SRI LANKA NEWS (SEPTEMBER 2019) – Compiled by Victor Melder.
Sri Lanka’s gross official reserves were 8,532.6 million US dollars by the end of August, up from 8,343.9 million US dollars in July, latest Central Bank data showed. By the end of August, foreign currency reserves were 7,494.7 million dollars while the reserve position in the IMF was 65.5 million dollars. Special Drawing Rights were 14.5 million, reserves in Gold were 956.8 million and other reserve assets were 1.1 million US dollars. The outstanding stock of T-bills and T-bonds held by foreigners decreased by 0.45 percent during the week compared to the previous week. During the year up to 6th September 2019, the Sri Lanka rupee has appreciated against the US dollar by 1.2 percent. (Daily Island, 9.9.2019)
The first-ever anti-venom serum developed in Sri Lanka to treat snake bites victims is expected to be introduced to the market shortly, officials said. The government spends around Rs. 1 billion to import anti-venom serum from India, but experts have pointed out that the potency of the venom, particularly when it comes to Russell’s Viper and Hump-nosed Viper in Sri Lanka, is more toxic than in India. The anti-venom ICP and AVRI that has been produced locally is polyspecific and it covers multiple species including, for the first time, the Hump-nosed Pit Viper, the most common cause of snakebite envenoming in Sri Lanka, and is known to cause serious systemic toxicity and death. Medical experts have shown that a victim with serious bites ends with acute kidney damage plus many other complications when it comes to the hypnale species. A decade ago, snake bites were a major problem with some 60,000 people falling victim annually. Only around 40,000 of the victims received treatment from hospitals, while the others resorted to traditional native snake bite treatment. In total, 97% of snake bite deaths are caused by the cobra, Russell’s Viper and Common Indian Krait. Apart from them, the Sri Lankan Krait and Saw Scaled Viper are categorized as a deadly species though they have not caused many deaths. The Merrem’s Hump-nosed Viper is now considered by the Sri Lanka Medical Association as a dangerous species. However, of the land snakes only a few are medically important or can inflict a bite, where the venom could be mild, moderate or highly venomous. It is of interest to note that to date, modern medical literature record human fatalities only due to four species of snakes – Russell’s Viper, Cobra, Kraits and the Hump-nosed Viper. The Hump-nosed Pit Viper (Hypnale Merrem’s pit viper) is a snake widely distributed in Sri Lanka and the South Western coastal region of India. It is the most common snake responsible for venomous snakebites in Sri Lanka, estimated to be between 22% to 77% of all snakebites (de Silva, 1981; Seneviratne, 2000). For centuries, it was considered a relatively innocuous snake until 1821, when for the first time, swelling and bleeding due to bites by H. hypnale was reported in animals (Davy, 1821) (Sunday Island, 15.9.2019)
A new dwarf day gecko has been added to Sri Lanka’s list of gecko species. The latest addition to the diverse herperto fauna brings the Cnemaspis richness to 33 species. The new species is dedicated to Sri Lanka’s Father of Herpetology, renowned scientist, Dr. Anslem De Silva. Dr. De Silva said that there are a number of species, especially reptiles and amphibians new to science, which are to be named soon. He commended young researchers for their devoted service to the field of science. The new species was named Cnemaspis anslemi by environmental scientists D. M. S. Surajan Karunarathna and Kanishka Ukuwela. The new day gecko species of Genus Cnemaspis Strauch 1887 is from a midland forested area of Udamaliboda (north-western foothills of Samanala Nature Reserve) in Sri Lanka. The species is medium in size (30–35 mm SVL) and can be differentiated from all other Sri Lankan congeners by a suite of distinct morph metric, meristic and color characters (dorsum with smooth and homogeneous granular scales; chin, gular, pectoral, and abdominal scales smooth; precloacal pores absent in males, 14–15 femoral pores separated by 9–11 unpored interfemoral scales in males; subcaudals smooth, sub hexagonal, enlarged, sub equal, forming a regular median row). It was recorded from tall trees with smooth bark in home gardens, and also on clay walls in very old tall houses in wet, cool and shady forests, distributed across mid elevations (~450–650 m) with limited anthropogenic disturbance. They can climb of up to heights of 7m on vertical surfaces of trees. The most noteworthy behavior of this species is that when “scared,” it runs only upward to the canopy of a tree or along the wall to hide within crevices. Suranjan Karunarathna warned that the major threats to this species in Udamaliboda and other locations in lower Samanala Nature Reserve are habitat loss due to expansion of commercial-scale agriculture and monoculture plantations, and illicit forest encroachments. “Therefore, these foothill forests warrant special conservation, habitat protection, further in-depth research and specific hands-on management practices,” he stressed. (Sunday Island, 15.9.2019)
A senior spokesman for the Election Commission, last night, said the presidential election would be held on Nov. 16, 2019. The official said the relevant gazette notification would be issued Wednesday (18) night. The announcement was made in the wake of the SLPP alleging President Maithripala Sirisena planning to consult the Supreme Court again in respect of the duration of his term. The official said the nominations for the elections would be called for on Oct. 07. “There will be a two week-period to receive nominations. Cash deposits can be made in view of the elections, till noon on October 6.” The Commission took that decision in keeping with the election law, the official said. The SLPP and the National People’s Power Movement (NPPM) have named wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake as their respective presidential candidates. The SLPP named Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its candidate on Aug 11. The JVP-led coalition made its announcement on Aug. 18. The UNP and its partners and the civil society are still continuing discussions among themselves, with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya vying for presidential nomination. UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said that the Working Committee would soon decide on the party candidate who would contest, through the National Democratic Front (NDF). Political sources said that contrary to claims by various spokesmen, the SLFP wouldn’t field a candidate. It would be the first time the SLFP will not in the presidential fray. The last presidential election was held on January 08, 2015. (Daily Island, 19.9.2019)
As envisioned in Budget 2019 proposals by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the Cabinet of Ministers has approved the payment of a monthly interim allowance of Rs. 6,000 to families of missing persons including family members of the armed forces and the police missing in action, the Finance Ministry said. Issuing a statement, the Ministry said that across the island, in addition to heartbreak and trauma, families of missing persons had been undergoing severe economic hardships due to the disappearance of their loved ones, in most cases the breadwinner of the family. The Office of Missing Persons (OMP), in its interim report published in August 2018, had recommended providing interim relief to families of missing persons that had Certificates of Absence. Budget 2019 incorporated these recommendations. The interim relief is of Rs.6000 monthly bank deposit to the recipient of a certificate of absence. It will be provided until the newly-established Office of Reparations provides compensation and other forms of reparation. Interim relief will also not be a waiver of the right to adequate, prompt and effective reparations to seek judicial remedies. So far, 656 certificates of absence have been issued to families of missing persons in both the North and the South, some of whom include families of armed forces personnel who are missing in action. In order to facilitate the speedy issuance of certificates of absence, the Cabinet also approved the recruitment of additional officers to the Registrar General’s Department on a contract basis. (Daily Mirror, 20.9.2019)
The Working Committee of the United National Party (UNP) has agreed to nominate Minister Sajith Premadasa as its presidential candidate today (Sept 26). Accordingly, UNP Deputy Leader Mr. Premadasa would contest under the UNP-led Democratic National Front (DNF) banner which would be formed on October 9. A final decision in this regard had been taken during a meeting at the UNP Headquarters which took place this afternoon. Accordingly, the UNP would make its cash deposit for Minister Premadasa at the Elections Secretariat tomorrow. UNP leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya too were among the names tipped to be nominated as the presidential candidate. So far seven candidates have placed their cash deposits to contest at the November 16 election. This includes former Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, businessman Rohan Pallewatta, and Ariyawansa Dissanayake. United National Party (UNP) presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa today (Sept 26) said that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will serve as Prime Minister, under his government. “This isn’t a problem about choosing a Prime Minister. It is the presidential election,” Mr. Premadasa said in his first news conference after announcing his candidature. (Times Online, 26.9.2019)
The United Nations suspended Sri Lankan Army deployments in the world body’s peacekeeping operations after the Indian Ocean island nation appointed a war veteran who has been accused of serious human rights violations, an official said on Wednesday. “We have expressed our concern to the Government of Sri Lanka over the appointment of Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva to the position of Commander of the Sri Lanka Army despite well-documented, credible allegations of his involvement in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” UN Spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York. “In light of this appointment, the UN Department of Peace Operations is therefore suspending future Sri Lankan army deployments except where suspension would expose UN operations to serious operational risk.” Silva, 55, is credited with successfully leading an army division against dissident Tamil Tigers in the final phases of the island nation’s 26-year-long brutal civil war. His victory, however, was highly controversial. Thousands of civilians were killed in the last phases of the conflict, including in areas declared by the government to be a “no-fire zone” which came under sustained army shelling, including hospitals. A United Nations panel has accused Silva’s division of suspected extrajudicial executions of unarmed rebels in the final week of the war, which ended in 2009, and systematic torture of people in custody. Silva, who joined the Army in 1984 and had been its Chief of Staff since January, has denied the accusations.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement in August that Silva’s promotion “severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability”. The United States expressed its disapproval of Silva’s appointment in a strongly-worded statement and said “the allegations of gross human rights violations against him, documented by the United Nations and other organisations, are serious and credible.” Silva was named Head of the Army after the term of the previous Chief, Mahesh Senanayake, ended in July. Various countries contribute forces to UN peacekeeping missions around the world. (Daily Financial Times, 27.9.2019)
The Government said yesterday it was in discussion with the UN Secretary General over the latter’s announcement of UN Department of Peace Operations deciding to repatriate Sri Lankan Army Unit and individual officers serving with the UN Peace Keeping. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is leading the Sri Lanka delegation to the 74th General Assembly Session, is scheduled to discuss this matter with the Under Secretary General of the UN Department of Peace Operations, on Friday 27 September 2019,” the Ministry said in a statement. Deputy Spokesman for the UN Secretary General Farhan Haq on Wednesday said that the UN Department of Peace Operations has decided to repatriate a Sri Lankan Army unit and individual officers currently serving with UN Peacekeeping, due to concerns over the appointment of Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army. (Daily Financial Times, 27.9.2019)
Exports in July declined by 7% after posting steady growth for more than a year, which expanded the trade deficit to $ 717 million but in carminative terms the deficit for the first seven months of the year contracted by $ 2 billion in the first seven months, the Central Bank said. The trade deficit widened in July as exports fell more than the decline in imports. Export earnings recorded a decline of 7% (year-on-year) after a steady growth for several months while import expenditure declined by 2.2% (year-on-year) in July. The decline in export earnings in July can be largely attributed to a reduction in earnings from petroleum products due to lower prices of bunker fuel and the export of a naval craft in July 2018, which resulted in a higher export base in the corresponding month of the previous year. The trade deficit widened to $ 717 million in July compared to the deficit of $ 316 million recorded in June. The deficit in the trade account, which contracted significantly since November 2018, widened in July, both on a year-on-year basis and month-on-month basis. In cumulative terms, the deficit in the trade account contracted by $ 2,076 million to $ 4,314 million during the first seven months of 2019 in comparison to the corresponding period of 2018. Meanwhile, the terms of trade, which represents the relative price of imports in terms of exports, improved by 3.9% (year-on-year) as export prices, on average, reduced at a slower pace than the decline in import prices. However, on a cumulative basis, the terms of trade deteriorated marginally by 0.8% during the first seven months of 2019 in comparison to the corresponding period of 2018. (Daily Financial Times, 28.9.2019)
Three more elephants have been found dead yesterday at the Thumbikulam reserve at Habarana, bringing the total number of elephants found dead at the park to seven, Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) officials said. In a pathetic scene, a five-year-old calf was seen refusing to leave the site of one of the elephants, believed to be its mother. The baby elephant attempted to revive the dead elephant by trying to breath into its mouth. Since wildlife officers were unable to approach the mother elephant to carry out a post-mortum examination they were forced to tranquilise the calf and drive it into the jungle. A visibly shaken Wildlife State Minister Ranjith Aluwihare who arrived at the scene reprimanded wildlife officers for not informing him about the tragedy. He said he had to learn of the deaths from media reports. Earlier on Friday, wildlife officials had found four dead elephants in the same reserve. The officials said they believed all the animals were from a single herd, and they were females with their ages ranging between 25 and 35 years. Meanwhile, DWC Director General Chandana Sooriyabandara, told the Sunday Times they had informed the Kekirawa Magistrate about the deaths. He said two veterinary surgeons had carried out the post-mortem examination and another veterinary surgeon was scheduled to go there today to carry out investigations into the mysterious deaths” The Wildlife Department would be producing a progress report in court to get an order to send samples collected at the post-mortem examinations for further investigation. Meanwhile, in another incident the body of a tusker had been found in Moragahawewa in Puttlam. Veterinarian Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe, said he believed the animal, around 7 feet tall and 15 years old, had died of poisoning. He added one of the tusks of the beast was missing and said he believed that whoever attempted to retrieve the tusks was unable to remove the other as the animal had fallen in a muddy area. (Sunday Times, 29.9.2019)
Sri Lanka is trailing behind many Asian and middle income countries in human capital with lower relative education and stunted children, while though the country is doing better in life expectancy, a new report has found. In newly compiled cross-country Human Capital Index (HCI) compiled by World Bank, Sri Lanka scores 58 points giving a ranking of 74 out of 157 countries. After 13 years of education a child in Sri Lanka has education level equal to about eight years of education in Singapore, Harsha Athurupane, Lead Economist and Program Leader for Human Development for Sri Lanka and Maldives said. Sri Lanka was weak in areas such as mathematics, he said. Based on the HCI index a child in Sri Lanka born today will be 58 percent as productive in adulthood compared to their full potential. “Children born in Singapore today can expect to achieve 88 percent of their potential, Children born in Japan and the Republic of Korea will achieve 84 percent and in Hong Kong 82 percent. “Sri Lanka was the best performing country in South Asia,” the report Sri Lanka Human Capital Development noted. “However it lags behind East Asian countries such as China, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam. In Sri Lanka a child has a 99 percent chance of surviving to age 05. About 26 percent of children die of accidents. The expected number of years of schooling is 13 years, on par with high income countries. On learning outcomes Sri Lanka scores 400, above lower middle income country average of 391, but less than the average upper middle income of 428. It is below the mean score of East Asia and Pacific of 451. The report found that Sri Lanka’s Southern Province had the highest HCI value of 63.3 higher than the Western province’s 61.8, largely due to improvements by the provincial council to schools. Southern Province overtakes Western in Sri Lanka human capital index In Sri Lanka 83 percent were not stunted, above the 73 percent for lower middle income countries, but below the average for upper middle income countries. “The county has deep-rooted challenges in stunting (reflecting chronic under-nutrition) and learning adjusted years of schooling,” the report said. “These are second generation challenges that are hard to address.” (Daily Island, 29.9.2019)