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Plea for debt moratorium to rescue drowning SMEs and saving millions of jobs

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Around 4.5 million Sri Lankans employed in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) might lose their jobs in the coming months unless the government stepped in and assisted businesses, Chairman of Sri Lanka United National Businesses Alliance (SLUNBA), Tania Abeysundara told the media in Colombo on Wednesday.

She warned that a lot of SMEs might collapse in the next month unless the government arranged a debt moratorium.

“4.5 million people work in SMEs. When we asked the Central Bank Governor, he said that he can’t assure a debt moratorium. He was worried about the banking sector. I would like to ask the governor, wouldn’t the banking sector collapse if the SME’s can’t pay their loans,” Abeysundara said.

She said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had approved money printing to pay the salaries of government employees.

“When the government has no money to pay their employees, they can always print the money. What about us? Are we also to print money? Unless we receive a debt moratorium we will have to close our businesses,” she said.

Meanwhile, Treasurer of the SLUNBA, Lakmal Perera said that “once people lose their jobs, it is likely that they would come on to the roads and that will lead to a chaotic situation.

“We asked the government about this and they have no answer. There is no way that we can pay our loans with this contraction of the economy. We need an answer soon, when these people are on the roads the 225 MPs won’t be able to stop them,” he warned.

Vice chairman of the Association and President of the Vehicle Importers Association, Indika Sampath Merenchige also insisted that the government should talk to the business owners and give them a moratorium. If that did not happen, SMEs would be compelled to stop repaying loans.

“We give the government two weeks. We have employees that have been working with us for 10-15 years. They are a big part of how we have succeeded and survived. So, we can’t send them home. We have to somehow pay them. So, we have to stop paying loans,” Merenchige said.

Deputy Chairman of the SLUNBA, Susantha Liyanarachchi, who is also the Chairman of the National Construction Association of Sri Lanka (NCASL) said that there was a danger of a large number of garment factories leaving the country and as they couldn’t expect the cabinet that had been appointed to navigate the country out of the economic crisis.

“If garment factories leave, what will happen to foreign currency earnings?” he asked.

Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe said that the minimum economic activity would be experienced in the country in the next six to eight months.

“That means the economy will contract. We estimate that the economic contraction this year will be greater than any other time in post-independence Sri Lankan history. No one can bring down inflation below 30-40 percent in the next six months. People who are poor and vulnerable will be severely affected. Unless the government provides some support, the poor will find it hard to live,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that poverty levels would increase and when an economy contracted there would be a lot of unemployment, especially in the SME sector. (RK)



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Cardinal appeals to Pope to solicit aid for Sri Lanka

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“Fix responsibility on those accountable”

by Norman Palihawadane

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith says that the need of the hour is the initiation of a high profile investigation to find out how this country was dragged down to its present plight of being a beggar nation, fix responsibility for these crimes and find ways to recover the money stolen from the people.

“People have a right to know how the foreign reserves that had been at around seven to eight billion US dollars had dropped to zero within two years,” the Cardinal said at the Feast of the Sacred Heart Mass at the Ragama Hospital Chapel last week.

He asked how the gold stocks in the Central Bank had disappeared and why were they wasted wasted irresponsibly.

“The disappearance of the gold will have to be investigated someday. People need to know who wasted this money,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

He said the country’s reserves were down to zero.

“Doctors working in hospitals find it difficult to come to hospitals on time due to the fuel crisis. We are with the people in their grief,” he said.

The Cardinal appealed to the international community to assist in providing Sri Lanka with medicines and equipment for hospitals amid its economic crisis.

“We urge Pope Francis to request the international community to assist Sri Lanka,” he said.

“We need to support the children’s hospital in Borella and the cancer hospital in Maharagama, especially for medicines and equipment.”

“People suffer without fuel and essential goods because of mismanagement. Children can’t go to schools due to the fuel crisis”.

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Election win should trigger Scottish independence, says Sturgeon

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Scotland could become independent if the SNP won a majority of votes in a UK election, Nicola Sturgeon has said, according to a BBC dispatch.

It said: The first minister wants a referendum in 2023, and is pushing for the Supreme Court to rule on a bill to set this up.

If this does not happen, she has said the SNP would treat the next general election as a “de facto referendum”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was the government’s “longstanding position” that it was not the right time for another independence vote.

He said: “We will look carefully at what [Nicola Sturgeon] says. Don’t forget that the longstanding position is that we don’t think this is the right time to be doing a constitutional change.”

“I think our economy is all the stronger for being together,” he added.

Johnson continued: “This is a time really now to focus on things which the union can deliver for the economic benefit of everybody.”

In an interview with BBC Scotland, the first minister said: “Scotland can’t become independent without a majority of people voting for it”.

She said: “I hope we can resolve these things in a referendum, that is the proper way of doing it. But if all routes to that are blocked then the general election will become the vehicle for people to express their view.”

Ms Sturgeon said she wanted to be clear about the principle and the practical reality “that Scotland cannot become independent unless and until a majority of people in Scotland vote for independence”.

She added: “The issue of practical reality is that when a majority vote for independence, I hope in a referendum, that will have to be followed by a negotiation with a UK government to implement that decision.”

If there were to be a vote in favour of Scottish independence – whether that be via the referendum Ms Sturgeon wants, or a de facto referendum based on a general election result – it would be followed by negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments.

Then, legislation would have to be passed at Westminster and perhaps Holyrood before Scotland became independent.

Ms Sturgeon said on Tuesday that the UK Supreme Court had been asked to rule on whether the Scottish government has the power to hold an independence referendum without agreement from Westminster.

Ahead of the 2014 referendum, the UK government agreed to a temporary transfer of powers to Holyrood to allow the referendum to go ahead.

he idea of a “de facto referendum” is a radical one, given Nicola Sturgeon’s reputation for caution and the fact her team had previously dismissed it as a strategy.

It raises many questions about how such a scheme would work, which ministers now find themselves talking about rather than their main plan – to hold an actual referendum.

After all, the first minister’s hope is that the last resort will never be needed. Her wish is still to do a deal with the UK government which would see both sides sign up to an agreed process in the style of 2014.

Bold talk of using a general election instead is chiefly a tool to force the pro-UK side to take their fingers out of their ears and engage with the issue, rather than a finalised strategy to deliver independence.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney suggested that he considered a win to be the SNP winning the majority of seats contested in Scotland.

He was asked on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland: “If you have a majority of Scottish MPs at the next UK general election, that would be a mandate to start negotiations for an independent Scotland?”

He replied: “That’s correct, yes.”

But he went on to Tweet that he had “misheard” the question, and added that his view would be that the SNP would need to win a majority of votes in a general election, not a majority of seats.

He said when he was asked about a “majority of seats”, he had only picked up on “majority”.

Mr Swinney added: “Referenda, including de facto referenda at a UK general election, are won with a majority of votes. Nothing else.”

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said on Tuesday that another referendum was the “wrong priority for Scotland” and would hinder Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic.

Scottish Labour’s constitution spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said the SNP were “hell-bent on gaming the electorate to suit their ends”.

She said it was “deeply embarrassing for Nicola Sturgeon to be so publicly contradicted… by her own deputy”.

The party has also asked for the Lord Advocate to make a statement to MSPs on Thursday to ascertain her views on whether the Scottish government had the power to hold a referendum without the UK government’s approval.

It was the Lord Advocate – as the Scottish government’s chief legal adviser – who was responsible for referring the matter to the Supreme Court.

A statement from Scottish Labour said it wanted the Lord Advocate to appear in the chamber to “shed some light on her views, decisions and role”.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said less than a day after Ms Sturgeon’s plan was unveiled that “the wheels are falling off the clown car”.

He went on: “They seem to have conceded that they are heading for a defeat in court and so they are brainstorming barmy schemes for what comes next.”

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Human Rights Council President appoints Radhika Coomaraswamy to serve on Ethiopia rights body

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GENEVA (28 June 2022) – The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Federico Villegas (Argentina), announced today the appointment of Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka to serve as a member of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia. Ms. Coomaraswamy will join Kaari Betty Murungi of Kenya (chair) and Steven Ratner of the United States of America, who were appointed to serve on the human rights investigative body on 2 March 2022.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council created the Commission of Human Rights Experts on 17 December 2021 with a mandate to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict.

Today’s appointment comes after the resignation of Fatou Bensouda as a member of the three-person Commission on 8 June 2022, following her nomination to serve as The Gambia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Ms. Coomaraswamy brings to this position years of experience as a human rights lawyer, expert and advocate having served in various positions in her country and in the international arena. She has held several prior roles, including as a member of the Human Rights Council-created Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar from 2017 to 2019 and as Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict from 2006 to 2012.

The Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia will deliver an oral report to the Human Rights Council on 30 June, which will be its first presentation to the Council. The Commission is scheduled to present a comprehensive written report to the human rights body in September and subsequently to the UN General Assembly session later this year.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, a lawyer by training and formerly the Chairperson of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, is an internationally known human rights advocate who has worked as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (1994-2003) and as a Member of the Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar from 2017 to 2019.  Additionally, she served as Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (2006-2012), for which she was charged with preparing the annual report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.  In 2014, Ms. Coomaraswamy was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as lead author on a Global Study on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  She received her B.A. from Yale University, her J.D. from Columbia University, an LLM from Harvard University and honorary PhDs from Amherst College, the Katholieke Universities Leuven, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Essex and the CUNY School of Law.

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