Sri Lanka looking to diversify exports to Turkey & boost ties

Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu received Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Prof. G.L. Peiris at the Turkish House, the Chancery building of the Turkish Permanent Mission in New York, on Friday 17 September 2021, for a bilateral meeting between the two sides, on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Foreign Minister of Turkey was happy to observe that an Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka would take office shortly in his hometown.

In evaluating their mutual visits, the two Foreign Ministers noted that it would be an opportune time to enhance further contacts by visits and interactions at other levels, to strengthen the excellent ties of friendship between the two countries, particularly economic and trade ties.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu noted that despite the two countries being geographically far, the ties between the two were very close.

Foreign Minister Peiris noted the generous assistance given to Sri Lanka from Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic with the provision of ventilators and other equipment and appreciated that Turkey had also extended support in the aftermath of the Tsunami where housing was provided.

The Ministers appreciated that bilateral trade between the two had steadily increased from US 100 Million and was projected to reach US 200 million in the year.

Foreign Minister Peiris highlighted that there was a need for Sri Lankan exports to Turkey to diversify from its 80% consisting of tea and noted that there was tremendous protentional between the two countries to boost economic, trade and investment in growth areas such as construction and the pharmaceutical industries, where Turkey had expertise and Sri Lanka was looking at developing this area by having specific economic free zones for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals for the local market and beyond.

The Turkish Foreign Minister underscored that the Turkish construction sector was the world’s second largest and that they had a number of projects globally and not just in their region.

The two Ministers expressed interest to finalise important agreements on Avoidance of Double Taxation and on Investment Promotion and Protection, that could serve to provide opportunities for joint projects, investments and initiatives between both countries.

The Foreign Minister of Turkey noted their experience of successful Private to Public Projects for infrastructure, such as Turkey’s second international airport that would boost their role as an important global international hub.

The two Ministers also discussed enhancing people to people contact, including possibilities of exploring air connectivity between Ankara and Colombo and code-share flights to the region that could boost linkages and ties to new levels, including exchanges between the respective Chambers of Commerce and business sectors.

Both sides undertook to expedite respective agreements that had been finalized and were at the last stages of implementation.

Foreign Minister Peiris expressed condolences on the death of two Turkish nationals in Sri Lanka from the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks and gave an update on the investigations underway and the legal processes under way to try those that were involved that had linkages to extreme groups.

The two Ministers expressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms as well as linkages to the rise of extremism and spoke against the politicization of human rights and selective use of human rights as tools by some parties, and pledged to expand international cooperation in the United Nations and other fora.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu noted that he was to visit Sri Lanka, but that the visit had to be postponed due to the COVID pandemic.

Foreign Minister Peiris extended an invitation for the Turkish Foreign Minister to visit Sri Lanka in the near future.

The two Ministers look forward to expand the friendly and close ties and expressed hope that further interaction may commence in the aftermath of the covid pandemic.

93 COVID-19 deaths confirmed for Sunday (19); Total Fatalities increased to 12,218

Sri Lanka Monday reported 93 deaths due to COVID-19 after the figures were confirmed by the Director General of Health Services on Sunday, September 19.

Among the deaths reported today, 45 are of males and 48 of females. The majority of deaths – 68- are of elderly people in the 60 years and above age group. One 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 12,218.

Suspend Lohan’s party membership: March 12 Movement tells SLPP

Highlighting the need to appoint a committee of professionals to investigate the incident involving State Minister Lohan Ratwatte, the March 12 Movement today urged Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to suspend his party membership and probe his anti-disciplinary actions.

Its convenor Rohana Hettiarachchi said people will not have faith in an investigation conducted by a Commissioner of the Prisons Department.

He said in a statement that the unbelievable silent approach of the leaders of political parties had led to a disgraceful and bad political culture in the country.

“Hence, we request the SLPP to suspend Ratwatte’s party membership and take steps to subject his anti-disciplinary conduct to proper observation,” he said.

He said it was the utmost responsibility of the relevant state leaders and political party leaders to take necessary action on individuals who behave in a way that Sri Lanka was humiliated even at international level

UN chief tells GR to protect minority rights

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa about the need to protect minority rights in Sri Lanka.

Guterres met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the UN Headquarters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The Secretary-General expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka for ongoing challenges related to COVID-19.

The President briefed the Secretary-General on domestic issues, including the reconciliation process.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the UN will provide its full support to Sri Lanka in moving forward to promote unity among different communities.

The UN Chief gave this assurance when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the UN Headquarters yesterday, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said.

Mr. Guterres warmly welcomed President Rajapaksa when he arrived at the United Nations Headquarters and reminisced about his visits to Sri Lanka in 1978 representing the Inter-Parliamentary Union and his visits to Kandy, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee.

Mr. Guterres also recalled his dealings with Sri Lanka during his tenure as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and his meeting with then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006.

The Secretary-General noted that Sri Lanka, as a country which plays a more active role in social and economic spheres in the Indian Ocean region, the UN is expected that Sri Lanka would continue to do so in the future too, despite the crisis that has plagued it for nearly 30 years.

President Rajapaksa said that he was pleased to have the opportunity to hold a bilateral discussion with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and congratulated him on leading the United Nations during a difficult period facing the world as well as on his re-election as the Secretary-General.

President Rajapaksa briefed the UN Secretary-General on the challenges facing a country like Sri Lanka with a small economy in the face of the COVID pandemic. President Rajapaksa spoke at length on the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on education and the economy of Sri Lanka and thanked the World Health Organization for its support to overcome the pandemic.

The President pointed out that more than half of the total population has been fully vaccinated and that all arrangements have been made to fully vaccinate all those over the age of 15 before the end of November, by showing the statistics. The Secretary-General commended the progress made by Sri Lanka in the vaccination drive.

The President pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic was a major obstacle to fulfilling the pledges made to the people when he became the President in 2019. Even amidst this situation, the President elaborated on the steps taken to address the issues arose in the aftermath of defeating terrorism that lasted for 30 years.

The President explained the compensation paid to the victims, the transfer of lands back to the owners and the massive development carried out in the North and East Provinces since 2009 under the guidance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the opportunity given to democratically elect the representatives to the Northern Provincial Council.

The President informed the Secretary-General that the government would take immediate action with regard to missing persons and expedite the efforts such as issuance of death certificates. The President pointed out that many youths who were arrested as suspects over terrorist activities were released after he came to power. The President informed the Secretary-General that legal action would be expedited with regard to rest of the personnel who could not be, released, and that he would not hesitate to grant a presidential pardon to the Tamil youths who have been in custody for a long time, taking into account their long-term detention and after the
legal process was completed.

The President stated that his objective is to strengthen the democracy in Sri Lanka and accordingly, there are no baton attacks or use of water cannons on protesters under his government, and that a separate area has been set aside for protesters near his office.

President Rajapaksa also explained the engagement with civil society organizations to bring about development and reconciliation in the country. The President said that the internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism of the country and said the Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions in this regard.

President Rajapaksa said that he was always ready to work closely with the United Nations and added that though he could assure that there is no room for separatism to re-emerge in Sri Lanka,Sri Lanka as a government as well as other states should be vigilant about religious extremism.

Struggling for justice, not for funds: Families of the Disappeared

As the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council commenced in Geneva, Mannar district coordinator of Association for Relatives of the Enforced Disappearances, Manuel Uthayachandra, has requested the international community to deliver justice for the families of the disappeared.

While addressing the press yesterday, Manuel Uthayachandra says, “Today we are protesting in the streets to get back our children who have been handed over to the Government of Sri Lanka.”

“The 48th session of UN Human Rights Council is happening now in Geneva. At this time, we request the international community to deliver justice for us.”

“A solution is needed for our disappeared relatives. Parents have been protesting on the streets for about 1,500 days to find their missing children. Not only the Geneva, entire world knows that we are protesting to get back our children. We are struggling for justice, not for funds,” she added.

UN’s ad-hoc mechanisms in SL not in line with charter: Foreign Minister

The ad-hoc mechanism that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is trying to establish in Sri Lanka is not in line with the spirit and letters of the UN Charter, and is not acceptable, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris says.

Speaking at a virtual meeting with the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in New York, the Foreign Minister reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s active commitment to dialogue and engagement with the Commonwealth.

Foreign Minister Peiris said that Sri Lanka looks forward to further collaboration with the Commonwealth in a number of areas including commerce, education, vocational training and climate change. The Minister stated that Sri Lanka has been successful in Mangrove restoration and has emerged as a Commonwealth Blue Charter leader.

Sri Lanka recently initiated a “climate and green economy” focusing on food security centric agricultural production and renewable energy, the Minister said.

All Commonwealth Members have the advantage of a common law background but have followed different avenues of development, the Foreign Minister said.

The Foreign Minister also briefed Secretary-General Scotland on the steps taken by local institutions in the country with respect to reconciliation. This is an on going process, and the country requires sufficient space for the local institutions to deliver on their mandates, he emphasized.

Secretary-General Scotland warmly recalled her visits to Sri Lanka in 2018 and 2019 and appreciated the close engagement that Sri Lanka has consistently maintained with the Commonwealth. She thanked Sri Lanka for hosting the Commonwealth Law Ministers Conference in 2019 and stated that the Commonwealth appreciates Sri Lanka’s continued collaboration with the Commonwealth in a wide spectrum of areas including trade, sports, youth and countering violent extremism.

Three more lands in Colombo to be leased for 99 years

Newspaper advertisements published in newspapers to lease three more valuable plots of land in the city of Colombo for investment projects on a 99 year lease basis.

The advertisement was published by the Urban Development Authority.

Tenders have been called for three plots of land on DR Wijewardena Mawatha in Colombo for mixed development projects.

The following three sites are to be leased, as per the advertisement :

– Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Center

– People’s Bank Queens Branch

– Sathosa Warehouse Complex

The base value of the land where the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Center is located is Rs. 3.7 billion.

The base value of the land where the People’s Bank Queens Branch is located is Rs. 1.3 billion and the base value of the land where the Sathosa Warehouse Complex is located is Rs. 1.6 billion.

A special feature is investors are only given month to submit proposals for projects implemented on these lands.

Meanwhile, proposals have already been made to provide a number of valuable properties in the city of Colombo, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the Hilton and the Grand Orient Hotel, for investment projects through Selandiva Investments.

Lack of strategy puts Sri Lanka in Geneva quagmire – Sunday Times.LK

Sri Lankans let down by Foreign Ministry’s failure to respond effectively to the UNHRC chief’s charges
Bachelet declares Council has an information and evidence repository of 120,000 items regarding human rights violations
Govt. falls back on former administration’s human rights achievements to show progress
Cardinal alleges PM tries to mislead Pope, but Papal diary shows pontiff was in Hungary and Slovenia
Foreign Minister, Prof. G. L. Peiris had to draw deep from the arsenal left behind by the previous yahapalana government on the “post-war domestic process” to fight the oral report of UN High Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on Monday.
She made a string of damning indictments on the Sri Lanka Government at the 48th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.

Other than that, Prof. Peiris rejected “any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are vigorously addressing the relevant matters.” “Without the co-operation of the country concerned,” he said, they cannot “achieve their stated goals, and will be subject to polarisation.”

That in essence is the position of the Sri Lanka Government. A recorded video explaining it was played out in the halls of Palais de Naciones on Tuesday. Prof. Peiris was then in Bologna in northern Italy accompanying Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. This was his perceived response to damning remarks High Commissioner Bachelet offered in her oral update on Monday on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Thus, the statement did not deal with some strong remarks from the UN High Commissioner, except a few.

Prof. Peiris singled out a few of the foreign policy initiatives of the yahapalana government at the UNHRC, creditably due to the efforts of the late Mangala Samaraweera, the then Foreign Minister. He fell victim to the deadly COVID-19. The “domestic processes,” Prof. Peiris referred to and initiated by the late minister Samaraweera, included the setting up of the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR), the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), the National Human Rights Commission, measures to do away with the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and a “vigorous engagement” with civil society.

Prof. Peiris’ rejection of “external initiatives” is the Government’s pointed response to High Commissioner Batchelet’s announcement that her Office work to implement the accountability related aspects of Resolution 46/1 (adopted in March this year) had begun, pending recruitment of a start-up team.” Batchlet declared, “We have developed an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items already held by the UN, and we will initiate as much information-gathering as possible this year. I urge Member States to ensure the budget process provides the necessary support so that my Office can fully implement this work.”

This is apart from the exercise by the West led by the Core Group to stampede Sri Lanka into the abyss of universal jurisdiction. The stage is being set to move this process during the year ahead. It is therefore incumbent upon the Government of Sri Lanka to arrest the trajectory, as it would be the military personnel who were central to the conduct of the war against separatist terrorism, who would be on the frontline in being prosecuted internationally.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who left for New York last night, is expected to delve into these aspects in his speech to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. He is accompanied by Foreign Minister Peiris, Senior Advisor Lalith Weeratunga and Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage among others. Ahead of his departure, he named parliamentarian Mahinda Samarasinghe, a former Minister, as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States. Samarasinghe has also served earlier in the Sri Lanka missions in Geneva and in Canberra. His brief, a government source said, was to ensure better relations with the US and draw more foreign investment from there. He will resign from his parliamentary seat after the budget to take up the appointment. Earlier, Dr Lalith Chandradasa, who lives in Los Angeles, was tipped for this position.

Although Prof. Peiris has “rejected any external initiatives,” the question that begs answer is whether this will hold vis-à-vis the Council. Firstly, the Sri Lanka Government has not been able to even ensure a rejection of Resolution 46/1 when it was adopted in March by the Human Rights Council. Thus, the rejection, other than spelling out the Government position, is of little use except with a handful of countries. More importantly, the external mechanism has evolved even against the stated reluctance on the part of Sri Lanka.

On the issue of member states raising the necessary funds for the external initiatives to proceed, there indeed is a revelation from High Commissioner Bachelet. Months earlier, the then Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena publicly declared that such funds had been only partially revised by the Fifth Committee of the United Nations in New York. Bachelet’s remarks indicate that it is not so, and the budgetary requirement submitted originally needs to be met.

Therefore, the question is whether the Government of Sri Lanka will be powerful enough to lobby member countries not to provide the necessary funds. The answer it is clear is a firm no, considering Sri Lanka’s weakness in lobbying countries — and in this case, it needs to obtain a majority support of the 193 member states.

High Commissioner Bachelet’s oral update was generally based on the trends and issues identified in her last report presented at the 46th session in February/March this year. That report set the pace for the envisaged action by the core group in terms of Resolution 46/1 and now provides the basis for the oral update during the current sessions.

Shrinking on democratic space

The Sri Lanka Government for its part has committed to work with the UN to ensure accountability and implement necessary institutional reforms. High Commissioner Bachelet acknowledged it in terms of expecting concrete action to this end, that too in line with the recommendations made in OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) Reports and various human rights mechanisms. Hence from the outset, she has established the UN’s involvement in the domestic process of accountability, reconciliation, and reconstruction.

With the accountability issue secured by her last report and the resulting resolution, this oral update’s central feature was the shrinking of civic and democratic space since the 46th session. To this end, expectedly there was reference to “the corrosive impact that militarisation and the lack of accountability continue to have….” that too on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, etc. The declaration of a new State of Emergency to ensure food security and price controls was observed by the High Commissioner as a move that may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions. This has already come to pass with the new appointment of the Commissioner General of Essential Services being an officer of the Army. Surveillance, intimidation, and judicial harassment of categories of persons were outlined by her, especially excessive use of force and arrest of demonstrators.

The new regulations being drafted on civil society groups were deemed by the High Commissioner as a move to further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Bachelet expressed concern on the developments in judicial proceedings in several emblematic human rights cases, with a specific reference not to proceed with charges against former Navy Commander, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda on the enforced disappearances of 11 youths. The recent presidential pardon of former MP Duminda Silva which could risk eroding confidence in the rule of law and judicial process had reference in the oral update. The call by religious leaders for truth and justice on the Easter Sunday attacks also found its way into the oral update. Deep concern was expressed on the deaths in Police custody, reports of torture and ill treatment by law enforcement officials and police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs.

One wonders on what basis she made the reference to the Government having proscribed or listed over 300 Tamil and Muslim groups and individuals for alleged links to terrorist groups. It is inappropriate for High Commissioner Bachelet to simply make a loose reference to an aspect related to national security of a sovereign nation. Should not there have been some elucidation? The oral report is also damning and has sought to build more allegations on the violations of human rights, which the Government has heaped on itself some through arrogance and the other due to flippancy.

Prof. Peiris’ statement to the UNHRC was also bland and not engaging. This was compounded by the fact that it was recorded rather than delivered live virtually. Much of the progress Prof. Peiris recounted was roll over from the yahapalana times. On the other hand, the Human Rights High Commissioner outlined some details of the delivery of the mandates by each mechanism, while also highlighting shortcomings. She referred to the National Policy of Reparation, being approved last month, with reparation payments and reconciliation programmes being continued. However, she emphasised that reparations programmes must be accompanied by broader truth and justice measures. The continued operation of the Office of the Missing Persons with a sixth regional office operating in Kilinochchi was acknowledged by her.

As for the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Peiris only noted that “it is carrying out its mandate.” However, High Commissioner Bachelet announced that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has initiated a special review of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to determine its compliance with the Paris principle. The alliance has indicated its concerns on the appointment process of the Commission and its effectiveness in discharging its human rights mandate. These aspects appear to have flown above the Foreign Minister, judging from his statement.

Prof. Peiris’ touting of the release of 16 Tiger guerrilla cadres convicted of terrorist crimes as progress, was noted by High Commissioner Bachelet as those who were being held under the controversial PTA and were nearing the end of their sentences being pardoned. The Government is now officially faced with an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items already held by the UN, following HC Bachelet’s revelation. She has declared that her office has begun its work to implement the accountability related aspects of Resolution 46/1, pending recruitment of a start-up team. This is the sting in the oral update which the Government must take cognisance of.

Prof. Peiris simply rejecting “the proposal for any external initiatives established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic process is vigorously addressing the relevant matters,” is not likely to shelve the action approved by the Council. Yes, as upheld by the Foreign Minister, “external initiatives embarked upon without the co-operation of the country concerned cannot achieve their stated goals……“ but in the UN and Council parlance this amounts to rhetoric, when other coercive measures also could be resorted to by the proponents of the action.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva, C.A. Chandraprema, pointed out that the “UN General Assembly never authorised the UNHRC to assign to any party, or the OHCHR to carry out tasks such as the collection of criminal evidence for use in judicial proceedings.” At the outset, he seemed to have forgotten that the Human Rights Council mandated this aspect through its Resolution 46/1 adopted in March this year. Hence, according to the process, the UN General Assembly will be dealing with the issue during the forthcoming sessions due to third and fifth committee budgetary implications of the Human Rights Council Resolution. The required budget is to facilitate this aspect of the collection of criminal evidence for future judicial proceedings.

High Commissioner Bachelet’s appeal to member states “to ensure the budget process provides the necessary support” to OHCHR “to fully implement the work” is evidence that the required budget has yet to be processed. This mantle falls on the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly in New York. The question is whether any action has been initiated by the Sri Lanka’s Permanent mission in New York.

As stated by Prof. Peiris in his appeal to the member states of the UNHRC that “the resources expended on this initiative are unwarranted, especially when they are urgently needed for humanitarian and other constructive purposes in many parts of the world.” That should resonate far and wide in New York.

A proper strategy to dent the required budget in New York is the need of the hour. The absence of a well-thought-out strategy in Geneva during the 46th session has got Sri Lanka into this present quagmire. For instance, an initiative to have requested a separate vote on operative paragraph 6 in Resolution 46/1 may have been successful in its elimination, considering that many countries do not support external initiatives vis-à-vis a sovereign nation. For instance, this is true of India, which in 2013 held with Sri Lanka on a separate vote of a paragraph based on this very aspect.

In this hour Sri Lanka needs to adopt a strategy of engagement with countries across all hemispheres, basic to which is a time-bound action plan on initiatives covering accountability, reparation, and reconciliation issues. The buy in of Sri Lanka’s closest neighbours on the initiatives is paramount, to go further afield. Both Geneva and New York need to be proactive to ensure Sri Lanka’s betterment and secure its position at international level. The people of this nation cannot be let down due to the misconduct of the country’s foreign policy.

PM’s Italy visit

On the foreign affairs front, the visit by a delegation led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to Bologna in northern Italy also drew flak. This visit ran into controversy. Following Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s news briefing where he said that the Catholic church of Sri Lanka would be compelled to present to the international community the issue of legal action yet to be taken by the Government on the incidents of bombing during Easter in 2019. Cabinet spokesperson Dr Ramesh Pathirana was to declare that the Premier while in Italy would meet the Pope and explain the status on the issue.

The upshot of this position was for Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to deliver a tirade of opposing such a meeting by the Premier as he believed the Holy Father would be misguided. There were some church authorities who were unhappy with what they saw as churlish behaviour. In fact, it was surprising and regrettable that the Cardinal who had served in the Vatican did not deem it fit to first check the Holy Father’s diary which is in the public domain. If he had done it, it would have been evident that the Pope was scheduled to visit Hungary and Slovenia from September 12 to 15. The tirade the Cardinal launched into would have not been necessary, as it only brought into question his own bona fides on this issue.

As regards the purported visit to the Vatican, both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry scrambled to issue media statements to put the record right. The statement from the Premier’s Office was professional, while that from the Foreign Ministry was simply not in keeping with the standard expected from such an institution. The Foreign Ministry news release categorically stated that the Premier had not requested nor received an invitation to visit the Vatican for an audience with His Holiness the Pope. To defuse the confusion that has arisen from the articulation by the Cabinet spokesperson, the Premier’s Office very correctly spelt out that PM Mahinda Rajapaksa was undertaking a visit to Italy and he delivered the keynote address at the inaugural session of the G20 Inter-Faith Forum 2021. After the event ended Premier Rajapaksa flew to Singapore for medical reasons and returned to Colombo thereafter.

However, the Foreign Ministry announcement of the same occasion was extremely tardy. While it sought to equate the Premier and the Foreign Minister by stating that “the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will shortly make a visit to Bologna, Italy, “the purpose of it was merely “to participate in an international event…..” It is basic to make a reference to the details of the visit, rather than simply stating it being an “international event.” Further, the statement dubs the occasion as “international symposium.” There was no reference that the meeting was a G20 forum. The most telling was the last sentence of the statement where it was spelt out “the PM and FM will be leaving Italy, at the conclusion of the event in Bolonga.” Is that a point that needs to be made, as the return of such political hierarchy to their homeland is given.

Much of the lack of professionalism in the Foreign Ministry, as of late, is being demonstrated through the unseemly content of the media statements. The responsibility for such content is in the hands of the Foreign Minister and the Ministry Secretary. After all, the correct usage of language is the bedrock of diplomacy and the mandate of the Foreign Ministry.

One is not wrong in saying that the Premier’s participation in the function in Bologna is a non-event. While it was envisaged for the Premier to have “several high-level diplomatic meetings” as stated in the media release, the absence of photographs and statements in this context, indicates that they did not materialise. This visit was at Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s invitation. It is most regrettable that even the host did not seem to have afforded a brief meeting.

Sadly, the visit to Bologna disturbed a hornet’s nest with the diaspora, particularly in Italy and Germany turning up to protest the issue of the Easter Sunday incidents. Expectedly there were the friendly diaspora elements too who sought to at least get a glimpse of Premier Rajapaksa outside his hotel. Footage doing the rounds in the social media had an unanswerable question over whether some depicted cheer or jeer.

Ratwatte affair

The world marked the International Day of Prisoners on Sunday, a day ahead of the commencement of the Human Rights Council sessions. Providing a grizzly spectacle to the world was Sri Lanka with the Minister of State for Prisons, Lohan Ratwatte, armed with his pistol, walking into the Anuradhapura Prison and ordering two prisoners – Ganeshan Dharshan of Hatton and Mathiarasan Suklakshan from Nelliady (Jaffna) – to kneel before him. He had allegedly threatened to shoot them after pointing the pistol at them. Both prisoners were held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

State Minister Ratwatte later sent in his letter of resignation only from the post of Prison Reforms. Dated September 15, the two-paragraph letter said:

“Firstly, I am thankful for having faith in me and giving me the State Ministerial post of Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation Affairs at a time when the Prisons Department was in a crisis.

“Up to now I have successfully carried out the ministerial tasks. For the purpose of avoiding government facing a difficulty regarding the matters published in the media about the ministry, today (September15, 2021) I voluntarily resign from the State Ministry of Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation Affairs. Therefore, with respect I seek your approval to resign.”

However, on Thursday he took up another position – that he had visited the Anuradhapura prison to resolve an issue and declared if he had not gone there, the premises would have been on fire. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Abraham Sumanthiran called upon the Government to conduct an inquiry into the incident. Jaffna district parliamentarian Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam said that the two prisoners should be transferred to a prison in a “Tamil-speaking area.”

Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have ventured into the field of foreign affairs at a time when the country is facing its worst crisis over economy and the still spreading COVID-19 pandemic. No doubt, Sri Lankans will be called upon to further tighten their belts amidst dwindling foreign reserves, shortage of food items and the fear of the coronavirus.

CPC to borrow $ 1 b from America

A lender from the US is expected to lend $ 1 billion to Sri Lanka’s debt-ridden, state-owned oil company, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), to help repay the colossal sums of debt the corporation owes to state banks, The Sunday Morning Business exclusively learns.

The loan is said to be received by the end this year at an interest rate of 3% per annum.

The decision to seek for an international lender who would lend money at a lower interest rate to partially rescue CPC from its debt to state banks was prompted by the fact that the entity has to pay higher interests to Bank of Ceylon (BOC) and People’s Bank for the money it owes to these banks.

Speaking to us, CPC Deputy General Manager of Finance Varuna Nilanga Weerasooriya stated that after the Cabinet of Ministers evaluated all loan offers it had received, it granted approval to proceed to obtain $ 1 billion from the US at an interest rate of 3%.

The Sri Lankan authorities initially requested credit from the Bank of Japan and the State Bank of China at a comparatively lower interest rate. However, speaking to us in June, Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila stated that after evaluating Sri Lanka’s loan request, both said international banks refused to grant the loan of $ 1 billion at an interest rate lower than the existing rate of 5.5%.

“We are in debt to BOC and People’s Bank. Therefore, we asked the Chinese and Japanese Ambassadors if they could provide loans to replace the existing loans with a lower interest rate. However, after the calculation and evaluation, they said they can’t lower the interest rate,” Gammanpila said at the time.

Commenting further, he said that the Cabinet-appointed committee, which comprises Ministry of Energy Secretary K.D.R. Olga, Deputy Secretary to the Treasury Saman Fernando, and CPC Managing Director Buddhika Ruwan Madihahewa, would study the existing proposal in depth and come to a decision on whether to acquire a $ 1 billion loan at the interest rate offered by these two lenders.

However, later on it was reported that CPC had received loan offers from several other countries including Australia, Singapore, and China.

Speaking to us, CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinghe stated that the officials are currently negotiating and in the middle of working on issuing the Letter of Intent (LOI). Subsequently, when inquired by when the $ 1 billion loan will be received, he said it will hopefully be received within this year.

All attempts to reach Minister of Energy Gammanpila for further insights proved futile.

Meanwhile, Petroleum Corporation National Employees’ Union Chairman Samika Asithanja last Monday (13) opposed this decision and stated that as a trade union, they do not feel it is ideal for the Government to allegedly forgo the Minister of Finance and the Treasury to obtain such a loan.

“So far, we have not been notified of obtaining loans or contracts from foreign nations. We suppose they are attempting to amend the CPC Act in a bid to meet a requirement in this deal,” he alleged.

Weerasooriya in February emphasised that CPC’s debt problem would be solved if it could convert its dollar loans into rupee loans. According to Finance Ministry statistics, CPC’s total debt due to state-run People’s Bank and BOC had reached Rs. 592.7 billion by end-April 2020, in comparison to Rs. 566 billion in December 2019.

However, to overcome the debt situation CPC is facing right now, several discussions are being held with the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and SriLankan Airlines in order to repay the large sums both said institutions owe in outstanding debt to the CPC.

Commenting with regard to this, Weerasooriya said: “SriLankan Airlines has had an outstanding payment from last April 2020 (after the Easter Sunday attacks) to date, and since March last year, the CEB has only been paying marginal figures; they are not paying at all. There are individual power plants that are also waiting for CEB to pay.”

CID probe into ‘harmful’ Chinese fertiliser?

Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage has stated that he hopes to request the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to conduct an investigation following the discovery of harmful microorganisms in the samples of organic fertiliser made in China, which are to be imported to Sri Lanka.

Addressing a media briefing last Friday (17), he said that the relevant samples were brought into Sri Lanka on an “unofficial” level and that the Agriculture Ministry has some concerns with the process of bringing the samples into the country and distributing them for testing.

“The Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) has named an independent laboratory in China and they carried out tests on these fertilisers. According to those tests, these organic fertilisers were found to be free of microorganisms. Thereafter, some samples of these fertilisers were unofficially brought here for testing. However, they came in a plastic bag. So anyone can inject something into it and doing so would completely change the quality of these fertilisers. This deal is a major deal. So I hope to request the CID to investigate this incident,” he said.

Aluthgamage also said that tests have so far identified the samples as containing the bacteria called Erwinia spp, which makes the fertiliser not suitable for potato, cabbage, and carrot cultivations. He further stated that such fertiliser will not be permitted to be imported.

“Fertiliser has arrived in Sri Lanka, oil has arrived in Sri Lanka, but it will be sent back if it is not of good quality. So there is nothing to worry about. We will not bring any garbage. All this fertiliser is made from seaweed. These fertilisers are to be imported to Sri Lanka in five consignments and the company has given a deposit of $ 5 million to the Agriculture Ministry for the first consignment of about 20,000 metric tonnes (MT) coming into the country,” he elaborated.

Meanwhile, when asked by journalists if there is any methodology to test the fertiliser when it is imported into the country, he said: “Fertiliser imported into the country is not unloaded all at once. Random samples will be tested and allowed to be unloaded only if they do not contain any harmful substances.”

Recently, a tender was awarded to import 99,000 MT of organic fertiliser made in China and its value is approximately $ 63 million. The mandatory tests carried out by the SLSI, the National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS), and the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board (SLAEB) on its samples failed.

According to the testing agencies, the stock of fertiliser could contain harmful microorganisms, pathogens, and even diseases harmful to the soil, plants, and humans.

A letter sent to the Fertiliser Secretariat by the NPQS on the test results of the samples, which was seen by The Morning, states that both fertiliser samples they received contain harmful bacteria. According to the letter, two samples of solid organic fertiliser bearing numbers 388 and 389 have been referred to the NPQS by the National Fertiliser Secretariat on 31 August 2021. The samples have been subjected to standard microbiological tests to find out whether they are contaminated with culturable microorganisms. Accordingly, the letter sent by the NPQS read: “Sample No. 388 was found to be highly contaminated with gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Preliminary studies revealed the bacteria to be Bacillus spp and Erwinia spp, which can be pathogenic to plants. Similarly, sample No. 389 was found to be contaminated with gram-positive bacteria, which is also a Bacillus spp.”

Following reports that the mandatory tests carried out by the said institutions on these samples have failed, the local agent of the said Chinese company told The Morning last week that another set of samples are to be given to the SLSI, NPQS, and the SLAEB. Aluthgamage said at the press conference that another sample had been received by the Sri Lankan authorities.

An official of the local agent claimed that the fertiliser samples were received in Sri Lanka on 21 August but were tested by the SLSI on 8 September. Against that backdrop, he claimed that if the samples were exposed to the environment during that time, their condition could change. “We do not know what happened between 21 August and 8 September. Their condition can change through exposure to the environment.”

When asked if the SLSI, the NPQS, and the SLAEB have given them the test reports, he stated that no report has been received so far. However, one of the buyers of the fertiliser stock, Ceylon Fertilizer Company Ltd., has, in a letter, informed the Chinese manufacturer that tests carried out by the SLSI have found harmful bacteria in the samples,” he said.