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US wants to get it ‘technically,factually and legally right’



Dinesh insists SL is neutral, non-aligned

By Shamindra Ferdinando

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo yesterday (28) side-stepped a query whether the government of Sri Lanka had requested him to reconsider the travel ban imposed on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva on the basis of unsubstantiated and unverified war crimes allegations.

The US in February this year slapped a travel ban on wartime GoC of the celebrated 58 Division and his family on the basis of the Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by the previous yahapalana administration in Oct 2015.

The media raised the issue at the Foreign Ministry after Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Secretary of State Pompeo addressed the press.

Earlier in the day, Pompeo met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat. Among those present on both occasions was one-time Foreign Secretary Ravintha Aryasinha named the next Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington.

Asked for comment on the current status of the US action against Lt. Gen. Silva, Pompeo, the one-time head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said: “It is a legal process in the US. We always continue to review it. We want to make sure; we get it technically, factually and legally right.”

Pompeo functioned as CIA Director from January 2017 to April 2018 before he received appointment as Secretary of State. The US quit the Geneva-based UNHRC two months after Pompeo took over the State Department.

Pompeo launched a scathing attack on China when the local media asked whether the US was seeking to neutralise growing Chinese influence here by way of MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation), SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) as well as strategy adopted by US-India-Japan-Australia quartet as part of the overall strategy to counter Beijing. Pompeo was also asked what he was trying to accomplish here just days ahead of the US presidential election.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena authorized signing of ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) in early August 2017.

Pompeo emphasized that the US wanted Sri Lankans to have sovereignty and independence. Reiterating their commitment as a friend and partner, Pompeo said as democracies they shared a vision. Declaring that he was here to explore ways and means of taking the US-Sri Lanka relationship forward, Pompeo said: “We want to make sure the people of Sri Lanka have the capacity to execute their sovereign rights to remain independent.”

Comparing the Chinese policies with those of the US and other democracies, such as India, Pompeo alleged that the Chinese had a ‘very different vision’.

The US-based media accompanying the Secretary of State asked Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena whether Sri Lanka welcomed further enhancement of US presence in the region. Sri Lanka’s response was sought against the backdrop of growing Chinese influence in the region. Minister Gunawardena, having emphasized the importance of US-Sri Lanka relations reiterated: “We are a neutral, non-aligned country committed to peace. On that principle, we continue our relations with the US and other countries.”

Minister Gunawardena, in his opening address at the joint press event, made reference to the US Secretary of State being in Colombo the day before the countries celebrated the establishment of diplomatic ties 72 years ago.

Minister Gunawardena said: “As a sovereign, free, independent nation Sri Lanka’s foreign policy will remain neutral, non-aligned and friendly. Conscious of the opportunities and responsibilities that come with our strategic location, we see the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in our seas and air space also protecting sea lines of communication and the undersea cables. We believe all countries should adhere to and respect international law, including the UN Convention on Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. We share views on the potential multifaceted maritime cooperation which Sri Lanka is keen to progress.”



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



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



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



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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