SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF (MAY 2018) – Compiled by Victor Melder

SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF (MAY 2018) – Compiled by Victor Melder

Victor Meldor - eLanka

Colombo CPI continued to ease, settling below 4%, thanks to the continued moderation in food prices, which grew at its slowest in the past two years. Food prices eased on a sequential basis as well, led by vegetables, sea fish, onions and coconut. Non-food prices on the other hand, showed mild signs of pick up after easing for six continuous months. ‘Alcohol and beverage’, health, transport and recreation index picked up both on an annual and sequential basis, while that of ‘clothing and footwear’ eased. Core inflation mirrored this mild pick-up. Recent trends of moderation in food prices along with the statistical impact of last year’s high base is expected to keep inflation within the central bank’s target range of 4-6%. We forecast inflation to average 4.3% in 2018. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka in its April meeting reduced the upper bound of the policy rate corridor, i.e. cut the Standard Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) by 25bps to 8.5%. Easing inflation, stabilizing inflation expectations, cooling credit growth, and weak economic growth in 2017 warranted a reduction in the policy rate, according to the CBSL. (Daily Island 1.5.2018)

The funeral of world renowned film producer Dr. Lester James Peries will be held at 3 pm today at Independence Square with full State patronage. The remains will be kept at Independence Square from 12 noon to 3 p.m. for the public to pay their last respects. Internationally acclaimed cinematic genius Dr. Lester James Peries passed away on Sunday night, while receiving treatment at a private hospital in Colombo. He was 99. Large crowds, including artistes and politicians are expected to participate in the funeral today. Lester James Peiris was born to a reputed Roman Catholic family in Dehiwala on April 5, 1919. He was eleven years old when he was gifted a 8 mm Kodasco projector by his father. He started writing to the blue pages of the Ceylon Daily News at the age of 17. Rekhawa,” his debut film production showed his extraordinary knowledge in the technique of film industry in December 1956 earned him a commendable reputation as the best production of Sri Lankan Cinema. (Daily News 2.5.2018)

Plantations Minister Naveen Dissanayake said yesterday that the ban on glyphosate had been lifted for tea and rubber plantations from yesterday. However, the ban would be in force as regards paddy and other cultivations, the minister told a press conference in Colombo. Glyphosate was banned in 2015. Independent MP Ven Athuraliye Ratana has stated that he would take to the streets against the government if the ban on glyphosate is lifted. The tea and rubber planters continued to plead with the government to lift the ban as their cultivations suffered severely because of the ban as traditional use of labour to remove weeds was expensive. (Daily Island, 3.5.2018)

Wellawaya Magistrate Kesara Samaradivakara imposed fines amounting to Rs 410,000 on three persons, found guilty of possessing 33 kilos of dried venison. They had been nabbed in the act of selling bush meat in the Kirinoyagalrena area, on the border of Lungamvehera National Park, by Wildlife Conservation Department officials. Two shotguns and a threewheeler, used by them, too, were taken into custody and produced before courts. The wildlife officials informed the court that when they raided the illicit meat selling point one of the suspects had fled. He was later apprehended with the help of information divulged by the other two suspects. The one who made an abortive bid to flee was fined Rs. 170,000 and the other two were fined Rs 120,000 each for the offence of keeping wild game meat in their possession. (Daily Island 4.5.2018)

An Inbound Health Assessment programme will be established in Sri Lanka to screen foreigners who apply for long stay visas for TB, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and filaria, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Sri Lanka said in a press release. On Friday (04) IOM Sri Lanka Chief of Mission Giuseppe Crocetti signed an MoU with the Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Janaka Sugathadasa to establish the health screening programme. “Since the end of Sri Lanka’s long running civil conflict in 2009, the country has seen a significant increase in foreign investment and tourist arrivals. Mega investment projects such as the Colombo Port City, Hambantota Port and the signing of several free trade agreements with neighboring countries have resulted in a spike in arrivals of foreign nationals, including migrant workers with applications for both residence and work visas increasing rapidly,” The IOM said in a press release. Since many of the migrant workers arrive from countries with a higher disease burden than Sri Lanka, which has made progress in combating communicable diseases and since the country has some of the best health indicators in the region, the Sri Lankan health authorities recognize that in order to maintain these high health standards, they need to minimize possible public health risks posed by increased population mobility. “Anyone testing positive for any of the diseases will be referred to the government health system for treatment paid for through a health insurance scheme to be set up as part of the programme. While they undergo the prescribed treatment, they will be issued with an interim visa to stay in the country and will be monitored by the Health Ministry for treatment compliance. The interim visa will grant the same rights to work or study as the residence visa,” the press release read. “This cooperation framework is a first of its kind for IOM globally. It is a major achievement and reflects the long running partnership between IOM and Sri Lanka in advancing the migrant health agenda,” said IOM Sri Lanka Chief of Mission Giuseppe Crocetti. “Sri Lanka is globally appreciated for its public health achievement of having eliminated malaria and filaria, and keeping HIV and tuberculosis at low prevalence. (Daily Island 7.5.2018)

Sri Lanka tourist arrivals increased 12.6 percent in April this year against last year with the largest source market for tourists becoming India, followed by United Kingdom and China. The total number of international tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka during April 2018 was 180,429. In comparison to April last year, there is a growth of 12.6% when the arrivals were 160,249. This month, the largest source market for tourists was India, followed by United Kingdom and China. Almost 94 percent of tourists traveled by air to Sri Lanka. As at 30th April 2018, 888,353 tourists had visited Sri Lanka for this year. It is a 16.1 percent growth over last year when 765,202 tourists had visited the country during the same period. Asia & Pacific was the largest source of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka with 46 percent of the total traffic received in April 2018. Europe accounted for 42 percent of the total traffic, Americas 9 percent, Middle East 2 percent and Africa 1 percent. India, United Kingdom, China, Australia and Germany were Sri Lanka’s top five international tourist generating markets in the month of April this year. India was the largest source of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka with 17 percent of the total traffic received in April 2018. United Kingdom accounted for 14 percent of the total traffic, while China, Australia and Germany accounted for 10 percent, 8 percent and 6 percent respectively. (Sunday Island 13.5.2018)

Rehabilitation and reconstruction of 10 major bridges in structurally weak condition were completed with Japanese assistance under the Major Bridges Construction Project of the National Road Network package 01. The event was held at the Polwathumodara Bridge in Matara on the 11 May 2018, under the patronage of Ministry of Highways & Road Development and Kenichi Suganuma, Ambassador of Japan in Sri Lanka. Sagala Rathnayake, Minister of Project Management, Youth Affairs and Southern Development and dignitaries from the Government of Sri Lanka were present to grace this occasion. The Government of Japan provided 12,381 million Japanese Yen (approximately LKR. 17,870 million) through JICA under the aforementioned project with the objective of making the road network smoother and meeting with the increasing demand for road transportation in Sri Lanka. The 10 bridges rehabilitated were Polwathumodara (2 bridges), Goiyapana, Kathaluwa, Polwatta, Wellamadama, Koledanda, Kihimbi Ela, Deinipitiya and Denagama. These bridges were reconstructed using Japan’s outstanding technology and methods, with minimum disturbance to road users and nearby communities. The Japanese Government has helped reconstruction of many bridges in Sri Lanka, including the Mannar Bridge and Manmunai Bridge, and it is now financing the new bridge across the Kelani River at Peliyagoda, hoping that this assistance also will be helpful for smoother road network in the country and hence will improve economic growth and development of Sri Lanka. (Daily Island, 14.5.2018)

The University of Peradeniya has set up an ola leaf manuscript conservation unit at its library. It will be opened by the University’s Vice Chancellor Prof. U. B. Dissanayake on May 15. The Peradeniya University Palm-leaf Conservation Unit with about 5,000 items is believed to be second largest ola leaf manuscript conservation unit in the country. Some of the manuscripts are about 800 years old. The collection consists of about 250,000 individual leaves. Among the oldest manuscripts is the “Vissuddhimagga Tika” which belongs to the 13th Century. Among other manuscripts are those on Buddhism including Tripitaka, Jathaka stories, history, geography, Charms, Art, grammar, medicine, lexicography and prosody. The collection is a national heritage, according to a university official. According to the summary of the collection titles and the available numbers are as follows: Buddhism, 1,500, History and Geography 450, Magic and Charms 600, Prose and Verse 600 and grammar, lexicography and prosody 1,700. (Daily Island, 14.5.2018)

Another 522 acres under army control in Jaffna would be released to the original owners by July, District Secretary of Jaffna, Nagalingan Wedanayagam said. “The Secretary to the ministry of resettlement has informed me of the decision. Some 4,992 acres of land under army control have already been handed over to the original owners in several districts in the North and East.” District Secretaries were entrusted with the task of returning the lands to their rightful owners. The Ministry of Resettlement has said that Cabinet agreed to pay the army Rs. 866.71 million for the construction of camps on account of the handover of the land. (Daily Island, 15.5.2018)

At least six people have died so far due to heavy rains lashing the country and the resultant floods and other natural disasters. According to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), more than 13, 314 people from 3, 438 families in Anuradhapura, Mulaitivu, Trincomalee, Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya, Badulla, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Galle, Kalutara, Kurunegala, and Puttalam have been affected by the prevailing inclement weather. Over 1,024 people from 285 families have been sheltered in 20 safe locations. The worst affected was the Galle District with 7, 742 people (1,960 families) being displaced. During the last 24 hours ending at 08.30 yesterday, the highest rainfall of 353.8 mm was recorded from Anamaduwa in the Puttalam District. However, some areas in Ratnapura, Kalutara, Puttalam and Kurunegala Districts had received more than 200mm rainfall, the Met Department said. The main rivers including Nilwala, Gin, Kalu and Kelani and Attanagalu Oya and Ma Oya are reported to be overflowing in some places. The Met Department has warned residents of lower catchment areas of those rivers to remain vigilant. The National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) issued landslide warning for locations in potential risk in Kegalle, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Badulla, Kandy, Matale, Colombo and Gampaha. The army and the navy have been deployed in disaster prone areas to carry out rescue operations and distribute relief. The navy has dispatched 27 teams to five districts––Galle, Kalutara, Ratnapura, Kurunegala and Puttalam. Each team had been provided with a dinghy, the navy spokesman said. (Daily Island 22.5.2018

Headline Inflation, as measured by the change in the National Consumer Price Index (NCPI, 2013=100), which is compiled by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS), decreased to 1.6 per cent in April 2018, lowest since February 2016, from 2.8 per cent in March 2018 on year-on-year basis. The decline in the year-on-year inflation in April 2018 was mainly driven by the higher base resulted by the increase in prices of the items in the Food category during April 2017. The change in the NCPI measured on an annual average basis decreased from 6.7 per cent in March 2018 to 6.1 per cent in April 2018. When monthly change is considered, the NCPI increased from 122.8 index points in March 2018 to 122.9 index points in April 2018 mainly due to the increase in prices of the items in the Non-food category, particularly that of Transport (fuel price increase by the LIOC); and Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. Meanwhile, price declines were observed in Food category particularly that of vegetables, big onions and coconuts as a result of improved supply conditions. The NCPI Core inflation, which reflects the underlying inflation in the economy, remained unchanged at 1.9 per cent in April 2018 on year-on-year basis. Meanwhile, annual average NCPI Core inflation declined to 3.3 per cent in April 2018 from 3.6 per cent in March 2018.  (Daily Island, 23.5.2018)

Heavy rains, and floods continue to wreak havoc as the South West monsoon continue to hit the south western part of the country today (24) and tomorrow. The number of lives claimed by the adverse weather has reached 11 and approximately, 7,526 families have been evacuated into 194 welfare centres due to flood and landslide risks, according to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). More than 100,000 people have been affected by the rains, with many evacuated to safe locations and temporary shelters. Railway and bus services of several areas have also taken a beating, with many lines inundated or damaged due to the rains. Director of Irrigation – Hydrology, Eng. Mala Alawathugoda told the media at the DMC that water levels across most of the rivers were receding, however, at certain locations, the water levels were rising. She said, the marking on the water gauge located in Nagalagam Street for the Kelani River is increasing and the situation can be classified as a flood situation. Two spill gates have been opened in the Rajanganaya Reservoir due to the rising water level. DMC advises people living downstream to remain vigilant in this regard. Meanwhile traffic has been restricted on the bridge connecting Biyagama and Kaduwela due to a high risk situation owing to the prevailing adverse weather condition. Accordingly heavy erosion of soil has occurred along the Kelani River banks and underneath the bridge causing fears regarding its structural strength. The Road Development Authority (RDA) said that a team of engineers have been sent to the location to inspect damage. (Daily Island, 24.5.2018)

Flood waters have started receding in Colombo, Matara, Galle, Ratnapura and Kegalle districts as all major rivers Kelani, Gin, Nilwala, Kalu, Ma-Oya and Mahaweli are flowing at normal level, says to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). The Centre said that the “Red Alert” landslide warning issued by the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) was still valid for Kegalle, Kalutara, Galle, Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya. Therefore people in those districts were urged to be on alert for possible landslides and to immediately evacuate if they see any landslide signs. DMC stated that the deaths resulted by bad weather had reached 16 with another person reported missing. Over 138,292 people (35,129 families) have been affected and about 13,199 families were still displaced due to landslide risks and flood and evacuated to 231 safe locations. The Hatton-Colombo Main road has been temporarily closed off due to a landslide and only a single lane was open for traffic, due to landslips and mounds of earth falling on the road in the Diyagala area, Ginigathhena. Twenty spill gates of the Thabbowa Reservoir in Puttalam have been opened this morning (25) due to heavy rainfall. Accordingly the sluice gates of the Thabbowa Reservoir are currently releasing 5,750 cubic feet of water per minute to the Mee Oya. Meanwhile the Meteorology Department predicted that the prevailing rains in the south-western part of the country would be continued together with fairly strong gusty winds about 50kmph. Heavy falls about 100-150mm would be expected at some places in Sabaragamuwa, Western, Central and North-Western provinces and in Galle, Matara, Jaffna and Mannar districts. There might be temporary localized strong winds during thundershowers. Public is requested to take adequate precautions to minimize damages caused by lightning activity, Met Department’s Weather Forecast stated. During the last 18-24 hours rainfall observed in main stations ended at yesterday morning hours of May 25 showed reduction of rainfall in south-western areas however some areas have received heavy rainfalls; in Moragaswewa (Deduru-Oya)-151mm, Gampaha-138.5mm, Kuliyapitiya 120.5mm, Anamaduwa-117.8mm, Thabbowa-104.2mm, Colombo-55.8mm. The highest rainfall recorded was around 169mm in Hindawa in Ratnapura District. (Daily Island, 26.5.2018)

The death toll from the adverse weather rose to 23 yesterday with over 160,000 people affected, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said. As a result of heavy rains, 166,228 people from 43,604 families have been affected as at 1200 hours on Sunday. The DMC said that all major reservoirs were at a normal level, however, some reservoir gates were opened to release water flowing from other areas. Landslide warning were also issued for Ratnapura, Kalutara, Kegalle and Nuwara Eliya.

The DMC said that the South-west monsoon had gradually established over the Bay of Bengal but there was air circulation south-west of the Indian sea area and wind speeds could increase from time to time. Officials also said that there could be a need to clean drinking water wells over the next few days in affected areas as most water sources were contaminated.
People in flood risk areas have been evacuated to safe locations and at present approximately 19,519 families have been evacuated to 339 welfare centres due to floods and landslide risks in eight districts. (Daily Financial Times, 28.5.2018)

Sri Lanka has accepted an eight-year China Development Bank $ 1 billion syndicated loan to repay loans maturing this year, two top Finance Ministry officials said on Friday.he bank was chosen from among four bidding for the loan, which the Government plans to use towards repaying other loans, one official told Reuters. “All three others had three-year tenure and only China Development Bank had a bid for an eight-year tenure. The effective rate of return is around 5.3%,” the official said. “It was a good offer. The loan has a three-year grace period. Then in the next five years, the government will be repaying $ 100 million biannually.” The new borrowing comes after Sri Lanka raised a record $ 2.5 billion via two tranches of sovereign bonds last month. The Government is also preparing to refinance big debts that fall due up to 2022, with the start this year of repayments on expensive infrastructure foreign loans. The Government has blamed “colossal borrowing” by the previous government for the spike in debt servicing. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said last week the debt crisis would further worsen next year, when $ 4.3 billion has to be paid for debt servicing in 2019. Some 77% of next year’s repayments are for debts obtained by the previous government, he said. Sri Lanka, which has a $ 87 billion economy, expects foreign currency outflows of $ 6.35 billion in the next 12 months including loans, securities, and deposits, compared with the current $ 9.1 billion in foreign exchange reserves, according to the latest official Central Bank data. The Cabinet has approved plans to borrow some $ 5 billion in 2018 to refinance the debts due this year. The island nation plans overall net foreign borrowing of Rs. 300 billion ($ 1.90 billion) this year, 9.1% lower than 2017, budget data showed. (Daily Financial Times 28.5.2018)

The Erste Bank of Austria has provided EUR 9.5 million (approximately Rs.1,810 million) interest-free credit facilities to enhance the access to quality and modern healthcare facilities in hospitals in the country. The Government, having recognised the importance, has now been able to provide anaesthetic machines, ICU ventilators, blood gas analysers, endoscopes, operation theatres and mobile lights for identified hospitals in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the project are to reduce hospital-acquired infections, ensure access to modern healthcare equipment so as to provide immediate care to the patients whilst reducing the recurrent costs and expenditure to the Government. Accordingly, the people in the entire country will be benefitted through this project by enhancing access to quality healthcare facilities. (Daily Financial Times 28.5.2018).

The situation in the south-western part of the country slowly got back to normal on Monday after an extreme pre-monsoonal weather condition that caused 24 deaths, floods, landslides, as well as major traffic disruptions and school closures over the last week. According to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), more than 170,000 people in Mullativu, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Galle, Kalutara, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Moneragala, Matara, Hambantota, Gampaha, Matale, Polonnaruwa, Colombo, Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa have been affected and approximately 17,976 families have been evacuated into 265 welfare centres due to floods and landslide risks in nine districts. All major reservoirs were at spill level and some of their gates were opened for release of excess water so as to prevent possible disaster. DMC Assistant Director Media and Public Relations Janaka Handunpathirajage said that the sluice gates of Deduru-oya, Kukuleganga and Rajanganaya tanks were opened and inundation was still persisting in few areas of Ja-Ela. Sandbags have been stacked by the Army/Navy personnel to stop flooding of settlements. Gampaha-Ganemulla road was still sub-merged and transportation was limited in Kirindiwita, Akarawita areas. Low-lying areas were still under water in Wattala in Gampaha District, he added. The National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said that the landslide warnings given to Ratnapura, Kalutara, Kegalle, Nuwara-Eliya, due to potential earth slips and cut failures were still valid. During the 24 hours that ended at 8.00 a.m. yesterday showled a reduction of rain in all parts of the country, Met Department said that some areas had received considerable rainfall; in Pitabaddara-34.5, Baddegama 35.6mm, Nochchiyagama-30mm, Nikaweratiya-26.9mm. The highest rainfall recorded was around 45.7mm in Labugama in Colombo District. National Disaster Relief Services Centre (NDRSC) said that it had provided 44.15 million cash allocations to the 12 District Secretaries to address the immediate needs of the affected populations. (Daily Island, 29.5.2018)

The Port of Colombo recorded a 16.2% growth in container handling for the 1st quarter of 2018 over the same quarter last year, according to Alphaliner Monthly 2018.  Among container ports worldwide, Colombo growth rate is second only to Port of Singapore, which has recorded 16.5% growth over 2017. It is also a very significant achievement when compared against Port of Colombo 2017 figures, with 8.3% growth of 2017 against 2016.  With this growth, the Port of Colombo has leaped ahead of many other Asian ports, major European ports and Dubai as well. According to Alphaliner global port rankings, the top container ports such as Singapore marked 16.5%, ranking number one; Port of Colombo 16.2%, number two; Port of Xiamen (China) 11.6%, number three; Antwerp (Belgium) 10.7%, number four; and Ningbo Zhoushan (China) 10.4%, number five. Recently the three terminal operators at the Port of Colombo – Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) under SLPA, South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) and Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) – reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to operate collectively to promote the Port of Colombo. The new collective agreement is expected to minimise the total turnaround time of all container vessels. Further, through the new agreement, terminals will also be able to promote the Port of Colombo collectively and collaboratively in the arena of international maritime business. The Drewry Port Connectivity Index at its most recent release had ranked the Port of Colombo as the 13th Best Connectivity Port in the world for the fourth quarter of 2017, up by five places from its previous positioning of ranks. According to the rankings, the Port of Colombo is also the top best connectivity port in South Asia.   For its dedicated performance to uplift the position of the Port of Colombo in the world maritime map, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was awarded the Ports Authority of the Year award by the Global Ports Forum (GPF) in 2018. (Daily Financial Times, 31.5.2018)


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