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Rolling out holistic solution to perennial problem of laws’ delays

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Speech delivered by

M.U.M. Ali Sabry, PC 

Minister of Justice

at the 47th Annual Convocation of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka on the 27t March 2021 at the BMICH.

Your Lordship the Chief Justice, Hon. Attorney General, Your Lordships the judges of the superior courts, the President of the Bar Association and outgoing President, Committee members and my learned friends.

It is a pleasure to be here today, amongst the familiar faces I am used to seeing across the bar table for many years.

Firstly, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Mr. Saliya Peiris, President’s Counsel who won the election as well as the newly appointed members of the Exco. The bar has chosen you as its leader, and I wish you the strength and the determination in performing this important task. You carry on your shoulders the responsibility of guiding this noble profession in the years to come, and I have no doubt that you will continue to maintain the traditions of the bar whilst ensuring that the bar remains apolitical and stands up for the rule of law without fear or favour.

The last year has been a tough one, to say the least, and it is commendable that the BASL throughout this period was actively involved in finding solutions to ongoing problems, and was supportive of its members, the judicial administrative staff and litigants. You have done a great job, and I hope to see the good work continue.

The legal profession is one which has no equal. I say this because, there rests on the profession and with it the Bar Association a heavy responsibility to the citizens of this country, and to the country itself. It has a vital role in protecting the rule of law, maintaining the independence of the judiciary and protecting the sovereignty of the country. This responsibility is not a passive one, it is a positive one where there is a need for the legal profession to be at the forefront of positive social change.

To put this in context, as Judge Sanji Monageng, the First Vice-President of the International Criminal Court, in a speech delivered at the The Hague, on 20 November 2012 stated that:

“…the rule of law and the proper administration of justice, of which an independent judiciary and legal profession are prerequisites, play a central role in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

This role has been universally recognized even by the United Nations as enunciated in Principle 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

Lawyers therefore form a core part of the judicial arm of the state. It would be easy to assume by its very wording that the judicial arm consists of judges and courts, but that assumption would be far from the truth. After all, what would be the use of the biggest courthouses or the best judges if the parties can’t be heard? Lawyers are by their very nature officers of court and on many levels the gatekeepers to justice.

The journal article titled “ABA Canons of Professional Ethics” published by the American Bar Association, addressed this very important point. It stated that:

“the stability of Courts and of all departments of government rests upon the approval of the people, it is peculiarly essential that the system for establishing and dispensing Justice be developed to a high point of efficiency and so maintained that the public shall have absolute confidence in the integrity and impartiality of its administration. The future of the Republic, to a great extent, depends upon our maintenance of Justice pure and unsullied.

Thus, the role of a lawyer is not merely one of representing or advising clients for payment. It comes with a high level of responsibility, an overriding need for ethical behaviour, a sense of justice and a national duty. There is an overarching need for the public to have confidence and trust that justice is dispensed from the justice system. In this context, the legal profession has a duty of instilling and maintaining this public confidence and trust in the system.

Looking at the rich history of the legal profession in Sri Lanka, we can be proud of its independence, its contribution to legal jurisprudence and the persons who have come from it over the decades. We have produced world-class lawyers, jurists and judges and have contributed at a disproportionately high level to international law considering the size of our profession.

It would be easy to rest on these laurels and reminisce, and also to be content with the legal profession and the justice administration system as it currently stands, but I believe we need to have a serious reality check. I wasn’t certain that today would be the most suitable place to bring this up, but this is the first opportunity I am getting to talk to my colleagues, the representatives of the judiciary and the official and unofficial bar at the same forum. Therefore, I did not want to miss this opportunity to discuss what, in my opinion, should be front and centre of our journey over the next few years.

As I have mentioned before,

-the average time to enforce a contract in Sri Lanka is 1318 days

-We have been ranked 161 out of 189 countries for the enforcement of contracts

-Our legal system is ranked 5th out of 8 in South Asia.

-Land, Partition and Testamentary cases on average take a generation to be settled.

-A criminal trial takes on average 9 ½ years to conclude in the High Court.

-A criminal matter on average will take a year to be fixed for appeal and 3-4 years for the said appeal to be completed.

We are all very aware that the underlying issues in delay, amongst other matters, is the sheer number of cases before court, and the massive backlog which in turn has resulted in litigation stagnating.

At the end of 2019, there were a total of 766,784 cases pending in our courts, and we had approximately 350 judges to hear these cases. Let us ask ourselves the obvious question – how on earth is an individual judge supposed to manage such a caseload? Even if they were to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week there would be no logical way to get through this backlog within any reasonable period of time. The outdated laws and the lack of appetite for innovative steps and technological advancement has only served to make matters worse.

This overburdening of judges is reflected in our score on the ‘judges per 1 million population’ index. Countries such as Russia have 242 judges per 1 million population, Germany has 230 and Thailand has 68. India which has been relentlessly criticized for its low number of judges has 20 per million. And our number? 15. Just 15 judges per million population. A reflection of how much of a monumental and humanly impossible task we are expecting our current judiciary to achieve.

These indicators are not just an academic exercise – they reflect the ground reality of the current state of the administration of justice in our country. On a domestic level, the results are quite obvious – how many times have we advised clients at consultations that they need to be ready for a ‘long-haul’ case, and in response to the question ‘how long?’ we have replied ‘years.’ We have been within this system for as long as we can remember, the fact that a case takes years, or the fact that the dates between two trial dates is months does not seem the least bit abnormal to us. We have become desensitized to the plight of our litigants and we do not feel the sting unless it’s one of our own personal cases.

 

This level of delay and inefficiency are not only inconvenient and unfair to the citizens, they have far reaching implications for the future of this Country. Investors are apprehensive about trusting their money in a place with high risk of loss in case of a dispute. Market research of the region prior to any investment would result in investors flocking to the countries high on these indexes, thus we are losing in the long term and we are losing big. Our neighbours understood this early on and started their own competitive drive to rank higher on these indexes and bring the issue of delay and inefficiency of the justice system under control. Take Pakistan for example – in 2018, they were ranked 147 in the ease of doing business index. By 2019, they managed to get to 136. However, from 2019 to 2020 they jumped a staggering 28 places and were ranked 108. This is a clear display of how commitment, focus and drive towards fixing the legal system can result in unthinkable results within a short period of time.

India too has been taking some dynamic strides in its modernization drive. It adopted e-filing earlier on during the pandemic and has commenced a push for digitization of its judicial administration system. In terms of corporate or connected litigation, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has digitized its entire process and database to the extent that certified copies of Company documents can be obtained through an online process which is admissible evidence in Court.

The United Kingdom is establishing Online Courts which initially was due to the pandemic but will most certainly continue to develop and grow. They also started night sessions for Court hearings to clear the backlog.

In the last few years, Chinese courts have seen rapid developments in online dispute resolution platforms, specialized Internet courts, and the wide use of Artificial Intelligence across the case management and adjudication process in civil and criminal proceedings. They have also adopted other new technologies such as distributed ledgers, blockchain and smart contracts solutions which have been developed and rolled out in specialized courts.

Over the course of 2019, the Estonian Ministry of Justice developed and piloted an artificial intelligence software to hear and decide on small claims disputes less than €7,000.

This is the rapid level at which the other countries have progressed whilst we are still at a stage where cases in the District Court get postponed on multiple occasions, sometimes over a year because summons had not been served on the Post Office so that an employee can give evidence on one postal article receipt to establish that the letter of demand had been sent. Is that not, for lack of a better word, absurd?

Ever since I have taken over the office of the Minister of Justice one common issue is that most of who I meet, across the social and economic spectrum has a complaint about a case which has been pending for years. The Ministry is inundated almost every day with letters by litigants from all over the country complaining about laws’ delays.

We have been comfortable with the status quo for decades, and it’s time we realized that the status quo is just not working. Not only is it not giving any positive results, its actually dragging us backwards by destroying the public trust and confidence that is a pre-requisite for the judicial administration system of the country to function.

We must find a way out of this. It is time that we in Sri Lanka take a page out the books of these countries. It is encouraging that over the last few months we have taken steps towards achieving this. The E-hearing rules issued by the Supreme Court, the provisions made for E-filing as well as the adoption of giving bail online by the Magistrate’s Court are important steps in the right direction. This, however, is not going to be enough. It is vital that we look at a complete structural change from end to end and roll it out in a targeted and efficient way. We have to stop looking at the legal profession as one which exists solely for the sustenance of its members, but as one which plays a much more important role as a public centric body which is driving the justice system forward – one which is ready to innovate, to evolve and to take the right decisions at the right time to create a paradigm shift in the administration of justice. This shift should not be merely one which is a marginal improvement of numbers and statistics – it should be a shift which is felt at the ground level. One where litigants feel that litigation will bring them justice, and it will bring it to them faster than before.

Hence, it is a priority of the government to roll out a holistic solution to this perennial problem of laws’ delays and to resolve this issue.

One which would be a game-changer is to put in motion a practical strategy to take a massive leap in the efficiency of hearing cases. Sri Lanka has close to 800,000 pending cases at the moment and there is no strategy for them in terms of time to conclude. We have to bring in a practical timeline for a disposal of a case and work backwards and put the pieces of the puzzle together to achieve that goal. The future of litigation is in smaller smart courts which can parallelly hear a multitude of cases in a single location, whilst also allocating specific time slots for cases to avoid unnecessary delay to the litigant and lawyer.

In pursuance of this, we are determined to double the number of judges within the next 5 years. As you are aware, the House of Justice project was launched a few weeks ago, and we hope to have the first tower constructed within a short period of time. Pre-trial procedure is to be streamlined and revamped so that it would serve a key factor in cutting down litigation time. The establishment of a ‘Small Claims Court’ is being planned and Debt Conciliation and mediation are being considered as mainstream solutions working in tandem with the courts. One of the vital reforms that are coming in is Digitization and Court automation which is currently at the procurement stage.

There has also been key progress made over the last few months. The increase of Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges was the first such increase in over 40 years. Justice sector reform has been allocated a record 20 billion from the budget which reflects the largest ever commitment by a government towards the reform of the justice sector. Just earlier this week I was informed by the Government Analyst’s Department that the backlog of outstanding reports numbering approximately 8000 had been cleared in the four months even in the midst of the pandemic due to a multi-pronged approach which we have introduced since then. The measures taken include increasing the cadre, working on two shifts, digitizing the expertise from other institutions and dedicated supervision by a sector specialist.

What this shows is that with commitment, a steel will and the ability to get out of your comfort zone unthinkable results can be achieved within very short periods of time. We should no longer think of fixing this system as a long drawn out, arduous process for our successors to deal with – we have to think of it as something we are capable of doing here and now.

It’s time we looked at moving away from our all too familiar 9.30 or 10.00 am start in Court where everyone sits around waiting for the case to be taken up. This is just not sustainable anymore, and it seriously cuts into the lawyers’ and litigants’ productivity. We should not be afraid to innovate and think out-of-the-box in terms of how we can solve the issues that are being faced – its time we look at case management and allocation of time slots for hearings. Its time we that we hear cases online and embrace technology to shorten delays in matters such as serving of summons and the proving of documents. We must think about reforming our legal system as a whole to be more technological – from sharing calendars to determine the dates of a hearing to the maintenance of records, we need to reduce the dependency on manual processes. Its time we adopted procedures and techniques such as skeleton arguments to cut down the time taken for a hearing. These are all steps that other countries have taken, for which they have been rewarded with judicial administration systems that have pushed their countries forward. My question to you is, If Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and so many others can reinvent themselves, why can’t we?

These reforms will be far reaching, and if they are seen through will permanently change the landscape of the profession and this country. We need to make this happen, and for that we need to work together towards this common goal. The process may not be a walk in the park, and it would certainly have some initial creases that to be ironed out, but if we can commit to what is needed to be done, I am certain we can pull this off. I am aware that the best of ideas and progress can fall to abeyance if you have to swim against the tide, which is why I hope that the bar and its members will cooperate with us to achieve this.

The road to make these changes may test our will, may require us to get out of our comfort zone, to go that extra mile and to commit to breaking the status quo.

Let us be remembered as the generation of lawyers and judges that took this country to the next level and the ones that put our justice system on the map. We have the opportunity to make the paradigm shift, and we must go for it with our heart and soul.

Let’s get this done.



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Features

Twenty-five years of private sector-led renewable energy development

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by Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

A policy change in 1995 to allow private investments in electricity generation into the grid, a standard agreement and a standard price for electricity produced, enabled such investments to pick-up faster than in other countries. The first mini-hydro power project with entirely private sector funding and private ownership commenced operations in May 1996.

 

The agreement and the price

Dubbed the “most investor friendly agreement in the world”, Sri Lanka’s renewable energy developers were offered, since 1996, a non-negotiable 15-year agreement (20-years for projects signed after 2008). The agreement says, literally, “I will buy all your electricity produced for the next 15 years, any day any time; I will not penalize you for delays in your project or for not producing electricity at all or producing less electricity than you promised; I will not ask you to start or stop your power plant”. There is no other agreement in the business world 25 years ago or now, where such agreements are offered to a seller.

Then the price. The agreement carries a price, which too is not negotiable. It says: “I will pay you a price that reflects the fuel saved in major power plants; in case fuel prices go down, I will not drop the price below 90% of the price when you signed; if the fuel prices go up, I will keep on increasing the prices without any limit”.

I shall buy all your all your product at the following price for 20 years. If you do not produce too, even when I need it badly, I will only greet you with a smile !

Government procurements have to be on competitive basis. This policy of competition was further reinforced by the Electricity Act 2009, required to be implemented by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL). The legal validity of such renewable energy agreements and price offers, that make a mockery of rules of “competition”, has been debated in many quarters over the past 25 years.

 

Has it been good ?

Well, yes and no, depending on whom you speak to and your convictions. To the credit of the program, Sri Lanka’s renewable energy development accelerated after 1996. These are smaller power plants using hydropower, wind, wood and more recently, waste. If the government attempted to develop them through a state entity, excessive overheads and inefficiency would most likely creep-in. There would have been a politically appointed Chairman and a fleet of vehicles going up and down, to run a tiny minihydro.

On the other hand, had the state rigidly controlled what is developed and where, renewable energy projects developed would have been more efficient, well-engineered and certainly more environment friendly. Stories are many, where a private mini-hydro project agreed with the Central Environmental Authority to release water for downstream users, but later blocked it 100%. As the saying goes, “Sri Lanka’s streams and rivers are now flowing in tubes”, but we are proud about a vibrant renewable energy industry !

Renewable energy from such smaller private investments reached 1% of total in year 2000 and 4% by 2006. Buoyed by another policy change in 2007 that offered a contract for 20 years and an even more attractive prices, renewable energy from small power plants raced toward a 10% policy target for 2015. It reached the target indeed, with 11% of electricity produced in 2015 from the combined production in 147 minihydros, 15 wind and 3 each of grown biomass, wood waste and solar parks. Unlike many countries who make headlines by stating their renewable energy contribution in megawatt, Sri Lanka’s targets and achievement are stated in kilowatthour, honestly reflecting the true benefits to save fuel and to reduce emissions.

Continuing its race for development, by 2020 (provisional figures) electricity produced from smaller private renewable energy power plants reached 12%. Adding major hydros, the energy share from all renewable energy was 37% by 2020, a share unmatched by all countries and expatriate Sri Lankans that preach Sri Lanka on how to develop renewable energy.

 

Has the price been good to the investor?

The policy of paying renewable energy projects signed over 1996-2016 was to pay the value of fuel saved in the grid, calculated and published in advance every year. Agreements signed after 2007 enjoy an even more attractive pricing formula: a technology-specific, cost-reflective price. That means minihydros are paid a price to make that a profitable investment; wind power is paid to make that technology, a profitable investment.

Once signed, price paid does not change. If costs go up or down after signing, or bank interest rates go up or down, the price remains the same. Fortunately for all who signed in 2008-2009 or later, equipment costs and bank interest rates both have been on a downward trend. Projects that borrowed at 18% in 2018 possibly borrowed at 8% this year, but still enjoy the price paid calculated at 18% interest. By way of equipment costs, solar power has seen the deepest reduction in costs. More on that later.

 

What was the benefit to the public?

Why did the government offer such attractive rates and terms to private investors? Sri Lanka did not throw Rs 10 at renewable energy investors and say “do it if you can”. The key principle in the pricing policy was: price paid makes investments profitable (not just profitable but excessively profitable). The agreement still remains the “most investor friendly agreement” in the world.

In other words, the public of this country, through their electricity bills and through taxes, have paid for the investments, bank interest, and profits (above market rates), to make privately-owned renewable energy an excessively profitable venture. Other benefits of renewable energy need not be repeated here; they are all well known. So what is the benefit to the public who fully paid (and continue to pay) for these investments, of which the ownership is private?

It should be the longer-term benefit of cheaper renewable energy. That’s why the 2008 announcement on the revised policy said as follows: “Renewable energy, which is a natural resource, belongs to the State. Developers are provided with a high tariff to cover their expenses and to earn reasonable profits for an adequately long period (in this case the first fifteen years). Thereafter, the benefit of the resource should flow to the electricity customers, while continuing to provide an operating fee to the small power producers and full recovery of maintenance costs”.

The closest example is the CEB-owned fleet of hydropower plants, which are bigger. The familiar ones are Laxapana, Kotmale and Victoria, among a total of 15 power plants. The public of the country paid for those too, starting from 1950. How? Through electricity bills (because loans and government investments were apportioned between CEB and Mahaweli Authority), taxes and benefits foregone. The major hydros today produce at a cost of Rs 3.35 per unit of electricity. True, that except for Upper Kotmale, all are 20 years or more of age. The fleet of minihydros, too, as they mature into their contracts, after 15 years of good profits to investors, should deliver benefits to electricity customers. That’s why the 2008 announcement said: Therefore, once the developers’ costs and profits are paid, it is inevitable that in the long-term, renewable energy should flow into the national grid at prices significantly lower than the cost of thermal energy.

However, information published indicates that the principles on which small power producers were enabled in 1996 and then enhanced in 2008, are indeed being followed. CEB produces electricity from mature hydros at Rs 3.35 per unit (PUCSL assessment 2019). The price for mature hydropower in the private sector was Rs 5.38 per unit (CEB publication 2019), precisely following the principle of fairness: good profits to investor for 15 years, benefits to electricity customer in the longer term.

As more and more minihydros mature, later wind, biomass and solar projects mature, we should be seeing finally, that ALL renewables produce electricity at prices very significantly lower than all the alternatives. Renewables replace thermal power and we should be paid the same price, will not be an argument, now or then, or in the future. “My power plant is not so good, it does not have water, is not an argument”, because no one defined where to build the minihydro; the investor selected it.

The argument that private renewables can produce below the price of oil, gas or coal does not hold, then, now or in the future. Renewables were allowed because fossil fuels were expensive and bad. The price of fossil fuels comprise royalties, production and delivery costs. If one needs a comparison, royalties for renewables have to be paid to the “republic” (the treasury) and production costs paid by electricity customers. Since royalties are not charged for renewables, both CEB and private, then renewable energy prices should be compared only with production costs. The investment has already been fully paid by the republic.

I conclude with a quotation from the 2008 announcement: “Small power producers opting not to migrate to the new agreement by 30th April 2008, will be offered the tier 3 tariff announced for the relevant technology in the year in which the existing agreement expires, after its full tenure of 15 years is completed”. That means, retiring minihydros should be offered prices in the range of Rs 6 per unit.

It is yet to be seen whether the PUCSL and consumer rights groups are willing to fully and comprehensively understand the issue, step-in, and ensure that “renewable energy belongs to the republic”, as stated in the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority Act 2007.

The country’s streams are now flowing in tubes, but do benefits flow to the public who have fully paid the investors with profits?

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Features

Danger of disregarding Geopolitical Realities

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Negotiating Agreements for Foreign Investments:

By Dr. S.W. Premaratne
Attorney-at-Law

Foreign Policy decision-maker, of a state, have to take into consideration the prevailing geopolitical environment of the international system, and of the region concerned, at a given time, when there is a foreign policy aspect involved in the decision that has to be taken regarding any issue Omission, or failure to give consideration to this aspect of the issue, can lead to disastrous consequences. Several examples from the recent political history of Sri Lanka can be given to illustrate this point.

Sri Lanka’s conduct of foreign policy, in the 1980s, is a clear example of the serious consequences of ignoring India’s concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s pro-West tilt in its foreign policy. Sri Lanka’s declared policy was non-alignment in maintaining relations with other states, specially the Big Powers in the West and the East. However, the J.R. Jayewardene government, that came to power, in 1977, sought to develop a closer relationship with the Western countries, led by the USA. The nature of the interactions between the diplomats of the USA and Sri Lanka, at the time, had given the impression to India that Sri Lanka was seeking the assistance of the USA for suppressing the Tamil militant movement in Sri Lank, fighting for the rights of the Tamil community. There were also reasons for India to suspect that there was an understanding between the Sri Lankan Government and the USA to allow the Trincomalee harbour to be used by the USA. It was this perception of India that Sri Lanka was following an anti-India foreign policy, endangering the security of India that motivated India to intervene militarily in the year 1987 to thwart the progress of the Vadamarachchi operation, aimed at militarily defeating the Tamil militant movement.

After aborting the progress of the Vadamarachchi operatio, the Indian government proceeded to compel the Sri Lankan Government to sign an Agreement – the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 – to ensure that Sri Lanka respected India’s security concerns and other interests when seeking assistance from outside Powers for Sri Lanka’s economic development or national security.

 

India’s concerns regarding China’s excessive involvement in Sri Lanka’s development projects

Sri Lanka’s political leaders and diplomats, whenever they get an opportunity, express their affection for their Big Brother, India, and express the need for further strengthening the friendship for the mutual benefit of both countries. India’s perception, however, is that, especially after the change of government in 2005, there is an evolving special relationship between Sri Lanka and China posing a serious threat to the national security of India.

Sri Lanka felt intensely isolated from the international community after adopting the Resolution A/HRC/46/L. Rev. 1 against Sri Lanka, at the UNHRC, in Geneva, in March, 2021, especially because India also decided to support the core-group indirectly by abstaining from voting.

The only consolation for Sri Lanka now is China’s expression of willingness to further strengthen its strategic relationship with Sri Lanka by extending further development assistance to Sri Lanka, within the framework of the Belt end Road Initiative. Subsequent to a telephone conversation between the two leaders, the President of China and the President of Sri Lanka, in a statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, on March 30, 2021, it was stated that “China attaches great importance to the development of bilateral ties and stands ready to work with Sri Lanka to determine the strategic direction and achieve steady growth of the relationship. China stands ready to steadily push forward major projects, like the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port, and promote high quality Belt and Road Co-operation, providing robust impetus for Sri Lanka’s post pandemic economic recovery and sustainable development”. China projecting Sri Lanka as an intimate partner of the Belt and Road strategy indicates that Sri Lanka is distancing itself from the path of non-alignment and adopting an anti-Western and anti-India approach.

In the matter of obtaining foreign investments for development projects, Sri Lanka has failed to foresee the foreign policy implications of overreliance on China. The two massive development projects, initiated during the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, which came to power in 2005, were the Hambantota sea port and the Port City Project in Colombo. The amount of money invested for these two projects, by China, was so massive that Sri Lanka happened to sign an agreement for permitting the management and control of the Hambantota Port by the state-controlled company of China, under a 99-year lease agreement. The Management and control of the Colombo Port City area also has been granted to the Chinese construction company, under a 99-year lease agreement. Not only India, but also the USA and other Western countries have expressed serious concern regarding the involvement of China in strategically significant massive development projects in Sri Lanka. India’s perception now is that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier of China, stationed in the Indian Ocean, close to India. Hambantota Port is viewed as another pearl in the string of pearls maintained for containing India by China.

India is also concerned over the lack of interest on the part of the Sri Lankan Government to go ahead with the development projects regarding which agreement had been reached with India, during the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe coalition government. In May, 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), Japan and India proposing the development of the East Container Terminal jointly, Sri Lanka and Ports Authority retaining 51 percent shares. However, the present Government deviated from that understanding and decided to nominate one Indian investor, Adani Group, disregarding Japan. But, the attempt of the Sri Lankan Government to involve the Indian Company in this project by offering 49 percent of the shares of the ECT was thwarted by the trade union action of the port workers, supported by an influential section of the Buddhist priests and also a section of the ruling alliance. The Sri Lankan government had no alternative but to respond to the demand of the trade unions by getting the Cabinet approval for developing the ECT only by the Colombo Port Authority, without involving India or Japan.

India has also expressed concern over the attitude of the Sri Lankan Government concerning the development and management of the Trincomalee oil tank farm. The lower farm has been managed jointly by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) via Lanka IOC Private Limited. The 2003 tripartite agreement signed by the Sri Lankan Government, LIOC and the CPC covers the entire tank farm. India is now concerned about the excessive delay in granting the Sri Lankan Government’s approval for commencing the development of the Upper Tank Farm, comprising 84 tanks.

Another joint venture, regarding which Sri Lanka sought the involvement of India’s Petronet LNG Ltd. Company, and also a Japanese investor, was the proposed liquefied natural gas LNG terminal that was to be set up near Colombo. Although Indian and Japanese Investors had indicated their willingness to join this project, as partners, the Sri Lankan Government has not yet given its final approval for commencing the construction work.

India is also very much concerned over the lack of progress in the reconciliation process initiated after the end of the war. India’s concern in this regard was expressed very effectively and in very clear language in a statement made by the Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar in the course of a media conference during his two-day visit to Sri Lanka in January, this year. In his statement the Indian Foreign Minister said: “As we promote peace and wellbeing in the region, India has been strongly committed to the unity stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Our support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is long standing as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony. It is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity, within a united Sri Lanka, are fulfilled. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution”.

Sri Lanka should not consider that India’s interest and involvement in the post-war reconciliation process as a case of a foreign country intervening in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka illegally. India is guided by a mindset that there is a moral responsibility on her part to intervene and bring about a final settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

 

Colombo Port City Economic Commission

Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill which was challenged in the Supreme Court, purported to establish an Economic Commission for the administration of the Port City, built by a construction company of the Chinese Government, adjacent to the Colombo Port. This Bill seeks to grant extensive powers to an institution called the Colombo Port Economic Commission, whose members will be appointed by the President of Sri Lanka. According to the provisions in the Bill, the supervisory power of the Parliament of Sri Lanka has been excluded, both regarding the manner of exercising the powers granted by the proposed legislation to the Commission, and also regarding the selection of persons to be appointed as members of the Commission.

Moreover, regarding the activities that take place within the Colombo Port City area, some institutions of the Government of Sri Lanka are excluded from exercising their authority. Dr. Wijedasa Rajapaksa, in his written submissions submitted to the Supreme Court, in connection with the petition filed challenging the Bill, makes specific reference to the Customs Ordinance. He gives the warning that there may be importation of prohibited substances such as drugs, weapons, etc. He points out that in the event of any violation of International Treaties and Conventions, within the Port City area, it is not the Commission but the Sri Lankan Government that is responsible.

 

Conclusion

In view of the intense power struggle between China on the one hand and India and other partners of the Quad, led by the USA on the other hand, for dominance in the Indian Ocean area, the Parliament of Sri Lanka passing legislation for permitting such a high degree of autonomy to an administrative authority that can be controlled by the Chinese government will be considered by India as a serious threat to its security. This pro-China foreign policy orientation will also be an obstacle for Sri Lanka to promote friendly relations with democratic countries in the West determined to thwart Chinese domination in the Indian Ocean region.

 

 

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Features

The Philippines and SL combine

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Singer Suzi Croner (Fluckiger), who was a big hit in this part of the world, singing with the group Friends, continues to make her presence felt on TNGlive – the platform, on social media, that promotes talent from all corners of the globe.

She made her third appearance, last Saturday, May 1st, but this time she had for company Sean, from the Philippines, who, incidentally, was in the finals of The Voice of Switzerland 2020.

Their repertoire, for TNGlive, on the evening of May 1st, including hit songs, like ‘Something Stupid,’ ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ (Sean), ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love,’ ‘Your Man,’ (Sean), ‘Crazy,’ ‘Great Pretender,’ (Sean), ‘Amazing,’ and ‘Stand By Me.’

It was a very entertaining programme, and Sean certainly did prove why he needed to be a finalist at the prestigious The Voice of Switzerland 2020.

You can take in the TNGlive scene, on a regular basis, by joining the Public Group TNGlive, on social media (Facebook).

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