Inter-provincial travel restrictions extended till Oct. 21

The Government has decided to strictly enforce inter-provincial travel restrictions that are current in effect until October 21, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa instructed the security forces to closely and strictly monitor the vehicular movements at all provincial borders due to the long weekend with holidays on the 19th and 20th.

The President made these remarks during the meeting of the Special Committee on COVID-19 Control held through video conference this morning (15).

Health Services Director General Dr. Asela Gunawardena said the vaccination of school children aged 18-19 years in the Colombo District has commenced today.

Steps have been taken to vaccinate the children of this age group in other districts at schools and at regional health offices from the 21st. According to the health recommendations, one dose will be given to the school children while two doses will be given to the children with congenital diseases.

After completing the vaccination of school children, arrangements have been made to administer a booster shot according to health recommendations. ‘Another 600,000 Pfizer vaccine doses are scheduled to arrive next Monday and the already ordered vaccines are being received uninterruptedly’, said Dr. Prasanna Gunasena, a member of the COVID Committee.

The President pointed out the need to study the measures that should be taken to further reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths and the need to further isolate the relevant areas where patients are being reported.

Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya informed the COVID Committee that the Home Quarantine process adopted by the health sector to control the spread of COVID-19 virus has been highly commended by the World Health Organization.

Basil Rajapaksa discharged from Divi Neguma funds misappropriation case

Minister Basil Rajapaksa and former Director-General of Divi Neguma, Kithsiri Ranawaka have been discharged from 2015 funds misappropriation case, after the Attorney General withdrew the indictments filed against them.

The case was called before Colombo High Court Judge Namal Balalle today (October 15).

Deputy Solicitor General Azath Navavi, who represented the Attorney General, told the court that the High Court had previously ordered to acquit Minister Rajapaksa and other accused in another case filed against them pertaining to the purported Divi Neguma funds misappropriation.

The defence had pointed out to the Attorney General that the case cannot be proceeded with as the particulars in both cases are similar. After taking this into account, the Attorney General decided to withdraw the indictments against the defendants under the provisions of Article 194(3) of Criminal Code Procedure and sought permission from the court to do so.

Accepting the request, the high court judge ordered to discharge them from the case.

The case had been filed against Minister Basil Rajapaksa and three others including former Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Affairs Dr. Nihal Jayatilake and former Deputy Director-General of Divi Neguma Department Bandula Thilakasiri for allegedly misappropriating more than Rs. 36 million belonging to the department to grant housing aid for beneficiaries of the Divi Neguma project, during the January 2015 Presidential election.

Sri Lanka reports 20 Covid-19 deaths on Friday, toll rises to 13,449

Sri Lanka Friday reported 20 deaths due to COVID-19 after the figures were confirmed by the Director General of Health Services on Thursday, October 14.

Among the deaths reported today, 11 are of males and 09 of females. The majority of deaths – 14- are of elderly people in the 60 years and above age group. A female below 30 years of age also succumbed to the disease.

According to the data reported by the Government Information Department, the total deaths due to Covid-19 since the pandemic began last year has now risen to 13,449.

Human Rights chief mentions Sri Lanka in UNGA briefing

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet mentioned Sri Lanka while updating the UN General Assembly on the world of the UN Human Rights Council.

Bachelet briefed the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the UNGA yesterday (Wednesday) during which delegates raised questions about protections for children, older adults and those living in poverty in a series of interactive dialogues.

She described her Office’s activities related to transitional justice, including for enforced disappearances and missing persons in Sri Lanka, Mexico and Lebanon, as well as in the creation of truth commissions in the Central African Republic, Colombia, Mali and Gambia.

Bachelet said her office has advocated for transitional justice processes on missing persons and enforced disappearance in Lebanon, Mexico and Sri Lanka.

“Pursuant to resolutions of the Human Rights Council, OHCHR initiated an examination of the human rights situation in Belarus and an accountability-related mandate with respect to Sri Lanka (see Council resolutions 46/20 and 46/1 respectively) and continued implementing an evolving mandate on the promotion of accountability regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” she said in her report to the UNGA.

She also said that her office contributed to the strengthening of the implementation of the human rights due diligence policy on United Nations support to non-United Nations security forces in mission and non-mission settings, providing technical assistance, including in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Maldives, Mauritania, Montenegro, the Niger, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, as well as in Kosovo.

Proposed amendment to Lankan criminal procedure violates rights of detainees, says watchdog

The Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has said in a press release on Thursday, that it is deeply concerned about the proposed Sri Lankan bill to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure Act. The bill was published in the gazette on the October 8.

The CPA said that the proposed amendments seek to dispense with the requirement of producing a suspect or accused before a Magistrate or Judge of the High Court in certain instances where they would otherwise normally be produced in Court. The Bill, proposed as a permanent amendment, must be evaluated in light of existing problems of Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system where custodial torture and abuse have become almost a norm, the CPA said.

Despite the constitutional guarantee providing for the freedom from torture, decades of precedent demonstrate the continuous failures by the State to take tangible measures to protect this fundamental right, resulting in a culture of impunity. In such a context, the CPA is disturbed that the proposed amendments are likely to further exacerbate existing problems and therefore urges the government to not proceed with the Bill.

In addition to the culture of abuse and torture, detainees are repeatedly prevented from having meaningful access to lawyers, despite the existence of legal protections guaranteeing such access.

Against such a backdrop, compounded by reports of abuse and torture, the production of suspects or accused persons in Court is one manner in which the judiciary is able to act as a check on their safety and wellbeing. Permanently removing such an essential safeguard is unacceptable and deeply troubling.

Furthermore, the grounds on which personal attendance can be dispensed with as provided in the Bill are broad, vague and may be subject to abuse by authorities.

For instance, among the reasons for which a suspect may not be produced are ‘where there is a likelihood of the suspect or accused obstructing the proceedings of court’. It is unclear how the Attorney General, officer-in-charge of the relevant police station or the superintendent of prisons as per the Bill will determine when such an obstruction is ‘likely’, or what amounts to an obstruction.

Finally, CPA is also concerned with the purpose and timing of the Bill in a context when Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system faces a plethora of challenges requiring urgent attention, with no information publicly available as to why the present Bill has received prioritization over other more pressing matters.

The apparent rush to move with this Bill must also be contrasted with other initiatives entailing the establishment of committees and consultations, with no such interest shown with the present Bill.

This Bill, if implemented, carries significant implications for the safety of detainees and further entrenches custodial torture in Sri Lanka, the CPA said.

Committee on Public Finance approves a 400-acre special textile production zone in Eravur

A new special textile production zone of 400 acres capable of bringing economic and social benefits to the country has been approved by the Committee on Public Finance chaired by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Member of Parliament.

At the Committee meeting held Monday, it was disclosed that the Board of Investment (BOI) coordinating with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce will implement the project to establish this special textile production zone in the Eravur area of Batticaloa District for local and foreign textile manufacturers under the Strategic Development Act No. 14 of 2008.

Commenting in detail, the Director General of the Board of Investment Pasan Wanigasekara informed the Committee that two factories in Eravur have already expressed their willingness to start production of high-quality garments for the foreign market.

State Minister (Dr.) Nalaka Godahewa said it would be unfair if these factories are given additional benefits compared to the other factories in the country. (Prof.) Ranjith Bandara, Member of Parliament also pointed out that it will be like giving away an open check so that only the relevant companies will have unlimited opportunities.

Speaking on the occasion Secretary to the Treasury, Ministry of Finance S.R. Attygalle said that the zone was targeted at local and foreign textile manufacturers, not for the purpose of establishing garment factories.

The Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, acknowledged the importance of such investment opportunities in view of the situation facing the country. However, this special textile manufacturing zone to be established in the Eravur area under the amendment was approved by the Committee as it is imperative that all textile manufacturers be given equal opportunities and tax relief.

In addition, under the Strategic Development Act No. 14 of 2008, the commencement of commercial operations of the Joint Holiday Resort Project, Glennie Street, Colombo 02, Western Province by the Ministry of Economic Policy and Plan Implementation was approved at the Committee. Accordingly, a period from October 2, 2021 to December 31, 2022 will be given for this purpose.

Also, the Committee approved the total expenditure of the National Audit Office for the 2022 Budget Estimate.

Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne said that an international training center for his office was to be built in Horana and that it would be most convenient if funds could be provided for that.

S.R. Attygalle pointed out that the Cabinet is not prepared to allocate funds from the budget for new constructions.

The Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa acknowledged the need of National Audit Office but noted that there are a number of buildings that are not already in use in many government institutions.

Chairman of the Committee Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, State Minister (Dr.) Nalaka Godahewa, Members of Parliament (Dr.) Harsha de Silva, (Prof.) Ranjith Bandara and officials were present at the committee meeting held online.

Central Bank says Sri Lanka can manage if GSP is withdrawn

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka says the country can manage with certain policy changes, in the event the EU GSP Plus facility is withdrawn.

The Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal said that all stakeholders have been assured that Sri Lanka will be in a position to deal with the situation if the trade facility is withdrawn.

He said that the Central Bank will implement the necessary policy changes to deal with the situation that may arise if the EU GSP Plus facility is withdrawn.

The Governor also said that the bank will support a fuel price hike.

He said that there is a rapid rise in the price of fuel in the world market and that cannot be controlled by Sri Lanka.

Cabraal said that a fuel price hike will help address certain vulnerabilities in the economy.

Sri Lanka in India’s embrace – newsin.asia

India and Sri Lanka now appear to be shedding doubts and reservations about each other and getting closer in multiple ways simultaneously. India’s urgency to counter China and Sri Lanka’s economic compulsions have combined to bring about top-level ‘to and fro’ visits in quick succession.

Close on the heels of a fruitful three-day visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Sri Lanka in the first week of October, comes the five-day visit of the Indian army chief Gen.M.M.Naravane which began on October 12. This will be followed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to Kushinagar in North India on October 20, to participate in the inauguration of the Kushinagar International Airport. The airport will be inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian and Lankan leaders are expected to have talks on the sidelines of the event.

 

It has been a long-standing wish of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the first international flight to land in Kushinagar should be a Sri Lankan Airlines flight. He would be doubly pleased to have the Sri Lankan President himself on board the first international flight with a delegation of 125 Buddhist monks in tow.

Kushinagar is where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana (or release from saṃsāra, karma and rebirth). To Buddhists, Kushinagar is as sacred as Buddha Gaya where the Buddha attained Enlightenment. Archaeological excavations led by C.L. Carlyle in the early 1870s, had revealed the main stupa in Kushinagar. A 6.10-meter-long statue of a reclining Buddha was discovered in 1876. In 1903, A Burmese monk, Chandra Swami, made the disused Mahaparinirvana temple into a living shrine.

 

Shringla Clears Decks

During his visit earlier in the month, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardan Shringla had giving finishing touches to a new scheme to strengthen bilateral economic and political links which had slackened despite the relentless efforts of successive Indian diplomats.

Economic relations particularly were in the doldrums. India-suggested and mutually agreed development projects were languishing while Chinese projects were forging ahead both in volume and speed. Even Indian projects which were within India’s grasp like the Eastern Container Terminal at Colombo, were snatched away. The coal-fired power plant in Sampur and the LNG project in Kerewelapitiya also slipped out.

While the Indians complained of Sri Lanka’s lack of interest, Sri Lankans complained of slow follow-up action on the part of Indian parties.

However, a variety of factors led to a change in the outlook in Sri Lanka. The COVID-19-triggered economic slowdown, the financial/dollar crunch it created here, and the possibility of losing the lucrative American market and the European GSP Plus tariff concession, led to the Rajapaksa regime’s taking a softer line towards the US, EU and their allies India and Japan.

This automatically led to some distancing from China. While China was useful for accessing big loans, the market for Sri Lankan products were in the US, EU and India and not China.

Although it is not known if any news projects for India are in the Sri Lankan pipeline, Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla, Lankan President Gotabaya and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa had all shown keenness to increase Indian private sector investments in the island. Both government appear keen to make these plans work this time around.

To make up with India, the US$ 700 million project to build and run the Western Container Terminal in Colombo port has already been given to the Adanis of India. More recently, a decision was taken to give a US$ 400 million stake in the LNG plant in Kerawelapitiya to the American company ‘New Fortress Energy’ to strengthen ties with the US. More US investments are expected, especially in the tourism sector.

Politically, Sri Lanka wishes to be a non-aligned and neutral country to ward off the possibility of becoming a theater of war between the US and India on the one hand (as partners in QUAD) and China on the other. With the creation of the AUKUS and the gifting of nuclear submarines to Australia by the US, any war here could well become a nuclear war. This is why President Gotabaya Rajapaksa proposed to the Indian Foreign Secretary that New Delhi should support Sri Lanka’s bid to make the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace.

It is not clear if New Delhi would go along with this as it has hitched its geopolitical security wagon to the US vis-à-vis China. But if New Delhi is to keep Colombo in its fold, it has to address the latter’s anxieties and recognize its yearning for strategic autonomy.

On its part, belligerent China is in no mood to relax its anti-India stand. Replying to a question about Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls “South Tibet”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “ The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh established unilaterally and illegally by the Indian side, and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the area concerned.”

India and China are at loggerheads in Sri Lanka and also Afghanistan where China supports the Taliban government and India opposes it.

 

Gen.Naravane’s Visit

The ongoing visit of the Indian army chief, Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane, fits into New Delhi’s bid to more forcefully and consistently engage Sri Lanka in multifarious ways. As Gen.Naravane himself said here on Wednesday: “As matured democracies, the quality interaction among the elected leaders in both countries is mirrored by similar interactions by both militaries.”

Gen. Naravane then highlighted the importance of modernizing both the Indian and Sri Lankan military organizations to suit international standards and to be geared to meet with different types of emerging threats, including cyberattacks.

Talks between him and Lankan Army Commander Gen.Shavendra Silva, also focused on the ongoing ‘Mithra Shakti’ training exercise where both armies are engaged. The visiting Indian Army Chief assured support for continuity and broadening of training programs in India. Gen.Naravane offered the Indian army’s technical assistance for upgrading the military requirements of the Sri Lanka Army.

Lankan Army’s New Profile

Several Indian army chiefs had visited Sri Lanka before Gen. Naravane. But the latter’s visit would stand out because he would be seeing a changed Lankan army. The present Lankan army, thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is part and part of the country’s civil administration unlike the previous Lankan armies and other armies in South Asia. The Lankan army is now used in regular infrastructure construction, urban development, COVID-control, Health Administration among other activities. Retired Majors General were appointed to head Customs, Civil Aviation and Ports departments. The Defense and Foreign Secretaries are retired high ranking military personnel. When the pandemic struck, Army Commander Gen.Shavendra Silva was put in charge of COVID-19 containment and he did a “splendid” job, as Gen.Naravane said on Wednesday.

In his most recent address to the public at Saliyapura, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa justified the appointment of military officers saying that he wanted jobs done. He has faith in the army as he was himself a Lt.Colonel during the war.

With Sri Lanka being pushed into the Indo-Pacific geopolitical vortex because of the sharpening conflict between the entrenched powers (US, UK, India, Japan and Australia) and the emerging power (China), the Sri Lankan army could acquire a different profile to tackle the new situation.

In fact, intensifying geopolitics with a strong military dimension could affect all armies in the region. Against this background, it will be worthwhile to study the development of the Sri Lankan army and other armies in the region. In this context, there is a need for these armies to engage with each other.

This has been recognized by Gen. Naravane. On Wednesday, he noted that high-level political engagements between India and Sri Lanka are being matched by high-level military engagements.

Sri Lanka reports 21 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday, toll rises to 13,429

Sri Lanka Thursday reported 21 deaths due to COVID-19 after the figures were confirmed by the Director General of Health Services on Wednesday, October 13.

Among the deaths reported today, 15 are of males and 06 of females. The majority of deaths – 16- are of elderly people in the 60 years and above age group. A male below 30 years of age also succumbed to the disease.

According to the data reported by the Government Information Department, the total deaths due to Covid-19 since the pandemic began last year has now risen to 13,429.

MP Rishad Bathiudeen granted bail

Former Minister and Wanni district parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen, who was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and remanded for over six months in connection with a case related to the Easter Sunday attack, has been granted bail today.

Colombo Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage released Rishad Bathiudeen on two sureties of Rs. 5 million each when the Magistrate’s Inquiry into the case was called back to court today (14).

The CID arrested MP Bathiudeen on 24 April 2021 and had obtained court permission to detain and question under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on charges of aiding and abetting the Easter Sunday attackers.

Opposition parliamentarians including former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe raised the issue of Bathiudeen’s continued detention in parliament last week and requested the Speaker to inform the House if there are any evidence to justify the allegations against the MP.