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Keerthi: IMF conditions painful but necessary

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Country paying heavy price for delaying decision

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Governor of Uva, Southern and Central Provinces Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon yesterday (16) said that those who objected to the government seeking IMF’s assistance had ruined the economy.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had, in his address to the nation on Wednesday, expressed his willingness to seek IMF assistance, Tennakoon said.

Tennakoon, one-time Executive Director of polls monitoring body CaFFE told The Island that in fact Sri Lanka had been engaged in discussions with the IMF since February 2019 in the run-up to the presidential election.

But the talks had suffered a setback following the change of government following the 2019 presidential election, Tennakoon said, adding that one of conditions was the enactment of Monetary Law Act to bring about discipline the financial sector and stability, Tennakoon said.

According to him, one of the key conditions had been to remove Secretary to the Finance Ministry from the five-member Monetary Board. The IMF believed far reaching changes were necessary to restore financial discipline, particularly uncontrolled printing of notes that had caused inflation.

Tennakoon said that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa favoured IMF’s intervention. As soon as he succeeded Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Finance Minister in July last year, Sri Lanka sought the IMF intervention. Much respected former Governor of the Central Bank and head of a Sri Lanka overseas mission arranged the IMF’s intervention, Tennakoon said.

Responding to queries, Tennakoon said that the government would be asked by the IMF to implement the late Mangala Samamaweera’s formula that helped Treasury to collect well over Rs 1,900 bn in 2019 and the current dispensation lost well over Rs. 500 bn due to a controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes, including PAYE (Pay As You Earn), NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax).

Tennakoon said that the 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

He said that the decision was taken at the first cabinet meeting of the incumbent government held on Nov 27, 2019.

Sri Lanka would be also asked to introduce pricing mechanisms for electricity and fuel if the government wanted IMF’s assistance, Tennakoon said. Interest rates, too, shouldn’t be subjected to political whims and fancies, Tennakoon said, adding that the IMF conditions would cause tremendous pressure on the government though it was in such a desperate situation it couldn’t take a tough stand.

As many as 40 loss-making state enterprises including national carrier SriLankan were likely to be identified for privatization or re-structuring, Tennakoon said, urging political parties not to sabotage current efforts at reaching consensus on national economy.

The one-time favourite of former President Sirisena emphasised that the government should without delay inquire into the circumstances leading to the Central Bank suddenly floating rupee over a week ago. It would be pertinent to ask whether the Central Bank has sought Cabinet approval before the announcement was made, Tennakoon said, alleging the country suffered due to the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank pulling in different directions.

The civil society activist alleged that for want of a cohesive action plan, the government inadvertently caused serious mistakes though nothing could be as bad as handling of the national economy.

Tennakoon said that the IMF’s role undermined Pohottuwa policies but the ruling party couldn’t do anything about it. Commenting on social media reports of CBSL Governor Cabraal being asked to step down immediately, Tennakoon said that no one could force him to do so. Cabraal could continue till July 4, 2022 as he was in the process of completing the period allocated for his predecessor, Tennkoon said, adding that though the President could replace Cabraal after July 4 it wouldn’t help to address the crisis.



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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