(MARCH  2024)
Compiled by Victor Melder


The Headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year (YoY) change in the Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI, 2021=100)1 decreased to 5.9% in February from 6.4% in January 2024. The Central Bank said the increase in the headline inflation is mostly in line with its projections.  It said the Food inflation (YoY) increased to 3.5% in February from 3.3% in January 2024, while the Non-Food inflation (YoY) decelerated to 7% in February from 7.9% in January 2024.  CBSL also said the monthly change of CCPI recorded -0.05% in February due to the combined effect of price decreases of 0.67% observed in the items of Food category and price increases of 0.62% observed in the items of Non-Food category. The core inflation (YoY), which reflects the underlying inflation in the economy, increased to 2.8% in February from 2.2% in January 2024.  The Central Bank said inflation is expected to remain above the target in the near term mainly driven by the recent tax adjustments, before stabilising around the targeted level of 5% over time, supported by well-anchored inflation expectations and appropriate policy measures. (Daily Mirror, 1.3.2024)

Sri Lanka’s merchandise trade deficit in January widened to US$ 514 million from US$ 445 million in the corresponding month the previous year due to a higher increase in imports. Provisional data released by the Central Bank this week showed that earnings from merchandise exports recorded a marginal decline of 0.8 percent Year-on-Year (YoY) to US$ 971 million in January 2024 compared to US$ 978 million in January 2023. In terms of merchandise imports, expenditure increased by 6.2 percent YoY to US$ 1,512 million in January 2024 The increase in expenditure on consumer goods and investment goods partly driven by the relaxation of import restrictions contributed to this increase, the Central Bank said. (Daily Mirror, 2.3.2024)

Sri Lanka’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached its highest point in 2022, surpassing 120% in central Government debt to GDP and 128% in public debt to GDP. In 2023, the country suspended payments on selected foreign debt and entered into an IMF program focusing on debt sustainability. Despite these measures, the total central Government debt increased by an additional $ 16.6 billion or by 21% during this period, indicating ongoing challenges in managing the country’s debt burden, according to charts.(Financial Times, 4.3.2024) 

Tourist arrivals in February have hit a post-COVID all-time high of 218,350 whilst pushing the cumulative figure to 426,603 setting a positive start for the year. Sri Lanka welcomed over 200,000 tourists for three consecutive months, marking a hat trick. February arrivals also set a new benchmark, beating the previous high of 210,352 recorded in December since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. The data reflects a sharp growth of 103% year-on-year (YoY), largely influenced by the winter season travel, enhanced connectivity and service from more airlines and growing traveller confidence following promotions. Nevertheless, the performance in February is still 7.3% lower compared to the 235,618 in the benchmark year 2018.  “As per Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), earnings from the sector during the first two months estimated over $ 710 million. It is a significant leapfrog from where the industry was post-COVID and other crises. I hope this momentum will continue and be a record-breaking 2024,” Tourism Minister Harin Fernando told the Daily FT. In February, an average of 7,529 tourists arrived in the country daily, as against the 6,717 daily average in January 2024.  However, Sri Lanka Tourism failed to achieve the set monthly target of 238,614 in February marking the second consecutive month. The first week of February saw 52,361 tourists and the trend picked up in the second and third weeks to 55,537 and 52,266 respectively, whilst peaking during the fourth week with 58,186 visitors.
Russia dominated arrivals in February securing the top source market for Sri Lanka with 32,030 tourists, followed by India with 30,027, UK with 20,614, Germany with 16,259 and China with 14,836. In addition, tourists were also received from countries such as France, Poland, Australia, US and Netherlands. For 2024, Sri Lanka Tourism has set an ambitious target to welcome 2.3 million tourists and earn over $ 4.5 billion. India maintains its position as the top tourist source market for Sri Lanka year-to-date (YTD), with a cumulative total of 64,426 arrivals, followed by Russia with 63,189, UK with 37,279, Germany with 29,852 and China with 26,347 arrivals. (Financial Times, 4.3.2024)

The skyrocketing prices of coconuts will have a serious effect on the packed rice and curry meals in the future, as most of the curries are prepared with the coconut cream, food industry trade unions said. All Island Canteen Owners Association President Rukshan Harshana told the media yesterday the usual price of a coconut, which was at Rs.60 to 80, has increased to almost double. A coconut is currently sold between Rs.120 to 150. He said the canteen and eatery owners are faced with a serious situation to prepare the rice and curry meal packets under the increased coconut prices, thus in uncertainty of having to sell meal packs for a very high rate. The unexpected price hike of coconuts comes at a moment when everything else including rice, chicken, eggs and gas has significantly gone up. Harshana warned that the prices of coconut oil will also go up in the coming days owing to the sudden hike of coconuts. (Daily Mirror, 4.3.2024)

Tourism in Sri Lanka is on a high growth trajectory following a boost in the country’s potential as a must-visit destination.  Visa free travel for tourists from China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan has provided the right nudge for tourists to put Sri Lanka on the top of their travel bucket list. Nationals from these countries planning to visit Sri Lanka need to apply for Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) before arriving, subject to granting of visa free of charge. The scheme is valid until March 2024 while the visa is valid for 30 days, permitting double entry from the date of initial arrival to Sri Lanka. However, industry sources believe that the boost in tourist arrivals may encourage the visa free travel scheme to be extended further. Having welcomed  208,253 visitors in January this year alone,  the highest in 4 years, the figures confirm a YoY increase of 103.1 percent. Tourists from India, Russia, the UK, Germany and China top the list with 28,493 arrivals in the first four days of February 2024, confirming a figure of 7,000 travellers a day. (Daily Mirror, 5.3.2024)

The Treasury will absorb $ 512 million of debt owed by SriLankan Airlines, in a bid to make the national carrier more attractive to prospective investors.  Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva told journalists yesterday the Government hopes to add a further $ 70 million over the next six months through revenue generated from ground-handling and catering, and the overall debt burden of SriLankan Airlines will come down to about $ 500 million. National carrier’s short-term interest bearing liabilities amounted to Rs. 234.5 billion as at 31 March 2023 and long-term amount was Rs. 154 billion. The Minister said in this manner there is no burden imposed on the Sri Lankan taxpayer, and the Government hopes to complete the restructure of the airline within six months. He called on all employees and unions to support its turnaround, and expressed confidence the state could recover the funds through the sale of shares. Minister De Silva added he has instructed his Ministry to ensure there are no increments or perks granted to any sections of staff until the end of the process, and to cut unnecessary foreign travel.  Minister De Silva stated that in this manner the Government hopes to safeguard the rights of the SriLankan taxpayer, and this interim arrangement will protect jobs. A review meeting has been set up every fortnight to monitor income and expenditure of the airline up until the restructuring process is complete. The airline had continued to pay interest costs of dues to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, but not serviced capital. The restructure will be essential to stem the current decline in the airline, the Minister said, which has been plagued with flight delays and cancellations that have resulted in additional costs.  “We are confident we can make much more than $ 500 million from the restructuring of the airline and that money will come directly to the treasury. What happened to the country and its economy is what happened to SriLankan Airlines. But we will turn around the airline just as we did the economy,” he stated.  In a related development the deadline for Expressions of Interest for the national carrier too has been extended till the 22 April. The previous deadline was yesterday (5 March). Last week Minister de Silva implied the 5 March deadline as open auction raising concerns. The divestiture of SriLankan Airlines is handled by the SOE Restructuring Unit and bids for Request for Qualification process is still on. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is the Transaction Advisors to the Government.(Daily Financial Times, 6.3.2024)

Nearly 5% of Sri Lanka’s population is currently suffering from glaucoma, said the Secretary to the Ministry of Health Dr. Palitha Mahipala. Glaucoma is one of the main causes of blindness in the world. He further said that, there is a significant rise in glaucoma cases not only in Sri Lanka, but also across the world. “If you take the world, 3.54% are suffering from glaucoma, but if you take Sri Lanka, it’s almost 5%. This may also be because of our increased elderly population”, the Health Secretary said. Doctor further urged the public to  do regular eye check-ups, and making use of the programs in place within the country’s health system to detect eye illnesses early. (Daily News, 6.3.2024)

Some 6.2 million stray dogs are roaming in different parts of the country, State Minister of Defence Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon said today. He told Parliament that this situation has caused serious issues in tourist areas such as Sigiriya. The Minister said, according to statistics available, there are 6.2 million stray dogs in the country and that this has posed serious issues. He said it is important to find solutions to address this issue as it has posed serious issues in tourist areas as well. Minister Tennakoon said the government is planning to bring in new Acts to minimise harm to animals and stressed the need to find solutions to issues caused by animals before all. (Daily Mirror, 7.3.2024)

About 35 percent of Sri Lankan schoolchildren are suffering from chronic muscle and skeletal diseases, Dr. Kapila Jayaratne, Consultant Community Physician attached to the Child Morbidity, Mortality Unit at the Family Health Bureau, said. About 70 percent of the students suffer from some form of pain, he added. Jayaratne said that it was mainly due to the use of substandard school bags. Students also carry a large load of books to and from school daily, he added. He said that the best type of school bag was the one that is carried on the back. “In 2011, the ministries of health and education came up with a prototype of a high-quality school bag. These bags had two compartments. Heavier books were placed on the compartment closest to the back. The shoulder straps should be broad and cushioned,” he said. Dr. Jayaratne said the total weight of the bag should be less than 10 percent of the child’s body weight. Recently, the Ministry of Education issued guidelines to reduce the weight of school bags because of the health risks caused by heavy loads. (Daily Island, 7.3.2024)

Nearly 15% school going children in Sri Lanka suffer from constipation while another 13.5 % suffer from abdominal pain, Paediatric Gastroenterologist, Prof. Shaman Rajindrajith revealed.  Addressing a media briefing at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children (LRH), Borella to create awareness of its Gastroenterology Clinic (Room 39), Prof. Rajindrajith noted that many of the gastroenterology diseases were results of lifestyles, stress, socio economic patterns. He noted that constipation could affect a child’s mental status and affect his ability to study.  Gastroenterology diseases such as inflammatory bowel disorder which affected adults earlier now have an impact on children.  The Clinic receives at least two paediatric cases suffering from it per month. He noted that certain gastroenterological issues could end up in terminal illnesses like cancer if left untreated. Through community programmes, educational programmes and awareness campaigns the Clinic sought to increase awareness about the importance of early detection and lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of these conditions.  Explaining the benefits that patients receive from the Gastroenterology Clinic at LRH, the Paediatric Gastroenterologist said services provided by the clinic saved parents from incurring severe costs they would have to bear if they sought the same services from the private sector. Citing examples he said management of conditions like constipation involved a considerable expense –both for medication and diagnostic procedures such as upper gastrointestinal endoscopy (UGIE) and lower gastrointestinal endoscopy (lower GI) which cost over a Rs 100 000 each.  Speaking about the community impact, Dr. Rajindrajith emphasised the pivotal role of the clinic in addressing a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions prevalent among children. These include common ailments like constipation, which, if left untreated, can result in multiple referrals and prolonged suffering. Additionally, the clinic focuses on emerging diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), liver diseases like biliary atresia and autoimmune hepatitis, and functional gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and functional abdominal pain. This underscores the clinic’s commitment to addressing evolving healthcare needs within the community. Dr. Rajindrajith highlighted the importance of early referral for children experiencing symptoms such as reduced bowel movements, abdominal pain, or any other gastrointestinal issue. Early intervention can significantly impact children’s health outcomes, preventing more severe issues in the future. Conditions like constipation and abdominal pain, if left untreated or undiagnosed, can escalate into more severe problems in adulthood. In the case of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), early referral is crucial to avoid complications and permanent bowel injury. (Ceylon Today, 7.3.2024)

Road accidents had left 341 people dead during the first two months of the current year, the police said yesterday. About 651 others were severely injured and 1,355 sustained minor injuries, according to Police spokesman, DIG Nihal Thalduwa, who urged motorists to drive carefully. He said trishaws and motorcycles accounted for the most number of road mishaps. “Whenever a pedestrian enters the zebra crossing, motorists need to give that person the right of way. A large number of accidents also take place because drivers ignore road rules and colour lights,” the DIG said. There were 2,557 deaths in 2,200 fatal traffic accidents in Sri Lanka in 2023. Police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa told the media last year that pedestrians accounted for the highest number of fatalities in road accidents, with 740 deaths, and 707 motorcyclists had lost their lives. In 2022, there were 2,515 deaths from 2,395 fatal accidents, and in 2021, there were 2,513 deaths from 2,414 fatal accidents, according to the Police Spokesman. (Daily Island, (7.3.2024)

In February, expatriate workers sent a total of USD 476.4 million to the country, marking a 14 percent increase compared to the same month last year, the Labour and Foreign Employment Ministry said. They said during the past period, an amount of 9691.4 million US dollars has been sent to this country. The Labour and Foreign Employment Ministry says that there has been a good response to the requests to expatriate workers to send money to the country through legal systems. (Daily Mirror, 8.3.2024)

Research conducted by British ‘Lancet Medical Journal’, amongst 199 countries, showed that 410,000 school-aged girls in Sri Lanka, between the ages of 5 and 19 years were underweight, due to malnutrition, the Medical and Civil Rights Professional Association of Doctors (MCPA) said, urging the Government to focus more attention on the nutritional level of children in the country. MCPA President Dr. Chamal Sanjeeva noted on Friday (8) that this number amounted to 16.4 per cent of children between 5 and19 years.  Quoting a research in the British ‘Lancet Medical Journal’ he said that Sri Lanka was among the countries suffering from malnutrition in the world with the highest weight loss. He lamented that according to global statistics, given in the research report, the above-mentioned percentage of underweight girls (weight according to height) was second only to India. It (the report) examines the body mass index (weight for height) as a main criterion in the research conducted with the participation of about 1,900 researchers with the participation of 220 million people in 199 countries. Dr. Sanjeeva explained that the research had been conducted during a period of over thirty years using data collected from 1990-2022. Dr. Sanjeeva, cautioned that nutritional issues amongst school children would not only result in their vulnerability to physical illnesses but they were also at risk of being mentally retarded due to slow mental development. The island nation would have a generation of mentally retarded children if action is not taken at a government level to stem the situation. He lamented that the country’s rulers failed to take into account the gravity of the situation as a result of underestimating such reports as these and data placed before them by experts.  The production of enzymes and hormones in children is impaired as a result of being malnourished leading to a breakdown of daily physical activities.  Children would also suffer from many physical illnesses owing to their immune deficiency, he lamented.  Dr. Sanjeeva pointed out that the heightening of the crisis was that malnourishment was direct cause for stunting the mental development of children. It would lead to the depletion of the number of educated and intelligent youth who could contribute towards national development of Sri Lanka, he explained. According to the Lancet Medical Journal, 17.8 per cent boys were underweight for their age in Sri Lanka. This amounted to 450, 000 male children.  The statistics show that a total 860, 000 school children of school going age in Sri Lanka are underweight for their age. He noted that the UNICEF and the Sri Lanka Family Health Bureau had recently confirmed that children in Sri Lanka suffer from many nutrition crises which impacted their weight for age, weight for height, height for age. The MCPA President noted that considering the research report, the percentage of girls and boys who were underweight for their age as a whole was currently decreasing at a global level but the fact that the figure was still high in Sri Lanka should attract the attention of the authorities. Although many countries in the world have been able to solve the nutritional crisis, Sri Lanka’s failure to achieve this target is indicated by the research findings given in the report. Despite the country being able to gradually recover from its economic crisis it was yet to resolve the nutritional crisis it was facing, he lamented. (Ceylon Today, 9.3.2024)

The first private elephant breeding ground and hospital for domesticated elephants was opened on Thursday in the Habarana area. This project has been initiated according to a concept of S.N. Roshan of Maharagama, the owner of the female elephant “Sita” who was shot at during the Mahiyangana Esala festival by a member of the Civil Defence Force. The convalescent female elephant Sita and another tusker had been brought to the opening ceremony of the hospital and breeding ground where the first breeding took place. A traditional owner of elephants Roshan said facilities were available at the hospital and the breeding center to train mahouts. He pointed out that his she elephant Sita survived due to the efforts of the veterinary surgeons at Peradeniya Veterinary Science Faculty. He said a shortage of domesticated elephants for religious and cultural ceremonies has been felt and that it is imperative that particular attention should be paid on protecting the available domestic elephants. (Daily Mirror, 9.3.2024)

Sri Lanka’s gross official reserves stood at US$ 4,500 million as of January this year, according to the Central Bank. About US$ 1.4 billion of the reserves is a Chinese yuan-denominated swap. Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said in Parliament that the amount of foreign exchange reserves that can be used at the moment has increased up to US$ 3 billion. “The amount of usable foreign exchange reserves, which was less than US$ 20 million in mid-April 2022, has increased to more than US$ 3 billion at present,” the President said in Parliament. The main reason for the increase in gross official reserves is the Central Bank’s significant purchase of foreign exchange from the domestic and foreign exchange markets on a net basis. In total, the Central Bank has purchased about US$ 245 million on a net basis in January this year. (Daily News, 9.3.2024)

The tourism earnings during the first two months have registered $ 687.5 million in tandem with the boost in arrivals. Tourism earnings in February were at $ 345.7 million, reflecting a 118.2% increase from the corresponding period of last year, the latest Central Bank data released yesterday showed. Even on a month-on-month comparison, February earnings are 1.14% higher than January 2024. It is the highest earnings registered since 2020. For 2024, Sri Lanka Tourism is poised to achieve the ambitious 2.3 million visitors and over $ 4 billion in income.  During the first two months a total of 426,603 tourists were welcomed in the country, setting a positive start for the year. Sri Lanka received over 200,000 tourists for three consecutive months, marking a hat trick. February arrivals also set a new benchmark, beating the previous high of 210,352 recorded in December since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.   According to the Central Bank data, between 2014 and 2019, tourism contributed to about 14% of total foreign currency earnings during this period. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lost around $ 15 billion amidst multiple challenges during the past four years from tourism sector earnings. (Financial Times, 11.3.2024)

Workers’ remittances inflow in the first two months has increased by 14.1% to $ 963.7 million, the latest Central Bank data revealed. February remittances inflow was recorded as $ 476.2 million. However, it experienced a slight decrease of 2.3% when compared month-to-month. The cumulative achievement was possible with January 2023 bringing in $ 487.6 million as against $ 437.5 million a year ago. In 2023, full year workers’ remittances were $ 6 billion, up by 57.5% from $ 3.78 billion in 2022, down by 31% from $ 5.5 billion 2021. The 2022 performance was the lowest in 12 years. Highest ever workers’ remittances were in 2016 at $ 7.24 billion whilst between 2014 and 2018 the annual average was $ 7 billion suggesting a monthly inflow of around $ 600 million. (Financial Times, 11.3.2024)

A total of 21 persons have been killed in 30 shooting incidents within the first 72 days of 2024 (from 1 Jan to 12 March), Sri Lanka Police said.  An additional 14, who sustained injuries in these 30 incidents, are undergoing treatment in hospital, but their conditions are not critical. He also said, 17 out of the 30 shooting incidents were committed by organised crime gangs and that further investigations would be conducted in this connection. Another 13 shooting incidents were due to personal reasons and arrests and investigations are being conducted by the relevant Police stations. He further said that the Police and the Army have started joint operations to curb the crimes happening all over the island and the ‘Yukthiya’ operation is also being conducted very successfully. (Ceylon Today, 13.3.2024)

Sri Lanka failed to meet 33% of the commitments due by end-February 2024 in its International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, according to the February update of Verité Research’s ‘IMF Tracker’. Many of these commitments that are classified as ‘not met’ on IMF Tracker were designed to improve governance, the Verité Research said. “These include commitments related to publishing information (transparency), and those that require the passage of governance-improving legislation. The IMF has recognised poor governance as being at the heart of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, and Sri Lanka is the first Asian country to have had an IMF-led Governance Diagnostic Assessment. The status of 36% of the commitments  are classified as ‘unknown’, which means sufficient data was not made available to assess their progress. By end-February, 31% of the commitments were verifiably ‘met’,” the Verité Research further said. The second round of IMF programme funding came in December 2023. Under the updated agreement, Sri Lanka was due to meet 45 commitments by end-February. The IMF Tracker dashboard classified 14 (31%) of these as ‘met’, 15 (33%) as ‘not met’, and 16 (36%) as ‘unknown’. Of the 15 ‘not met’ commitments, six are on publishing information. Four are on actions relating to adopting new laws: (a) Obtaining parliamentary approval on Banking Act; (b) Introducing automatic indexation of excises to inflation;  (c) Making legislative change to set up a debt management agency; (d) Presenting the public finance management law to parliament.  These four actions, which are aimed at addressing governance problems, have remained neglected despite being included in the IMF staff-level agreement in September 2022. (Daily Mirror, 13.3.2024)

Running counter to the statement by the Health Ministry regarding the return of migrated doctors to Sri Lanka, recent statistics paint a different picture, revealing only a meagre five specialists have returned to the country this year.   The assertion initially made by Deputy Director General (Medical Services) Dr. G. Wijesuriya failed to produce the statistics and thus met with skepticism, especially considering the stark reality depicted by the data.  Dr. Wijesuriya, who found himself in hot water over the statement, claimed a reversal in the trend of doctors, particularly those pursuing postgraduate training abroad, choosing not to return to Sri Lanka. “Although it’s not in alarming numbers, the migrated doctors have started to return to the country,”    However, the actual figures present a stark contrast. Among the handful of specialists who have returned include a Gynaecologist (VOG), Surgeon, Anaesthetist, Pediatrician, and Ophthalmologist, indicating a minor shift rather than a substantial return.   Commenting on the situation, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA). Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama opined that returning five specialists cannot be considered as a positive improvement given the staggering number of doctors who migrated last year.   As per the statistics, a total of close to 450 specialists have migrated since the latter part of 2022 with another 785 specialists set to go overseas for training.   Meanwhile, Dr. Ashoka Gunaratne, the media spokesman for the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS), raised concerns over the escalating migration of medical professionals, asserting that they had not noticed such a trend of specialists returning to the country.    He also charged that the health Ministry cannot make such blank statements over such a critical matter without producing clear-cut figures. (Daily Mirror, 21.3.2024)

Sri Lanka Tea exports for the month of February 2024 totalled 22.31 M/Kgs, showing a positive variance of 3.76 M/Kgs vis-à-vis 18.55 M/Kgs recorded in February 2023. All categories except for Tea Packets and Green Tea have shown improvements in comparison with the corresponding month of the previous year. F.O.B value in February 2024 was recorded at Rs.1,789.43, a decline of Rs.250.82 YoY compared to Rs. 2,040.25 of February 2023. Iraq has been ranked at No. 1 among major importers of Ceylon Tea with a total of 5.30 M/Kgs, an increase of 14% YoY in January-February 2024 against the previous year’s 4.66 M/Kgs. UAE (4.98 M/Kgs) and Russia (4.52 M/Kgs) emerged at 2nd and 3rd positions respectively, surpassing Türkiye who recorded a decline of 38% against the corresponding period of the previous year. Other notable importer countries are Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, Azerbaijan and Chile. (Daily News, 21.3.2024)

The Wildlife Conservation Department has reported a total of 298 elephants falling victim to electrocution since 2018.They attributed the elephants’ deaths to the installation of various obstacles and traps, including substandard electric fences intended to restrict the movement of wild animals or target wild elephants and other wildlife for lethal purposes. Reports indicate that 72 elephants were killed in 2023, followed by 50 in 2022, 66 in 2021, 31 in 2020, 41 in 2019, and 38 in 2018. The main factors contributing to elephant deaths by electrocution include the use of land by local communities in areas prone to human-elephant conflicts, as well as the growing prevalence of personal electric fences. Consequently, efforts were directed towards enhancing law enforcement measures targeting the use of electricity to harm wild elephants and other animals, as well as preventing the unauthorized construction of electric fences lacking proper standards and the setting of various barriers and traps. During sudden inspections carried out between January 1st and March 10th, Wildlife officers discovered 2,009 personal electric fences, with 583 (29.02%) found to have faults. However, owners were promptly instructed to rectify these faults. Additionally, 147 electric fences were found to be erected according to the standards set by the Wildlife Department, with no faults detected during inspection. Owners of faulty electric fences were found to lack sufficient knowledge in their usage, with no intention for their faulty fences to cause harm to animals. (Daily Mirror, 21.3.2024)

Parents should ensure that there is a minimum gap of two hours between a child’s consumption of sweets, Dr. Hemantha Amarasinghe, Head of the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said addressing a press conference in Colombo on Wednesday (20). “We are not saying that children should not eat sweets. However, there should be gaps between consumption,” he said.Prof. Amarasinghe said people should brush their teeth with a toothpaste that contained fluoride. About 20 percent Sri Lankans use toothpastes that does not have fluoride, he said. “50 percent of the people do not brush their teeth twice a day. Bad oral hygiene might lead to other serious diseases,” he said. Nilantha Ratnayake – Consultant Dental Surgeon and vice secretary of the Sri Lanka Dental Association said that a person should consume less than 10 kilos of sugar a year. “However, on average, a Sri Lankan consumes 34 kilos of sugar a year,” he said. He also said six new cases of oral cancers are reported daily in Sri Lanka and three people die of oral cancers each day. (Daily Island, 22.3.2024)

State Minister of Transport Lasantha Alagiyawanna revealed that foreign individuals seeking a driving license in Sri Lanka will have the convenience of applying for it directly at the airport from April 15th 2024. Upon exiting the airport, they will be able to obtain their driver’s license swiftly and efficiently. The Minister  mentioned that the program to provide compensation to road accident victims promptly without judicial action was also started on March 01.The individuals can claim a maximum compensation amount of up to Rs. 500, 000 by submitting an application to the relevant insurance company within one year of the accident. This compensation can be availed from any branch of the insurance company across the island, he explained.   The  Minister further said; Under the directives of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, various projects were executed to curb road accidents. It was acknowledged that road accident victims encounter numerous difficulties. Consequently, following extensive discussions between the Insurance Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka and insurance companies, a program was initiated on March 01st to expedite compensation without legal proceedings. This compensation mechanism is effective from March 01st onwards and does not apply retroactively to past incidents. Accordingly, individuals can obtain a maximum compensation amount of up to Rs. 500, 000 from any branch of the relevant insurance company across the island by submitting an application within one year of the accident. However, if a victim seeks more than the maximum compensation, they must pursue legal action through court proceedings. In collaboration with the Department of Immigration and Emigration, Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, arrangements are being made to obtain a driving license in Sri Lanka for foreigners seeking to have them. They can now apply for it directly at the airport from April 15th. All necessary arrangements have been made to facilitate the issuance of the driving license upon their departure from the airport. The fees for obtaining a driving license are as follows: USD 25 for one month, USD 50 for three months, USD 75 for six months, and USD 200 for a year or longer. Additionally, starting from April 10th until the demerit points system takes effect; post offices handling traffic violation fines will transmit details such as the offense’s nature, the respective police station, driving license particulars, and contact number to the National Council for Road Safety’s data system.. (Daily Mirror, 22.3.2024)

Inflation rate dropped to 5.1 percent in February from 6.5 percent in January, official data showed on Thursday. Food inflation increased from 4.1 percent to 5 percent and non-food inflation dropped from 8.5 percent to 5.1 percent. Sri Lanka’s inflation has been dropping steadily since September 2022, when inflation was at 69.8 percent. The Central Bank said earlier the country’s inflation is anticipated to gradually stabilize at the targeted level of 5 percent over the medium term, following a short-lived acceleration of inflation in the near term on account of recent tax adjustments and supply-side disruptions. (Daily Island, 23.3.2024)

The Unemployment rate has decreased to 4.3% in fourth quarter of 2023 from 4.7% recorded in the previous quarter, according to data released by the Central Bank. The Labour Force Participation Rate had decreased to 47.1% in 4Q 2023 from 48.8% recorded in 3Q 2023. The apparent increase in employment is on the strength of economy growing by 4.5% in 4Q as 12.4% negative growth in the same quarter of 2022 and 1.6% gain in the third quarter though Sri Lanka ended 2023 with a 2.3% contraction. In the fourth quarter of 2023 Agricultural, Industrial and Services activities grew by 0.6%, 7.9% and 2.8% respectively. The overall Agricultural activities in full year 2023 expanded by 2.6% while Industrial and Services activities contracted by 9.2% and 0.2% respectively. (Daily Financial Times, 25.3.2024)

The first ever Solar Tunnel Dryer technology, which was introduced to dry grain seeds including maize, paddy, green gram, cow peas, sesame, finger millet and black seed was successful, the Agriculture Ministry said. This new solar-powered system was inaugurated recently at Nelukkulam in Vavuniya. The entire warehouse is covered with glass so that natural sunlight and solar radiation are continuously available. Even at night, the optimum temperature required for drying the seeds can be obtained by using solar energy without any cost. Under this method, the seeds are completely protected from solar ultraviolet rays. Addressing the event, Director of the Agriculture Sector Modernization Project, Dr. Rohan Wijekoon said the Solar Tunnel Dryer technology is being introduced to Sri Lanka for the first time, and the experiments have been 100 percent successful so far. (Daily Mirror, 25.3.2024)

The Cabinet of Ministers granted approval to the proposal forwarded by the Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment to increase the national minimum salary by Rs. 5,000/- from Rs. 12,500/- to Rs. 17,500/- and to revise the employees’ national minimum wages act No. 3 of 2016 so that national minimum daily salary can be increased by Rs. 200/- from Rs. 500/- up to Rs. 700/-. The increase was recommended by a tertiary sub-committee comprised of trade unions and employers representing small and medium level entrepreneurs appointed under the recommendations of the National Labour Consultancy Board. (Daily Island, 26.3.2024)

The Cabinet of Ministers has approved amendments to the National Minimum Wage of Workers Act No. 03 of 2016, signalling upward revision of monthly and daily wages for workers across all industries. The move aims to address concerns regarding the adequacy of wages to meet the rising cost of living and to ensure a fair and just compensation for the labour force across various sectors of the economy. “According to the approved amendments, the minimum monthly wage will be increased by Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 17,500, whilst the minimum daily wage for workers will be increased from Rs. 200 to Rs. 700,” Cabinet Co-Spokesman and Minister Bandula Gunawardena said at the post-Cabinet meeting media briefing held yesterday. At present the minimum monthly wage is Rs. 12,500 and minimum daily wage is Rs. 500.  The proposal was tabled by Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on Monday. (Daily Financial Times, 27.3.2024)

The Coconut Development Authority states that an amount of Rs.2971 million was earned in the month of February 2024 by exporting coconut milk. In the year 2023, when coconut milk was exported, 4366 metric tons were exported in the month of February and an income of Rs.2401 million was earned. According to the report on exports issued by the Central Bank on a monthly basis, the income earned by exporting 6739 metric tons of coconut milk in the month of February 2024 is Rs.2971 million. In terms of the amount of coconut milk exported, it has increased by 2373 metric tons in the month of February 2024 compared to 2023 and the income from exports has also increased by 570 million rupees. Coconut yield also increased due to the rain that followed a prolonged drought last year. Also, from last November until now, coconut production has shown a high growth every month. Coconut production in Sri Lanka has increased by 22 percent in November 2023, 5 percent in December, 18 percent in January 2024 and 25 percent in February. In the year 2023, the total production of coconuts has exceeded 3000 million coconuts and the amount of coconuts allocated for industries is 1380 million coconuts. However, the Coconut Development Authority says that the income from coconut exports will rise to one billion dollars for the first time this year. This information was revealed in a discussion held with the Minister of Agriculture and Plantation Industries, Mr. Mahinda Amaraweera. (Daily News, 28.3.2024)

The Headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year (Y-o-Y) change in the Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) has decelerated sharply to 0.9% in March 2024 from 5.9% in February 2024, the Central Bank said yesterday. It said the deceleration in the headline inflation is broadly in line with its projections. Non-Food Category recorded a deflation (Y-o-Y) of 0.5% in March 2024 compared to the inflation of 7.0% observed in February 2024. Nevertheless, food inflation (Y-o-Y) accelerated to 3.8% in March 2024 from 3.5% in February 2024. Monthly change of CCPI recorded -1.94% in March 2024 due to the price decreases of 0.66% observed in the items of Food category and decreases of 1.28% observed in Non-Food category items.  The core inflation (Y-o-Y), which reflects the underlying inflation trends in the economy, accelerated to 3.1% in March 2024 from 2.8% in February 2024. “In spite of intermittent variations, inflation is expected to converge to the targeted level in the period ahead and remain around the target over the medium term, supported by appropriate policy measures,” Central Bank added. (Financial Times, 29.3.2024)

The minimum expenditure required by a person to fulfill the basic needs for a month has gone up by 144 per cent in January, 2024 when compared to 2019, the Official Poverty Line declared by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) has revealed. Additional Director General (Statistics) of the Department Shyamalie Karunaratne said a person to fulfill the basic needs required only Rs. 6966 per month in 2019 whereas a person to fulfill the same needs now require Rs. 17,014. She said a family of four members need Rs. 68,056 to fulfill the basic needs as per the Official Poverty Line calculated based on statistics of the Household Income and Expenditure survey. Ms. Karunaratne said the Official Poverty Line has gone up during the last four years due to the drastic increase in inflation. According to the District Poverty Line, Colombo and Gampaha recorded the highest of 18,350 and 18,256 respectively while the lowest of Rs. 17,090 was recorded in Ratnapura District. Ms. Karunaratne said the prices of goods should be dropped by a considerable amount to see a reduction in the Official Poverty Line. (Daily Mirror, 30.3.2024)

The CID is investigating a human trafficking network enabling Lankan ex-servicemen to fight as mercenaries in both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war,. at least five such mercenaries have been killed in the fighting. There were two confirmed deaths of Lankans fighting for Russia in Dontesk and at least three other Lankans were killed fighting for Ukraine. The SSP said that the State Intelligence Service had found names of 30 Lankans who had already left the country to join foreign legions of the Ukrainian and Russian armies and 36 names and addresses of others who were making arrangements to leave the country. The CID arrested two suspects who were operating a foreign employment agency in Kadawatha in the first week of this month on charges of trafficking individuals to conflict zones in Ukraine. The recruits had deposited one million rupees each to a bank account owned by a female who runs this employment agency. It has been found that the ex-servicemen had left for Ukraine and Russia on tourist visas. They had been initially taken to New Delhi after which they were taken to Poland and then to Ukraine through Azerbaijan. Out of the 55 individuals who had taken this route recently, 23 had been able to join the Ukraine Army’s foreign legion. The 55 Lankans who left the country on Aug 16, 2023 comprised 27 ex-army personnel, eight former naval ratings, seven ex-Air Force members and 13 civilians.Of these 55 individuals, 32 were stranded. Some of them found other jobs in Poland, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Italy while nine of them returned. Those returnees were among 17 who had been taken into custody so far. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, reporting the latest death of a Lankan mercenary in Ukraine, said last Thursday that hundreds of Lankans are now serving with the Russian military in Ukraine. He is reportedly the second Sri Lankan to have been killed fighting for Russia in Dontesk, according to the Al Jazeera report (Please read Page 11) The confirmed identities of some the dead were Capt RanishHewage (ex-Army Commando), MM Priyantha (ex-SLAF) and Rodney Jayasinghe (ex-Army). Hewage was buried east of Kyiv but the bodies of the other two Lankans were never recovered. (Sunday Island, 31.3.2024)

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