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Tougher laws called for to halt maligning of female candidates in social media

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… sexual misconduct insinuated to scare them off

Text and pix by PRIYAN DE SILVA

Former member of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Prof. Rathnajeevan Hoole said that tight laws were needed to curb maligning of women in social media, or no woman would come forward and contest an election. He added that accusing female candidates of sexual misconduct was a terrible thing.

Hoole said such baseless allegations had been levelled against female candidates in the Eastern Province, and TNA National List candidate Ambika Sathkunanathan had also been a victim. 

The victims of libel could not resort to legal action due to the cost factor, Prof. Hoole said, suggesting that the parties they represent come forward to have the culprits brought to justice. Mangaleshwari Shankar who possibly led the popularity ratings among the females in the Batticaloa District of the Eastern Province, nominated to contest the 2020 parliamentary election, said it was not easy for women to engage in politics.

“It is terrible” she said, noting that even months after the election there were attacks on her in social media.

A lawyer by profession Mangalaeshwari, better known as Mangala Shankar, is a human rights activist, a former Legal Manager at Transparency International Sri Lanka; she also worked for the Centre for Human Rights Development (CHRD) and at present is a visiting lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka. She also worked extensively with women’s organisations  in the district, and this prompted her to take to politics. She made her intention known to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which did not show any interest, but a few days before nominations closed she was invited by all the main parties including the TNA to contest.

 She opted to accept the invitation of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai  Pluvial (TMVP), even though it was not the most popular party. Thereafter, a smear campaign was launched against her.

  “In early July a fake Facebook page in my name was created by someone and  initially it  duplicated the posts on my actual Facebook page but later on posts appeared  defaming other candidates.

 “Everyone thought, I was behind those attacks, and I complained to the Police, the Elections Commission, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and subsequently to Facebook itself, she said. The page was removed by Facebook in the first week of September but the damage had already been done. 

 She also said that there were hundreds of other social media accounts that posted insulting, humiliating and abusive posts in Tamil.

In Batticaloa, Mangala Shankar was not the only female candidate to be defamed in that manner. Senior Lecturer at the Eastern University Dr. Chandra Mahendran said that there had been a sinister campaign to prevent her from contesting. She had to overcome many obstacles even before she was able to sign the nomination papers.

Ambika Sathkunanathan was on the TNA National List. Baseless allegations were made against her, as well.



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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