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Lankans abandon holiday celebrations for protests

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A woman carries her baby while her older daughter holds a national flag during an anti-government protest in Colombo on April 14, 2022, as others boil milk to usher in the traditional New Year.

by Amal Jayasinghe

Life usually stops in Sri Lanka’s capital during April’s holiday period, but with an economic crisis derailing traditional home celebrations, Colombo’s city centre is instead teeming with frustrated crowds.

Sri Lankans ritually boil milk on the first day of the island nation’s New Year, but the commodity is one of many in short supply – along with the liquid gas and kerosene used to heat stoves in many Colombo households, and rice to serve family members.

Demonstrators this year brought the custom out of their homes and heated clay pots over makeshift bonfires outside the capital’s Presidential Secretariat, highlighting the plight of households now forced to cook with firewood.

The seafront park by the neoclassical office has since the weekend hosted a running protest vigil, demanding the government’s resignation over Sri Lanka’s worst financial crisis in memory.

“The economic situation is unbearable for many people,” Hemakumara Perera, who joined the protest from a small town south of the capital, told AFP.

Perera, his wife and two children camped at the site overnight to “show solidarity” with fellow Sri Lankans suffering through what is usually a joyous family celebration.

“We support their call for the president and the prime minister to step down,” he said.

Other New Year customs have been abandoned, such as the buying of new garments to symbolise fresh beginnings.

“We are not in a mood to wear new clothes and celebrate when we know how people are suffering,” said Lakshika Gunawardena, who joined the protest carrying her five-month-old baby.

Sri Lanka’s New Year is usually a private affair, with families sharing meals at home and giving sweets to neighbours as commercial activity comes to a standstill.

The crowds now thronging public spaces are an unusual sight for this time of year — as is the silence from the country’s besieged leaders.

The government skipped its usual handout photographs of top politicians celebrating the occasion with their families.

And there was no sign of a text message holiday greeting from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, sent to every mobile phone in the country in previous years.

Both he and younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa — Sri Lanka’s president — have been accused of mismanaging the economy and blindly leading the country into its present predicament.

The country is now in default of its $51 billion foreign debt ahead of negotiations for an International Monetary Fund bailout, and authorities have begged Sri Lankans abroad to send money home to help alleviate the crisis.

The president has not returned to his office since the protest began on the weekend, and a bolstered security presence is keeping watch over the encampment.

But interactions between police and the crowd were jovial and even festive, with demonstrators chatting to officers and sharing traditional New Year food and sweets.

“The demonstrators won’t go until the government goes,” said a traffic constable standing watch outside the building while sheltering from the scorching morning sun.

“And we can’t go until both leave,” he added.



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More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients

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The Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) has disclosed that Rs. 6,259 million worth of drugs faced a quality failure from 2011 to 2020 due to improper storage. The COPA report has further revealed that 99% of such drugs had already been dispensed to patients when the condition was brought to attention. In that situation, it was not possible to recover the cost of substandard drugs from the suppliers, the Parliament said.

The Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to expedite the process of facilitating better storage of drugs to ensure their safety.

It has also been observed that the temperature in the warehouses, owned by the Medical Supplies Division, is maintained properly and that the medical supplies are stored in the corridors of the central drug warehouses and hospitals.

Furthermore, the Secretary to the Ministry has pointed out that if there is a system to detect the failure of drugs as soon as they are received, the loss can be recovered from the suppliers and if the quality testing of 60 drugs can be done by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, this situation can be avoided to some extent.

These concerns and observations were contained in the first report of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament on COPA, which was tabled in Parliament recently (20) by Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The report contains information about the investigations of seven state institutions summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts and one Special Audit Report during the period from 04.08.2021 to 19.11.2021.

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CBSL Chief: Economy could be stabilised in year or so if …

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The prevailing Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis could lead to a major social crisis as the available foreign reserves were only sufficient for a few weeks’ imports, Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned on Monday.

“The economy can be stabilised in the next 12 month if the IMF negotiations and debt restructuring are finalised within the next seven to eight months. Until then we have to support the poor people,” Dr. Weerasinghe said, addressing a seminar on the “State of the Economy and Talks with the IMF”. It was organised by the Press Club, together with the Press Institute, at Colombo Hilton.

The CB Governor said the current BoP crisis would worsen and, therefore the economic pain could only be minimised if essential policies and measures were implemented in an expeditious manner. But “IMF technical level virtual meetings are likely to conclude this week, and thereafter further discussion will take place to finalise everything,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Dr. Weerasinghe suggested that the monetary and fiscal authorities tighten the monetary policy by higher margins and fiscal policy by restoring tax rates to pre-2020 levels.

The Governor said, “We have three categories of creditors namely International Sovereign Bonds, which raise short term funds from global markets, which account for 35 percent of the government debt, while other two creditors are Paris Club and non-Paris Club (India and China).

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the country’s debt needed to be brought to a sustainable level. “For that purpose a debt sustainability analysis needs to be drafted with a fiscal policy for the IMF bailout”, he said.

Speaking about the country’s worsening economic fundamentals, Dr. Weerasinghe said: “The nation is currently experiencing a historically low economic growth and falling trend of per capita GDP since 2017 with rising levels of poverty. It is also running the highest fiscal deficits since 1988 with the lowest ever government revenue as a percent of GDP.

“Amid those developments Sri Lanka’ poverty level will increase, unemployment level soar and local industries will have to shut down due to restriction of importation of raw material. Therefore, we have to seek humanitarian assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral and multilateral agencies”, the Governor said.

“We are seeking short-term bridging facilities from official creditors until an agreement is reached with creditors on restructuring,” he said.

In his presentation, Dr. Weerasinghe analysed the links between banking and the currency crises. He pointed out that the problems in the banking sector typically precede a currency crisis with the currency crisis deepening the banking crisis, thus activating a vicious spiral.

Sri Lanka also had the highest-ever government debt which was unsustainable at the moment. Debt dynamics might be worsening in the next few years unless the debt was restructured, he said.

Sri Lanka also recorded the highest rate of inflation in 12 years which was increasing sharply and was experiencing the highest-ever levels of money printing by the CBSL, he added

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Dragonfly thought to be extinct found again

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By Ifham Nizam

Scientists have rediscovered Sri Lankan Clubtail (Anisogomphus ceylonicus), one of the rarest species of dragonflies in the country. The team that made the discovery comprised Amila Sumanapala of the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo, T. Ranasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, and D. Sumanapala of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to lead scientist Amila Sumanapala Sri Lankan Clubtail is one of the rarest species of dragonflies.

First collected in 1859, it was only known from the original collection and another collection record made a century after in 1962. This species had not been found anywhere in Sri Lanka for close to 60 years until the team encountered a larva during a survey conducted in 2021.

Anisogomphus ceylonicus is one of the few Odonates of Sri Lanka with no photographic records of a living specimen available hitherto.

The present observation provides the first photographs of a live A. ceylonicus larva and the most recent documentation of the species. These observations, coupled with previous work (Lieftinck 1971, Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013), provide an improved understanding of the species, which might enable further targeted surveys to be made

It was first discovered from Ramboda over 140 years ago based on a female specimen, which was originally described as Gomphus ceylonicus and later assigned to the genus Heliogomphus by F.C. Fraser (Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013). Almost a century later, Lieftinck (1971) collected an immature male and its exuvia of a clubtail dragonfly from Rambukpath Oya, 10 miles northwest of Hatton in 1962 and described it as Anisogomphus solitaris. However, Bedjanič & van der Poorten (2013) recognized that H. ceylonicus is conspecific with A. solitaris, and thus reassigned it to the genus Anisogomphus. Since the discovery of the species, only these two records have ever been documented (Bedjanič et al. 2014), despite odonatological surveys and numerous biodiversity explorations conducted countrywide.

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