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Prez addresses SLPPer’s concerns over new Uni and permanent land deeds to farmers

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President Ranil and Sarath Weerasekara

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP MP Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (22) said that he voted for the 2024 Budget after having received an assurance from President Ranil Wickremesinghe that his concerns over the proposed move to allow Provincial Councils to establish Universities on their own and the issuance of permanent deeds to farmers would be addressed.

The former Public Security Minister said so when The Island asked him what made him vote for the Budget after having had expressed serious concerns over the above mentioned issues. During the Budget debate, the former Navy Chief of Staff strongly protested against both proposals.

The Colombo District MP Weerasekera was among 122 lawmakers who voted for the second Budget presented by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance Minister. In Sept. 2022, the UNP leader presented an interim budget for 2023. Seventy-seven voted against whereas 26 abstained.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that President Wickremesinghe gave him an opportunity to meet him at the Presidential Secretariat immediately after he informed Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga on Tuesday morning (21) that he was contemplating skipping the vote. The move was meant to underscore his opposition to dangerous projects, the MP said.

Responding to another query, MP Weerasekera said that he reminded President Wickremesinghe the crisis caused by the enactment of the 21st Amendment. The former Minister said that he voted against the 21st Amendment, enacted on Oct 21, 2022, primarily because it denied the Head of State the opportunity to appoint the Inspector General of Police and judges to the Supreme Court without being subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council.

Of the 225-member parliament, 179 voted for the 21st Amendment, one voted against whereas 45 abstained.

Very much appreciating the opportunity to make representations to the President, MP Weerasekera said that Provincial Councils shouldn’t be allowed to set up Universities without recommendation/approval from the University Grants Commission (UGC). Even in terms of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution enacted at the behest of India, the degree awarding institutions are in the Concurrent List and not in the Provincial Council List, the ex-Minister said.

The former Law and Order Minister has warned that if the Provincial Councils were granted the authority, they could even set up Sharia and Wahhabi universities.

MP Weerasekera said that he received an assurance from the President that opening of Universities by Provincial Councils would be only on the basis of the UGC.

The MP said that the land issue should be addressed carefully. Weerasekera told The Island that even parliamentarians haven’t really understood the implications. The former Minister said that he urged the President to keep land powers with the State. “Issuing permanent deeds can cause quite a crisis. If the government issued permanent deeds, debt ridden farmers will be able to sell their land and multinational companies will exploit the situation.”

The MP quoted the President as having said that foreigners wouldn’t be allowed to buy land and only a person in the same village could buy the available land to cultivate the same crop. The President has said that he was ready to discuss the issues at hand.

Asked whether he received instructions from the SLPP regarding the vote on the Second Reading, MP Weerasekera said that the party never took a decision on this matter. “In fact, I asked the higher-ups to give MPs an opportunity to discuss the issues at hand before taking a stand but they didn’t bother to call a meeting. Therefore, I had to inform the Premier and the Chief Government Whip of his decision to abstain.”

Except for a few, the majority of SLPP parliamentary groups voted for the Budget on their own, MP Weerasekera said. That shouldn’t have happened under any circumstances, the ex-Minister added, urging the party leadership to give MPs an opportunity to discuss the entire gamut of issues before the vote on the Third Reading of the Budget on Dec 13 at 6 pm.



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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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ADB country chief hopes Lanka could sustain policy reforms despite elections

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Takafumi Kadono

ECONOMYNEXT –The Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects Sri Lanka not to reverse its International Monetary Fund-led policy reforms despite elections soon, the ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono said.

The island nation has witnessed repeated reversals of policy reforms in the past due to greedy politicians who misled  the people to vote for them by sowing the seeds of subsidy mentality with unsustainable debts at expensive borrowing costs, economists say.

That led the country into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with a sovereign debt default. Sri Lanka is still struggling to come out of the crisis.

The IMF has strictly placed some reforms including in state sector enterprises, fiscal and monetary sectors.

Sri Lanka has implemented the painful IMF reforms so far including higher personal income taxes, but economists have raised concerns over the sustainability of the current reforms due to possible changes in the policies in the event of a new president or government comes to power after democratic elections.

“If that kind of reversal happens, we also cannot justify our support,” ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono told EconomyNext on late on Wednesday.

“We do expect these policy reforms to be sustained. So that is our expectation. That is the premise which we are providing our budget support. If they reverse, the whole premise will be collapsed. That kind of policy reversal cannot happen.”

The island nation had sought IMF bailout package for 17 times including the ongoing support. However, the authorities have failed to complete most of the past IMF loan disbursements due to politically motivated contradiction with the global lender’s tight fiscal policies.

Sri Lanka has shown some signs of recovery in the third quarter of 2023 with the economic growth turned to positive from contraction for the first time in seven quarters.

However, opposition political parties have promised to revisit the IMF deal if they come to power.

Higher taxes, soaring cost of living, and lack of salary hike have made President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government unpopulour among the public, analysts say.

Wickremesinghe has said the country will hold both presidential and parliamentary election by 2025.

Some government politicians have told EconomyNext that the higher taxes would be eased from April and the authorities will try their best to meet the IMF conditions for the third disbursement in June this year.

The presidential polls should be held by October this year, but opposition parties have said President Wickremesinghe is in the process to delay the poll.

However, Wickremesinghe’s office last week said Presidential Election will be held “within the mandated period”, without giving an exact time.It also said the General Election will be held next year, “according to the current timeline”.

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