SRI LANKA NEWS
Compiled by Victor Melder.
A proposal to provide increased pension benefits for those who retired after 2017 has been abandoned as the plan would cost the government a staggering Rs 130 billion annually. A senior Treasury official said that instead of increasing the pensions, the Government would come up with a revised scheme where the pensions of those who retired after December 31, 2017 would be calculated on the salary scales as at the end of 2017. Under a proposal of the former Government, the pensions were to be calculated on the basis that they had served until 2020. Accordingly, those retiring were to receive a minimum of Rs 3,000 additional pension, with higher grades due to receive more than Rs 10,000 a month. The previous UNF Government’s pension plan was to apply to some 100,000 employees who retired after 2017. The official explained that the implementation of the former government’s proposal would lead to the creation of a major salary anomaly among 600,000 pensioners, who retired before 2017. At present, the Government spends Rs 240 billion annually for the payment of pensions and if the proposal was implemented the annual pension bill would have shot up to Rs 370 billion, he said. “The increased amount will be a severe burden on the Treasury and, therefore, implementation of the proposal will not be possible.” He said under the new formula to be worked out within the next six to seven months, all pensioners would be treated equally. (Sunday Times, 2.2.2020)
Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals dropped 7.4 percent from a year earlier to 226,094 and in January 2020, and visitors from China dropped 15 percent to 22,363, Chairperson of Sri Lanka’s Tourist Development Authority Kimarli Fernando said. Arrivals from China had dropped to 22,263 in January 2020 from 26,414 visitors last year. There has been a small drop in arrivals from other destinations, she said. Sri Lanka is expecting a sharper slowdown in tourists in February after the island stopped giving on-arrival visas Chinese visitors. Sri Lanka is now pre-approving visas to visitors only from Chinese cities where there no large concentrations of coronavirus infections. China has also stopped outgoing group tours from the country. “Tour operators have cancelled but individuals and families are still arriving,” she said. Sri Lanka has put in place procedures to handle visitors for China, with separate lines for immigration, thermal screening, doctors examination at the airport. They also have to fill a form giving their itinerary. Health officials said tourist from China and tour guides and drivers have been asked to wear masks and wash their hands frequently. (Economynext, 3.2.2020)
Sri Lanka’s inflation, as measured by the change in the Colombo Consumers’ Price Index (CCPI), increased to 5.4% in January 2020 from 4.8 in December 2019, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka reported. This was driven by monthly increase of prices of items in both food and non-food categories. Food inflation (Y-o-Y) increased substantially to a 25-month high of 11.7% in January 2020 from 6.35 in December 2019, while Nonfood inflation (Y-o-Y) stood at 2.9 per cent. The change in the CCPI measured on an annual average basis increased marginally to 4.4 per cent in January 2020 from 4.3 per cent in December 2019. Monthly change of CCPI recorded at 1.4 per cent in January 2020 and it was due to the price increases observed in the items of both Food and Non-food categories. Within the Food category, prices of vegetables increased significantly due to supply shortages caused by adverse weather conditions prevailed during the previous month. (Daily Mirror, 4.2.2020)
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Wednesday, asked Parliament to approve an increase in the debt ceiling from Rs. 721 billion to Rs. 1.078 trillion. He made this request during a speech on the country’s current economic situation. The Prime Minister also urged the House to approve a supplementary estimate which proposes to increase the allocation for recurrent expenditure by Rs. 101 billion and Rs. 55 billion for capital expenditure. The government urged the House to approve Rs. 211 billion for projects carried out with foreign loans. The previous government had obtained loans at a high interest for projects and there had been huge cost overruns, the PM said. “The government could not get loans because the debt ceiling has been exceeded. The money allocated by Parliament to pay back loans taken by previous government was insufficient.” PM Rajapaksa also said that the previous government had promised to reduce the budget deficit to 4%. However, it now stood at 7%. “When I handed the government in 2015, the budget deficit was 5%. The debt as a percentage of National revenue was 70%. Now it’s 80%. The previous government increased taxes and extended low interest loans in a bid to generate income,” he said. The economy was growing at 3%, the lowest in the region. By 2020, the budget deficit would be reduced to 4%, PM Rajapaksa said. “The previous government expected an income of Rs. 2,400 billion for 2019. By November 2019, only Rs. 1,600 was raised. Rs. 1,800 was collected by December. There is a shortfall of Rs. 600 billion. This shows that increasing taxes and complicating the tax regime had not led to an increase in income.” (Daily Island, 7.2.2020)
About 64 new cancer patients are detected daily in the country and of them around 38 are terminally ill, says Dr. Suraj Perera, Consultant Community Physician, National Cancer Control Program. Dr. Perera said that as per the latest statistics around 23,530 new cancer cases are reported annually from Sri Lanka. Of those cases around 14,013 die of the disease. Dr. Perera said: “Of the male patients the majority have oral cancer, while the majority of female patients have breast cancer. One third of cancer related deaths are caused by obesity, lack of consumption of vegetables and fruits, lack of physical exercise, high consumption of alcohol and tobacco.” Consultant Community Physician Dr. Nayana de Alwis said that controlling sugar, salt and food items containing trans-fat would help reduce the excessive amount of body fat leading to reduction in the number of obesity cases. She said that there was an increase in burning of polythene polluting air with carcinogenic particles. The increase in burning polythene was witnessed despite the ban. “Increasing air pollution, too, could be identified as a cause of increasing number of cancer patients. In many houses we still use firewood to prepare food. The World Health Organisation has advocated against using firewood as a fuel because inhaling the smoke coming from burning firewood could result in cancer. We request people to shift from firewood to another alternative fuel source and until they do so to burn firewood after opening all windows and doors in their kitchens. That would help reduce the inhaling the smoke.” She pointed out that consuming a healthy meal, avoiding consumption of alcohol and tobacco and maintaining a correct body mass index would help reduce the risk of cancer. Consultant Community Physician Dr. Udaya Usgodarachchi said that action should be taken to discourage the use of alcohol and tobacco to reduce the number of cancer cases. The government should ban the use of areca nut and sweetened betel such as babul, Dr. Usgodarachchi added. (Daily Island, 11.2.2020)
Sri Lanka reported 103 fatalities due to electrocution in the year 2019 up from 89 fatalities reported in 2018, the electrocution report 2019 released by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the electricity sector regulator, revealed. The southern province of Sri Lanka reported the highest fatalities due to electrocution in 2019 while western province reported the lowest. The southern province reported 30 fatalities due to electrocution in the year 2019. The southern province reported 97 fatalities due to electrocution in the period of 2015-19 which stood as the highest in the country compared to the electrocutions reported in other provinces in the same period. Drawing power lines to illegally to protect cultivation or to kill wild animals has been identified as the main reasons for the highest fatalities due to electrocution in the country while small scale electric repair work at home/ workplace and Activities near power lines also have contributed to the electrocutions in 2019. The latest statistics show, males are more exposed to electrocutions as 86 per cent from total fatalities due to electrocution reported in 2019 were males which stood at 83 per cent in 2018. People who are at the age range of 40 to 50 stood as the most vulnerable age group exposed to electrocution in 2019. According to the international benchmark, the possibility of occurring electrocution, is only one (01) electrocution for one million people, per year. In 2019, the Sri Lankan electrocution index stood at five times higher than the global benchmark. The PUCSL has introduced number of safety regulations to uplift the electricity safety of the country and is in the process of building a national network of safety ambassadors representing all the villages in Sri Lanka to strengthen people with knowledge of safe use of electricity. (Times Online, 12.2.2020)
Cabinet has rejected a request by the Department of Immigration and Emigration to not extend the “free visa” facility to tourists from 48 countries. A proposal to extend the free visa facility to visitors from these countries for a further three months from February 1 to April 30 was approved by Cabinet. The Immigration and Emigration Department though, had opposed the move to extend the facility, noting that it had resulted the department losing about Rs 1 billion a month, with total losses of approximately Rs 5.5 biillion up to date, sources told Times Online. The previous Government had given the free visa facility to tourists from 48 countries for a six month period effective from August 1, 2019. In deciding to extend the visa facility by a further six months, the new Government has stated that the move to provide free visas has resulted in a rise in tourists to Sri Lanka from these countries. (Times online, 13.2.2020)
Indian Navy’s Sandhayak-class ship INS Jamuna, which has arrived in Sri Lanka, will carry out detailed hydrographic surveys and several shore-based survey activities over the two-month deployment period. The ship has been deployed to Sri Lanka based on a mutual agreement to carry out a joint hydrographic survey off the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, the Indian Navy said in a statement. “Over the two months deployment period, the ship will carry out detailed hydrographic surveys and several shore-based survey activities,” the statement said. Sri Lanka Navy personnel will embark the ship during the conduct of the joint survey. Additionally, they will also be provided “hands-on survey training during every operational turn around in port,” it added. (Daily Island, 15.2.2020)
Sri Lanka currently ranks 104 out of 162 countries for Economic Freedom (Economic Freedom of the World Index, 2019). This is a 7 step drop from last year’s ranking, 97. The President, in his Independence Day address to the nation promised “I not only respect your freedom, but I will work towards improving it and guarantee the political and economic freedom in a truly democratic country”. Advocata commended this line of thinking and believes his vision can be achieved through the recommendations listed below. Economic Freedom is the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom. The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to enter markets and compete, and security of the person and privately owned property. Sri Lanka’s rank in the indicator “Freedom to trade internationally” is alarmingly poor, ranking 113 out of 162 countries. When governments impose restrictions that reduce the ability of their residents to engage in voluntary exchange with people in other countries, economic freedom is diminished. Not only does Sri Lanka enforce exorbitant taxes on imports, trade facilitation in the country is poor. Recommendations: Replace Sri Lanka’s complex tariff system with a low and uniform tariff rate. Implementation and improvement of the National Single Window for trade, which will allow all parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents at a single-entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. Reforming the Customs Ordinance. The National Export Strategy mentions that a new Customs Act, which is in line with international standards for trade facilitation, has been drafted but this hasn’t progressed beyond this stage. (Sunday Island, 16.2.2020)
United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina B. Teplitz has been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Relations tomorrow (16) to inform the Sri Lankan government’s objection to the imposition of travel restrictions on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and his immediate family members. On Friday, the United States said it would refuse entry to Sri Lanka’s Army chief over what it said “credible” evidence of human rights violations in the 2009 finale to the civil war in Sri Lanka.
However, issuing a statement, the Sri Lankan government said it takes strong objection to the imposition of travel restrictions on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and his immediate family members by the United States government, based on independently unverified information. (Daily Mirror, 16.2.2020)