UNP informs NEC that Ranil has been appointed to Parliament

The United National Party (UNP) today informed the National Elections Commission (NEC) that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed by the party to fill the National List seat in Parliament.

UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara informed the NEC in writing today that Wickremesinghe will return to Parliament.

The Working Committee (WC) of the UNP had last month nominated Ranil Wickremesinghe to fill the National List seat in Parliament.

Earlier a number of UNP seniors had also proposed that Wickremesinghe return to Parliament through the National List seat.

The UNP suffered a humiliating loss at the last General Election and failed to secure a single seat in Parliament.

However, the UNP managed to secure a National List seat based on the total votes it received at the polls in August last year.

There was speculation earlier that UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene will fill the vacant seat.

Shani Abeysekera Released On Bail Under Strict Conditions Five Days After EU Resolution On Sri Lanka

Former CID Director Shani Abeysekera was released on bail five days after the European Union Parliament passed a strongly-worded resilution against the human rights track record of Sri Lanka.

The Court of Appeal granted bail to Abeysekera and another suspect under strict bail conditions.

The order was subsequent to a bail application filed by the senior police officer. Abeysekera, who was instrumental in a number of high-profile investigations, remained in custody for over a year.

The Resolution adopted by the EU Parliament yesterday also expressed “grave concern” about arbitrary arrests and detention under the PTA without due process, including for civil society activists, lawyers, writers and poets such as Hejaaz Hizbullah and Ahnaf Jazeem.

The Resolution also noted with concern the detention of Shani Abeysekara, the former Director of the Criminal Investigation Department.

Biden nominates career service diplomat as envoy to Sri Lanka

United States President Joe Biden has nominated foreign service woman diplomat Julie Chung to be the country’s next ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Currently serving as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, 49-year-old Julie Jiyoon Chung, who was nominated on Tuesday, needs to be confirmed by the Senate before she can head to the island nation.

Fluent in Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Khmer, Seoul-born Chung was previously Director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at the State Department.

She has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Economic Counsellor at the US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.

Chung was also the Chief of Staff to the Transition Coordinator at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. She has also served at the US embassies in Colombia, Vietnam and Japan, and the US Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. She is a Pickering Fellow.

Chung earned her Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of California-San Diego and her masters degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

She is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Secretary’s Distinguished Honour Award.

Biden announced a slate of ambassador nominations on Tuesday that included Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman Thomas Nides as the top diplomat to Israel and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as envoy to Mexico.

Biden is also nominating C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger — the retired pilot who safely landed a US Airways plane in the Hudson River — as an ambassador to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the White House said Tuesday.

With the nine nominations, Biden has now announced his choices for 18 ambassadorial nominations, all of which must be confirmed by the Senate. Thirteen of the selections are career diplomats, including his picks of Julie Chung to Sri Lanka, Sharon Cromer to Gambia, Troy Fitrell to Guinea and Marc Ostfield to Paraguay.

Julianne Smith, who served as Biden’s acting national security adviser when he was vice president, will be tapped as the top U.S. diplomat to NATO.

EU Parliament resolution puts spotlight on Sri Lanka’s rights situation

A recent resolution adopted by the European Parliament, urging the EU Commission to consider temporary withdrawal of the GSP+ status given to Sri Lanka, has put the spotlight back on the country’s human rights situation, prompting Colombo to defend its “multifaceted progress” in a response on Monday.

Sri Lanka regained the GSP +, or the EU’s ‘Generalised Scheme of Preferences’ in 2017, under the former Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe administration, on Colombo’s commitment to implement 27 international conventions on human rights, labour conditions, protection of the environment and good governance. The status effectively removes import duties on goods from Sri Lanka entering the EU.

The June 10 resolution, expressing “deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations”, — an observation earlier made by the UN human rights Chief — makes specific reference to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), widely termed draconian, pointing to the arrests of prominent lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and poet Ahnaf Jazeem, among others, who are in “arbitrary” detention for over a year.

The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities, while voicing “serious concern” about the 20th Amendment passed in 2020, and the “resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency”. It highlights “accelerating militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka, pointing to at least 28 serving or former military and intelligence personnel appointed to key administrative posts since 2020, after the Rajapaksas returned to power.

Responding, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said it regrets the adoption of the resolution that, it observed, “contains factual inaccuracies, and does not take cognizance of the multifaceted progress made by Sri Lanka in reconciliation and development.” Rejecting claims that the PTA is systematically used for arbitrary detentions, the Ministry government said it was “revisiting provisions” of the Act to propose “necessary amendments”, drawing upon international best practices, months after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expanded the PTA’s ambit.

The resolution comes ahead of a periodic review of the ‘GSP +’ concessions accorded to the country, that the government said, contributed significantly” to higher production, investment, and improvement of the human capital in Sri Lanka. The fisheries sector too had experienced “a notable growth”, benefitting from the concessions, the Foreign Ministry said in its statement, indicating the significance it attached to retaining the special trade concessions.

Apparently taking a different view, State Minister of Money, Capital Markets and Public Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal said the government is working out strategies to position itself to export Sri Lankan products “in a competitive business environment rather than depending on trade concessions such as GSP”, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

The EU is Sri Lanka’s second-largest trading partner — after China — and its second main export destination, absorbing 22.4% of Sri Lankan exports in 2020, mainly textiles and clothing, according to the European Commission. Following adoption of the resolution last week, Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa said in a tweet: “EU parliament resolution calling for the temporary suspension of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status will have a debilitating impact on our exports and the economy.”

Source:The Hindu

TNA and President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Meeting cancelled

The meeting between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and President Gotabhaya Rajapakse scheduled for tomorrow has been cancelled by the Presidential Secretariat, which has said it will be “postponed to another day”.

Sources in Colombo said that the president had decided to postpone the talks for the time being due to pressure in the south over the release of the details of the talks.

The Presidential Secretariat announced this evening to the TNA that a new talk date would be announced later.

Fitch Affirms Sri Lanka at ‘CCC’

Sri Lanka’s ‘CCC’ rating reflects a challenging foreign-currency sovereign external debt repayment burden over the medium term, low foreign-exchange reserves and high and rising government debt that gives rise to sustainability risks.

External liquidity pressures have eased somewhat in recent months following bilateral loan disbursements, and our expectation of a forthcoming IMF special drawing rights (SDR) allocation. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s medium-term debt service challenges are substantial and pose risks to the sovereign’s debt repayment capacity, in Fitch’s view. A total of about USD29 billion in foreign-currency debt obligations are due between now and 2026, against foreign-exchange reserves of USD4.5 billion as of end-April 2021.

The authorities have recently secured project financing through various multilateral and bilateral channels, including the Asian Development Bank (AAA/Stable), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AAA/Stable), China Development Bank (A+/Stable) and The Export-Import Bank of Korea (AA-/Stable), as well as swap facilities under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) currency framework and the People’s Bank of China, equivalent to USD400 million and USD1.5 billion, respectively. The planned IMF SDR allocation would also add USD780 million to reserves. These resources should enable Sri Lanka to meet its remaining debt maturities through the rest of this year, including a USD1 billion International Sovereign Bond maturing in July. However, the authorities have yet to specify their plans for meeting the country’s foreign-currency debt-servicing needs for 2022 and the medium term. They have consistently indicated that they do not plan to seek programme financing from the IMF.

We project foreign-exchange reserves to remain at about USD 4.5 billion by end-2021 before declining to USD3.9 billion by end-2022. Under our baseline, the current account deficit is likely to widen to 2.8% in 2021 and narrow to 2.1% of GDP in 2022. Our forecasts assume remittances will remain resilient in 2021-2022 and tourism is likely to recover only from 2022.

Sri Lanka’s economy contracted by 3.6% in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We project growth of 3.8% in 2021, down from an earlier forecast of 4.9%, in light of a recent surge in virus cases. We expect the economy to grow by 3.9% in 2022. There remains a high degree of uncertainty associated with our forecasts in light of the evolution of new Covid-19 cases in the country. The authorities plan to inoculate 60% of the population by end-2021, but this target could be hampered by vaccine supply shortages.

Travel and tourism, an important driver of the economy, have been hit hard and the outlook for recovery remains uncertain, particularly given the recent surge in virus cases. The direct contribution of tourism to pre-pandemic GDP was about 4%, but the indirect contribution was much higher. Tourist arrivals in the first five months of 2021 were 97% lower than the same period last year.

The general government deficit widened to 11.1% of GDP in 2020, from 9.6% in 2019, as the economic contraction led to a sharp fall in fiscal revenue. We expect the deficit to remain elevated in 2021 and 2022 at 11.1% and 10.4%, respectively. Our deficit projections are wider than those presented by the government under its growth-oriented strategy of 9.4% and 7.5%, respectively. Under our forecasts, the revenue-to-GDP ratio in 2021 would rise to 10.9% in 2021 and 11.1% in 2022, compared with the authorities’ projections of 11.9% and 13.0%, respectively.

The government’s fiscal consolidation strategy is based on a planned acceleration in GDP growth, underpinned by tax cuts, as opposed to direct revenue-raising or expenditure measures, albeit supported by planned improvements in tax administration. The interest-to-revenue ratio remains high, at around 71% as of 2020, well above the ‘CCC’ median of 13%. The government expects to achieve primary surpluses from 2023, supported by annual GDP growth of 6%, which appear optimistic in our view as we anticipate growth that is closer to 4%, still above the pace in the immediate pre-pandemic period.

General government debt reached 101% of GDP by end-2020, broadly in line with our forecast at our last review in November. Our baseline forecasts suggest this ratio will rise further to 108% by 2022. Fitch does not think the government will meet its 2025 targets of reducing government debt to 70% of GDP and narrowing the fiscal deficit to 4% of GDP.

Sri Lanka’s basic human development indicators, including education standards, are high compared with those of rating category peers. The UN Human Development Index Score positions Sri Lanka in the 62nd percentile, well above the 27th percentile for the ‘CCC’ median. The country’s per capita income of about USD3,822 is also above the ‘CCC’ median of USD2,662.

The banking sector is vulnerable to Sri Lankan sovereign weakness due to the banks’ significant direct exposure to the sovereign and their domestically focused operations. The operating environment for banks remains challenging, and asset quality continues to be a key risk. Reported asset-quality measures at end-2020 – impaired loans for Fitch-rated banks rose to 9.7% by end-2020 from 9.5% at end-2019 — likely understate the extent of credit impairment due to forbearance measures.

ESG – Governance: Sri Lanka has an ESG Relevance Score of ‘5’ for Political Stability and Rights as well as for the Rule of Law, Institutional and Regulatory Quality and Control of Corruption, as is the case for all sovereigns. These scores reflect the high weight that the World Bank Governance Indicators have in our proprietary Sovereign Rating Model. Sri Lanka has a medium World Bank Governance Indicator ranking in the 46th percentile, reflecting a recent record of peaceful political transitions, a moderate level of rights for participation in the political process, moderate institutional capacity, established rule of law and a moderate level of corruption.

Read Full report:https://www.fitchratings.com/research/sovereigns/fitch-affirms-sri-lanka-at-ccc-14-06-2021

Sri Lanka’s CPC to build terminal to import fuel via China-backed Hambantota Port

Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation has inked a deal to import fuel through the China-backed Hambantota International Port Group and store it at a nearby location.

HIPG said will sublease the required land area within the port, for the construction and operation of the pipeline, with approval of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

“The vision of HIPG is to develop the Hambantota International Port to become an energy hub for South Asia,” Johnson Liu, CEO of HIPG said.

“Whilst HIPG has put the infrastructure in place to realize that goal, we are also aware that we cannot achieve it without the participation of all the players in the equation.

“To this end, we recognize the importance of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation as a vital cog in the machinery.”

CPC will take the fuel to a facility to be built 15 kilometres away in a 15 acre land now belonging to the Mahaweli Authority.

The new facility will expand storage and bulk distribution facilities of CPC to about three months of supply from the current one month supply in Colombo.

“The partnership with HIPG will increase the storage facility of CPC to the expected capacity; thereby the impact of global fuel price fluctuations can be mitigated andit will drive CPC to minimize and save additional foreign currency outflows,” Sumith Wijesinghe, Chairman of CPC said in the statement.

“Apart from that, setting up in the Hambantota Industrial Zone, away from the traffic congestion of the country’s most residential cities, will make it an environmentally-friendly terminal.”

Due to money printing with a soft-pegged exchange rate regime, most of Sri Lanka’s economic policies are directed towards ‘saving foreign exchange’.

HIPG said it had already started bulk supply of marine bunker fuels.

“In order to build this energy hub, we entered into a strategic partnership with Sinopec Fuel Oil Lanka Limited (SFOL) to provide bunkering services for vessels,” Tissa Wickramasinghe, chief operating officer of HIPG said.

“Sinopec with their vast resources guarantees the supply of VLSFO and MGO in Hambantota, enabling the port to service all vessels plying the principal sea routes in the Indian Ocean.”

An LPG transshipment terminal is also at the port. HIPG had also partnered with Intertek Lanka (Pvt) Ltd to set up a petroleum testing laboratory.

Norway offers assistance to Sri Lanka over X-Press Pearl impact

The Norwegian Coastal Administration has offered remote assistance in responding to marine pollution caused by X-Press Pearl, Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal said.

In response to a query by Daily Mirror, the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo said the Norwegian experts had held a meeting with the Sri Lankan authorities.

“Experts from the Norwegian Coastal Administration have offered remote assistance, and have held a meeting with relevant Sri Lankan counterparts. Norway is also exploring other avenues of possible support,” she said.

The contain vessel that caught fire off the Colombo Port triggered a marine environmental crisis for Sri Lanka. Fisheries activities have been barred in the area.

MP raises alarm over China’s wolf warrior diplomacy

Parliamentarian Charitha Herath has raised the alarm over China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy.

Herath tweeted calling on the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry to look into reports that China had warned Bangladesh of “substantial damage” in bilateral ties if the latter joins the Quad.

He was responding to a report by the Observer Research Foundation which stated that in May, in another brazen display of its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, China issued a strange warning to Bangladesh, a nation that it has tried to cultivate assiduously over several years.

While suggesting that China considers the Quad to be a minor anti-China initiative, the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, had reportedly warned Dhaka that there will be “substantial damage” in bilateral ties between China and Bangladesh if the latter joins the Quad.

It was an extraordinary statement by a diplomat in a host nation but it had all the chutzpah that Chinese diplomats think they deserve to embed in their seemingly non-diplomatic outpourings, the Observer Research Foundation had said.

According to the the Observer Research Foundation, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen promptly and publicly challenged the Chinese envoy’s statement, underlining categorically that Dhaka pursues an independent foreign policy.

Covid-19 in Sri Lanka: People of North and East in economic crisis

The extension of Covid-19 related travel restrictions by Sri Lankan government are severely affecting the Tamil daily wage workers in North and Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.

The assistance scheme provided by Sri Lankan government through Divisional Councils reach a certain number of people, and its does not reach economically deprived people of the community .

The local observers are urged that the diaspora organisations should work with the Tamil political parties at home to carry out a plan to save the Tamil people from the growing economic crisis. The diaspora should take note that the assistance given through Sri Lankan government are not reaching the poor Tamil families in North and East, they said.