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SL can speed up economic recovery by bolstering its democratic institutions: US Ambassador

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‘US has provided SL more than US$26 million for health and US$2 billion in aid’

The U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Alaina B. Teplitz in a wide ranging interview on Sri Lanka – United States relations says; “Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding our engagement and several of our programs in recent times, but none of our programs infringe upon Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and we are very transparent in their design and implementation”.

At one point of the interview she says,” By relying on your long history of democracy and continuing to bolster your democratic institutions, you can speed up your recovery and be a leader in the region”.

Below you find some excerpts from the interview with Ambassador Teplitz.

 

By Dinesh Weerakkody

 

Q: Given the Covid-19 global pandemic and the challenging economic backdrop what do you see as the key priorities for US-SL relations in 2020 and in 2021?

  Sri Lankans have done a tremendous job managing the COVID-19 pandemic. As the country continues to take measures to prevent community transmission, it must also consider the economic recovery from the pandemic. The combination of economic shocks that have impacted the country in deep ways over the past two years are cumulative. It’s challenging, and of course the U.S supports a strong and sustainable recovery for Sri Lanka. We remain a steadfast partner to Sri Lanka, contributing over $5.8 million to Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 management efforts. That’s on top of the $26 million over the last couple decades devoted solely to health. And we anticipate we’ll be a strong partners not only around this particular crisis but around many issues to come in the future. We look forward to continuing to work together to bolster the bilateral relationship and address regional and global issues.

Q: The U.S. committed US$ 5.8 million in Covid-19 assistance to Sri Lanka reinforcing its long tradition of support for Sri Lanka’s security and sovereignty. Could you shed some light on which development areas, services and programs these funds have been channeled into?

The $5.8 million in assistance to Sri Lanka was channeled through USAID to partners such as UNICEF to directly address the needs of the Sri Lankan people. It includes $2 million to increase social services for areas and populations most impacted by the crisis, and support for activities that build social cohesion. Another $2 million will strengthen small and medium enterprises and increase women’s economic participation. As part of the newly-announced assistance, the U.S. is also providing $590,000 in humanitarian assistance through the International Red Cross that will support vulnerable people during the pandemic.

This assistance builds on the $1.3 million in health assistance the U.S. Embassy announced in April, which is helping the government prepare laboratory systems, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance, and support technical experts for response and preparedness. U.S. assistance is also enabling Sri Lanka to conduct communicate more effectively about the risk of infection and prevent and control infectious diseases in health facilities. As part of this $5.8 million, Deputy Chief of Mission, Martin Kelly recently joined with UNICEF to hand over U.S.-funded medical equipment to the Ministry of Health.These supplies will equip four COVID-19 isolation and treatment units specialized in maternal and neonatal care. In addition to this $5.8 million, we recently provided PPE to eight health care facilities across Sri Lanka and we are gifting Sri Lanka 200 brand-new ventilators in the coming days. Over the years, we’ve provided Sri Lanka more than $26 million for health and $2 billion in aid.

Q: U.S. influence in Sri Lanka has been hotly debated in recent times on matters ranging from military co-operation to development to wider assertions that the U.S. is seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. What will the future look like?

The strongest partnerships are those that respect and protect one another’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding our engagement and several of our programs in recent times, but none of our programs infringe upon Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and we are very transparent in their design and implementation. Our two countries share a strong and resilient relationship. We will continue to work with the Sri Lankan government to promote Sri Lanka’s prosperity and uphold its sovereignty.

Q: What do you see as Sri Lanka’s medium-term opportunities in terms of bilateral, political and economic co-operation?

  COVID-19 could really be a game changer in terms of both opportunities and challenges in the short and medium term. We don’t yet know the extent of the damage to the global economy or what the road to recovery will look like. The pandemic underscored how susceptible we are to global problems beyond our control and how we work more effectively in solving those problems when we work together. Strong international cooperation was required in addressing the crisis and it will be imperative in working towards recovery. Countries that adhere to democratic values, that respect rule of law, that have open and honest communications and provide credible information to protect their citizens will recover faster and be well staged to seize opportunities as they arise. The challenge for Sri Lanka will be continuing to provide the assistance your citizens require while you jump start your economy, attract foreign investment and repair the economic damage caused by the pandemic. But by relying on your long history of democracy and continuing to bolster your democratic institutions, you can speed your recovery and be a leader in the region.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current investment environment in Sri Lanka? Has the ease of doing business improved?  

The government needs to consider comprehensive policy reforms to improve the ease of doing business if it’s going to be in a position to attract foreign investment and take advantage of some of the supply chain changes that are going to come as many countries and companies seek to diversify their investments from China. Companies are actively looking to ensure they have some diversification in location and redundancy in that supply chain. So it’s an opportune moment for Sri Lanka. Major U.S. firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Virtusa, Dell, and others are here and looking to develop and invest in the IT sector. An investment climate that is predictable and transparent will attract top international firms to invest in the country, not just in IT but other sectors as well. Additionally, continuing to build strong intellectual property rights protections will make Sri Lanka a competitively attractive destination in the region for IT investment.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for U.S. investors in Sri Lanka? Which sectors? And, what more needs to be done on the regulatory front to attract investment?

The pandemic has forced U.S. manufacturers to reevaluate their supply chains and figure out how to diversify suppliers to avoid disruptions.  Sri Lanka is well positioned to benefit from this. For U.S. buyers looking at potential suppliers from any country, including Sri Lanka, the key factors are quality, price, and the ability to deliver on time. So is predictability, as well as fair and transparent bidding opportunities and contract enforcement.  Apparel is a prime example: U.S. buyers associate a Sri Lankan product with high quality and dependable product delivery. Tea is another product that has gained the confidence of U.S. consumers. Sri Lankan products generally are viewed as manufactured under conditions that adhere to international labour regulations and proper quality standards.

Q: President Donald Trump is seen as a key promoter for protectionism and to only buy made in America products. How would you justify some of the trade measures introduced by the Trump administration, in the context of recommending greater inter-regional trade within South Asia?  

The  U.S. is the number one destination for Sri Lankan exports. Bilateral trade is heavily weighted in Sri Lanka’s favor: the United States imports around $2.9 billion worth of products from Sri Lanka and only exports around $390 million. Sri Lankan companies have benefited from friendly U.S. trade policies, such as the General System of Preferences (GSP), that encourage fair and competitive trade. In these difficult times, our trade relationship has only grown stronger to our mutual benefit, as Sri Lanka has stepped up to manufacture masks for the U.S., production that has kept factories running and workers in jobs. The GSP program promotes economic growth in the developing world by providing duty-free entry to the U.S. market for goods imported from specific developing countries. As a GSP beneficiary, Sri Lanka may export more than 3,500 different products to the U.S. duty-free. This is in addition to the 3,800 products that are duty-free for all countries. In the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S.  remains deeply engaged and committed to its prosperity. With $1.9 trillion in two-way trade, our futures are intertwined.

Q: Given that you are a very seasoned diplomat with good connections to the Trump Administration, what are your aspirations for United States-Sri Lanka relations during your tenure?  

The U.S. and Sri Lanka share common goals as fellow democracies working to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law. We continue to urge the government of Sri Lanka to take concrete steps to respond to the concerns of all its people. The  U.S. is also Sri Lanka’s single largest export market and Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. In 2017, Sri Lanka exported over $2.9 billion of goods to the US, $2.1 billion of which were ready-made garments. The U.S. also views Sri Lanka as a great customer for American-made goods. The U.S. exports into many sectors of the Sri Lankan economy from advanced machinery to agricultural products. Building upon these powerful economic ties, we aspire for expanded growth and prosperity for the citizens of Sri Lanka and the U.S.  

Ambassador Teplitz is a senior member of the US Foreign Service, she joined the State Department in 1991 and is the recipient of numerous Awards. Ambassordor Teplitz also held the Assistant-Secretary ranked position of Director of the Under Secretary for Management’s Office of Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) at the Department of State from 2012-2015. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.



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HNB partners with Gammadda to develop Yaya 6 village in Anuradhapura

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HNB PLC recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Capital Maharaja Group’s initiative Gammadda Sri Lanka, the country’s largest rural development movement to develop infrastructure facilities of the Yaya 6 village Mahawilachchiya, in the Anuradhapura District.

The project is powered by HNB’s exclusive private banking proposition, The Club HNB, with the goal of engaging members and in opportunities for focused, impactful philanthropy.

A special event was hosted at The Club HNB premises on Greenpath which was attended by special guests from Yaya 6, Gammadda News 1st team and exclusive invitees of The Club HNB, during which HNB Managing Director/ CEO Jonathan Alles and Capital Maharaja Group Director Chevaan Daniel inaugurated the partnership with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding.

“Rural communities form the backbone of this nation, therefore, HNB is proud to partner with the Capital Maharaja Group to support their ambitious and vital work under the Gammadda initiative. We are also grateful to The Club HNB membership and our branch network for once again stepping forward and contributing generously towards the upliftment of rural communities across Sri Lanka,” Alles said.

Providing access to clean drinking water is the 1st step in the agenda and a RO plant will be installed under the first phase of the development project. This will not only save lives but also prevent Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu) prevalent in the region.

A new fully furnished library and computer lab will be just two other infrastructural additions to the village school Saliyamala Vidyalaya Pemaduwa, in addition to new washrooms which are to be constructed for the students and staff members. The project also entails renovation and refurbishment of the main road, the village temple, cleaning of the agrarian tank and construction of a new community hall under the initiative.

“It has been amazing working with HNB to achieve our mutual goal of providing Yaya 6 with much-needed infrastructure facilities. This project would not have been possible if not for the HNB customers, who came forward with their generous contributions to help this village in need. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone of you who made this possible,” Capital Maharaja Group Director Chevaan Daniel said.

Notably, acclaimed Sri Lankan pianist and music director Soundarie David’s composition of ‘Stand up and be the change’, that was created to help raise funds and create awareness about the project was performed at the event by Soul Sounds with music provided by Ranga Dasanayake at the event.

Editor-in-chief and founder of ARTRA magazine Azara Jaleel, who was also present at the event, auctioned off a painting from the ARTRA Canvas collection to The Club HNB members in aid of the project.

“I am happy to be here today, where two great institutions have come together for this great cause. We are fortunate as customers to be able to contribute in any way possible, and we hope to join you in visiting Yaya 6 soon,” a valued Club customer,Mrs Niloo Jayatilleke said.

Those who wish to make a contribution to the initiative can make a payment via HNB SOLO, through a direct payment on the payment app or deposit funds to the account titled ‘We are the change’, account number: 005010173025.

With 252 customer centres across the country, HNB is one of Sri Lanka’s largest, most technologically innovative banks, having won local and global recognition for its efforts to drive forward a new paradigm in digital banking. Over the recent past, the bank was ranked among the World Top 1,000 Banks list compiled by the prestigious UK-based Banker Magazine. HNB has a national rating of AA- (lka) by Fitch Ratings (Lanka) Ltd.

HNB was also declared Best Sub-Custodian Bank in Sri Lanka at the Global Finance Awards 2020, in addition to winning the coveted Best Retail Bank in Sri Lanka Award for the 11th time at the Asian Banker Awards 2020, in recognition of its sustainable growth and continuous improvements in processes, products and services amidst a challenging macroeconomic environment.

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The Finance Houses Association announces revision of Self-Regulation Code

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The Finance Houses Association of Sri Lanka (FHA) the apex body of all Registered Finance companies has announced the introduction of its revised Self-Regulation Code which has been voluntarily practised by member companies over a long period of time, but has to be adapted to changing times.

The timely revisions to the Code were effected with a view to maintaining the highest standards on strategic and business operations in Sri Lanka’s Non-Banking Financial and Leasing Institutions (NBFI) sector.

The FHA collective of 39 Licensed Finance Companies (LFCs) is the driver of financial inclusion of Sri Lanka’s MSME sector which has a large footprint in the Bottom of the Pyramid segment of the country. The MSME sector is no less than the backbone of Sri Lankan economy involving over 70% of businesses in Sri Lanka, providing employment for 45% of the labor force and generating 52% of GDP.

Titled “Code of Conduct of Licensed Finance Companies Sri Lanka” the updated instrument was handed over to the Governor of Central Bank of Sri Lanka Prof. W. D. Lakshman and Bank’s officials by FHA Council members on March 18 at the Central Bank premises.

Niroshan Udage, chairman of FHA elaborated: “FHA’s time tested gentlemen’s agreement that was codified some time ago needed revisions and updates as per the requirements of today’s changing times. The overall objectives of updating the Code were to comply to all current regulatory and legal requirements while adhering to industry best practices. We take humble pride in the fact that the Code was not imposed on our sector by any authority but was self-introduced by all FHA members on their own will, which demonstrates the members’ strong commitment to sectoral integrity and their social responsibility.”

On March 18 members of FHA also handed over their Sustainability Mandate to the Governor of Central Bank Prof. W. D. Lakshman and top officials of the Bank. “The purpose of the Sustainability Mandate is to serve as the guideline for the LFCs to integrate sustainability principles holistically into their businesses, enabling sustainable value creation through their own financing approaches, in line with defined sustainability guidelines that would ultimately contribute towards national sustainability agenda and UN Sustainable Development Goals” said chairman Niroshan Udage.

 

 

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‘CSE to bounce back, provided Corona-19 is held in check’

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne 

The CSE was, once again, somewhat sluggish yesterday on account of investor fears over a possible Covid-19 third wave, but the expectation in some sections that May corporate earnings will be exceptionally good had an uplifting impact on the market during the latter part of the day. The CSE could be expected to bounce back, top stock market analysts said.

” CSE will bounce back within the next few weeks if the Covid 19 new wave  does not impact  the global scenario, Head of Sales, Softlogic Stockbrokers (Pvt) Ltd. Eardley Kern  told ‘The Island Financial Review’.

He said that the upcoming quarterly corporate earnings will likely be among the best in recent times and this would enable the market to perform in a positive way.     

Windforce Ltd., the renewable energy firm, began trading above its price of Rs. 16 per share yesterday after raising Rs. 3.2 billion for wind power projects in Sri Lanka and Senegal. It contributed more than 28 percent to market turnover from its IPO, Kern said 

Windforce stocks fetched Rs. 17.90 initially  and rose to as much as Rs. 19.00 in intra-day trading, after being heavily oversubscribed, but settled at Rs. 18, which was an increase of Rs. 2.40 or 15 percent.

Amid those developments, both indices moved downwards. All Share Price Index declined by 105.53 points  and S and P SL20 went down by 47.08 points. Turnover stood at Rs. 2.61 billion with two crossings. Those crossings were reported in Windforce, which crossed 7.2 million shares to the tune of Rs. 131.6 million; its shares traded at Rs. 18.50 and Sampath Bank 400,000 shares crossed for Rs. 20.4 million; its shares fetching Rs. 51.

In the retail market, five main contributors to the turnover were, Windforce Rs. 738 million (40.3 million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs. 281.5 million (44.6 million shares traded), Dipped Products Rs. 195 million (3.4 million shares traded), Piramal Glass Rs. 126.4 million (11 million shares traded) and Hayleys Rs. 113 million (1.5 million shares traded). During the day 139.3 million share volumes changed hands in 19927 transactions.  

  “The indices exhibited significant volatility during the early hours of trading and witnessed a continuous downwards movement during the whole session but Windforce gave some notable impetus to the market yesterday, analysts said.

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