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UNDP supports ‘HackaDev Green Innovation Challenge’

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L-R: Hasanka Padukka, CEO of Vibhava Solutions Pvt Ltd & Co-founder of Thuru and Zerotrash; Nishshanka de Silva, Founder, Zero Plastic National Movement; Gayan Silva; Account Manager, Ideamart; Crishane Perera; Senior Business Solutions Engineering, Ideamart; Dushantha Ranwala, Tech Evangelist, Ideamart; Malin Herwig, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP in Sri Lanka; Kulunu Jayamanne, Coordination and Partnerships Associate, UNDP in Sri Lanka; Kithmini Nissanka, Knowledge Management and Reporting Associate, UNDP in Sri Lanka; Ashmi de Silva, Policy Research and Engagement Associate, UNDP in Sri Lanka and Ahamed Nishadh, Tech for Development Lead, UNDP in Sri Lanka.

The demand to develop and put into practice new and innovative sustainable lifestyle methods that contribute towards a greener economy continues to surge, now more than ever as Sri Lanka sees itself in the wake of an economic crisis. The recent fuel hikes seen the world over along with the rise in cost of living and essential goods and services has also caused a paradigm shift, resulting in the search for alternative methods to promote sustainable living.

 The Green Innovation Challenge, spearheaded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka, as part of its flagship youth programme, HackaDev, was launched in August this year to bring young people to the forefront in addressing these issues and creating a platform for youth to develop innovative solutions to combat the climate challenge and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 Encouraging further collaboration on the project, UNDP has partnered with Dialog Ideamart, Vibhava Solutions and Zero Plastic National Movement, three organisations that work towards a sustainable and greener Sri Lanka, to create awareness of the project, equip youth with the knowledge and skills to modify their solutions, and provide youth with the opportunity to network with domain experts. The partners met to ceremoniously exchange Letters of Engagement, before officially announcing the partnership towards the challenge.

 Following a national call for applications, and a subsequent idea auditions phase with over 100 ideas, the Green Innovation Challenge will now conduct a Social Innovation camp which will bring together 20 teams from all across the island to create a platform for Sri Lankan youth to collaborate with peers and tackle various development issues under thematic areas such as Water Management, Green Economy, Green Urban Living, Biodiversity and Conservation, Circular Economy and Eco-Friendly Living. Eventually, the teams will also undergo a selection process whereby they will be given funding and support to create sustainable social enterprises, encouraging them to be more actively involved in building a sustainable future for all.



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SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas

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underscore need to amend Exchange Control Act

By Shamindra Ferdinando

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, who represents the SLPP dissidents, yesterday (27) alleged that the incumbent government was yet to bring enough pressure to bear on those who had parked as much as USD 36 billion overseas to bring the money back.Cumaratunga said the government’s failure to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Budget proposal to draw more loans in 2023.

The leader of the civil society group Yuthukama, Cumaratunga, who represents the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, one of the breakaway factions of the ruling SLPP, said that two of his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, had, during the ongoing Budget debate, had raised the issue of forex stashed away overseas.

Cumaratunga said that he couldn’t comprehend why the government delayed making it mandatory for exporters to bring back much required foreign exchange.Responding to The Island queries, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasised that though the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget was approved on Nov. 22, with a majority of 37 votes, it failed to address even the basic issues. Cumaratunga was among 84 MPs who voted against the Budget whereas it received the backing of 121 lawmakers.

The other Yuthukama MP in Parliament Anupa Pasqual, now a State Minister, voted for the Budget.The parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for taking immediate measures to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, the MP said, pointing out in terms of Article 148 that dealt with public finance this issue should have been addressed long ago.

Cumaratunga was not an MP at the time the Yahapalana administration introduced that controversial legislation.The first-time entrant to Parliament said that the government was on its knees before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for USD 2.9 bn spread over a period of four years, whereas exporters deliberately denied the country more than 10 times that amount in much needed forex.

Addressing the Parliament during the debate on the Budget, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the role played by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in introducing the questionable piece of legislation.  Cumaratunga slammed Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, who previously held the Finance portfolio for ignoring the contentious issue of massive amount of money ‘parked’ overseas by exporters.

Declaring that Sabry hadn’t been involved with the then Joint Opposition following the 2015 change of government, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the circumstances under which the prominent President’s Counsel entered politics. The activist asked whether it was fair to accommodate Sabry on the SLPP National List in return for his role as leading lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his current role.

During two speeches in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga dealt with several contentious issues, including an alleged move to deprive farmers of their land. The outspoken MP warned the government of dire consequences of a decision regarding state land that was to be taken soon, while appealing for Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s intervention.

Referring to a steep increase in the allocation made to the President at the 2023 Budget, MP Cumaratunga said that the President received Rs 2,467 bn last year, Rs 3,044 bn this year and a staggering Rs 7,888 bn next year.

Appreciating a significant drop in the allocation made for the Premier, MP Cumaratunga said that the ministerial staff received Rs 132 bn last year, Rs 217 bn this year and Rs 263 bn next year. Such allocations should be studied taking into consideration the state of the national economy, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, alleging that the Budget didn’t reflect the actual situation.

The MP said that having received the executive presidency, through a vote in Parliament on July 20, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the UNP leader was pursuing an agenda contrary to what he preached as Premier (May 12-July 13, 2022).

Referring to statements made by Wickremesinghe during that period pertaining to the then proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in the President holding onto the Finance portfolio. The MP said as Premier Wickremesinghe continuously expressed the view that the President shouldn’t hold any Cabinet portfolio. The MP said that they were of the view that the President should hold the Defence portfolio. Having vowed to strengthen Parliament, President Wickremesinghe could justify his role as the Finance Minister. The President holds several other ministerial portfolios for want of an agreement with the SLPP pertaining to sharing of portfolios.

Referring to the Budget declaration that the government intended to procure Rs 1,000 bn in loans and settle loans amounting to Rs 440 bn, MP Cumaratunga said that the bottom line is the increase in debt. “Aren’t we getting further embroiled in a debt trap?” he asked.

MP Cumaratunga strongly criticized the government for planning to open Mahaweli lands to outsiders. The declaration that profit-making Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance would be privatized, on the pretext of restructuring, came under fire by the MP, who also expressed serious concerns over the proposed privatization of Hilton as well as profit-making sections of SriLankan Airlines.

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Security stickers on bottles of liquor: The corrupt make a killing – Buddhika

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More than 100,000 bottles of liquor with fake security stickers are currently in the market, says SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana. Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, recently, Pathirana said the security sticker racket has deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees in taxes.

“Leading liquor manufacturers are carrying out this racket with the help of some corrupt Excise officials. The business of counterfeit security stickers is far more lucrative than producing dud notes.  The QR codes printed on the so-called security stickers cannot be read by QR reader apps in mobile phones. Now, a lot of people know how to use mobile phones to scan QR codes to access information contained therein. Many software companies as well as open sources offer QR reader apps free of charge to be downloaded to the mobile phones.

“We have been warning of this security sticker project since inception. We have also warned that the company selected for printing QR code stickers for liquor is under a cloud.”

Pathirana said that State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya too had admitted that artificial toddy is for manufacturing arrack. “Minister Siyambalapitiya has stated that the country’s liquor industry needs at least 150,000 liters of toddy a day but only 45,000 litres can be produced from the coconut palms in the country, and the shortfall is met with artificial toddy. I know that he too is now in a position where he cannot fight against the racketeers because the Finance Ministry officials do not support him,” Pathirana said.

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Channa sees Ranil as night watchman playing ‘Dil Scoop’

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SLPP MP Prof Channa Jayasumana yesterday said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe should try to realise the task entrusted to him and must pave the way for an election.Addressing a public rally in Meerigama, Prof Jayasumana said that Wickremesinghe had been given the presidency for an interim period to stabilise the economy and political crisis. “He was brought in as the night watchman to stay put until the crisis was over. Instead of doing that job, he is now playing Dil Scoop.”

Prof. Jayasumana said that he would bring a Private Member’s Bill before Parliament shortly to provide for a snap presidential election. Prof Jayasumana said the Bill would propose a constitutional amendment requiring a presidential election to be held within one year after the appointment of an Acting President.

“According to the Constitution, a President can call for a presidential election after four years, but it is unclear whether a successive President is entitled to it. Therefore, the opinion of the Supreme Court must be sought in this regard,” the MP said.

“We hope to get it passed so that it will apply to Wickremesinghe as well. This would allow for a presidential election to be held in July 2023. If he wins this election, he can implement the political, economic and defence reforms he is planning,” Prof. Jayasumana said.

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