SRI LANKA NEWS (OCTOBER 2019) – Compiled by Victor Melder.

SRI LANKA NEWS (OCTOBER 2019) – Compiled by Victor Melder

Victor Meldor - eLanka

The Government announced harsher penalties in a bid to protect wild elephants on Tuesday, as investigators probed whether seven jumbos found poisoned over the weekend were killed by villagers. Wildlife and Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said he will impose tougher sanctions on offenders to boost laws enacted three years ago but not yet implemented due to administrative delays. Elephants are a protected animal in the South Asian island nation and the new rules will increase the length of jail time and amount of fines for those found to have been cruel to the beasts. Authorities will also be given wider powers to investigate offenders, Amaratunga said, though no further details were released. Investigations into the deaths of seven elephants at a forest reserve in central Sri Lanka showed the animals had ingested poison, but it was not yet clear if they were murdered. “The deaths were caused by poison, but we are still trying to establish if it was a deliberate act (of villagers),” Amaratunga said. “We have found that many elephant corridors in wildlife reserves have been encroached by farmers. This has led to an increase in the human-elephant conflict.” Amaratunga added that 293 elephants were Killed in the first nine months of this year, while 93 people were killed by wild elephants straying into villages near wildlife sanctuaries. Last year, 319 elephants were killed while 96 people were killed by elephants, official data showed. Amaratunga said the government will also set up a 500-acre (202 hectares) sanctuary to home 47 tamed elephants seized from owners who did not have licences to own them. Official records show there are about 200 domesticated elephants. (Daily Island, 2.10.2019)

A three-judge bench of the Court Appeal yesterday unanimously rejected the petition against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan citizenship and the application was dismissed with no notice on respondents. The Court refused interim relief to the two petitioners, who claimed that Rajapaksa’s national identity card and Sri Lankan passport could not be recognized. The petitioners are Gamini Viyangoda and Chandragupta Thenuwara. They claimed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not qualify to run for President. At the outset Counsel Suren Fernando, who appeared for the petitioners, said that he would file a motion to modify and represent former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as ‘Honourable’. Counsel Gamini Marapana PC, said that it was the ultimate responsibility of the petitioners’ counsel and objected that, however Mahinda Rajapaksa had been made personally responsible in the petition. Counsel Romesh de Silva PC, Senior Counsel for Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the application for Sri Lankan citizenship should be made to the Minister of Home Affairs and not to the Secretary of the Ministry. The Secretary need not sign the relevant documents. President Rajapaksa assumed office on November 19, 2005. The secretaries to the Ministries remained in office. The petitioners had come to court on the basis that till November 24 there had been no secretaries. The petitioners had wrongly alleged that Gotabaaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa had used fraudulent documents, the counsel said. During the time they had submitted citizenship document, secretaries were in office. They were not submitted to any acting secretary. The documents had been prepared by an Attorney-at-law. The allegation of fraud levelled by the petitioners, Thenuwara and Viyangoda was baseless and unfounded. When there was no fraud as alleged by the petitioners, those petitions should be dismissed, Counsel Romesh de Silva PC submitted. The secretary had nothing to do with the case. It concerned only the applicant and the Minister, the counsel argued, maintaining that Gotabaya was a Sri Lankan citizen. There was nothing in the petition to show that Gotabaya had not been of benefit to Sri Lanka. He had been of immense benefit to Sri Lanka. He deserved Sri Lankan citizenship, the counsel argued. Counsel Romesh de Silva said that the then President had signed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship certificate because the reference to ‘Minister’ in the Citizenship Act, was a reference to the President. Counsel Suren Fernando appeared for the petitioners, who had alleged that Gotabaya had not properly surrendered his US citizenship and therefore he could not contest the Presidency of Sri Lanka. His nominations should be rejected. Counsel Chanaka de Silva appeared with Neranjan Arulpragasm for the Minister of Home Affairs Vajira Abeywardene, a respondent. The bench comprised, Justice Yasantha Kodagoda (President) Justice Arjuna Obeyskera and Justice Mahinda Samayawardane (Daily Island, 5.10.2019).

“Since 2016, all government borrowings have been used to settling debt. Not for any other expenditure,” Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera has disclosed. In a media release yesterday, Minister Samaraweera pointed out that when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in 2005, government debt per citizen was Rs.113,131, but when he left it was Rs. 355,708.“The real picture is even worse. Until 2007, virtually all of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt was on concessional terms. But from 2007 onwards, Sri Lanka started to commit the ‘original sin’ of borrowing in foreign currency loans on expensive commercial terms,” he added. “The Rajapaksas left Sri Lanka in a debt trap. The Rajapaksas borrowed more foreign debt – at higher interest rates-than any previous government. That would not have been such a complete disaster if the debt was invested in high-return projects. Instead these expensive funds were spent on White Elephant construction and consumer imports,” the Minister said in the statement. “In 2013, the Rajapaksa government directed the National Savings Bank to obtain $750 million from international markets at the highest ever interest rate of 8.9 percent. This is at a time when the global benchmark rate for that type of loan was 1.3 percent. The Chairman of NSB at the time, a respected civil servant, was removed and replaced with a batchmate of the then Treasury Secretary on the instruction of the then Finance Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa. “The irresponsibility and mismanagement does not end there. While the government went on a borrowing spree on international capital markets, government revenue plummeted. In 2005 Sri Lanka’s tax-to-GDP ratio was 13.7 percent. By 2014, it was 10.1 percent, one of the lowest in the world. As a result, expenditure necessary for long-run growth such as health and education suffered. And Sri Lanka needed to borrow more just to repay the Rajapaksa loans. The whole country should know that since 2016, all the money we have borrowed has been to pay back old loans,” he highlighted. “Despite this legacy, we have stabilized the economy. Last year, Sri Lanka had its first non-trivial primary surplus in 63 years. This means that, leaving aside interest payments, Sri Lanka’s revenue was greater than its expenditure for the first time in over six decades. No other government has succeeded in achieving this target. This also means that, since 2016, all government borrowings have been used to settle debt. Not for any other expenditure.  “As you all know, government salaries have more than doubled, in addition to the 2500 rupee allowance. From 1st January, the Presidential Commission Report on salary anomalies will be implemented. And perhaps the greatest benefit of all is the control of inflation – the cost of many essential goods including food items and fuel have fallen,” Minister Samaraweera concluded. (Daily news, 7.10.2019)

Several tea factories are closing down due to the falling prices of tea as most are finding it hard to survive in this sector where the production costs have shot up. “Every week one or two factories are closing down in the South of the country,” Hayleys Plantations Managing Director and former Planters Association President Roshan Rajadurai said. Business Times. He noted that the high cost of production is dampened by the low prices with high growns recording prices at Rs.450 and the national average at Rs.500. Changing consumer preferences and a dip in demand and production levels have contributed to the current crisis. Unless there is large scale mechanisation on virgin lands producers will have to sustain production at these levels, Mr. Rajadurai noted. With factories closing down this would mean that the leaf collector and bought leaf supplier are out of business and so tea planting will not become attractive to them, he explained.  Sri Lanka Factory Owners Association President Harith Ranasinghe confirmed this stating that currently there are about 48 factories closed down out of a total of 720 factories that includes RPC factories as well. He noted today about 30 factories are operating only about twice or thrice a week and some are servicing only the bought leaf suppliers and not their loans since they are unable to pay it back due to the high interest rates and high cost of production. Factory closures started since the end of last year, he said adding that if the government does not provide any support more will have to shut down operations. Most factories that shut down were in the mid grown areas, Sabaragamuwa and Galle and Matara areas.  (Times Online, 8.10.2019)


The National Election Commission (NEC) would have to spend more than expected on the upcoming presidential election due to the high number of candidates, Head of the NEC, Mahinda Deshapriya said, after accepting nominations of 35 candidates. Deshapriya said that the NEC had initially planned to spend about Rs 4 billion on the election, but now it would have to spend more because of the operational costs associated with the highest number of presidential candidates in the country’s history. “Since there are 35 candidates, the ballot paper will be twice longer than the previous one. We will have to find large rooms to accommodate polling agents and election officers. Since the ballot paper is longer we have to have new ballot boxes made. We might have to get the ballots of all the election centres in an area to one place for counting,” he said, adding that the NEC usually used 40 small halls to count votes. “Holding rallies will be restricted from the nomination day until a week after the election. If election law violations take place we have to set up a mechanism to stop them and we will take legal action against the perpetrators. Public address systems can be used with permission from the police. Distributing food items in order to get votes will be treated as corruption.” Deshapriya said that state employees should not engage in any political activities and resources of state institutions should not be misused. ”  (Daily Island, 8.10.2019)

The presidential candidates are as follows: Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) , Sajith Premadasa (New Democratic Front,) Anura Kumara Dissanayake (National People’s Power) ex-Army Commander, General Mahesh Senanayake (National People’s Party), Duminda Nagamuwa (Frontline Socialist Party), Ketagoda Gamage Jayantha Perera (Independent), Ven. Battaramulle Seelarathne Thera (Jana Setha Peramuna), Siripala Amarasinghe (Independent), Dr. Ajantha Wijesinghe Perera (Socialist Party of Sri Lanka), Ven. Aparekke Punnananda Thera (Independent), Welisarage Saman Prasanna Perera (Ape Jana Bala Party), Ariyawansha Dissanayake (Democratic United National Front), Sirithunga Jayasuriya (United Socialist Party), Warnakulasuriya Milroy Surgeus Fernando (Independent), Badde Gamage Nandimithra (Nava Sama Samaja Party), Nambunama Nanayakkara Akmeemana Palliyaguruge Vajirapani Wijesiriwardena (Socialist Equality Party), Sarath Manamendra (Nava Sihala Urumaya), Pallewatte Gamaralalage Rohan Pallewatte (National Development Front), Chandrasekara Herath Hitihamy Koralalage Samansiri Herath (Independent), Welera Keerthiratne Mudiyanselage Sarath Vijithakumara Keerthiratne (Independent), Polgampala Ralalage Chaminda Anurudda (Independent), Samaraweera Weerawanni (Independent), Ashoka Wadigamangawa (Independent), A.S.P. Liyanage (Sri Lanka Labour Party), Illiyas Idroos Mohamed (Independent), Wijenayake Kankanamge Piyasiri Wijenayake (Independent), Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe (Independent), Aruna de Soysa (Democratic National Movement), Ajantha de Zoysa (Ruhunu Janatha Peramuna), Priyantha Munihath Edirisinghe (Okkoma Wasiyo Okkoma Rajawaru Sanvidanaya), Namal Rajapaksa (Nationalities Unity Organization), M.K. Sivajalingam (Independent), former Governor Mahamood Lebbe Alim Mohamed Hizbullah (Independent), Ahmed Hassan Mohamed Alavi (Independent) and Subramanium Gunaratnam (Our National Front) handed in their nominations yesterday. Although Basheer Segu Dawood, Jayantha Liyanage, Kumara Welgama, Chamal Rajapaksa, Gunapala Tissakuttiarachchi and Maheepala Herath made a cash deposit, they did not hand over nominations. (Daily Island, 8.10.2019)

The nearly two-week -old strike by railway trade unions that caused immense hardships to rail commuters countrywide had been called off, after the strikers had a discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena, Railway Station Masters’ Association General Secretary Janaka Fernando said. The strike entered the 12th day yesterday. Fernando said that they had met the National Salaries and Cadre Commission officials on the instructions of President Sirisena and the outcome of their talks had been positive. Railway trade unions launched an indefinite strike on September 25 midnight, demanding the rectification of their salary anomalies. All railway trade unions including railway guards, railway engine drivers, railway controllers, station masters and railway supervisory managers struck work. (Daily Island, 8.10.2019)

The Election Commission (EC) has sought an additional sum of Rs 1.2 billion from the Treasury for the upcoming presidential elections, a senior official said.  EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya this week declared that the poll would cost more than the estimated Rs 4.5 billion after a record 35 candidates were declared eligible to contest the election. Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Jagath Abeysiri Gunawardane, overseeing elections, said that three police officers would be deployed to each polling booth on the day of the election. This would be in addition to police patrols who would be deployed for security, he added. The huge number of candidates, which is a record-high in Sri Lankan history, has resulted in the ballot paper measuring 2.2 feet in length. Plastic ballot boxes, larger polling booths and counting centres are also on the cards due to the same reason.  The Presidential election will be held on November 16. (Times Online, 10.10.2019)

Sri Lanka’s trade deficit contracted by $ 2.3 billion to $ 4.8 billion during the first eight months of this year, the Central Bank said yesterday, with August seeing an import decline of 16.6% while exports declined by 0.4%. 
The deficit in the trade account contracted by $ 2,386 million to $ 4,854 million during the first eight months of 2019, in comparison to $ 7,240 million in the corresponding period of 2018, the Central Bank said in its latest External Performance report. The trade deficit contracted in August 2019 as the decline in imports continued while the dip in exports in the previous month has largely recovered. Import expenditure recorded a decline of 16.6% (year-on-year) and export earnings declined fractionally by 0.4% (year-on-year) in August 2019, mainly due to the lower prices of major export categories. The trade deficit fell to $ 540 million in August 2019 compared to the deficit of $ 717 million recorded in July 2019. Meanwhile, the terms of trade, which represents the relative price of imports in terms of exports, improved by 5.2% (year-on-year) as import prices reduced at a faster pace than the reduction in export prices. However, on a cumulative basis, the terms of trade deteriorated marginally by 0.1% during the first eight months of 2019 in comparison to the corresponding period of 2018. (Daily Financial Times, 15.10.2019)

Earnings from merchandise exports declined marginally by 0.4% (year-on-year) to $ 1,033 million in August 2019, led by a decline in agricultural exports followed by mineral exports while industrial exports grew, supported by higher earnings from textiles and garments. Earnings from textiles and garments increased by 7%, reflecting the higher demand from all major markets especially from the European Union, which recorded a growth of 12.9%. 
Export earnings from chemical products, printing industry products, animal fodder and plastics and articles thereof also increased. However, export earnings from rubber products declined due to lower earnings from tyres and surgical and other gloves exports while food, beverages and tobacco exports declined with lower exports of vegetable, fruit and nut preparations as well as manufactured tobacco. Export earnings from machinery and mechanical appliances, petroleum products, transport equipment, base metals and articles and leather, travel goods and footwear also declined during this period. Earnings from agricultural exports decreased in August 2019 due to lower earnings from all sub-categories except tea, seafood and vegetables. Earnings from tea exports increased in August 2019 due to higher export volumes despite the decline in average export prices. However, earnings from spices declined due to poor performance in cinnamon, clove and pepper. In addition, export earnings from coconut declined due to lower export prices in both kernel and non-kernel products.(Daily Financial Times, 15. 10. 2019).

Export earnings from mineral exports also declined in August 2019 in comparison to August 2018 due to a low performance in all sub-categories under mineral exports. The export volume index in August 2019 increased by 2.9% (year-on-year) while the export unit value index declined by 3.2%, indicating that the subdued performance of exports was entirely driven by the reduction in export prices. Expenditure on merchandise imports contracted notably in August 2019 for the tenth consecutive month by 16.6% (year-on-year) to $ 1,574 million, registering a decline across all major categories of imports.  Expenditure on consumer goods imports declined in August 2019, reflecting the reduction in both food and beverages and non-food consumer goods imports. Lower imports of spices, dairy products, vegetables and seafood mainly contributed to the decline in imports of food and beverages while lower imports of personal motor vehicles resulted in the contraction in non-food consumer goods imports.  “Import expenditure on personal motor vehicles declined by 46.2%, year-on-year, continuing the trend observed since December 2018 despite an increase seen in July 2019 over the preceding months, reflecting the impact of a backlog of concessionary permits being used for importing vehicles.”  However, expenditure on sugar and confectionary, medical and pharmaceuticals, cereals and milling industry products imports has increased during August 2019. Expenditure on imports of intermediate goods reduced in August 2019 mainly due to lower expenditure on petroleum products as a result of lower import volumes and prices. Expenditure on textiles and textile articles, chemical products, paper and paperboard and articles thereof and mineral products also declined. However, expenditure on fertiliser imports increased more than twofold on a year-on-year basis in August 2019 due to higher volumes imported targeting the coming Maha season while the import of base metals, wheat and maize also increased. Imports of investment goods declined in August 2019 due to lower imports of machinery and equipment and building material. However, transport equipment increased significantly, driven mainly by the importation of railway equipment. The import volume index dropped by 9.3% while the unit value index dropped by 8%, indicating that the decline in imports was driven by the combined effect of lower volume and prices when compared to August 2018. (Daily Financial Times, 15.10.2019)

Geological surveys conducted recently have revealed a gold deposit of 100 sq.kilometers buried in an area centering Seruwawila, Geological Survey and Mine Bureau (GSMB) Chairman Asela Iddawela said. The Chairman said he hoped to seek foreign investors willing to work in accordance with the policies and procedures adopted by the bureau to join with the GSMB to carry out further surveys based on the data and geological elements available. GSMB director General Dr.C.H.E.R. Siriwardena also affirmed the presence of gold ore within the Seruwawila copper and iron deposit in an area of about 100 kilometers in Arippu and Kollakulam. He also said further surveys are needed to ascertain the economical viability of the expected gold deposit and samples have to be analyzed to see the possibility of finding Palladium, Platinum elements. If the survey reveals positive results foreign investors can be attracted to develop the ore (Daily Mirror, 18.10.2019)

The Government of Japan has provided a total sum of $ 1,266,825 (approx. Rs. 219 million) to SKAVITA Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Project (SHARP) and the HALO Trust for humanitarian demining in northern Sri Lanka. The grant contracts were signed on Friday at the HALO Trust’s Muhumalai Control Point in Kilinochchi, between Japanese Ambassador Akira Sugiyama and SHARP Program Manager Lt. Col. (Retd.) V.S.M. Sarath Jayawardhana and HALO Trust Program Manager Belinda Vause. The two projects are expected to facilitate the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka for ‘Mine-Impact Free Sri Lanka’ by 2020, enabling the resettlement of internally displaced people and the enhancement of their livelihoods. Japan has been a major donor in the area of mine clearance in Sri Lanka since 2003, with more than $35 million assistance in total through its Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GGP), in view of the Sri Lankan Government’s goal to be mine-impact free by 2020. This contribution has helped accelerate and facilitate the resettlement and recommencement of agriculture and other livelihood activities of Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Japan has provided funds to SHARP for the fourth consecutive year. In the last three years, the partnership between SHARP and the Government of Japan has enabled the removal and destruction of over 5,000 landmines. The work of Japan-funded mine clearance teams has already helped over 200,000 people in HALO’s area of operations, formerly the seat of the conflict. Mine clearance is key to the reconciliation process in the north and to the resettlement of thousands of people – made possible thanks to Japan’s invaluable support. We look forward to our continued co-operation, together with the national Government and the mine action community, in making Sri Lanka the next country to be mine-impact free.” (Daily Financial Times, 19.10.2019)

Tea production for September 2019 totaled 21.7 million kg, showing a gain of 2.3 million kg when compared to the 19.4 million kg posted in the same month last year, Forbes and Walker Tea Brokers said.   Low Growns have shown a year-on-year growth, whilst Mediums have remained static. Meanwhile, High Growns have shown a marginal decline compared to September 2018, it said in its latest report.  January-September 2019 cumulative production of 232.7 M/kg shows a growth of 9.7 M/kg vis-à-vis 223 M/kg of January-September 2018. All elevations have shown a growth when compared to the corresponding period of 2018, with Low Growns showing the biggest gain, followed by Mediums and High Growns. CTC production for September 2019 totalled 1.8 M/kg, showing a gain of 0.15 M/kg vis-à-vis 1.6 M/kg of September 2018. Low Growns and High Growns have shown a YOY growth, whilst Mediums have shown a marginal decrease. On a cumulative basis, January-September 2019 CTC production of 17.2 M/kg remained static when compared to the corresponding period of 2018. On a cumulative basis, however, only Mediums have shown a marginal gain, while Low Growns and High Growns show a decline compared to the corresponding period of 2018. This week a total of 6 M/kg came under the hammer. There was improved demand and more so for the well-made teas. Ex-Estate offerings were similar to last week and totaled 0.89 M/Kg. Here again, there was improved demand particularly for the BOPF grade, which on average gained Rs. 20 per kg and more for select bright liquoring teas. Low Growns totalled 2.8 M/kg in the Leafy/Tippy catalogues this week. There was good demand, particularly for the well-made teas. In the Leafy catalogue, better OP1/BOP1s were fully firm to dearer, while others were mostly firm. Better OP/OPAs too were fully firm to dearer. Others and the stalky types at the lower end were irregular and lower.  (Daily Financial Times, 19.10.2019)

At least five people were killed and ten injured due to adverse weather conditions prevailing in the hill country, according to the latest update from the Disaster Management Centre. Four deaths are reported from the Badulla district and the other one is reported from the Ratnapura district. “Five thousand six hundred and sixty people from 1,509 families have been affected from the inclement weather. Twenty six houses have neen destroyed while 671 houses have been partially damaged,” Disaster Management Centre sources said. The Department of Meteorology predicts thundershowers over many parts of the island towards the afternoon today (21). Showers will occur in coastal areas of the Western and Southern Provinces and the Mannar district during the morning too. Fairly heavy falls between 75-100 mm can be expected at some places in the Western, Central, Sabaragamuwa, North-Western, Southern and Uva Provinces. Winds will be south-westerly with speeds of 20-40 kmph in the sea areas around the island and increasing up to 50 kmph at times. (Daily News, 21.10.2019)

A total of 55,894 dengue cases and 74 confirmed dengue deaths had been reported from all parts of the country within this year as at October 18th (last Friday) evening. In contrast, only 58 dengue deaths reported for the whole of 2018, experts at the Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit told the Daily News. The Epidemiology experts described as “alarming” the sharp increase in the impact of Dengue this year over 2018. “74 dengue deaths is an alarming rate when it comes to a period of only 10 months. Last whole year, only 58 dengue deaths were reported. The Western Province recorded a total of 26,286 dengue cases which is the highest among the provinces. With the ongoing rainy conditions expected persist, the Epidemiology Unit has identified five high risk districts. They are Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Ratnapura and Galle districts. Colombo district recorded a total of 11,854 dengue cases which is the highest. The second highest number of cases, 8,976, was reported from the Gampaha district. The third highest number of dengue patients, 5,456, has been reported from the Kalutara district. The highest incidence of dengue cases, numbering 9,459, had been reported in August. (Daily News, 21.10.2019)

Sixty seven maternal deaths had been reported so far during the current year, the latest edition was an abortion victim from Jaffna last Friday, said Dr. Kapila Jayarathne, National Program Manager, Maternal and Child Morbidity and Mortality Surveillance, Ministry of Health. He said there had been 108 maternal deaths reported in 2018. He said that maternal deaths due to heart diseases and pneumonia posed a huge challenge though Sri Lanka was a role model to the entire world on having reduced maternal and infant mortality rates drastically. The challenge before us is to reduce mortality rate to a single digit by 2030, he stressed Dr. Jayarathne deserved that pregnant women were more likely between four and five times to develop influenza associated complications, severe disease and death. “The risk is highest in the third trimester. Influenza is also associated with increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as spontaneous abortion, preterm birth and fatal distress. Though Sri Lanka had reduced maternal mortality significantly over the years, the mortality ratio has been stagnant in the last 10 years posing a challenge to achieving sustainable development goals by 2030, he said. (Daily Island, 28.10.2019)

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