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Vaccinations: eminent group follows-up with Prez., PM and ministers

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The group of eminent academics, professionals and civic activists, led by former Colombo University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Savitri Gunasekera, who wrote to the Director General of Health earlier this month (Sunday Island June 6) together with some others have now written a follow-up letter to the President, Prime Minister, the Health Minister and state ministers of health.

We reproduce its text below:

“We are writing to you as a follow up to our letter to the Director General Health, which appeared in the Sunday Island of June 6, 2021.

We raised in that letter certain  critical issues in regard to the current Covid vaccination programme. We highlighted the need for clarity in policy planning and programming and the importance of ensuring equitable access to Covid vaccines.

We asked that all front line workers providing Covid health services should be given priority. We questioned the exclusion of some and the need for rational system for determining front line workers and vulnerable categories. That should be given priority in the administration of the vaccine.

“We trust that the specific questions we have asked will receive clear answers from the Director General. We hope that the Minister of Health and State Ministers will facilitate that process as soon as possible, and as a matter of urgency. This will inspire public  confidence in the health system that the whole country witnessed, and was  acknowledged even globally, when the government commenced its Covid response programme in 2020.   

“We now understand that some stocks of Astrazeneca vaccine are still available for distribution. We also understand from an official press release and the media that new stocks of Astrazeneca  have arrived or are expected soon. We are now writing to urge and call upon you to please ensure that this vaccine is distributed in a completely transparent and planned manner to those citizens who received the first Astrazeneca vaccine.

 “All those who received the first Astrazeneca vaccine in the initial phase of  the Ministry of Health vaccination programme (after February 2021),  have a right to receive the second in the manner that is medically recommended. There is a lack of clarity in regard to the recommended period of time between the two doses of the vaccine. Already three months have passed since the first Astrazeneca vaccine was administered. A prolonged lapse of time between the vaccines can make the vaccine ineffective. This will impact on the success of the vaccination campaign in responding to the Covid pandemic. It is the duty of the Health Ministry to ensure that the second Astrazeneca vaccine is given to persons who received the first, as soon as the vaccines come to the country, without any further delays.

 “In doing so, we ask that within this group, priority is given to all front line workers directly involved in Covid health services, and to citizens over the age of 60-years, taking account of the date and the locations of the vaccination points. These are categories considered most vulnerable to the Covid disease globally, and according to the evidence base and statistics currently available in Sri Lanka. The Director General in media statements on the Ministry of Health guidelines, has also recognized senior citizens as a vulnerable category that must be given first priority in vaccine distribution and  administration. This is being recognized (and should continue to be recognized) in relation to the current Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccination distribution.

“Denying citizens their right to receive the second Astrazeneca vaccine in completion of the first part of their vaccination regime is a violation of the right to equality and non-discrimination in access to health care.  We call upon you to ensure that necessary priority is given to all front line workers and other identified vulnerable categories in the administration of the second Astrazeneca vaccine. Early information on the date and time for vaccinations should be provided as is the practice now followed in regard to the new vaccines, which have come into the country.

“Successive governments have respected, fulfilled and protected the important right to equitable access to health care from the time of independence, for over 70 years. We call upon the Government to collectively fulfill this responsibility to the People, in administering what is left of the Astrazeneca vaccines and in distributing new stocks.”

 

The signatories to the letter are:

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law and Former Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo; Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Retired from UN/DESA, New York; Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict;  Prof. Arjuna Aluvihare, Emeritus Professor of Surgery and former Vice Chancellor, University of Peradeniya, former Chairman, University Grants Commission; Prof. Gananath Obeysekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA; Bishop Duleep de Chickera, retired Anglican Bishop of Colombo; Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, former Executive Director of the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission; Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, former Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Prof. Deepika Udagama, Professor of Law, University of Peradeniya, former Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; Prof. Camena Guneratne, Department of Legal Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka; Prof Gameela Samarasinghe, Department of Sociology, University of Colombo; Dr A. C. Visvalingam – Past President, Society of Structural Engineers, Sri Lanka; Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, former General Secretary of the National Christian Council, former Principal of the Theological College of Sri Lanka; Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Retired Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA; Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Attorney-at-Law, Commissioner, Legal Aid Commission of Sri Lanka; and Mr. SCC Elankovan, Attorney-at-Law and social activist



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Pandora Papers disclosure: Int’l cooperation essential to hold wrongdoers accountable – TISL

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Three RTI applications filed calling for information about asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) says international cooperation through diplomatic channels is essential to hold offshore enablers and asset destinations accountable.

TISL has said that in addition to a complaint filed with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), three RTI (Right to Information) applications have been filed seeking asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa. TISL has also written to the FIU (Financial Investigation Unit) calling for immediate investigation into potential money laundering claims.

TISL has said in a media statement: “The Pandora Papers exposé provides clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and demonstrates the importance of ensuring the transparency of beneficial ownership of entities. Particularly in Sri Lanka, the Pandora Papers refer to extensive assets held offshore by former Deputy Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan. TISL in its initial statement following the revelations, called on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that independent investigations are carried out expeditiously into the revelations made by tPandora Papers. Since then, the President has called on the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) to investigate the claims made by Pandora Papers.

TISL has taken several steps since the initial statement, pertaining to the revelations made by Pandora Papers.

One 07 October 2021, TISL filed a complaint with CIABOC, calling for an investigation into the alleged unexplained assets of the former Deputy Minister and her husband who has been identified as Politically Exposed Persons (PEP). TISL noted that the transactions revealed through this exposé could amount to offences under Section 23A of the Bribery Act, Section 4(1) of the CIABOC Act, and relevant provisions of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, and requested the Commission to probe into the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa relating to her tenure as a Member of Parliament. TISL requested CIABOC to investigate whether public funds have been embezzled and laundered to these foreign safe havens.

TISL also wrote to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on 13th October, calling on them to coordinate with relevant law enforcement authorities at both local and international level to investigate potential money laundering allegedly committed by the former Member of Parliament and her spouse. The FIU, as the central independent body established in terms of the provisions of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 06 of 2006 (FTRA), is empowered to facilitate the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences related to money laundering and terrorist financing.

Through the letter TISL requested the FIU to take further steps to furnish the authorities with evidence, examining the financial transactions that have flowed in and out of Sri Lanka by coordinating with local and foreign financial institutions connected to these two individuals.

TISL has also filed three Right to Information Requests to the Elections Commission, Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Presidential Secretariat, calling for the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa as an election candidate, Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister respectively

 The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No 1 of 1975 makes it mandatory for Parliamentarians and senior public officials to annually submit a declaration of assets and liabilities, which includes the assets and liabilities of their spouse and dependent children. If the former Parliamentarian has not disclosed the overseas assets revealed through Pandora Papers, she will be in breach of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. Therefore, her asset declarations would be a key tool to identify whether the overseas assets of the deputy minister, her spouse and children revealed through Pandora Papers have been disclosed at the time.”

TISL Executive Director, Nadishani Perera, commenting on the matter stated “We urge the relevant authorities in the country to take immediate action to independently investigate the revelations made by Pandora Papers. It is important that the due process is followed without any interference, obstructions or delays. For the PEPs implicated, there remains a path to clearing their name, if they were to heed the call of the public by making the relevant asset declarations public. A thorough and impartial investigation will also bolster faith in the law enforcement agencies of the country and prove to be an important deterrent against perpetrators of white-collar crimes.”

The TISL Executive Director also noted that “while it is important to take stringent action to prevent foreign currency unlawfully flowing out of the country into secrecy jurisdictions, it is also imperative that countries like Sri Lanka take this issue up on a diplomatic level in order to ensure financial institutions in countries such as Singapore are also held accountable and that steps are taken to recover any proceeds of crime back to our country from these asset destinations.”

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German flight delay caused by pilot’s credit card problem, says AASL chief

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By Sirimanta Ratanasekera

Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka (AASL) Ltd, Maj Gen (Retd) G. A. Chandrasiri said that a false and malicious accusation had been levelled that the officials attached to the Bandaranaike International Airport had unnecessarily delayed a German charter flight that arrived at the airport for emergency landing with 226 passengers.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri denied the allegation.

A Condor flight with 226 passengers travelling from Germany to the Maldives made an emergency landing on 26 Sept at the BIA around 11.25 am due to inclement weather in the Maldivian air space.

However, when the flight attempted to leave Sri Lanka around 1 pm, officials of the German charter airline, Condor, faced delays of about one hour when paying landing fees, since their credit cards had not been activated to make international payments.

“Now some parties, with vested interests to tarnish the good name of our airport, are spreading false rumours that the credit machines at the airport were dysfunctional. This is a malicious accusation,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

He said that a three-member committee, led by a President’s Counsel, had been appointed to conduct an investigation and he would receive the investigation report within two days.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri said that the German charter airline so far had not raised any issue or made any complaint in the incident. He said that the AASL would inform the Condor airline of the situation after he received the report.

“As at 2020 January, the BIA had been an airport catering to around 20,000 passengers daily. This came to a halt following the pandemic. Now, it is coming back to its former situation. It is at this juncture those with malicious interests try to tarnish our name. If the flight in question made a normal landing it would have been our responsibility but it was an emergency,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

AASL Operational Director Shehan Sumanasekera said that there had been some false media reports about the incident. “I myself monitored the entire scenario from CCTV and made inquiries from relevant officials. There were no lapses on the part of the airport or officials. It was a problem with the credit cards of the pilots of the flight.

State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development DV Chanaka said that he too had called for a report on the matter, which is due to be submitted tomorrow.

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Verite shows how Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics

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Verité Research, a private think tank that provides strategic analysis for Asia, hosted the online discussion Steering out of the Debt Crisis: Recipe for Budget 2022 on Oct 14. The event was anchored around addressing Sri Lanka’s debt and USD liquidity crisis, and featured presentations by Executive Director, Nishan de Mel, Research Director, Deshal de Mel, and Analyst Anushan Kapilan. An expert panel included Dr. Shantayanan Devaranjan (Georgetown University), Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe (former Senior Deputy Governor – CBSL) and Dr. Mick Moore (Institute of Development Studies – UK).

A press release issued by the think tank said: Verité Research presented analysis pertaining to debt management and fiscal measures, including specific proposals to increase government revenue and improve the allocation of expenditure.

The Verité Research analysis showed that Sri Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics by meeting two conditions with regard to its domestic debt, and two further conditions with regard to its foreign debt. The presentation explained that, despite some challenges, achieving these conditions was feasible for Sri Lanka – provided policy-makers choose to do so.

The main challenges arise from poorly formulated fiscal/budget measures, coupled with the pandemic-induced setbacks which have resulted in successive downgrades of Sri Lanka’s credit ratings. As a result, Sri Lanka has been locked out of global capital markets, and rapidly depleted its foreign reserves, as it has continued to pay back foreign bondholders, at the expense of negative feedback on the local economy.

The Verité Research analysis showed that the worst is yet to come. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserve would be completely depleted by the end of 2022 if no surprise inflows materialise, and even if they did, the crisis would simply re-emerge in 2023. This means that even if Sri Lanka can claim to be technically solvent, it does not have the liquidity to sustainably pay back its foreign debt until the country credit rating is improved by at least two notches.

The current path of repaying debt offers a high return to bondholders at the expense of huge pain to domestic businesses and consumers, and makes the credit rating outlook even more precarious. The solution is to share the pain with bondholders by pre-emptively restructuring the debt. This can improve the foreign reserve position more quickly, and thereby improve the country’s credit rating more quickly as well. This alternative path is less painful to the local economy, offers a faster recovery, with a higher probability of success. It is a better path for the Sri Lankan economy than repaying foreign bondholders in full, even if it were able to do so.

A clear distinction needs to be made between a forced restructuring which would occur if a country were to default in a disorderly way without negotiating with creditors, and an orderly pre-emptive restructuring of debt following negotiations with creditors. The sooner Sri Lanka moves to an orderly pre-emptive debt restructure, the easier it would be to do so, and the more favourable it would be for the Sri Lankan economy. Delaying the decision is damaging and can result in outcomes that are highly disruptive.

Currently the primary deficit is at 7.4% of GDP. At the current GDP growth rate of a little under 4% (predicted by Verité Research), it is necessary to reduce the primary deficit to around 2% of GDP or less to help stabilise the debt.

The Verité Research analysis showed that in the base case scenario with no policy changes, the debt to GDP Ratio would increase to 123.08% by 2025, however with prudent fiscal measures it can be kept down to 108.8% by 2025.

The fiscal measures proposed included the reduction of the personal income threshold to LKR 1 Mn per Annum; the reintroduction of PAYE with a threshold of LKR 1.5Mn; reintroduction of WHT on interest income; increasing the VAT rate to 10% in 2022 and to 12% in 2023; reducing the VAT free thresholds from LKR 300 Mn to LKR 150 Mn in 2022; simplifying the corporate tax regime to a three-tier regime; and increasing the total taxes on cigarettes and alcohol in line with increases in inflation and GDP according to a tobacco taxation formula introduced in the 2019 budget.

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