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President tells chief prelates he is amenable to any workable solution

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has, in his reply to a letter from the Chief Prelates of the three Nikayas (sects), said that all governments that had ruled the country were responsible for the current economic crisis, and urged the prelates to give his administration some time to solve the prevailing issues.

Full text of the President’s letter to the Mahanyake Theras:

This is with regard to the set of proposals put forward by the Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras of the Three Chapters to immediately resolve the current social, economic and political crises in the country.

This is in connection with the letter sent by the Venerable Theras to myself, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all Leaders of political parties, representing the Parliament, and dated on 20.04.2022, to resolve the current social, economic and political crises in the country.

Foremost, I respectfully and kindly acknowledge that I have by no means ignored the contents of the set of proposals which the Venerable Theras have previously sent to me on the 4th of April, 2022.

We have already taken a number of immediate steps to address the economic crisis in the country, as the Theras have pointed out. I am aware of the dire living conditions the people are facing. I beg to inform you that I am working with the Cabinet with expert assistance, based on daily statistics and data.

Accordingly, plans for the supply of essential food, medicine, LP gas and various types of fuel to the public are already being implemented under close supervision.

Accordingly, the new Finance Minister, the new Central Bank Governor and the new Secretary to the Treasury, under the guidance of the international financial experts appointed by me, are already taking the necessary steps in consultation with the relevant international financial institutions and friendly countries.

As a result, the International Monetary Fund and the Government of India have already responded positively, and I firmly believe that a temporary solution to the current economic crisis can be achieved within the next few weeks until a lasting solution is found to the current economic crisis.

As soon as I became the President, a committee of legal experts was appointed to draft a new Constitution. The members of the committee are: President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva – Chairman, Retired Professor G.H. Peiris, Judge A. W. A. Salam, President’s Counsel Manohara De Silva, President’s Counsel Sanjeewa Jayawardena, President’s Counsel Samantha Ratwatte, Professor A. Sarveswaran, Professor W. Seneviratne, President’s Counsel Navin Marapana and Mrs. Kaushalya Molligoda – Secretary.

The committee has been holding lengthy consultations with various political parties, various groups and experts over a period of about two years and is preparing a draft for a new Constitution. The Committee has also informed me that the draft is being finalised. I respectfully inform you that the draft prepared in this manner will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers as soon as it is received and then will be presented to Parliament upon approval. I would also like to inform you that a copy of that draft will be sent to you Venerable Theras as well.

As the President of the country, I am committed to stabilising democracy in the country. I would like to mention that I would support the repealing of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which you have mentioned, if any action is taken in Parliament in this regard and would like to kindly remind you that such an amendment should be made jointly by the President and Parliament.

It is also regrettable that so far there has been no positive response to the invitation extended to all political parties seeking their contribution to the All-Party Conference to find lasting solution to the present situation in the country, and to the sincere request for assistance in liberating the country from its current position by accepting Ministerial portfolios. Nevertheless, I would like to inform you that my invitation remains the same for all political parties.

No matter what we do, all processes must be constitutional and the aspirations of the people must be realized within the current constitution. Therefore, I stress that neither I nor our Government will at any time disregard your proposals or the aspirations of the people.

Without a Cabinet, the administration of a country cannot be function. Also, the absence of a cabinet is not practical. Accordingly, I had to appoint a Cabinet of Ministers consisting of a majority of young Members, with the assistance of Senior Ministers. I respectfully note that these appointments were made for a short period of time to find a quick solution to the burning issues of the people.

During the two and a half years of my tenure so far, I would like to recall that our Government has not used batons or tear gas or done any act to suppress such protests in general at any of the protests, demonstrations, roadblocks which disrupt public life, etc. organised by various political parties as well as various ethnic groups, university students and social activists. I respectfully remind you that no protest or demonstration in front of my office was repressed by the police or armed forces.

I am deeply saddened by the incident that took place during the public protest on 19.04.2022 and has instructed several teams to conduct a formal inquiry into it. I hope to inform you the results of the inquiry as soon as those investigations are completed.

As you have said, all governments that have ruled the country are responsible for the current economic crisis, and we urge you to give us some time to reap the benefits of a formal approach to provide temporary and sustainable solutions for the prevailing issues. I respectfully look forward to your advice and guidance in the future as well.

I respectfully recall that if you propose to make a certain arrangement to overcome the current political crisis with the assistance of all political parties as well as to provide solutions for the current economic crisis, I will extend my fullest support in this regard.



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Lanka on the brink of economic collapse: Prez seeks international help to overcome crisis

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing the 27th International conference on ‘Future of Asia’, yesterday, called upon the international community to help Sri Lanka overcome its economic crisis.

Addressing the virtual summit, the President said that it was no secret that the last several months had been extremely difficult for Sri Lanka.

“We are currently undergoing a severe economic crisis, which has profoundly impacted the lives of all Sri Lankans, resulting in social unrest. The virtual shutting down of the tourism industry and the sharp decline in inward remittances from expatriate workers due to COVID19 in the past two years and increasing inflation due to other events combined with Sri Lanka’s high outstanding debt obligations to cause a severe financial crisis,” he said.

President Rajapaksa said that in April, Sri Lanka announced a ‘Debt Standstill’ with the intention of restructuring this external public debt through negotiations with our creditors, whilst simultaneously approaching the International Monetary Fund for a suitable programme.

“In parallel to these efforts, we have appointed a new Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Ministers with representation from multiple political parties, and we are fostering ongoing discussions in Parliament towards forming a national consensus on the way forward,” he said.

Given below are excerpts of his speech: “Sri Lanka is Asia’s oldest democracy. It is crucial that the solutions to our present national crisis are supported through our nation’s democratic framework.

“As we work through such solutions, however, we urgently require the assistance of our friends in the international community to ensure that our immediate needs in terms of the importation of essential medicines, food supplies, and fuel are met.

We are also in urgent need of bridging financing to restore confidence in our external sector and stabilise our economy until the debt restructuring process is completed and an IMF programme commences.

“Sri Lanka is grateful for the support provided by India, our close friend and neighbour, which responded with generosity in our time of need. The support extended by our other neighbours and development partners, as well as regional and global institutions, is also deeply appreciated.

“Japan remains one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners, and we hope that the negotiations now underway regarding bridging funds from Japan will conclude soon, and support Sri Lanka as we try to stabilise our economy and our nation.

“I appeal to the other friends of Sri Lanka present here today, to also explore the possibility of extending support and solidarity to my country at this very difficult time.

“A positive aspect of recent events in Sri Lanka has been the increased engagement of our youth in the nation’s politics.

“We have seen similar activism in other countries too, where the loss of confidence in prevailing systems has led to strong displays of opposition against governments.

“It is important to ensure that these systems undergo the reforms that are essential to their improvement so that future generations will benefit from better opportunities in education and employment, leading to an increase in their productivity.

“The grave difficulties facing Sri Lanka are an early indication of the long tail effects of the COVID19 pandemic, made worse by the ongoing conflict in Europe that may affect other vulnerable nations too.

“Supporting such vulnerable nations through these difficulties is essential for regional as well as global stability.

“It is therefore earnestly hoped that nations able to do so, lend a helping hand to these countries as they seek to overcome the very serious threats they face. An even more widespread problem that the world will face in future concerns food security.

“The shortages of food items and sharp increases in food prices likely to occur in the months ahead will place considerable strain on many countries.

“It is therefore essential that we pay attention to this crucial problem and prioritise agricultural production locally and improve our resilience in the face of this coming issue.

“Increased cooperation amongst nations will also be necessary to ensure that we overcome this issue.

“As we look to the future, it is no secret that even more widespread challenges caused by human induced climate changes lie ahead for the Asian region as well as the world.

“The adverse impacts of such climate change, including loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and pollution, degradation of air quality and ecosystems, will all contribute to significant challenges for many nations including in food security.

“Maritime security in Asia is another thorny issue that require serious policy attention. In addition to traditional security concerns involving the projection of naval power, many non-traditional issues including piracy, human trafficking, drug-smuggling, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continue to pose challenges in this region.

“Sri Lanka has a great interest in the security of the Indian Ocean region, and the protection of the sea-lanes has established a strong relationship between Sri Lanka and dominant regional players including Japan.

“Sri Lanka has responsibility over protecting sea routes, maritime resources and combating maritime crime over a significant region of the Indian Ocean, and we look forward to partnering with the Asian community as we seek to expand our capacities in these areas in future.

“Another enduring regional concern has been civil unrest, conflicts, and communal violence. Sri Lanka too has been marred by sectarian tensions throughout its history. I am of the view that policymakers must come together to devise collaborative regional mechanisms on such issues.

“Exchanging expertise and experience to build capacity in the fields of peacebuilding and reconciliation is essential. So too is the empowerment of the underprivileged, because this is one of the root causes of unrest.

“In this context, I respectfully submit to this forum that the core objectives and functioning of some existing regional bodies are presently affected by conflicts of member countries on matters relating to economic, political, or strategic interests.

“It is my hope that member countries will be able to overcome such impasses and work together in the true spirit of Asia to fulfil the region’s priorities.

“In concluding, I once again thank Nikkei for having organised this conference, and the Government of Japan for hosting this event.

As Sri Lanka overcomes its present difficulties and starts rebuilding for tomorrow, we look forward to constructively participating in future such events too, for the betterment of Asia.”

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BASL, Opposition reject 21-A draft

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The Bar Association has rejected the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that has been presented by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, to the Cabinet recently.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, has rejected the 21 A in its present form.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, SJB spokesperson Eran Wickremaratne explained why the SJB wouldn’t support the proposed law as it would further enhance the executive.

A spokesperson for the BASL told The Island that they pointed out serious shortcomings in the draft and the need to rectify them. According to him, the BASL, in letters dated May 23 explained their position to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickemesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Rajapakse.

The JVP and TNA too have rejected the 21 Amendment in its present form.

The following is the text of the BASL letter addressed to the President, PM and the Justice Minister: “On the 23rd of April 2022, the Bar Council approved the “PROPOSALS OF THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SRI LANKA (BASL) TO RESTORE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC STABLITY IN THE COUNTRY”. In the 13-point proposal the BASL proposed the introduction of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution by repealing the provisions of the 20th Amendment and restoring the 19th Amendment, and the re-establishment of the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions which existed under the 19th Amendment whilst enhancing their financial independence, transparency, and accountability.

The BASL is concerned that whilst the 21st Amendment will restore the provisions of the previous 19th Amendment to the Constitution as regards the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions, there are several vital provisions which were found in the 19th Amendment which are not incorporated into the draft 21st Amendment.

The provisions of the 19th Amendment precluded the President from assigning to himself any subjects or functions. However, the 21st Amendment does not incorporate such a provision and as such the President will be able to continue to retain Ministries and assign to himself any subjects and functions and take over subjects and functions of any Minister. The BASL is of the view that the 21st Amendment must include a provision amending Article 44(2) of the Constitution removing the power of the President to retain Ministries and assigning to himself any subjects or functions. Such provision must be made operative as soon as the 21st Amendment is passed.

In addition, the BASL observes that the President’s powers to prorogue and dissolve Parliament are left intact, in contrast to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution where the President could dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years following a Parliamentary election. The BASL is of the view that the provisions in the 19th Amendment relating to dissolution of Parliament should be restored. In addition, the BASL recommends that the following matters which were contained in the BASL proposals be included in the 21st Amendment:

1. A provision for the members of the Monetary Board to be appointed with the approval of the Constitutional Council (in addition to the Governor of the Central Bank);

2. A provision for the appointments of the Secretaries to the Ministries, Governors of the Provinces, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions be done on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers;

3. A provision to require Presidential Pardons to be done according to the recommendation by a body established by law, appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council;

4. A provision to enhance the financial independence, transparency, and accountability of the Independent Commissions.

The BASL further recommends that the number of members of the Constitutional Council who are not Members of Parliament be increased from 3 to 5 and conversely the number of Members of Parliament on the Constitutional Council be reduced from 7 to 5 as was found in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This is consistent with the position taken by the BASL in 2015 when the 19th Amendment was enacted.

The BASL calls on the Government to ensure the early enactment of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, as it is a necessary step towards achieving stability in Sri Lanka.”

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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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