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Security laws: Lanka seeks Singaporean expertise



Statement silent on Arjuna Mahendran

Sri Lanka has sought Singaporean expertise in preparing laws relating to national security amidst both local and international calls to do away with existing anti-terrorism law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act passed in the 80s to fight the LTTE terrorists.

Following a recent five-day visit undertaken by Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, to Singapore, on the invitation of the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K. Shanmugam, the Justice Ministry stated in a media release issued yesterday: “With a view to benefitting from Singapore’s learnings through its evolution of legislation related to national security and social cohesion, the two Ministers agreed to explore the possibility of sending a team of officials from Singapore to Sri Lanka to gain a wider understanding of the Sri Lankan legal context and to conduct a series of webinars for the officials of the Ministry of Justice of Sri Lanka.”

Interestingly the statement didn’t make any reference to Singapore so far declining to hand over Singaporean national Arjuna Mahendran wanted here in connection with Treasury bond scams perpetrated here in 2015 and 2016.

The following is the text of the statement: “During the visit, the Minister met with his counterpart K. Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law of Singapore and held a wide-ranging discussion on collaboration between Sri Lanka and Singapore in the legal sphere.

Minister Ali Sabry thanked Minister K. Shanmugam for the invitation extended to undertake the visit and for the hospitality extended to the Sri Lanka delegation.

Briefings were provided on recent amendments made to several important pieces of legislation including the Criminal Code, Religious Harmony Act, and Internal Security Act of Singapore. The two sides discussed the lessons learnt in the operational aspects of the legislation and amendments.

During the visit the Minister visited the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Resource and Counselling Centre (RCC) on the 14th of February. Associate Professor Dr. Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development and the senior management of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) joined Minister Ali Sabry explaining their approach on dealing with religious extremism with a specific emphasis on rehabilitation.

The Sri Lanka delegation participated in a virtual briefing on the court automation process of Singapore conducted by the Supreme Court of Singapore. Citing Sri Lanka’s own efforts at modernising and automation of the courts here, Minister Ali Sabry stated that the system implemented in Singapore could be a valuable case study for Sri Lanka. It was agreed to conduct a series of webinars on the court automation system of Singapore for Sri Lankan officials.”

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MONLAR blows whistle on another land grab in wetland sanctuary



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Only a few wetlands remain in Colombo, and they are in danger, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) says.

Chamikara said that Urban Development Authority (UDA) and Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (SLLDC) have recently begun developing the wetlands around the Sri Mahindaramaya Temple, Ethul Kotte.

“The two institutions started reclaiming the wetlands within the Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte Sanctuary without following any environmental laws. The decision to develop the wetlands was given by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in March. Although the Wildlife Conservation Department initially opposed the development project, it has chosen to remain silent,” Chamikara said.

The MONLAR head said that during the last two decades SLLDC and UDA had destroyed a large number of wetlands in areas such as Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte and Bellanwila and Attidiya.

“The two institutions have no idea about the importance of these wetlands. Because of their activities, part of Colombo is prone to floods, and the government has to spend colossal amounts of public funds on flood prevention initiatives. The reclamation and alienation of wetlands and their conversion into lakes have taken their toll on the environment. Wetlands have a remarkable capacity to hold water, but they lose that capacity when they are turned into lakes.

Chamikara said migratory bird species that arrive at the wetlands too had been affected by haphazard development projects. When the wetlands in the lowlands close to the sea are excavated, salt water travels inland and salifies the soil.

“The main reason is that the SLLDC and UDA do not have any idea about the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat of 1971 or the National Wetland Policy and Strategy for Sri Lanka of 2006,” Chamikara said.

Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte Sanctuary is home to a large number of animal species, Chamikara said. “There are 147 indigenous and migratory bird species in this wetland. There are also 18 species of indigenous fish in the canals in the wetlands.

“There are also eight amphibian species besides 67 butterfly species in this sanctuary. Among the butterflies are Tailed Jay, Crimson Rose, Lime Butterfly, Blue Mormon, Lemon Emigrant, Common Jezebel, and Plain Tiger.”

Chamikara said the area was declared a sanctuary on 09 January 1985 by gazette no 331/8. It encompasses 1,110 acres. Anyone who harms the integrity of the wetlands can be produced before a Magistrate as per the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.

“The Magistrate can fine anyone found guilty, send the perpetrator to prison, or both. The Department of Wildlife Conservation has the power to take action against those who violate the provisions of the Ordinance. Therefore, the Department is responsible for putting an end to illegal actions inside the sanctuary,” Chamikara said, adding that Sri Lanka had been a party to the Ramsar Convention since 1987.

Sri Lanka has 198,172 hectares of wetlands under the Convention.

“In 2018, Colombo was declared the first capital to be accredited as an International Wetland City by Ramsar. However, it is estimated that in the last few decades 40% of the wetlands in Colombo have been lost. The World Bank says each year Colombo loses 1.2% of its wetlands, and if it were to lose all its wetlands, the city would be flooded annually costing as much as 1% of its GDP in flood damage. Despite all this we continue to destroy our wetlands,” Chamikara said.

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Economic crisis: MR, ministers, CBSL Governor, Dr.PBJ ignored IMF warnings



Dr. Jayamaha says Monetary Board acted regardless of strong opposition

By Shamindra Ferdinando

It was disclosed before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) yesterday (25), the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as the Finance Minister, had been briefed, in March-April 2020, on the impending financial crisis of unprecedented magnitude, but he had chosen to ignore the dire warning.

The parliamentary watchdog was told how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had warned the then Governor of the Central Bank, Prof. W. D. Lakshman, and Treasury Secretary S. R. Attygalle, of Sri Lanka’s inability to procure loans unless the country undertook debt restructuring immediately.

COPE members received a briefing on the circumstances leading to the crisis when senior officials of the Central Bank appeared before the all-party body yesterday. CBSL Governor Dr. Nandalal has stated that the IMF warning hadn’t been heeded at all.

The COPE received confirmation of what has been widely speculated hours after UNP Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was sworn in as the new Finance Minister.

Janakantha Silva, Director Legislative Services / Director Communication, Parliament quoted Dr. Weerasinghe as having told COPE that following technical talks held in terms of the Finance Act pertaining to the IMF’s stand, recommendations were made to the then Premier and other senior officials. Dr. Weerasinghe has stated that the relevant decisions should have been made by the Premier, in his capacity as the Finance Minister and the entire Cabinet of Ministers.

The IMF has made its position clear after having asserted Sri Lanka lacked debt sustainability.

Asserting the failure on the part of those who managed the economy for causing a massive crisis, COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath called it a crime. The first time entrant to Parliament recommended the setting up of a Special Parliamentary Select Committee to probe those who neglected their responsibilities thereby caused the current debilitating crisis. Prof. Herath blamed those few who managed the economy during that period.

SLPP National List MP Basil Rajapaksa succeeded Mahinda Rajapaksa in July 2021 as the Finance Minister whereas President Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought in SLPP National List MP Ajith Nivard Cabraal as the Governor of the Central Bank in Sept 2021. Cabraal quit in March to pave the way for Dr. Weerasinghe, the former Bank Deputy Governor to return from retirement in Australia, as its new Governor.

Dr. Harsha de Silva pointed out that the then Finance Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa delegated his responsibilities to the then State Finance Minister Cabraal who refrained from briefing the Parliament as regards the actual situation. Dr. de Silva said that the IMF’s declaration of debt sustainability should be examined against the backdrop of the revenue cut imposed on the recommendation of the then Secretary to the President and one time Central Banker and Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera that deprived the Treasury of Rs 600 mn in taxes.

Dr. de Silva asked who decided on the tax cut in spite of the IMF specifically advising the government not to do so. The top SJB spokesperson and COPE member asked who decided on such reckless course of action.

COPE member and SLPP lawmaker Rear Admiral (retd) Sarath Weeraselera has said that tax cut was declared to encourage business and trade.

When COPE raised contentious issue of the Central Bank wasting precious funds to prevent depreciation of Sri Lanka Rupee, Dr. Weerasinghe has said this was the responsibility of the Monetary Board comprising five persons. The then Monetary Board member Dr. Ranee Jayamaha has revealed that the then Governor Prof. W.D. Lakshman, Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle and nominated member Samantha Kumarasinghe decided on that course of action in spite of her and Sanjiva Jayawardena, PC, opposing them. They had registered their protest in writing.

Dr. Weerasinghe assured the COPE that in spite of the difficulties likely to be experienced within the next three to four months he would try to achieve objectives.

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People’s Bank remains firmly committed to the nation’s progress



The People’s Bank is known for its commitment towards the betterment of the country. As one of the largest financial services providers in Sri Lanka, the Bank has been continuously featured in the 1000 Best Banks in the world by the world renowned ‘The Banker Magazine’ in the years of 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

CEO/GM of the People’s Bank Ranjith Kodituwakku recently spoke to the media about the bank’s journey so far, and its present and future vision.

Could you share some insight about the present progress and stability of the People’s Bank?

People’s Bank was mainly initiated for the purpose of making banking facilities accessible to the general public. At present we have the country’s largest customer base of over 14 million and largest branch network of 742.

Our total assets have grown to Rs.2.6 trillion, and our deposits exceed Rs. 2.0 trillion. Our loans and receivables have exceeded Rs. 1.9 trillion. We are happy to announce that we also received the highest pre-tax profit of Rs. 30.4 billion and Rs. 23.7 billion pre-tax profit during the year 2021.

* People’s Bank has introduced a number of new innovations to the local financial sector, how are they faring?

People’s Bank became the first commercial bank to work in Sinhala and Tamil. It pioneered the act of printing cheque books in Sinhala and Tamil which were only printed in English earlier.

People’s Bank also introduced the Gold Mortgage Loan Service in 1962. Through this, we were able to free people who were caught in the clutches of money lenders.

On World Women’s Day in 1993, a branded ladies account “Vanitha Vasana” was launched, and to build future security for our student population, the “SisuUdana” account was launched coinciding World Children’s Day in 1996.As of today, most students deposit their savings at People’s Bank.

People’s Bank also was the first bank in the country to implement a complete digital transformation for the entire operating model, covering all aspects from the lowest to the highest levels of the Bank.

The bank’s Self Banking Units (SBUs) are a pioneering introduction to our digitalization programme of which there are over 265 islandwide. With ATMs, CDMs and bill payment machines (KIOSK) installed herein, you can experience convenient and efficient banking which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, all year round.

All of our branches now have instant access to People’s Wiz which enables quick account opening. Over a million people are registered with the People’s Wave app, which allows you to bank from anywhere. People’s Bank also launched the People’s Pay Mobile App in support of the Central Bank’s efforts to promote digital transactions without the use of cash. In addition, the People’s Website offers online banking and People’s Wiz Credit provides personal loans within 24 hours. We have won numerous local and international awards for digital banking.

* People’s Bank was established to boost local agriculture, rural economy, upgrade small and medium-scale entrepreneurs by assisting every level of ordinary people with the bank. What are the contributions given by People’s Bank to those sectors?

Since the inception, People’s Bank’s main focus was on developing the rural banking system and uplifting the people. Even today, this focus remains unchanged within the bank. If you take the last year, People’s Bank granted loan facilities to SME businesses to the tune of Rs. 63.0 billion.

Also the bank introduced an agriculture-based Harvest Loan Scheme to create a self-sufficient country and granted loans of Rs.2.3 billion over a period of 15 months ending 31 December 2021 alone. The ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ loan scheme was introduced to promote local industries and ‘Saarabhoomi’ to encourage local production of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides. ‘Vanitha Saviya’ loan scheme was launched to empower women entrepreneurs and ‘Business Power’ to uplift small and medium enterprises.

People’s Bank also launched the People’s Spark Entrepreneurship Development Programme with the aim of empowering Sri Lankan youth who are passionate about running their own business.

* What are the facilities given to customers when remitting money to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankans working in foreign countries or any other person can send money to their loved ones and this money can be withdrawn conveniently from our 742 island wide network.

In order to recognise and encourage expatriate workers remitting money from abroad, the Bank launched a promotion called ‘Vaasi Kotiyai bonanza early this year. Under this promotion the Grand Draw winner who will be selected at the year-end will be presented with a Grand Prize of Rs.10 million. Additionally, Rs.1 Million Monthly winners will be selected every month, 22K gold sovereign weekly winners will be selected 48 times, while 10,000 daily cash prize winners will be selected 334 times until 31st December 2022.

In addition to that, we also provide loan facilities for those who seek foreign employment and to those who are already working abroad. We have also planned to introduce a special benefits package for Sri Lankan working abroad which includes insurance benefits and loans at concessionary interest rates.

* What’s your opinion about the stability of the banking system and what benefits are gained by transacting with a government bank and benefits receive by the society?

In addition to having a strong capital base, our banking system is closely monitored by the Central Bank and all local banks are run in compliance with the highest standards in the world.

State Banks specifically have the largest capital bases in the country and due to the government ownership, they enjoy extraordinary stability which in turn provides maximum security for customer deposits.

In addition, due to the large branch network and superior digital banking capabilities, customers can transact conveniently with People’s Bank.

Last but not least, the profits made by state banks are channeled back towards the development of the country which ultimately benefits customers.

* Finally, what is the contribution given by the People’s Bank through import and export trades?

People’s Bank works successfully with over 900 banks worldwide to facilitate import and export trades by issuing Letters of Credit to private and State owned enterprises. This function is invaluable to sustain normal lives of general public as it enables importation of essential items such as fuel, medicine, food and gas.

As I mentioned earlier, People’s Bank is driven by objectives that extend beyond mere profits. We work for the betterment of people and the country. As a Bank that is firmly committed to the wellbeing of the nation, we will continue to fulfill our responsibilities in this manner in the future.

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