very criticism the people have levelled against the MCC ; it is very discriminatory and the least transparent. The people of this country have yet to see the draft MCC document in the language they understand, Sinhala and Tamil. 

‘US officials warned the Sri Lankan Government who they team up with for their economic partnership’. Mr. Pompeo, if that is a threat you can go to Mars; you could spend your time more profitably over there. We are aware that you were refused an audience with the Pope and we are acutely aware that you have endorsed the torture going on in Guantanamo Bay and that you hold a view that the hell-hole you forcibly occupy there should not be shut down. 

It is laughable that you allude to debt diplomacy of some other countries. Does it not make you laugh that the US offers a gift horse – as your acolytes would say- worth 480 Million USD when the US has a sovereign debt of 26 Trillion USD. Amidst this debt from where did you get this pottage and why not use this amount to reduce your own debt? 

 ‘Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.’ 

Hitherto, your military reach in the Pacific was limited to the South-east Asian Countries because the Pacific ended there. The Indian Ocean was untouched and the littoral states in the Indian Ocean declared the Indian Ocean, a Zone of Peace.  

What you are now attempting to do is extend the Pacific Ocean to include the Indian Ocean.  

As a first step, you have artificially made two Oceans one, by calling it the Indo-Pacific Ocean. And the second step is to extend the militarisation of the Pacific Ocean to cover the ‘Indian Ocean’ portion of the Indo -Pacific Ocean.  

This is where the MCC, the ACSA, the SOFA and the QUAD fit in. This is how, in our opinion, the US would militarily ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ 

You have the gumption to say ‘free and open’ Indo Pacific Ocean when in the seas around the American Continents you restrict naval activity by applying unilaterally a doctrine, the Monroe doctrine. 

Make no bones about it, the Indian Ocean, Mr. Secretary, is a nuclear Free Ocean, and an Ocean of Peace. Sri Lanka is a committed Non-Aligned State and not a Neutral state. Some novices are confused about this. 

 If you wish to speak with Sri Lanka come in Peace and we shall talk. We shall talk openly and transparently. Do not attempt to sign Agreements in Secret because they do not have the mandate of the People.     

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CEJ warns of danger to health from lead in paints



By Ifham Nizam

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) yesterday urged the public to be vigilant about the lead content in consumer items. Dilena Pathragoda, CEJ Managing Director said that most old buildings still had old paint with high lead levels.

Addressing the media at an event to mark the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action he said that some Sri Lankan companies dump lead contaminated liquid waste into our water ways without following the proper procedures.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said: “In Sri Lanka, lead concentration in paint has been limited by the Consumer Affairs Authority as a result of a case filed by the CEJ in 2011. Accordingly, enamel and floor paints can have only 600ppm of lead while the limit is 90 ppm for emulsion and paints used on children’s products. This law came into effect from January 1, 2013. It is also mandatory to declare on the label if the paint is lead safe.”

Withanage added that it was the consumer’s duty to check for the lead level before purchasing paint. He added that many countries in the region had now reduced the maximum permissible lead level to 90 ppm in all types of paints. It was time to introduce more stringent standards for Sri Lankan paints, he said.

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage in children, resulting in reduced Intelligence quotient (IQ), reduced attention span, impaired learning ability and increased risk of behavioral problems.

In adults it can affect reproduction, endocrine or the hormone system and the cardiovascular system. Research shows that the main source of lead poisoning is paint. The oil-based paints that are commonly known as enamel paint, floor paint, anti corrosive and lacquer contain high lead levels. These paints are commonly found on walls of preschools and childcare facilities, children play areas, furniture, baby cots and some toys.

In addition, researchers have revealed that lead is found in some imported plastic and rubber toys, stationery, paints on porcelain, cosmetics and artificial jewelry. People working in; e-waste recycling plants, lead-acid battery/ car battery recycling plants, metal smelting, construction and demolition work are highly vulnerable to lead exposure.



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