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Sri Lanka voters hand Rajapaksa strength to face India and China

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Washington tweets its
concern of the strategic island’s indebtedness to Beijing

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother have a difficult economic path ahead of them but can count on financial favors as China, India, the U.S. and Japan vie for influence.

MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR,

Asia regional correspondent , Nikkei Asian Review

BANGKOK — Sri Lankan voters have already detected a whiff of what the electoral landslide won by the country’s most influential political clan earlier this week means to the international community, or at least what it means to India, the U.S. and Japan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the tone by going on a charm blitz. He called and tweeted at his counterpart, caretaker Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, part of that political clan, even before the final results were in, giving the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, a Rajapaksa political vehicle, 146 seats in the 225-member legislature.

“We will work together to further advance all areas of bilateral cooperation and to take our special ties to ever new heights,” Modi tweeted on Thursday, one day after the general elections.

Hours later, the U.S. embassy in Colombo, the island’s commercial capital, reached out, also on Twitter. “As the new parliament convenes,” the tweet says, “we hope the government will renew its commitments to building an inclusive economic recovery, upholding human rights and the rule of law, and protecting the country’s sovereignty.”

That “sovereignty” nudge was a reminder of the massive amount of loans Sri Lanka has taken from China for infrastructure projects, one of which two years ago prompted The New York Times to write this headline: “How China Got Sri Lanka To Cough Up A Port.” That was a dig at the $1.5 billion southern port in Hambantota, built with Chinese loans, that the debt-strapped Sri Lankan government gave to the Chinese on a 99-year lease as part of a $1.1 billion debt swap.

The Sri Lankan public was not privy, however, to the mood inside the Chinese embassy on Friday, following the pro-China Rajapaksas’ triumph. They are “so happy,” was the sentiment making the rounds within some Colombo-based diplomatic circles.

Foreign policy insiders in the country regard these rhetorical cues as a hint of the “diplomatic balancing act” that looms for the new government in Sri Lanka, increasingly wooed by China, India, the U.S. and Japan, all covetous of the island’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean.

Yet, the foreign policy insiders are sanguine. The decisive electoral mandate won by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, or SLPP, will afford the Rajapaksas enough political stability to chart a firmer diplomatic course.

“One thing out of the way with the general elections is we will not have partisan quarrels over foreign policy,” said a veteran Sri Lankan diplomat, referring to the previous coalition government, one marked by disunity when it came to foreign relations with China, India and the U.S. “The people’s mandate gives the government a stable domestic platform to deal with foreign powers.”

The elections cemented the Rajapaksas’ political comeback after a five-year lapse. In November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s younger brother, won a sweeping mandate in the presidential election. The brothers had risen to dominate the country for a decade during Mahinda’s two terms as president, which came to an end in January 2015.

It was during Mahinda’s presidency that Sri Lanka tilted

toward China, ending decades of influence that India had enjoyed. Beijing poured in military assets that enabled the Rajapaksas to end Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war and followed it up with billions of dollars worth of infrastructure loans to help revive the war-shattered economy.

The general elections also serve as a reminder: Foreign-funded infrastructure projects and foreign assistance have become political fodder and will pose an early foreign policy challenge for the Rajapaksa brothers’ new administration.

On the eve of the elections, a Colombo port trade union with ties to the Rajapaksa camp launched a protest to stop the development of a container terminal that India, Japan and Sri Lanka agreed to build last year.

Likewise, speakers on SLPP platforms during the campaign opposed Sri Lanka signing a deal for a $480 million grant from the U.S. government under its so-called Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is aimed at improving logistics and transportation on the island. Anti-U.S. sentiment was also stoked by Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which mentions Sri Lanka and a need to counter China’s presence in the nation.

According to Palitha Kohona, a former Sri Lankan foreign secretary, it will be difficult to ignore the national mood laid bare during the elections. “There is pressure on the government not to hand over the terminal to Japan and India … and the political mood is entirely against the MCC,” Kohona said. “It is also a reaction that you cannot conduct foreign policy by giving out bits and pieces of our real estate.”

Seasoned geopolitical observers reckon that New Delhi, Tokyo and Washington recognize the edge China will enjoy under a Rajapaksa administration. “India, Japan and the U.S. have long been concerned that Sri Lanka may go down Pakistan’s path: become another country in South Asia that is heavily indebted to China,” said Aparna Pande, director for the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think-tank.

“[But] what Delhi-Tokyo-Washington will need to understand is that Colombo has access to a constant tap of dollars from Beijing,” Pande added, “and that they will need to be willing to disburse more money if they want to play the game.”

Well-placed sources within Sri Lanka’s financial sector point to the country’s need for a financial lifeline as the $88 billion economy teeters on the brink of a worsening crisis. The island’s international reserves have shrunk to $6.5 billion, and growth is forecast to contract by 1.3% this year, a further drop from the 2.5% in 2019, the worst in 18 years.

Gotabaya has already made desperate appeals to India and China for relief from mounting external debt payments that will average over $4 billion a year until 2024. China has already stepped forward with a $500 million loan. India has pledged $450 million.

“We need every dollar we can lay our hands on,” said the head of a Colombo-based financial sector company. “The Rajapaksas cannot antagonize our allies — they need foreign friends, not foreign enemies, to tap funds.”

Japan, which holds 10% of Sri Lanka’s debt, a share matched by China, will matter in this equation. It appears not to have been lost in Tokyo’s tweet to congratulate the new Rajapaksa administration.

“Japan, as a long-standing friend of Sri Lanka, will continue to support Sri Lanka’s effort towards further development as a hub of the Indian Ocean region,” it said.

 



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HRCSL: No prisoners were used in 09 May attacks on protesters

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AG, CJ asked to take action against lawyer for triggering violence

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has declared that a false allegation by President of the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera that some prisoners were used to attack anti-government protesters outside Temple Trees and at Galle Face on 09 May triggered violence in many parts of the country.

The HRCSL also faulted Sudesh Nadimal Silva also of the same organisation for propagating unsubstantiated allegations.

Justice (ret.) Rohini Marasinghe, in her capacity as the Chairperson of the HRCSL, said that both Senaka Perera and Sudesh Nandimal had failed to substantiate their allegations made at the Galle Face protest site on 10 May.

The HRCSL, in a statement issued yesterday (29) quoted Justice Marasinghe as having said: “False propaganda as well as misinformation of the alleged use of Prisoners to have attacked the innocent protesters is both a diabolical lie and a deceitful action.”

The HRCSL has recommended that Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam conduct a further investigations into allegations made by Senaka Perera and take necessary action

The HRCSL has requested Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, to take note of the detrimental statements made by Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera and take due action.

The HRCSL consists of Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan.

The HRCSL dealt with the issue in a statement titled ‘The HRCSL condemns the false media broadcast made by the President of the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners’.

The HRCSL issued the statement after the conclusion of a special investigation by an appointed committee of investigators (Col).

CoI consisted of Sanjeewa Weerawickrama, Attorney -at- Law, Miss. lmasha Senadeera, Attorney-at-Law and Dr. Dilshani Bogollagama.

Referring to allegation that prisoners had been used to attack protesters at protest sites at Galle Face and Temple Trees, the HRCSL said that the CoI determined that no prisoners had been used in perpetrating any attack on the peaceful protesters.

The HRCSL asserted that the unsubstantiated allegations caused an irreversible damage to the country.

The HRCSL said that a group of prisoners had been seriously assaulted and subjected to mental and physical torture by an unidentified group on 09 May.

The HRCSL stated: “The unprecedented ruthless nature of the attack on prisoners and officials resulted in injuries and hospitalization of many inmates.” Since the incidents, eight prisoners hadn’t been accounted for so far, it has said.

The prisoners had been made available to the private sector enterprises in terms of an agreement endorsed by the Cabinet of Ministers in Oct 2021. On the day of the incidents, a group of prisoners had been taken to a designated work place and were on their way back when gangs intercepted them.

“Attorney at Law Mr. Senaka Perera, the convener of the conference identified himself as a Human Rights Activist. The COI provided the CPRP president Mr. Senaka Perera with the opportunity to justify his statements that caused an outrage in both Sri Lanka and the World at large. For the purpose of submission of any evidence, in either oral statements or picture documentation in support of his statements, Mr. Perera was extended a justifiable time period. However, he expressly affirmed before the Committee that at the time of the statement or even thereafter he did not have any tangible evidence in favor of his expressed views in regard to the alleged incident. Mr. Sudesh Nadimal Silva was also summoned to give evidence before the COl. The Committee explaining the paramount importance of the maintenance of professional ethics provided Mr. Sudesh Nadimal Silva with the opportunity to provide a justifiable explanation for his expressed allegations. However, he was unable to provide any acceptable evidence in support of his statements.

The COI observed that the press conference which was chaired by M. Senaka Perera had dispensed totally false statements without any sustantive evidence.

“Following the above-mentioned facts, the COI has identified the grave consequences of the negligent attitude of making unfounded statements. Inciting agitation in the general public against state departments and personnel has inadvertently led to disruptions to the law and order of the Country.

“The COI further observed that these inaccurate declarations conveyed by the above speakers directly contributed to the series of violent activities and right violations, reported island wide. The combined result of the atrocities that occurred within a mere 48 hours resulted in the loss of 12 human lives with several hundred injured casualties. In addition, intentional damage and arson to both public and private properties surmount to the loss of billions of rupees.

“After a thorough and diligent inquiry, the COI has arrived at the following conclusions. The highly irresponsible misconduct by the Attorney-of-Law Senaka Perera, with his speculative allegations with no substantiated evidence, resulted in disastrous consequences.

“Hence, it is of paramount importance that members of professional bodies need to be guided by the code of conduct or the professional ethics as set out by the respective professional bodies for the due conduct of the members. These conditions of misconduct from individuals of representation and influence should be held accountable by the respective professional bodies.

It is the view of the COI that national media institutions must consciously adhere to responsible reporting and promote journalism with integrity, especially during this volatile period of both political and economic instability. This tantamount to avoidance of direct reporting of incidence without due assessment of this veracity and credibility. The Committee further advocates promotion of investigative journalist practices with the objective of strengthening the democratic fabric of the Country.”

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IMF end-of-mission report highlights ‘corruption vulnerabilities’ in Sri Lanka

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By Sanath Nanayakkare

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) personnel that remained in Sri Lanka for ten days from 20-30 June to study the exact reasons for the current economic crisis in the country and design a comprehensive economic programme have stressed the need to reduce ‘corruption vulnerabilities’ in Sri Lanka.

The need for tackling corruption has been listed right below the IMF’s concerns about containing rising levels of inflation and addressing severe balance of payments (BOP) pressures of the country.

Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf, Deputy Director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department, participated in policy discussions. At the end of the mission, Messrs. Breuer and Nozaki issued the following statement:

“Sri Lanka is going through a severe economic crisis.

The economy is expected to contract significantly in 2022, while inflation is high and rising. The critically low-level of foreign reserves has hampered the import of essential goods. During the in-person visit, the team witnessed some of the hardships currently faced by the Sri Lankan people, especially the poor and vulnerable who are affected disproportionately by the crisis. We reaffirm our commitment to support Sri Lanka at this difficult time in line with the IMF’s policies.

“The authorities’ monetary, fiscal policy and other actions since early April were important first steps to address the crisis. The team had constructive and productive discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities on economic policies and reforms to be supported by an IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement. The staff team and the authorities made significant progress on defining a macroeconomic and structural policy package. The discussions will continue virtually with a view to reaching a staff-level agreement on the EFF arrangement in the near term. Because public debt is assessed as unsustainable, Executive Board approval would require adequate financing assurances from Sri Lanka’s creditors that debt sustainability will be restored.

“The authorities have made considerable progress in formulating their economic reform programme and we are looking forward to continuing the dialogue with them.”

The IMF team held meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Dr. P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, Secretary to the Treasury K M Mahinda Siriwardana, and other senior government and CBSL officials. It also met with MPs, representatives from the private sector, civil society organisations and development partners.

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JVP Leader talks of final solution with people drawn to the streets

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has accomplished the mission of saving the Rajapaksas.

Speaking at a JVP rally in Matara on Wednesday, Dissanayake said people had thought Wickremesinghe was a man accepted by the international community and he could resolve the crisis in next to no time.

“Nothing of the sort has happened. The crisis has worsened. In the meantime, the Rajapaksas have been enabled to come out from their hiding places. Wickremesinghe brought Mahinda Rajapaksa from Trincomalee to Colombo and then to Parliament. Wickremesinghe saved Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was contemplating his resignation. Namal Rajapaksa was not to be seen at all. There were public protests demanding the confiscation of property belonging to Namal Rajapaksa, but Wickremesinghe after becoming the Prime Minister enabled Namal to come out of hiding and go to parliament. Today, Namal is seen with the Energy Minister at meetings to discuss solutions for the oil shortage. When the crisis was brewing Yoshitha Rajapaksa left the country for Australia. Lankans in Australia started searching for him in hotels there. After Wickremesinghe became the prime minister, Yoshitha came back. Basil Rajapaksa, whose name is now mentioned in a case report as Mr Ten Percent, too, is still active in politics. Wickremesinghe has achieved his mission of saving the Rajapaksas. Did he do anything to save the people from the crisis? No, he only served as the spokesman of the crisis,” Dissanayake said.

People were dying in queues and they suffered that plight without any of their party affiliations, Dissanayake. “Today, all are in queues. There are UNP, SLFP, JVP and Communist Party members in the queues and languish together. It shows that we all have to come out together against the rulers responsible for our plight. We must sink our political differences and come together to get rid of the corrupt rulers. We must take to the streets, but before that we must have a clear understanding of how we are going to take back the stolen wealth of the people. Simple change of power would not ensure their recovery. We must fight with a clear vision. We soon will announce a day and call upon people to suspend whatever they are doing and come to the street to join the final push to send them home,” the JVP leader said.

NPP Matara District Ex Co Member Saroja Savithri Paulraj and former Kalutara District JVP MP Dr Nalinda Jayatissa also addressed the meeting which was the third in a series of the party’s countrywide rallies started from Anuradhapura last Sunday.

 

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