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SJB demands LG polls instead of conference on ‘local governance’ 

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‘Such events irrelevant as a jittery govt. continues to avoid electorate’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kirirella, MP, has said the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksha government should hold Local Government (LG) polls without further delay.The Samagi Jana Balavegala (SJB) heavyweight questioned the rationale behind spending public funds on a three-day international conference on local governance in Colombo this week at a time the Opposition was demanding the government to conduct the much delayed local government polls.

The three-day conference, organised by Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance (SLILG), will be held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) commencing 05 Oct. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena are scheduled to attend the inauguration.Kiriella warned the government that it couldn’t hoodwink the public by conducting conferences on local government instead of local government polls. The former UNP minister acknowledged that their Yahapalana government, too, had put off local government polls. But, ultimately, paid a very heavy price for what he called a strategic blunder.

MP Kiriella asserted that both President Wickremesinghe, with just one UNP seat in Parliament, and absolutely no local government bodies under its control, and the trouble-ridden SLPP feared to face the electorate.The terms of the LG bodies were to expire in March this year but they were extended by a Gazette notification till 19 March 2023.

Former Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Roshan Ranasinghe issued the relevant Gazette notification pertaining to 24 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils, and 275 Pradeshiya Sabhas.Kiriella said the Covid-19 pandemic had been cited as an excuse for postponing the LG polls.Commenting on the inauguration of the National Council, on 29 Sept., Kiriella, who attended it, told The Island the government was not genuine in its efforts to overcome the crisis.

MP Kiriella said that he had reminded Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena how the latter had gone back on a promise to allow the Opposition to head the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA). The Speaker had given that pledge at a meeting of the Parliamentary Business Committee on June 07, and reiterated it on 12 August, in Parliament, Kiriella said.

Contrary to the Standing Orders, the SLPP retained the leadership of the COPE, the COPA, as well as the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) following the last parliamentary elections.  Commending the leadership given by Prof. Charitha Herath (COPE), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (COPA) and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (COPF) during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President, MP Kiriella emphasised that the Opposition could have played a much better role if the three watchdog committees were under the leadership of Opposition members.

The circumstances leading to the country declaring bankruptcy, in May this year, should be examined against the backdrop of the government retaining control of three watchdog committees, the Chief Opposition Whip said. In the wake of the economic turmoil, the government gave control of the COPF to the Opposition (Dr. Harsha de Silva) though a decision was yet to be made on the COPE and the COPA.

MP Kiriella said the SJB didn’t want to reject the National Council outright without giving it an opportunity. But their cooperation would depend on the government’s readiness to address the concerns of the Opposition, MP Kiriella said, adding that the SJB was yet to name its representatives to the National Council. In addition to two ex-officio positions (Opposition Leader and Chief Opposition Whip), the SJB can name three MPs to the council.

MP Kiriella said that the government should realise that the National Council couldn’t, under any circumstances, achieve what was expected of an all-party- government. He warned that the SJB wouldn’t dance to the SLPP’s tune. The inordinate delay in LG polls, the appointment of 38 State Ministers and the moves to increase the number of Cabinet ministers by 10 more wouldn’t help achieve consensus, the MP said, demanding that the government made a clear statement on how it intended to address the economic woes.

MP Kiriella said that the TNA, the JVP and SLPP rebels had rejected the National Council. The government should address the concerns of the Opposition immediately as, contrary to their expectations, the situation was deteriorating. “I Hope the President and the SLPP realize the agreement with the IMF for USD 2.9 bn is not the panacea for all our ills.”

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Sabry denies China caused SL debt crisis

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Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, has dismissed assertions that China caused the current economic crisis here.The Minister made Sri Lanka’s position clear in an interview with WION’s diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal. Asked whether Minister Sabry believed that the current economic crisis is due to China, its policy of debt crisis, the Minister has said: No, I don’t agree with that, which is a western phrase. We don’t agree with that. The Chinese never came and forced us to take money. Actually, we have gone and sought funds and they have respected that and invested in our country. They are the biggest investor in our country, we don’t agree with that phrase. Having taken the money we have put them into proper use or who so ever we can get in return is the issue for Sri Lankans, therefore we don’t associate with that kind of phrase, actually Chinese have been good friends for us and they have been the biggest investor in the country post conflict.

Commenting on Sri Lanka’s ties with China, WION quoted Sabry as having said: “Our relationship with Beijing is very strong for a long period of time, they have been our close friend. This year we have celebrated 70 years of economic ties with them, beginning with the Rubber Rice pact, we exported rubber to them and imported rice. So ours is a strong relationship and basically it has been a commercial relationship, economic relationship where they have come and invested heavily in Sri Lanka during a difficult period of time for us and during the 26 years of the conflict, during the last few years, Chinese supported us with supply of arms to get rid of the threat from one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations, the LTTE and in order to bring back peace to our country. In that context we have had a very good relationship with them. Sri Lanka always follows the dynamic, neutral foreign policy where we would want everyone to be a friend of Sri Lanka and enemy to none. That is our foreign policy, that is our relationship, so given this dynamic, we would continue the same thing but taking India’s sensitivities and security concerns to heart because that is very important for us.”

WION: How has the talks been with the IMF and has India played a role in facilitating the talks? I believe this is the 17th bailout you are trying to secure.

Ali Sabry: I started the negotiations with them, and they have studied, and staff-level agreement has been reached, prior action before the EFF, extended fund facility, we have agreed on. We have agreed and implemented some of those things. The EEF facility is for 2.9 billion, and the moment the IMF gets involved, it infuses confidence in the system, ADB, World Bank all come on the table, and we probably will be able to return to the money market, so that is why it is so important. India, had actually provided us with a lifeline during the most crucial time of our history, in terms of economy and those credit lines kept us going for a long period of time. I remember, when I was in Washington, your Finance Minister Sitharaman led your group and supported us in our discussion with the IMF and they have continued to do so. So it is important and Indian support is very critical to us. India has played a great role in supporting the neighbour in the most difficult time of its history.

WION: Why didn’t China offer financial assistance, as India did, during the recent crisis?

Ali Sabry: The Chinese also supported us just before the particular period of time, they also provided us with some financial facilities and credit line, also they did provide us some soft arrangement to bolster our reserves at the central bank, apart from that some humanitarian assistance also. We hope China will step up in providing us with debt restructuring assurances, along with India so that we can go to the IMF and resolve the matter once and for all and get back to the recovery path. So, it’s important for all creditors and all investors that Sri Lanka recovers and recovers fast. The longer the debt gets suspended, the longer it takes to recover. It is bad for all the creditors and investors; everybody understands that, including China.

WION: Has China offered to restructure…

Ali Sabry: We are still in discussions for that, they have been cooperative and part of the common platform where we share information, recently in Washington. They also took part on the virtual platform. So China, India, Paris club, and Japan are all cooperating with us, so we are in the final stage of trying to get the debt restructuring and assurances. We are hopeful all countries and all our friends will not let us down.

WION: Have you asked for more Indian support.

Ali Sabry:Not really, right now our economy has stabilized to some extent and we should be able to manage ourselves. Right now, we have reached out to India and the rest of the world, it’s not for aid or any more loans but basically investments. We are working with Indians and Indian companies and the government to work together in various areas for mutual interests, so that investment comes into the country and it will be beneficial for both Indians and Sri Lankans.

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Electricity users threaten legal action if power tariffs hiked again unilaterally by Minister

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CEB records Rs 6 billion profit in October

By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) recorded a profit of six billion rupees in October, Electricity Users Association (EUA) Secretary Sanjeewa Dhammika told the media yesterday.Dhammika said that if the CEB increased the price of electricity again, the EUA would take legal action.

“There are 6.5 million users of electricity and I urge the Minister of Power and Energy not to take them for granted. Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, on Thursday, told Parliament that they will increase the electricity tariff again,” he said.

The CEB made a profit of six billion rupees in October. Electricity was produced using water, coal, and renewable sources, he said.

“The average cost of electricity production was around five rupees. A unit of electricity was sold at around 32

rupees. The Minister says they are still making a loss. The Minister has no power to increase tariffs. The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) can only increase the tariff. The current Minister has said there is no need for a PUCSL. He wants to increase tariffs the way he wants, without oversight. We won’t allow that to happen. Apparently, he has asked the Cabinet to review tariffs, once in six months,” he said.

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Baglay reiterates India’s commitment in line with ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’

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Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay on Thursday (24) reiterated their commitment to Sri Lanka’s capacity building endeavours in line with India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.

Baglay emphasized that training engagements between the Armed Forces have instilled a spirit of brotherhood and interoperability amongst the services and form the foundation of their abiding bonds. A large number of NDC India alumni in Sri Lanka have risen to the highest echelons of defence leadership, which testifies to the importance of nurturing these strong relations, according to a statement issued by the Indian High Commission here.

Baglay said so at an event to mark 50 years of association between National Defence College (NDC), India and Sri Lankan Armed Forces in Colombo. The special event celebrated the enduring bonds of cooperation, camaraderie and friendship between the militaries of India and Sri Lanka. Secretary of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force along with other alumni and dignitaries from the Ministry of Defence and Sri Lanka Armed Forces graced the occasion.

Secretary of Defence, Gen (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne and High Commissioner Gopal Baglay jointly launched the webpage of the Alumni Association of NDC India in Sri Lanka at the event to facilitate closer and continued engagements between the two countries and the premier Indian defence institute. The webpage would be hosted on the website of High Commission of India (www.hcicolombo.gov.in/ndca) and act as a medium for the alumni to stay connected with their alma mater and keep abreast with the latest on defence cooperation between the two maritime neighbours.

As part of India’s unwavering commitment to capacity building of Sri Lanka Armed Forces and focus on regional cooperation, NDC India has made valuable contributions towards enhancing regional peace, security and stability and such forums effectively enable fostering of cordial and warm relationships between the two countries.

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