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Opposition demands tabling of agreement with IMF



By Saman Indrajith

Opposition members yesterday demanded that the government table the IMF staff-level agreement in Parliament.

Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa said that the government had reached an agreement with the IMF. If the government needed its support for the IMF-recommended economic reforms, the Opposition needed to know the contents of the agreement at issue.

Premadasa said that Parliament had authority on public finance, and therefore the staff-level agreement with the IMF, should be tabled in Parliament.

Chief Opposition Whip and SJB Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the IMF recommended reforms envisaged the sale of public ventures and the government had no mandate to privatise state enterprises.

“People voted for the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour, which pledged not to privatise public enterprises. That was the mandate those in the government received. If they now try to restructure the public enterprises, they are acting against the mandate. We know that some state institutions have been listed for privatisation. There are people of over one million families serving in them. We are ready to support the process of restructuring the loss-making institutions, but you have to keep Parliament informed of this process,” Kiriella said.

SJB Colombo District MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Finance, Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the government would not be able to get the Opposition’s support to implement IMF-recommended economic reforms without appraising Parliament of the contents of the agreement.

SLPP dissident MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises, Prof Charitha Herath said that Parliament had the authority on public finance as per Section 148 of the Standing Orders, and the government should table the staff-level agreement with the IMF in Parliament. “I do not think the government could table the agreement in its entirety, but it needs to inform the House of the framework of the contents of the agreement,” Prof Herath said.

SLPP dissident MP Gevindu Cumaratunga said that former Finance Minister Ali Sabry kept informing the House of the government’s financial agreements with other countries. “As it was transpired at the recent meeting with the Central Bank Governor in Parliament, there had been many such agreements where Parliament had been kept in the dark. The decisions must be taken after informing this House because finally if it would become the responsibility of the 225 MPs here,” Cumaratunga said.

Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri said that when Sri Lanka had started talks with the IMFRanil Wickremesinghe was an Opposition MP. “As an Opposition MP, Wickremesinghe asked the government to table all documents pertaining to negotiations with the IMF. Basil Rajapaksa was the Finance Minister and did not table the IMF documents.”

Leader of the House and Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said that the request would be put forward to the President and Prime Minister and the latter would keep the House informed on the staff-level agreement, as promised.

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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention



Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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CEB says suspension of power cuts not possible



By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) says it is not in a position to discontinue power cuts despite an assurance from some quarters that there will be no power cuts till the end of the G C E Advanced Level examination on 17 February.

CEB Chairman Nalinda Illangakoon, contacted for comment, told The Island that they had not taken any decision to halt power cuts, especially at night. He however stressed that during the examination hours there would be no power cuts.

“We have not agreed with anyone to do away with power cuts,” he said, adding that they had clearly pointed out that Rs. 4.1 billion was required to continue power supply without power cuts until 17 February.

He also said that the CEB could not do business on credit. “I am responsible for my institution. Anybody can say anything but I have to run it,” he added.The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday said that the power sector stakeholders had agreed not to impose power cuts from yesterday until the end of the GCE A/L examination.

The HRCSL said in a statement that there will be no power cuts until February 17.They also said that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had come to an agreement with the PUCSL to provide continuous fuel supply for electricity generation during the A/L examination.

Covering the cost required for power generation must be identified as a priority in the proposed tariff revision, PUCSL instructed the CEB. Accordingly, the two parties agreed to pay the relevant expenses incurred within 60 days, the statement said.

The HRCSL also said the Power and Energy Ministry should intervene to provide coordination facilities for the agreement.Accordingly, an agreement was made not to continue with power cuts during the exam period starting today.This agreement will be included as a recommendation of the HRCSL, and the PUCSL agreed to implement the recommendations.

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PM’s Office: IMF impressed with progress made by govt.



International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Director Dr. Krishnamurthy Subramanian has said the political will displayed by the Sri Lankan leadership to speed up reforms and implement difficult tax increases in order to revive the economy is highly appreciable, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s Office yesterday (26)

Dr Subramanian, who called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the PM’s Office in Colombo yesterday (26) was quoted as having said almost all the requirements for the IMF relief package for Sri Lanka have been completed and the moment the final assurances from major lending countries is completed, the process would be finalised.

“We will bat for you,” IMF Executive Director said using cricket jargon. “We play forward with a straight drive for you and whenever necessary, we play cover drives too,” said Dr Subramanian who was the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India from 2018 to 2021.

The Prime Minister briefed the IMF delegation about steps taken by the government to face the unprecedented economic challenges faced by the country and to enhance agricultural produce to meet local demand and also for export.

While elaborating the measures taken to reduce non-essential imports and increase export production, he stressed the need for welfare for the poorest segments of the society. Dr Subramanian said that as the Prime Minister pointed out a safety net for economically vulnerable groups is an essential requirement when plans are formulated to restructure debt and revive the economy.

However, he emphasised that the public sector should be ready to make sacrifices as they are at least assured of salaries, while many others have lost their avenues of income.

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Anura Dissanayake, Deputy Governor of Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, who is IMF Alternate Executive Director, Dr. P.K.G. Harischandra, Director and Dr. V D Wickramarachchi, Deputy Director of Economic Research Department of Central Bank also took part in the discussion.

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