February 04 declared a ‘black day’ in north & east

University students in Jaffna have declared a ‘black day’ in the northern and eastern provinces on February 04, when the 75th Independence Day is celebrated.

Their union has urged all those who fight for the rights of Tamils to attend protests in the two provinces on that day.

Speaking to the media, its activists said the reality of the plight of their people should be demonstrated to the world community.

Their rights continue to be curtailed, military grabs their traditional land to build camps and to settle Sinhalese and justice evaded for victims of enforced disappearances, they noted.

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Cabinet agrees to implement 13A – President

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed the All Party Leaders’ Conference on Reconciliation that the Cabinet was agreeable to fully implementing 13th Amendment, until the Party Leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.

This was reported by the President’s Media Division on Friday (27).

President Ranil Wickremesinghe had said that he is bound to implement the existing law in accordance with the executive powers of the President.

He had said further that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is being implemented accordingly or the Parliament should abolish the 13th amendment.

The President Wickremesinghe also pointed out that any parliamentarian could move a private member’s bill to abolish the 13th Amendment to the constitution and the same amendment would have to be implemented provided that the bill was voted against by the majority of the House.

The President stressed that he was not ready to divide the country.

President Wickremesinghe made these remarks at the All-Party Conference, which was held at the President’s Office on Thursday (26) evening.

The statement made by the President is as follows:

It is my responsibility as the Executive to carry out the current law. For approximately 37 years, the 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution. I must implement or someone has to abolish it by way of a 22nd amendment to the constitution by moving a private member’s bill. If the bill was voted against by the majority in the House, then the 13th amendment would have to be implemented.

“We can’t remain in a middle position saying that either we don’t implement the 13th amendment or abolish it,” President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

I’m acting in accordance with the decision delivered by the Supreme Court Bench regarding the 13th Amendment, in particular, Chief Justice Palinda Ranasinghe’s ruling. If we stick to that, we might say that we are in a ‘united’ state. I oppose a federal state but devolution of power. The provincial Councils in Sri Lanka have no at least the powers that are vested in the London City Council. Hence we can’t define this as a federal state.

The late President J. R. Jayawardena introduced many clauses along with the attorneys-at-law not to make Sri Lanka a federal State. So far, every President has decided to put this into action. So either we ought to get rid of the 13th amendment or should implement it.

A massive extension of land was under the government by the time the conflict came to an end in 2009 and thereafter most of those lands were released to the public under the reigns of former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mithripala Sirisena. The largest extension of lands in Jaffna was issued under the reign of former President Mithripala Sirisena. There is only a land extension of 3000 acres under the government as of now.

The release of that extension land too should be entrusted with the security forces to be done without causing interruption to the security activities. We discuss the release of those lands with the Defence Secretary, the Chief of Defence Staff, and the Commanders of Tri Forces and acted upon their views.

The Land Commission needs to be established immediately. The draft bill in that regard could be moved by March. The Constitution has it that nine representatives from each province should be included while 12 are appointed by the President. Then a national land policy should be formulated. Thereafter the National Land Policy could be put into action by the Land Commission.

Thirty per cent (30%) or more of the country is covered in forest. Here the lands have been allocated suddenly for forests in an unorganized manner. However, we have deforested up-country as well as the areas where the Mahaweli, Kelani and Kalu rivers commence. Somehow, the forest cover should be increased. We should allow the Land Commission to decide on the extension of land required to enhance the forest cover in accordance with the government’s policy up to 30%. I am dedicated in that endeavour too.

If establishment of the National Police Commission instead of a Provincial Police Commission is objected, an amendment should be made. However either should be done.

The measures that would be taken in this regard would be presented to the Parliament on February 08. And if there are any suggestions, they could be made so before February 04th that they may be considered and submitted on February 8th.

Neither any of here nor I am ready to divide our country. We are all Sinhalese who are seating here. These individuals will not betray the Sinhalese. If there are Sinhalese, they should coexist with other ethnic groups such as Tamils, Muslims, and Burghers. I have no doubt that if we protect the notion in the line ‘Children of one mother’ in our national anthem, we could go forward united.

We shall work toward a consensus-based solution for the political and economic issues one step at a time. Let’s solve our political and economic issues step by step in a manner that could be accepted by all.

Let’s act as we agreed earlier without being stuck in this problem. We neither betray any nor divide the country and the country is united today.

Source: PMD

Sri Lanka president suspends parliament till Feb 08

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has suspended parliament till February 08, according to a gazette notice.

Parliament will re-convene at 1000 am on January 08.

President Wickremesinghe told party leaders that he would make a speech, officially declaring his intention to give effect to the 13th amendment to the constitution on provincial councils.

Provincial councils, a power sharing arrangement backed by India as a solution to the ethnic Tamil have not yet been given police and land powers.

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Will India be the game changer for RW? BY Dr.Ameer Ali

The timing of the arrival of India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar carrying an invitation from his Prime Minister to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the unpacking of a series of Indian initiatives to help the struggling economy, could be the manna for RW and a game changer to save him politically.

New Delhi had always been supportive of Sri Lanka in times of need; but the assistance promised now and the initiatives announced so far come at a crucial moment when the President and his unpopular parliament are due to face a Local Government Election (LGE), which is almost taking the form of a referendum on RW’s Presidency. Given the delay and uncertainty over the promised emergency funding from IMF, which is also delaying additional funds expected to flow from other sources, all because of difficulties in getting the debt restructure issue resolved, had thrown into doubt whether RW’s economic recovery plan would eventuate at all. Adding to this pessimism are the burden of new and higher rates of taxes introduced in RW’s 2023 budget.

There is therefore widespread discontent over the regime’s pledges and performance, and to conduct LGE in this climate of discontent would, in all probability, spell disaster to the regime. Frantic efforts are therefore underway to get the elections postponed, chiefly on grounds of (a) financial unaffordability and (b) threat to the reforms and revival of the economy. The first of the two reasons appear weak in the face of assurance given by the Election Commissioner that the necessary expense of Rs. 5 billion could be met without a problem. But the second is bound to receive added strength following fresh hopes arising from India’s verve of economic assistance.

At a special press conference in the presence of RW and his Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, the Indian visitor listed a series of proposals that his government would undertake to develop Sri Lanka, such as turning Trincomalee into a renewable energy hub, increasing Indian investment and tourism and promoting infrastructure development. He reiterated his government’s 2022 commitment to grant $ 4 billion worth credit facilities with roll over terms to help Sri Lanka’s import needs.

More importantly and after extending financing assurances to IMF, Dr. Jaishankar urged other creditors to take “proactive steps” to help the island’s economic recovery. He also reminded, perhaps with geopolitical reasons, that all bilateral creditors be treated equally. All this initiative were couched under India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, which, in relation to Sri Lanka, was deemed a civilisational duty by the Indian Prime Minister in a trilogy of lectures in 2020.

Either coincidentally or as reaction to India’s initiatives the Exim Bank of China, which was accused of dragging its feet over debt restructuring, had written to RW in his capacity as Finance Minister, that the bank had decided to offer two-year moratorium, quipped by some as not “hard assurance”. However, IMF sees this as positive sign. But whether China’s offer be enough for IMF to release the promised $ 2.9 billion is not sure. Yet, India’s proposals and China’s response, would at least help quickening the process. That itself would be good news to RW. All in all, the vigorous Indian initiative looks to be a game changer, and RW and his team would now strengthen their case and argue for the postponement of LGE. It would be interesting to watch how things are going to turn out over the next few weeks.

Outside that special press conference, and in a separate meeting with the President, the Indian minister opened the controversial subject of the 13th Amendment, and urged its “full implementation” followed by Provincial Council Elections. The fact that this subject did not receive any mention at the press conference is significant. Does it convey that its importance been devalued to be raised separately like an addendum to the main text in order to satisfy the Tamil lobby alone?

In this regard, RW’s bold attempt to resolve once and for all the so-called national question before this year’s Independence Day has now been given up, and instead, to satisfy India more than the Tamils he has agreed at a meeting with TNA stalwarts to (a) release five Tamil prisoners held without charges by 4 February, and another 10 against whom charges have not been filed yet to be released once the Attorney General’s Department prepares the necessary documents; (b) allow management of land and police powers by Provincial Councils, once the Land Commission is set up; and (c) permit 9 of the 10 Deputy Inspector Generals to be managed by each Provincial Council.

In the context of a mellowed Sinhala Buddhist electorate which is more concerned with economic issues than communal politics, RW-TNA decisions may have a reasonable chance of being implemented once emergency funds become available and India’s promises are delivered.

Yet, it is needless to stress that it is devolution of power that is at the heart of Tamil demand and of the 13th Amendment. Dr. Jaishankar would have been aware too well how the former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa made a promise to implement that amendment in front of Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2020, and after returning home how he was forced to renege on that promise because of raging anger from his Sinhala Buddhist backyard. Is it therefore any wonder why the visiting diplomat did not open that subject at the special press conference? Diplomacy works in strange ways.

For the moment, if the Indian push comes to shove, moves IMF to release the funds quickly and urges Paris Club members to be proactive over debt restructuring, that would strengthen RW’s case for LGE postponement. But whether, even with that postponement, financial assistance and debt restructuring alone would be sufficient to revive the economy and set on a sustainable growth path is doubtful without system change. There seems to be a general view among most Sri Lankan politicians including RW, and many intellectuals that system change would be easier once growth and prosperity occurs.

This was why former President GR publicly announced that solution to power devolution was economic development. It should be the other way round in Sri Lanka, because it is the system that was put in place after independence, which had been the major contributor to economic slowdown and disaster. Had the system been fair and just there wouldn’t have been a national question today. It was this realisation that made the Aragalaya youth to call for system change.

Finally, while India’s vigorous push and international response to it would make RW’s IMF backed “One Plan Framework” to become operational, the parties in the opposition except NPP are busy forming coalitions to defeat the UNP-PPP at LGE. It is a pity that none of them except NPP has a comprehensive alternative to the IMF model. If India’s initiatives appear to be a game changer to RW politically, NPP’s alternative framework would be the game changer to the country. It is only NPP that is talking about a non-corrupt, transparent, accountable and economic democracy with social protection and inclusive national identity, which in total amounts to system change. But whether that party could sweep the election is the sixty-four thousand dollars question.

(The writer is attached to Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia.)

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ALL-PARTY CONFERENCE A FLOP?

Newly formed TNA ,The Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB), Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) yesterday (26) boycotted the All-Party Conference (APC) that was convened by President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) said the APC was convened in order to speak in depth on reconciliation.

The SJB and the JJB said the APC is only a ‘mere talk show’ as the President has ignored several proposals made by them earlier.

Newly formed Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (People’s Freedom Alliance), also did not participate in the APC.

The Prime Minister, the Speaker, former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena were invited to the APC too.

Meanwhile, TPA Leader Mano Ganesan stressed that President has not held talks on the issues related to Hill Country Tamils who are national minority in the country.

Ganesan said that they have been repeatedly demanding of President Wickremesinghe to talk about the political aspirations of the hill country Tamil community in his stated attempt to find solution to the National Question.

He said the President is holding talks on finding ways to resolve the Tamil questions but the rest of the Tamil political parties ‘don’t represent’ the hill country Tamils of Indian origin.

The TPA Leader said further, “We have been repeatedly demanding of President Wickremesinghe to conduct talks with us and all the Hill Country Tamil political parties, on the political aspirations of the Hill Country Tamil community in his stated attempt to find solutions to the national question. We have specifically told him to nominate a high-powered committee, chaired by him to look into this subject.

“But, apart from certain remarks made from public stages, President Wickremesinghe has not done anything officially in this regard”, Ganesan added.

While welcoming the President’s talks, with the Tamil parties of the North and East, to find solutions to the political and accountability issues faced by the northern and eastern Tamil brethren, he said they also wanted all stakeholders to understand the political aspirations of the Hill Country Tamil community beyond the ‘Plantation’ radius. And the national question of Sri Lanka is not North and East centric but national.

It is because the discussion is all about the National Question, why did not the TPA, as a party in the opposition, question President Wickremasinghe’s mandate to conduct talks with minority parties to address the national question, Ganesan queried.

“We consider the national question as the most important subject on the tray and no head of State needs any mandate to address this particular subject. We have even exchanged such positive views with North and East Tamil parties. Hence, the attitude of President Wickremasinghe towards us is disappointing.”

Message from Indian envoy Gopal Baglay to the people of Sri Lanka on India’s Republic Day

Ayubowan, Vanakkam, Namaskar!!

Greetings to all Indians in Sri Lanka and to my Sri Lankan brothers and sisters on the occasion of India’s 74th Republic Day.

This year, Sri Lanka also celebrates 75 years of its Independence and India and Sri Lanka mark 75 years of establishment of diplomatic ties. India celebrated 75 years of her Independence last year. Both India and Sri Lanka, close neighbors and friends, now look forward to the next 25 years for enhanced cooperation for progress and prosperity as well as peace.

Over the past year, India rendered unprecedented fi­nancial assistance of around USD 4 billion for the people of Sri Lanka. This year, India became the fi­rst bilateral creditor of Sri Lanka to convey financing assurance to the International Monetary Fund and support restructuring of Sri Lanka’s debt.

These steps have reinforced India’s commitment for the well-being of Sri Lanka in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Neighbourhood First policy.

The recent visit of External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to Sri Lanka has opened avenues for further cooperation through investment in infrastructure, manufacturing and promoting connectivity. India was Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner in 2021. Sri Lanka’s exports to India have also grown. The use of Rupees for trade settlement is further helping Sri Lanka’s economy. These are concrete steps to help Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and growth.

I am glad to note that India was once again the largest source of tourists for Sri Lanka last year. Resumption of Chennai-Jaffna fights is yet another step in bringing the people of the two countries closer. Ferry services between the two countries will bolster this further.

Recent developments in India-Sri Lanka ties have strengthened our friendship and all-round cooperation. At the same time, the two countries also remain vigilant to address common challenges, especially in maritime security domain.

As Sri Lanka celebrates a momentous day on 4 February 2023, I wish the people of this beautiful country a very happy 75th Independence Day, and convey that India will continue to stand with Sri Lanka.

– Gopal Baglay

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“Japan is working hard to help Sri Lanka overcome the economic crisis”

Japan has reiterated that it is working hard to help Sri Lanka overcome the economic crisis.

During an interview with the Reuters News Agency, Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs of Japan Masato Kanda has said Japan is working hard to help Sri Lanka, which is suffering its deepest economic crisis in 70 years, by coordinating with the Paris Club of creditor nations and the International Monetary Fund to ensure the participation of China and India in efforts to restructure the debt.

Referring to a Group of 20 mechanism designed to provide a swift and comprehensive debt restructuring for nations facing difficulty meeting debt obligations after the COVID-19 shock to their economies, Vice Minister Masato Kanda said, “It is desirable to work with these non-Paris Club countries in the same way with the Common Framework.”

He noted that, “If this is realised, it would pave the way to carry out debt restructuring for other middle-income countries.”

Vice Minister Kanda stressed that crisis-hit Sri Lanka was a key issue when it came to helping countries in debt but he was not sure when creditors aiming to extend it loans would meet.

Meanwhile, Vice Minister Masato Kanda said Japan, as this year’s Group of Seven (G7) chair, expects Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to dominate talks this year among the world’s major advanced economies.

Vice Minister Kanda, who will oversee deputy-level negotiations on economic policy among the G7 nations this year, said among other issues at the top of the G7 agenda would be global debt problems.

He noted that while aggressive U.S. interest rate increases last year weighed on emerging market dollar-denominated debt, middle-income countries have been left without an international arrangement to address the debt crisis.

Accordingly, leaders of the major advanced economies are expected to discuss the debt issues faced by middle-income countries such as Sri Lanka at length.

Japan was one of the first countries that President Ranil Wickremesinghe reached out to, to solve Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, after assuming office last year.

Japan responded positively from the outset and now the government is in the final stages of agreement on a four-year Extended Fund Facility with the International Monetary Fund.

SL still awaiting an India-like assurance from China to IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is awaiting financial assurances, similar to what has been provided by the Government of India, from China and the Paris Club members, for it to proceed with the agreed Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to Sri Lanka, said the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe last noon (25) during the first monetary policy review press conference for the year.

Dr. Weerasinghe stated that once China and the Paris Club provide their assurance letters to the IMF, the Fund will analyse the letter and determine whether this letter meets the requirements before proceeding with the next step.

“India has provided a financial assurance which is acceptable to the IMF. The Paris Club and China are in the process of issuing similar financial assurances. This process is making good progress. An assurance letter is a matter between creditors and the IMF. The IMF will require a maximum of four weeks upon receiving these two letters before providing the approval for the EFF,” Weerasinghe stated.

However, when a journalist queried whether the Central Bank is satisfied with the two-year moratorium provided to Sri Lanka by the Export and Import Bank of China, Weerasinghe neither denied nor acknowledged the matter, and refused to comment.

Earlier this week, the Export-Import Bank of China offered Sri Lanka a two-year moratorium on its debt and said it would support the country’s efforts to secure a $ 2.9 billion loan from the IMF. The letter comes amidst Sri Lanka’s ongoing debt restructuring talks with creditors and a financial assurance letter issued by India.

According to the Governor, the EFF with the IMF is in its final stages and is likely to be received by the first quarter of this year, as mentioned in previous press conferences.

UK ready to consider financing assurances for Sri Lanka to secure IMF deal

The United Kingdom is “ready to consider” financing assurances to Sri Lanka to secure a 2.9 billion US dollar extended fund facility (EFF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a UK official said.

Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the British parliament on Tuesday January 24 that the UK is fully supportive of the proposed Coordination Platform between Sri Lanka’s Paris Club and non-Paris Club creditors, which the British government believes represents the most efficient way to restore debt sustainability in Sri Lanka.

“Constructive engagement across creditors is vital to secure a prompt and comprehensive International Monetary Fund programme for Sri Lanka and ensure a sustainable economic recovery. As a member of the Paris Club, the UK stands ready to consider the necessary Financing Assurances to secure an Extended Financing Facility with the IMF in a timely manner,” she said.

Trevelyan was responding to a question posed by Conservative MP Bob Blackman to Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly on what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of a statement a previous statement from economists and academics calling on creditors to share the burden of debt restructuring for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is cautiously optimistic that the IMF bailout package will come through in the first quarter, with IMF board approval anticipated some time in March. India has already assured the IMF of its assistance to Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring plans, with a confirmation from China also expected in the coming weeks.

The island nation is going through its worst currency crisis in decades and the IMF loan would help unlock other avenues of financing that’s desperately needed.

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