‘… restructuring debt, fiscal discipline urgently needed, we’ll implement it when we get to office’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva insists Sri Lanka is left with no alternative but to seek immediate assistance of the IMF to tackle what he calls an unprecedented debt crisis. “The SJB is in general agreement with my view that outstanding external debt should be restructured, “Dr de Silva said.
The Island sought the SJB MP’s views against the backdrop of State Minister of Finance, Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal ruling out IMF’s intervention. The former Governor of the Central Bank (2006-2015) said so in response to Dr. de Silva’s original call for the IMF’s assistance.
Asked whether he still believed the government should ask for the IMF’s intervention, Dr. de Silva said that the IMF in itself was not the answer. Stressing the need for fiscal discipline, the former UNP minister said Sri Lanka needed the IMF assistance primarily for two reasons as Sri Lanka could not address the current financial crunch under its own steam.
MP de Silva said that IMF’s assistance was needed to facilitate restructuring of debt. Referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent admission that his government was faced with the challenge of settling loans amounting to USD 4 bn annually, Dr. de Silva said that the IMF could provide Sri Lanka the platform to negotiate with hundreds of International Sovereign Bond (ISB) investors to reach a consensus.
Asked to explain, the MP said that if the government initiated the process, an understanding could be reached on postponement of interest and capital payment by 36 to 48 months. Delay on Sri Lanka’s part to take action to address the overwhelming threat though politically such measures seemed disadvantageous could be catastrophic, the SJB MP said.
Dr. de silva urged the SLPP MPs to peruse the statement issued by the President’s Office on June 13 in the wake of the SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam demanding Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s resignation over the fuel price hike. The President’s Office admitted the unbearable burden on the banking sector by staggering borrowings run up by CPC and CEB amounting to Rs 737 bn.
Dr. de Silva said now that the government had revealed the true status of the economy, it should go the whole hog to address the issue. “These ISB agreements are mainly in New York jurisdiction and there are clauses that need 3/4 of investors (by value) having to agree. So it’s not easy. We need to arrive at an acceptable debt sustainability plan and to do that the IMF is needed. Once we do that, confidence in Sri Lanka’s ability to manage our debt will return and we can participate in the international financial markets again. When we have space without having to make large debt payments in the next few years we can undertake essential economic reforms without which we cannot move forward.”
Asked whether he had been able to convince the SJB to go with his views on restoring financial confidence, Dr. de Silva emphasised that the SJB was in agreement with his stance that Sri Lanka had to restructure its debt. “Look at what is happening today. Look at the indicators? How much is the USD? Now they want to restrict even more imports. We are going back to 1973—77 period. We have a plan to get Sri Lanka back on its feet by integrating with the world. That is how we will strengthen the domestic economy. Not by hoodwinking the people. We will implement it when we form a government.”
Responding to queries on the need for urgent action and consensus on the crisis, Dr. de Silva said that remedial measures should be undertaken immediately. The MP emphasised that the issue at hand should not be blamed on rampaging Covid-19 pandemic. Declaring that the trouble had been brewing for years, the MP said that the country had been consuming much more than it had been producing.
The MP said: “Our savings have been low. Our investments have been unproductive. Our subsidies have been wasted. Our exports have been falling as a percentage of global shares. The inward looking policies of this government that once failed in the 1970s have caused rapid deterioration. The unwise steps starting from the massive tax give away in December 2019 long before Corona only exacerbated the problem.”
National People’s Power MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said now that State Minister Cabraal on behalf of the government had ruled out IMF intervention, he should explain how the incumbent administration was going to tackle the problem. MP Amarasuriya emphasised that the public had a right to know the conditions, modalities as well as those involved if the IMF was not. The MP alleged decades of waste, corruption, irregularities, negligence and mismanagement had weakened the national economy and the country was now in a perilous state.
Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools
By ifham Nizam
Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.
The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.
Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.
The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.
AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot
DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15.
A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to.
The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.
DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive.
In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive.
Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand.
Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose.
The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.”
Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.
The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.
Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation.
Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.
Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose.
Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.
North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China
China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).
Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).
In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.
President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.
The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.
Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.
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