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Need for moving from geo-politics to geo-economics



Speech made by Ajith Nivard Cabraal, State Minister of Money, Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms at the Trade and Investment Forum organised by the Pakistan High Commission on 24th February 2021.

Honourable Prime Minister Imran Khan, Honourable Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Honourable Ministers, My dear friends.

First of all, I want to thank the organizers of this Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference for inviting the Sri Lankans to commit their cooperation to you. As your Foreign Minister just mentioned, I believe this Forum would offer great opportunities for our two countries to co-operate effectively, and I am eagerly looking forward to that. At the same time, I think it’s a privilege to be able to speak at a Forum where two Prime Ministers represent their country’s economic spheres, which is also a very rare occasion.

Honourable Prime Ministers, our two countries have come a long way since we gained independence: you, in 1947, and we, in 1948. Over the last 73 odd years, we have broken free from many shackles of Colonialism. We are finally beginning to “think big” of our respective economies and focus on the next era of our respective countries. I have listened to speeches of the Pakistan Prime Minister as well as that of our own Prime Minister, and have seen a common trait. That is, they both talk about bringing the poverty levels down and making sure that the fruits of development reach every section of the country’s people. Those are very important outcomes that we all need to be focusing on.

Honourable Prime Ministers, by 1992, within 45 years of being independent, Pakistan was able to win the Cricket World Cup under your current Prime Minister, by beating England. We in Sri Lanka were very happy to watch him play Cricket, but when he played against us, we were not so happy! Nevertheless, we have been regularly delighted with the exploits of the Cricket team of Pakistan. Perhaps as a result of their successes, we also took a cue, and by 1997, 49 years since our own independence, we beat Australia to become the World Cricket champions. Since you had already beaten England to become champions by then, the two countries which started Cricket (England and Australia) were both beaten by two countries of the subcontinent, which then showed the world that we can do it!

Unfortunately, however, we have not done so well in other areas, such as cooperation in trade and investment. As your Foreign Minister just mentioned, the targets that we have set for ourselves in this sphere seem to be quite low. We should not be looking at 300 or 400 million dollars of trade and investment. We should really be looking at a lot more, given the relationships that we have, the friendships that we enjoy, and the way in which we have cooperated with each other. We should be talking about trade and investment between ourselves in the billions of dollars. Let’s therefore see whether today could be the day where we start on that target. Hopefully, today we will find ways and means by which we can co-operate to achieve those goals.

Honourable Prime Ministers, we all know that there is a resource gap in our countries, and that such resource gap has to be filled with investment. In the Colonial times, many of those countries that reached high per capita incomes, didn’t fill the resource gap with investment. They took the dubious step to conquer other countries and forcibly grab resources. By doing so, they were able to reach the prosperity levels that they are at today. But our two countries have not done it that way. We have accessed resources and investment legally and honourably. We invited and received investments. We took loans. We traded in a fair manner. We played by the rules. That is how our countries have progressed and developed.

So, let’s see how we can do even better. In my view, to do that successfully, we have to make sure that we invest in each other’s countries. I was a former Governor of the Central Bank, and my experience tells me that we have been mainly investing in the West for too long. We have invested in those countries based on the “credit ratings” given by various Western credit rating agencies. Then, we get about a 1 per cent return. But, when those countries’ investors invest in our economies, we pay about 7 per cent as interest, due to our supposedly “poor credit rating”. Have you also ever wondered as to why when we lend money to the West, it is called an “investment”, but, when they lend money to us it is a called a “loan”? Not only that. In accordance with that strange arrangement, we suffer from an interest differential of around 6 per cent on our reciprocal investments. On that basis, if we have forex reserves of 10 billion dollars and our market borrowings are higher than that, we will have a 6 per cent up-front negative carry on our total reserves. That works out to about six hundred million dollars, which is a lot of money!

Against this background, I think we need to think as to how we can co-operate with each other and in particular, as to where we can invest in each other’s economies and countries. Your State Bank of Pakistan and our Central Bank of Sri Lanka should now be looking at ways and means by which we can co-operate in our respective forex investments. These are the big tickets that can make an impact in our cooperation. That’s a very important part where we can make a significant difference in the way we do business and investment between our two countries in the future. In addition, we must also promote trade within our private sectors.

My dear friends, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a fervent plea recently for a Post-Covid moratorium to provide some real financial support to the countries that need to deal with the fall-out of the pandemic. Sadly, it has not yet been favourably responded to, by the global financial community. Our President also made a similar plea a few months ago. But unlike what happened immediately after the tsunami, the world monetary authorities have been very slow in responding to these calls. If an year’s grace was given to the emerging nations for the forex payments that had to be made in that year to the multilateral institutions, it would have made a huge difference to those nations which have had to grapple with the sudden drop in their foreign receipts as a result of the pandemic. Let’s therefore agree to work together to achieve that kind of a global outcome, which is essential for the continued growth of our countries.

Honourable Prime Ministers, Pakistan is a 300-billion-dollar economy. We are an 80-billion dollar economy. In that context, I think if we can work out a scheme where our two countries have trade relationship of at least a billion dollars very soon. That would be a great outcome for both our countries.

Let’s also make our respective countries preferred destinations. Let’s make Pakistan a preferred destination from Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka a preferred destination from Pakistan. Let’s visit each other’s countries frequently. Let’s play a little more cricket as well. Maybe some club teams, school teams, or over-50 cricket teams (I can also participate then!), women’s teams, can play each other. We can also have exchanges of students. We already have that happening. In fact, we have to be grateful to Pakistan for providing 1000 scholarships to our kids to study in their universities. Let’s make films together. Let’s organize exhibitions. Deepening our co-operation in various ways is essential if we are to make our relationship meaningful and profitable.

Honourable Prime Ministers, I welcome the Pakistan Foreign Minister’s suggestion that we should now move from geo-politics to geo-economics, and why not? I think that’s an excellent basis for future co-operation, when we are reshaping our respective economies. We must keep that in mind, because I think it would be an important factor when we push forward our own economies. In that regard, I must also proudly mention that Sri Lanka is today emerging from economic stagnation which dragged us down over the last five years. In fact, Sri Lanka has been able to go through the recent difficult period with the Covid pandemic, even while maintaining low interest rates and protecting the value of our Rupee.

Honourable Prime Ministers, going forward, a continuous pipeline of investments would be a priority for us in much the same way that it will be for you. So, come invest with us. In the same way, Sri Lankans could invest with you. We have the Port City which is an exciting value proposition. We have the Hambantota Industrial Zone. We would like you to consider making investments there too. I also know you have some great industries in Pakistan. You have the Pharma industry. In fact, I met some of them last night and had wonderful conversations. Let’s see whether we can develop some partnerships in that field, as well.

Let’s now promote a sustainable South-South dialogue and partnership. One of the best economists of our country in the 1980s, Dr. Gamani Corea who was the Secretary General of UNCTAD, was the man who first proposed the “South-South” cooperation. Unfortunately, that laudable concept didn’t get enough traction at that time, but today would be a good day for us to take that initiative forward. That would be a tribute to that great man as well.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, we deeply appreciate the time you have spent here in Sri Lanka and the fact that you have been the first visitor to Sri Lanka after the pandemic. We greatly value your visit and we hope that today’s event would be the fore-runner for a great partnership. You have been involved in great partnerships in the field of Cricket and I think you know very well about the value of good partnerships. Let’s hope that the great partnership we are starting today would be a truly winning partnership for both Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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