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State Minister Dr. Godahewa explains govt economic strategy 

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State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa told the parliament on Saturday (21) the government launched a pragmatic programme to lift millions of people from poverty.  The minister said that when one member of a family under extreme poverty received a permanent employment opportunity, the entire family achieved some degree of economic stability. The 100,000 jobs programme aimed to achieve that objective. Rs. 4,000 grant for vocational trainees also aimed to give opportunities for the youth of poor families, the minister said.

Dr. Godahewa said: “At the time of the 2015 regime change, I was serving as the Chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka which regulates Colombo Stock Market. Generally, Stock market is considered to be the barometer of any economy. Because investor confidence and stock market indices have a direct correlation. Typically the market slumps when investor confidence shatters.

 During the post war period between 2010 and 2015, market capitalization of Colombo stock market jumped by 535% and as a percentage of GDP it increased from 11% to 36%. All Share Price Index (ASPI) gained 255% during that period. Colombo stock market had even won accolades as the most promising and sustainable stock market in Asia.

 The IMF in its report dated 29 June 2014 identified Sri Lanka as one of the fastest growing economies of Asia. International rating agency Moody’s in July 2014 stated that the strength of the Sri Lankan economy is reflected in its increasing per capita income and global competitiveness index rating. 

 By this time Sri Lanka was holding Asia’s 1st or 2nd positions in almost all key economic indicators. In 2014 GDP grew by 6.8%. Total GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2014 was US Dollars 80 Billion and Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) forecast was Sri Lanka GDP to reach USD 163 Billion by 2020. Per Capita Income of US Dollars 3,654 in 2014 was anticipated to reach USD 7,500 by 2020.

 Unfortunately the ones, who are trying to teach us economic management sitting in the opposition benches today, are the same people who came to power in 2015 January. The opposition had similar arguments and criticisms before 2015 as well.  But when they came to power, as a group they proved how incompetent they are. Economic growth slumped year after year. 

2015 it came down to 5%

2016 it further reduced to 4.5%

2017 3.9% 

2018 3.1%

2019 2.1 %

 Though we anticipated per capita income to reach US Dollar 7,500 by 2020, it stagnated at USD 3,852 by end of 2019. GDP Per Capita didn’t even gain by US Dollar 50 in 2019.The first finance minister of the Yahapalana government Ravi Karunanayake in 2019 made a public statement that the country was heading towards bankruptcy. With that kind of economic collapse and a trend, the economic growth rate would have been a negative figure with or without Coronavirus pandemic.

 Unfortunately, it is such a team of losers who are trying to teach us economic management today in this parliament.

 The reasons for their failures are obvious. They didn’t have a common vision or a program as it was just an unholy coalition consisting of ad hoc political groups formed merely to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 Our government’s approach to economic management is completely different. We have a clear economic vision. That is people centric economic policy articulated in His Excellency President’s “Vision for Prosperity and Splendor” framework.

 A National budget should be formulated based on a government policy framework. Yahapalanaya had 10 policy statements for their 5 years. Budget speeches were prepared based on the serving finance minister’s will but not based on any stipulated economic policy.

 One has to first read the “Vision for Prosperity and Splendor” policy framework in order to understand the crux of this budget that we are debating. Then it would become a no-brainer to understand the concepts behind these budget proposals.

 I would like to elaborate a bit more on this.

 Vision for Prosperity policy statement has a 10 pillar policy framework. What are those 10 policies?

1. 

    Priority to national security

2.  

   Friendly, non-aligned foreign policy

3. 

    An administration free from corruption

4. 

    New constitution that fulfills people’s wishes

5. 

    Productive citizenry and vibrant human resources

6. 

    People centric economic development

7. 

    Technology based society

8.

     Development of physical resources

9. 

    Sustainable environmental management

10.

  Disciplined , law abiding and value based society

 

If these budget proposals are thoroughly analyzed, one could realize that the due attention has been paid to all ten areas. Each and every budget proposal is allied to one or more policies.

 If I take a simple example, the increasing of retirement age in the private sector to 60 years comes under “a productive citizen” policy. Re-forestation programme and 2 million trees planting along the roadways come under “Sustainable Environmental Management” policy. Rs.20,000 million allocation for national security is due to its utmost importance. Allocations of Rs. 10,000 million for technology parks and Rs. 8,000 million for digital infrastructure are based on our “Technology based society” policy. 100,000 kilometers of rural road construction with an investment of Rs. 20,000 million and allocation of Rs. 8,000 million for improving rural schools is due to our priority policy for the “Development of physical resources”.

 Since we are debating national budget proposals, for a moment let’s explore what is meant by people centric development. After receiving a historic mandate, His Excellency in his inaugural speech in this parliament articulated 4 priority areas of his economic policy.

 Firstly, finding solutions for the eradication of poverty

Secondly, creating equal opportunities for everyone to prosper

Thirdly, ensuring an administration free from corruption

Fourthly, encouraging and strengthening local entrepreneurship

 In some cases the reason for poverty is the landlessness and in turn, their inability to cultivate economic crops. As outlined by the President in his address to the nation yesterday, the objective of giving one acre each for 20,000 families is to achieve this objective. Everyone should have an opportunity to prosper in a people centric economy and it is the responsibility of the government to remove roadblocks for the same. Higher education doors should be opened to all youth and we should create a conducive environment to produce more and more entrepreneurs amongst them.

 That’s why we have paid special attention to expand the capacities and reform curriculums in universities and vocational training institutes in this year’s proposals. City campuses are being initiated based on these objectives. This budget has provisions to increase the intake for vocational training institutes from 100,000 to 200,000. 

 Today many countries have leveraged technology to uplift the productivity of the government. Hence a special attention has been paid in this budget to foster the technology usage in the government sector. Online tax administration process and e-filing of corporate taxes are good examples. 

 Private sector has a vital role to play in the economic development process. This budget has several proposals to uplift the local entrepreneurs. Special tax concessions have been granted for agriculture and fisheries sectors. Students who enroll for vocational training are encouraged to start a business by offering Rs. 500,000 loan at concessionary interest rates.

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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