SRI  LANKA  NEWS  IN  BRIEF  –  MARCH 2019 – By Victor Melder

Victor Meldor    The International Monetary Fund on Friday revived a $1.5 billion bailout for Sri Lanka that was suspended over a government power struggle last year that seriously slowed economic growth. The Washington-based lender said officials visiting Colombo agreed to re-activate the three-year loan, which started in 2016 and spread the instalments over an additional year.”The team reached understandings at the staff level with the Sri Lankan authorities… to allow more time for the completion of the economic reform agenda,” the IMF said. The Fund had been due to release an instalment in October when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his Prime Minister and called fresh elections, triggering a two month power struggle in the island nation. Because of the crisis, the economy grew by just 3.0 percent last year, making it the slowest expansion in 17 years, according to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. The IMF said it expected Sri Lanka’s growth to improve to 3.5 percent in 2019. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court eventually held that Sirisena’s actions were unconstitutional, allowing Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe to resume his duties. Wickremesinghe told parliament in January that his dismissal on October 26 was a “coup” and a “death blow” to the economy. During the crisis, three international credit rating agencies downgraded the country’s debt and the extra borrowing costs forced Sri Lanka to abandon plans to raise loans abroad .But the IMF noted that Sri Lanka’s economy was “gradually stabilising after the weak economic performance in 2018, in the context of external shocks and domestic political uncertainty.” Official figures show that Sri Lanka will have to repay a record $5.9 billion in foreign loans in 2019. One of the biggest drags on the balance sheet is national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines, which has accumulated losses and debts of over $2 billion. The government has failed to privatise the airline, but the president has revived attempts to find a partner who could inject new capital to keep the airline afloat. (Sunday Island, 3.3.2019)

Sri Lanka’s biggest mass grave predates the country’s bloody civil war by hundreds of years, according to an independent carbon dating report unveiled in a court. The remains of over 300 men, women and children were found last year at a site in the northern Mannar district, where ethnic Tamil guerrillas fought security forces during a 37-year ethnic war that ended in May 2009. Sri Lanka’s Office on Missing Persons (OMP) funded tests on the remains to determine whether the victims were killed during the conflict, which claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people. But a Miami-based laboratory concluded that the victims likely died up to 615 years ago – predating even the first European colonisation of the Indian Ocean Island by the Portuguese – according to testimony in the Mannar Magistrates’ Court. The mass grave in the former war zone was discovered by construction workers. The OMP, which is independent of the Government but has a State mandate, said just over 300 skeletal remains had been found, including the remains of about 20 children. (Daily Financial Times, 8.3.2019)

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, yesterday, announced that all public servants would receive an additional allowance of Rs. 2,500 from July 1, and that a pension adjustment would be made on the same day to rectify all pension anomalies in respect of those who retired before 2016. The government has made an additional allocation of Rs. 40 billion for the increase in public servants’ allowance and Rs. 12 billion to rectify the pension anomalies. Presenting the government’s delayed budget, the Finance Minister reminded the House that the salaries of public servants had been increased by 107 percent under the current government. The Finance Minister, delivering the 2019 Budget speech, themed, ‘Focusing on Empowering the People and Nurturing the Poor’, said that several salient budgetary proposals were the removal of production tax imposed on small trucks, provision of milk to students in rural schools free of charge, increasing allocation for development of temples from Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 1 million, increasing allowance for persons with special needs from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000, allocating Rs 1,480 million to provide a 5,000-rupee allowance to kidney patients, increasing the allowances given to armed forces and increasing the salaries of teachers. Another salient feature was the proposal to give full scholarships to the top scorers at GCE AL students for them to study at prestigious international universities such as Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge. Samaraweera said 14 students would be selected for the programme in the current year and the number would be increased to 28 next year. The scholarship recipients would be required to return and serve here for 10 years in Sri Lanka. “Expressway rush hour toll fee has been increased by Rs. 100. According to the new tax revisions on vehicles, the Production tax on Petrol vehicles less than 1000cc has been increased by Rs. 175,000 and that on the petrol vehicles less than 1300cc has been increased by Rs. 500,000. Production tax on Petrol vehicles less than 800cc will be increased by Rs. 150,000. (Daily Island, 6.3.2019)

Presenting the fifth budget of the current government and the 73rd national budget of Sri Lanka Samaraweera also said: Cigarette prices will be increased by five rupees from mid-night yesterday. Fees charged for the issuing of passports will be revised from July 1 and accordingly fee for one day service has been increased to Rs 15,000 and fee for regular service has been increased to Rs 3,500. “Enterprise Sri Lanka loan scheme will be spread across the country. Rs. 500 million has been allocated for the programme and Rs 60 billion already disbursed to over 30,000 recipients.  Action will be taken against bank officers who discourage Small and Medium Enterprises,” the minister said, adding that a hotline ‘1925’ is available to lodge complaints. The Finance Minister observed that only 30 percent of women were represented in the labour market of the country though 50 percent of university students were female and, therefore, he proposed amending labour laws to allow women to work from home and under flexible working hours. Samaraweera also stressed the need for more women in decision-making positions in the business sector. Tax concessions would be provided to companies that grant three-months of maternity leave. The Budget encouraged firms with over 250 workers to provide day care facilities for children of workers, he said Referring the need to combat the drug menace, the Minister proposed to establish special rehabilitation camps in Weerawila and Ambepussa for drug addicts. Females in prisons would be given the opportunity to learn arts and craft at a special facility in Dompe with an allocation of Rs 50 million, Samaraweera said. The budget also proposes a series of new loan schemes in the Budget 2019. It proposes to introduce a housing loan scheme ‘Home Sweet Home’ for newly wedded couples to repay within 25 years at a 6 percent interest rate. Rs 10 million concessionary loan will be given to middle income earners to buy their first house. He said that ‘Dream Home’ loans would be introduced for registered migrant workers to obtain Rs.10 million with two year grace period to be paid within 15 years. Students who could not get into universities after the AL exam would be provided ‘My Future’ interest free loans up to Rs 1.1 million with two years grace period to enrol at non-state universities. It has also been proposed to allocate Rs.600 million to expand ‘1990 Suwaseriya Ambulance Service’ throughout the country and improve parking places for them. With reference to foreign investments, the minister said foreign companies would not be allowed to bid without establishing a joint venture with a local company. The Minister said that Rs 48 billion had been allocated for the Gamperaliya development programme. He also disclosed that an expressway to Jaffna would be finished before the end of the tenure of the government. He said that the Outer Circular Highway construction would be completed this year and Ruwanpura Expressway construction too would commence this year. The Budget 2019 also proposes to construct two new harbours at Pesalai and Mandaitivu as fish exports to Europe increased after the restoration of GSP+ tariff concession. Other budget concessions and revenue measures were announced. (Daily Island, 6.3.2019)  

Sri Lanka has raised $2.4 billion as it returned to the international bond market for the first time since a political crisis triggered rating downgrades, the central bank announced. A power struggle between the president and the prime minister late last year prompted three international rating agencies to downgrade Sri Lanka, forcing the government to abandon plans to borrow overseas. With the end of the dispute, the International Monetary Fund has revived a bailout program with Sri Lanka, and Colombo has resumed its international sovereign bond sales. Sri Lanka’s central bank said it went to market on Thursday following the strong backing from the IMF which last week lifted its suspension of a $1.5 billion bailout agreed in June 2016. The issue of $1 billion in bonds with a five-year tenure and a 10-year $1.4 billion bond were hugely oversubscribed. Both bonds attracted offers of $7.5 billion, the bank said. The bonds were bought at an average yield of 6.58 percent for the five-year tenure and 7.85 percent for the 10-year bonds. Because of the political crisis, economic growth slowed to 3.0 percent last year, the weakest in 17 years, according to the central bank.  The IMF said it expected Sri Lanka’s growth to improve to 3.5 percent in 2019. (Sunday Island, 10.3.2019)

Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals rose 7% in February 2019 compared to the same period last year, the data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) showed. The month recorded 252,033 tourists arriving in the country compared to the 235,618 arrived in February 2018. India, United Kingdom, China, France and Germany were Sri Lanka’s top five international tourist generating markets in the month of February this year. India was the largest source of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka with 13% of the total traffic received in February 2019. United Kingdom accounted for 12% of the total traffic; while China, France and Germany accounted for 11%, 7% and 7% respectively. Arrivals from North America rose 61.7 percent to 16,280 in February and the arrivals from US rose 61.7 percent to 9,678 during the month while arrivals from Canada increased 61.8 percent. Tourist arrivals from Europe increased by 11.4 percent with the arrival of 135,934 tourists. Most of the tourists came from UK (29,750), followed by France (17,295), Germany (17,268), and Russian Federation (13,008). Tourist arrivals from Middle East declined by 5.2 percent with the arrival of 3,691 visitors compared to the 3,894 arrived in February 2018. Tourist arrivals from Asia & Pacific declined by 3.8 percent with 94,058 arriving in the island. Tourist arrivals from India declined by 1.9 percent with 32,286 visitors arriving while arrivals from China fell by 22.0 percent to record 28,039 arrivals. Arrivals from Australia recorded 54.8 percent increase with 8,810 visitors entering the country in February 2019. (Daily Island, 11.3.2019)

A concessionary loan agreement for JPY 30,040 million (approx. Rs. 48 billion) was signed yesterday between the Government of Sri Lanka and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for engineering services and construction of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line between Malabe and Colombo Fort. 
The loan will finance Sri Lanka’s first rail-based, electrified urban mass rapid transit line. It will serve to connect the Colombo’s commercial hub with the administrative capital, and significantly reduce travel time in the most congested transport corridor in the country, and the only major corridor currently not supported by railway. The Malabe-Fort LRT line has a total length of approximately 16 km, with 16 stations. The stations are placed at frequently accessed locations and include Malabe – IT Park, Battaramulla, Rajagiriya, Cotta Road Railway Station and National Hospital up to current Fort/Pettah Railway Station. The entire rail track and stations will be on elevated viaducts to minimise requirement of land acquisition. At peak travel times in the morning and evening, trains are planned to run every two to three minutes (headway). Each four-carriage train will have a passenger capacity of over 800, which could be increased by adding more carriages in future when necessary. With an 80km/h top speed, travel time from Malabe to Fort will be approximately 30 minutes (incl. stopping time at stations) with the LRT. The Government of Sri Lanka has requested for the cost of infrastructure, rolling stock and engineering services to be financed through a series of time-slice loans from JICA, in line with the annual fund requirement for the project. High quality Japanese technology would be used to establish Sri Lanka’s first urban electric light rail line. In order to promote technology transfer and economic cooperation between Sri Lanka and Japan, JICA’s loans for this Project are provided under Special Terms for Economic Partnership, with interest rates of 0.1% p.a. for civil works and equipment cost, 0.01% p.a. for engineering services cost and 40 year repayment period including 12 years’ grace period. To facilitate inter-connectivity with other public transport modes, multi modal terminals are proposed at Malabe (together with bus terminal) and Cotta Road (connecting with railway). At Fort/Pettah the LRT line will connect to the planned Multi Modal Transport Hub accessible to both railway and bus. Station facilities and LRT carriages will be designed to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities, as well as passengers with small children and senior citizens. Although the elevated viaduct will minimise the requirement, some land acquisition is needed at the Depot and some of the Station locations. The Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, the executing agency for the Project, will conduct such acquisition in accordance with the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy, and JICA’s environmental and social considerations guidelines to ensure inclusive development through public projects. Since the railway tracks and stations are constructed at high elevation and over national roadways with high traffic volume, appropriate safety measures during construction are critical to ensure the safety of the construction personnel and the general public. JICA will continue to pay special attention to safety aspects in implementation of the project. (Daily Financial Times, 12.3.2019)

Land prices in Colombo, in the second half of 2018, have increased by 18% compared to the 2nd half of 2017, according to the Land Price Index (LPI) for Colombo District, compiled by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). “The index has reached 125.9 during the 2nd half of 2018, recording an increase of 18 per cent compared to the 2nd half of 2017. The three sub–indices of LPI, namely residential, commercial and industrial have contributed to this increase,” CBSDL said issuing a press release. CBSL adds that LPI is compiled covering all Divisional Secretariat (DS) divisions of  the Colombo District using per perch bare land prices collected from the Government Valuation Department in order to monitor the developments in the real estate sector. To maintain homogeneity, three separate sub-indices for residential, commercial and industrial lands are computed, considering the diverse nature of the land use, and the overall LPI is calculated by taking the average of these three sub-indices Daily Island, 12.3.2019)

Tourist earnings rose to $ 4,381 million in 2018, in comparison to $ 3,925 million in 2017, the Central Bank said this week but workers remittances declined by 2.1% to $ 7 billion last year.  Workers’ remittances in December 2018 declined by 13%, year-on-year, to $ 584 million. On a cumulative basis, workers’ remittances recorded a decline of 2.1% to $ 7,015 million in 2018, from $ 7,164 million in 2017. Tourist arrivals recorded a growth of 3.5% in December 2018, resulting in a total of 2.3 million arrivals during 2018, compared to 2.1 million arrivals in 2017. Tourist arrivals from all major regions, except East Asia and the Middle East, increased in 2018.India remained as the leading source country for tourist arrivals in 2018, while China remained the second largest origin, albeit with a marginal decline, followed by the UK, Germany, and Australia. With the growth in tourist arrivals, and an increase in estimated average spending by tourists, earnings from tourism recorded a healthy growth of 11.6% during 2018. (Daily Financial Times, 16.3.2019)

Sri Lanka has obtained a US$ one billion (Rs 178 billion) loan from China Exim Bank for the construction of first stage of the Central Expressway project.  The loan is required for the construction of the Kadwatha-Mirigama section – a stretch of 37.09 km — began in 2015 soon after the United National Front Government was elected to power. “Sri Lanka’s financial situation, political issues and adverse reports about utilisation of funds for various projects delayed the approval of the loan,” ERD  Director General R.M.P. Rathnayake said..  The expressway’s first phase was due to be completed by June next year, but it would now take about three more years. Road Development Authority Chairman Nihal Suriyaarachchi said the completion of the Kadawatha-Mirigama stretch would enable the linking of the southern expressway to the first phase. The extended sections of the Southern Expressway — Matara to Beliatta (30 Km), Beliatta to Wetiya (26Km) and Wetiya to Andarawewa (15 Km) and Andarawewa to Mattala and Hambantota (25 Km) — would be ready for opening in August this year, he said (Sunday Times, 17.3.2019)

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) commenced the implementation of the cloud seeding project where moderate artificial rainfall was experienced in the catchment areas of the Maussakele reservoir. Sri Lanka Air Force deployed a Y-12 aircraft to introduce the chemicals into the cloud in order to induce the showers. The Y-12 aircraft hovered above the reservoir at 8000 feet which is reported to have produced a moderate rainfall for about 45 minutes, according to a senior Sri Lanka Air Force official .A team of artificial rain experts from Thailand had provided the necessary technical assistance to carry out the project upon a request put forward by the CEB. A CEB official noted that a similar artificial rain project was carried out successfully in the catchment areas of the Maussakele and Castlereigh reservoirs in 1980. (Times online, 22.3.2019)

Inflation rose to 2.4% in February from 1.2% in January, largely on non-food items, the Census and Statistics Department said.  Headline inflation as measured by the year-on-year change in the National Consumer Price Index (NCPI, 2013=100) increased to 2.4% in February 2019 from 1.2% in January 2019 mainly due to the base effect. Meanwhile, year-on-year Non-food inflation increased to 6.7% in February 2019 from 6.5% in January 2019 while Food inflation also increased to -2.9% in February 2019 from -4.8% in January 2019.
The change in the NCPI measured on an annual average basis marginally decreased to 1.7% in February 2019 from 1.8% in January 2019. The month on month change of the NCPI was -0.5% in February 2019. This was mainly due to decrease in the prices of the items in the Food category where vegetables, green chillies, rice, coconuts, limes, big onion and banana recorded significant decreases. However, on month on month basis, the prices of the items in the Non-food category increased among which the Education sub-category recorded the highest increase. Further, Health, Transport, Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels sub-categories also reported increases during the month.  The core inflation, which reflects the underlying inflation in the economy, increased from 5.1% in January 2019 to 5.5% in February 2019 on year-on-year basis. Meanwhile, annual average core inflation also increased from 2.7% in January 2019 to 3% in February 2019. (Daily Financial Times, 22.3.2019)

The Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM Bank) of China has agreed to provide a concessional loan of US$989 million covering 85% of the contract price for the Central Expressway Project Section 1 from Kadawatha to Meerigama. The loan is to complement the existing expressway network, Central Expressway Project (CEP) has been initiated with the purpose of linking Colombo with Kandy and Kurunegala. Section 1 of the CEP will start from Kadawatha where four expressways, namely Outer Circular Highway (OCH) II, OCH III and Colombo-Katunayaka Expressway and the Central Expressway link through the Kadawatha interchange. This will create an uninterrupted connectivity from Hambanthota to Katunayaka or Hambanthota to Kandy linking several provinces and economically important ports, airports and commercial cities. The Export- Import Bank of China (EXIM Bank) has agreed to provide a concessional loan amounting to US$ 989 million covering 85% of the contract price, for the Central Expressway Project – Section 1 from Kadawatha to Meerigama. The total estimated cost of the project is US$ 1,164 million. Furthermore, this loan is the single largest loan approved by the EXIM Bank for Sri Lanka. (Daily Mirror, 23.3.2019)

Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga said the government would grant on arrival visas for tourists from 36 countries free of charge from May 1 onwards for a trial period of six months. Minister Amaratunga said that tourists from the countries such as those in European Union, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan would be given this facility. Afterwards, the Minister said it would be implemented for six months initially. “Depending on its success, we will decide whether to proceed with it further or not. They will be allowed into the country without a fee. Every year, there is a drop in tourist arrivals during the six months period starting from May. We will implement this program during this period in a move to boost tourist arrivals,” he said. The Minister said his target was to attract three million tourists to the country by the year’s end. (Daily Mirror, 25.3.2019)

The depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee between January 2015 and November 2017 has increased the foreign debt by Rs.626.4 billion, the Government told Parliament yesterday, but stressed that foreign investment increases showed that confidence in the Sri Lankan economy was improving. Responding to a question for oral answer, the State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne held the rupee had depreciated by 14.6% during the period in focus affecting the amount of total foreign debt of the central Government.  Rejecting impact on rupee depreciation from failing investor confidence on bonds, the State Minister said: “Depreciation of the rupee will lead to increase the foreign debt. This wouldn’t have happened if we took rupee loans.” “Foreign Direct Investment in 2016 was $1.5 billion. This has gone up to $ 1.7 billion in 2017 and was increased to $2.34 billion last year. This shows the growing foreign direct investment in Sri Lanka,” he confirmed. According to research, Sri Lanka’s total external debt decreased to $ 53,177.39 million in the third quarter of 2018 from $ 53,487.28 million in the second quarter of 2018. The external debt in Sri Lanka averaged $ 44,865.87 million from 2012 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of $ 53,487.28 million in the second quarter of 2018 and a record low of $ 37,098.10 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. (Daily Financial Times, 27.3.2019)

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SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF
NOVEMBER 2018
Compiled by Victor Melder

Victor MeldorThe Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) recently computed the prices of residential, commercial and industrial lands, using per perch bare land prices (collected from the Government Valuation Department) and determined that the overall land price in the Colombo District has gone up by 16.3%, year-on-year. The computing of the three sub-indices has taken into consideration the diverse ways of land-use and the comparability of the quality of lands. The CBSL periodically compiles and analyses several indicators in order to monitor the developments in the real estate sector. Accordingly, the Land Price Index (LPI) (base year 1998) had been compiled annually from 1998-2008 and bi-annually from 2009-2017, covering 50 centres of five DS divisions in the Colombo District. With the increasing importance of monitoring land prices, geographical coverage of the LPI has been expanded to 82 centres covering the District and revising its base period from 1998 to 1st half of 2017 to accommodate this expansion. Areas included in determining the Land Price Index were; Seethawaka, Padukka, Homagama, Kaduwela, Kolonnawa, Colombo, Thimbirigasyaya, Dehiwala, Ratmalana, Moratuwa, Kesbewa. (Daily Island, 2.11.2018)

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SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF – JUNE 2018 – Compiled by Victor Melder

Victor Meldor - eLankaConsultant, Medical Nutritionist, Medical Research Institute Dr. Renuka Jayatissa addressing a forum recently said the serious repercussions of low local milk consumption, compounded by low production resulting in insufficient quantum to meet demand, resulted in alarming health issues. Malnutrition, in pregnant women, as a result of not consuming sufficient milk during pregnancy was the primary cause of stunting. Although breast feeding infants was recommended, because of low milk consumption they depended on milk substitutes, which, she said, was not the alternative to breast feeding. ‘Fresh milk consumption was essential to build energy and sustain healthy growth. Milk consumption per person should be at least one glass per day. Additionally, yoghurt, cheese, butter, were all essential dietary ingredients that were in short supply, she explained. President, All Island Dairy Association Nishantha Jayasooriya said at this seminar titled ‘Challenges in Meeting Emerging Trends in the Dairy Industry’ that milk production and its related value added products faced serious challenges, restricting growth. Dairy farmers throughout the country, apart from being paid Rs. 70 per litre when they supply milk to either the private sector or the Milk Board, continue to live at subsistence levels with no hope of improvement. Cost of production per litre was currently Rs.136 . 60. He said through the Market Oriented Dairy program (MOD), funded by the US government, the dairy industry was expected to improve production. The US government’s Grant Aid package, he said, was 14 .1 million dollars, to implement the project, and 6.1 million dollars to ship the monetized commodity. But he also said such assistance was in the long term. Realization of the end result to meet demand was yet a long way off. To boost growth some 7000 high yielding animals have been imported over the past two years. Management Consultant, Maliban Milk Products ( Pvt ) Ltd., Asoka Bandara, in his presentation, said although milk production improved, whatever quantity that was produced was still insufficient to meet demand. He said 2010 production was recorded at 196 million litres. Comparatively, 2017 results were that production showed improved quantities. Year end results were that recorded production was 326 million litres. Additionally, some 600 million was imported to augment the short fall. Irrespective of production improvement, demand was assessed at one billion litres annually which was far from being produced. ‘The import bill for milk powder was approximately Rs. 50. million. These funds, if released for improvement could undoubtedly be channeled for increased production. The industry would grow exponentially, he added. Per capita milk consumption, Bandara confirmed, was merely 36 litres. On the other hand Finland, for example consumed, per capita 361.19 liters per day Clearly, he said, although demand was high, production was nowhere near its optimum. (Daily Island 2.6.2018)

The Bank of Ceylon rewards all new born babies born from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018 by opening a Ran Kekulu children’s savings account with the initial deposit of Rs.250/- as a compliment from the bank. This offer is also made available to BOC Athfal children’s savings account during this time period. A parent or a guardian can respond to this offer by opening the account within three months from the date of birth by visiting any BOC branch to obtain this reward. This initiative is one of the many the Bank conducts to build a financially savvy nation in the long run. With the trust and stability that was built over the years BOC’s children savings account- Ran Kekulu lays the best foundation for your child’s future financial stability. BOC Ran Kekulu offers a wide range of benefits covering many important events of a child’s life till becoming a young adult. The Bank offers an additional 1% interest rate than the normal savings account of the Bank and encourages young savers with seasonal gifts as compliments. One of the most significant events celebrated by Ran Kekulu account holders is the Grade 5 scholarship program that celebrates their success in facing grade 5 scholarship examination. This account is also linked with free life insurance cover for the parent or guardian to a maximum of Rs.500,000/- (minimum balance of Rs.5000/- to be maintained for a period of six months prior to the incident). Any parent or guardian who opens BOC Ran Kekulu accounts for more than one child will be covered up to a maximum of Rs. 1.0 million. The child will also get a free medical insurance cover up to Rs.100,000/- per-annum in case of an accident or specified 10 critical illnesses requiring hospitalization in a Private Hospital for more than one night or 3 nights in a Government hospital, will receive Rs.600/- per day up to a maximum of 30 days only (conditions apply). (Daily Island 3.6.2018)

The International Monetary Fund announced the release of the latest installment of Sri Lanka’s $1.5 billion bailout, but warned that restructuring the loss-making national airline was essential to sustain economic recovery. The IMF welcomed the island nation’s increase in fuel prices last month — a precondition for it to receive $252 million of the three-year loan approved in June 2016. Sri Lanka’s economy has been on the mend since the IMF bailout, but growth in 2017 was more sluggish than expected and at 3.1 percent was the slowest in 16 years. The release of the latest tranche of the loan had been held up pending the government agreeing to raise fuel prices to recover production costs and do away with subsidies. The IMF said the price hike by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, in some cases by as much as 130 percent, was a “major achievement” that would reduce fiscal risk. The price of kerosene oil, widely used in rural Sri Lanka for cooking and in lamps, was also more than doubled last month, while gasoline prices increased by just under 15 percent. The IMF said Sri Lanka should also implement a pricing policy for electricity, which is currently subsidised for households and small businesses. “It is essential for the authorities to implement an automatic pricing formula for electricity and a restructuring plan for Sri Lankan Airlines,” IMF’s Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa said in a statement. One of the biggest drags on the country’s balance sheet is national carrier Sri Lankan, which has accumulated losses and debts of over $2 billion and is a huge burden on taxpayers. The government has failed to privatise the airline due to a lukewarm response from investors while an attempt to find an international partner to revive it has also failed. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s real estate sector has been expanding rapidly — raising concerns of a bubble — and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka has said the sector is under close watch to prevent fallout for banks. “While financial soundness indicators remain stable, continued credit growth in the real estate sector warrants close monitoring,” said Furusawa. (Daily Island, 3.6.2018)

Sri Lanka’s overall exports were up by 6.3 percent to US 1.1 billion dollars with an increase in industrial exports, data from the Central Bank showed. Performance of merchandise exports in March 2018, merchandise export earnings at US 1,108 million dollars, recorded the historically highest monthly value. The year-on-year growth of export earnings in March 2018 moderated as the highest monthly export value for 2017 was recorded in March. Earnings from industrial exports mainly contributed towards the growth in export earnings. Under industrial exports, earnings from garment exports recorded the highest value for a month since November 2013 mainly due to the increase in garment exports to the USA, despite a marginal reduction of exports to the EU. Export earnings from gems, diamonds and jewellery increased significantly in March 2018 mainly owing to higher performance registered in gem exports with. Apparel exports were up 7.4 percent to US 486 million dollars with rubber products up 11.8 percent to 85.8 million dollars. Increase in export of vegetable, fruit and nut preparations resulted in an increase in export earnings from food, beverages and tobacco. However, agricultural exports fell 5.6 percent to US 138.5 million dollars with rubber, coconut and spice shipments also falling. Meanwhile, machinery and mechanical appliances increased during the month led by electronic equipment. However, earnings from transport equipment declined in March 2018 reflecting the base effect as several yachts were exported during March 2017. All sub categories under agricultural exports, except for tea and unmanufactured tobacco, declined in March 2018. Tea export earnings increased due to the combined effect of high prices and volumes exported. Lower volumes of cloves and cinnamon exported resulted in a decline in earnings from spices. Earnings from coconut exports also declined during the month due to the drop in exported volumes of desiccated coconut and coconut oil categorised under kernel products. This decline came from the lower production of coconut due to the lag effect of adverse weather conditions. Leading markets for merchandise exports of Sri Lanka, in March 2018, were the USA, the UK, India, Germany and Italy accounting for about 52 per cent of total exports. “The external sector displayed a mixed performance in March 2018. Even though expenditure on imports continued to increase, exports which peaked to historic high levels in March 2018, contributed to a lower trade deficit vis-a-vis the previous two months of the year,” the CB statement said. Earnings from tourism increased notably in March 2018 continuing the positive trend observed since January 2018. Workers’ remittances rose during the month reversing the decline recorded in February 2018. Meanwhile, the financial account of the Balance of Payments (BOP) experienced some outflows in March, particularly with the withdrawal of foreign investments from the government securities market and the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE). (Daily Island 3.6.2018)

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Sri Lanka and tobacco use is the most preventable cause of heart disease. Overall, tobacco is a lethal substance that kills around 20,000 Sri Lankans each year and causes serious and debilitating illnesses in many more. The result is a massive social and economic cost, which manifests as loss of breadwinners, orphaned children, malnutrition and poverty at family level. It also causes a major strain on the health system, as many diseases caused by tobacco such as cancer are very expensive to treat. Sri Lanka has taken many steps to control tobacco use and currently has many evidence-based laws for tobacco control. Though tobacco use has declined over the years, still there is a sizable number of users who are in imminent danger of being harmed by tobacco. Therefore, measures to reduce demand for this substance and to make users quit, needs further strengthening. This year, the Ministry of Health and the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol aimed to ensure that May 31 became a day free of tobacco in Sri Lanka. This was supported by many organizations such as the Sri Lanka Medical Association, Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention, Sri Lanka Heart Association, the Government Medical Officers’ Association many specialist professional groups and non-government agencies such as Alcohol and Drug Information Centre. The objective of this initiative was to encourage both smoked and smokeless tobacco users to refrain from using tobacco on May 31 and encourage and support retailers not sell this lethal product, which kills its customers, on that day. (Daily Island, 3.6.2018)

Tourist arrivals during the first five months exceeded one million, reflecting a 14.7% growth, while May saw a 6.2% growth to 129,466 from the comparable period of last year. According to data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), tourist arrivals in May amounted to 129,466, up 6.2% from 121,891 in the corresponding month of 2017.  The cumulative arrivals of tourists in the five months rose 14.7% to 1,017,819 compared to 887,093 in the same period last year, continuing the growth momentum kick-started this year. India continued to be the largest source market in May with 42,073 arrivals, up by 23.1%. 
China came in second with 17,103, but the figure is down 7.5% compared to a year earlier. Arrivals from the UK were the third largest at 9,337, up 9.6%. Other major markets included Germany (up 8.7% to 6,906), Australia (up 28.1% to 4,873), Japan (up 48.5% to 4,229 and the US (up 24% to 4,123). France was down 0.4% to 3,721.Asia-Pacific was the largest source of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka with 65% of the total received in May 2018. Europe accounted for 27%, America 6%, the Middle East 2 % and Africa 0.5%. Earnings from tourism in March were estimated at $ 433 million, with cumulative earnings amounting to $ 1,313 million during the first quarter of 2018, according to data released by the Central Bank last week. Tourist arrivals increased by 24.1% in March as a result of higher numbers of tourists arriving from India, the United Kingdom and Germany in comparison to March 2017. Total tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2018 at 707,924 were a 17% increase over the first quarter of 2017. (Daily Financial Times, 6.6.2018)

The Sri Lankan rupee hit a fresh record low of 158.90 per dollar yesterday, as importer dollar demand offset the lack of greenback sales by exporters who expect the currency to drop further, dealers said. The spot rupee hit an all-time low of 158.90 per dollar, surpassing its previous low of 158.80 hit in the previous session. The currency ended at 158.85/10 per dollar, weaker from Wednesday’s close of 158.75/90. The currency declined 3.5% so far this year. “Nobody is selling dollars. Importer dollar demand was there. The rupee is trading weaker due to low liquidity,” a currency dealer said. Dealers said the rupee will be under pressure, with exporters staying on the sidelines in anticipation of a fall in the unit, in line with other emerging market currencies. Dealers expect the rupee to trade between the 162-163 level by the end of the year. Foreign investors sold government securities worth a net Rs. 787.24 million ($4.96 million) in the week ended 30 May, bringing the outflow so far this year to Rs. 17 billion, Central Bank data showed. (Daily Financial Times 8.6.2018

Australia has announced fresh funding for de-mining operations in the Vanni region over the next two years. Australian High Commission spokesperson said that Australian 700,000 would be given to two orgnizations, Mine Action Group (MAG) and Sri Lankan organisation Devlon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH) engaged in mine clearing operations. The following is the text of statement issued by the Australia HC yesterday: “This new funding will provide vital additional mine clearance capacity in Mannar, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi Districts of the Northern Province. It will allow many families to return to their land, re-establish lives and reconstruct critical assets. “Australia has been one of the largest contributors to demining in Sri Lanka over the years, contributing $A20 million (around LKR 2 billion) since 2009. “Sri Lanka acceded to the international Mine Ban Treaty in December 2017, with the treaty entering into force for Sri Lanka on 1 June this year. Australia welcomes this important step, which builds on the commitment in Sri Lanka’s National Mine Action Strategy for the country to be ‘mine impact free’ by 2020. Australia’s renewed support for demining in Sri Lanka was announced in Geneva on 8 June during the Intersessional Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty – the first such meeting attended by Sri Lanka as a State Party.” (Daily Island, 9.6.2018)

About 73.4% per cent of children aged one to fourteen experience corporal punishment at home by parents in Sri Lanka, the UNICEF Sri Lanka said. In a statement, it said only 48.7% of three to five-year old’s in Sri Lanka attend pre-school, which when of good quality helps to foster cognitive and language development, social competency and emotional development. It said an estimate 17% of children under five are at risk of poor development due to stunted growth, resulting from poor nutrition and 15.1% of children under five are suffering from wasting (low weight for height) which if untreated can lead to chronic malnutrition. “Children in Sri Lanka are at risk of entering adulthood at a disadvantage to their peers, because they have not benefited from the good nutrition, stimulation and protection – known as ‘eat, play and love’ – that enable a brain to grow to its full capacity by the age of 5 years,” warned UNICEF. The statement said advances in neuroscience have proved that during the early years of life a child’s brain grows at an astounding rate which is never again repeated. “A child’s brain grows and develops to 85 per cent of its full capacity by the age of 5. In these early years’ brain development depends on good nutrition, play and stimulation in the home environment and in preschools and love and protection from harm including violence, abuse and neglect. These can be provided by parents through simple actions, and can make a lasting, positive difference to a child’s development,” UNICEF said. “This means that if we don’t enable every child to reach their full brain capacity by age five, we are robbing them, and Sri Lanka of its most valuable resource – the brains of its next generation. At present, too many children are at risk of entering adulthood at a disadvantage. Thankfully, parents can make all the difference. Through ‘eat, play and love’ they have the power transform their child’s future,” he said. (Sunday Island 17.6.2018) To ensure that every child under 5, irrespective of their wealth or location can benefit from at least one year of quality pre-school, giving them the best possible chance to succeed in school and life, UNICEF has launched an online petition at www.unicef.lk/eatplaylove, open to all that will be presented to decision makers in the future. We urge all to sign. (Sunday Island 17.6.2018)

Inflation for May rose to 2.1%, up from 1.6% in April, the Census and Statics Department revealed. Inflation reported three consecutive months of decline below 3.0%, starting from March 2018. Contributions to inflation in May 2018 from the food group and non-food group are -0.02% and 2.05% respectively, while the contributions of these two groups to the inflation in May 2017 were 4.6% and 2.5% respectively, resulting in headline inflation of 7.1%. When compared to month-on-month changes, NCPI in May 2018 has increased to 124.3 from the 122.9 reported in April 2018. This shows an increase of 1.4 index points that is 1.1% points in May 2018 as compared to April 2018. This month-on-month change was contributed to by increases of the expenditure value of food items by 0.55% and non-food items by 0.61% respectively. The increases in the expenditure value of food items were reported for vegetables, fresh fish, big onions, limes, potatoes, chicken, eggs, dried fish, green chilies, ginger, infant milk powder and milk powder. However, decreases in the expenditure value of food items were reported for coconuts, banana, papaw, mangoes, garlic, rice and gram. The increases in the expenditure value of non-food items in May 2018 compared to the previous month was due to the expenditure value increases in the groups of ‘Transport’, ‘Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels’, ‘Health’, ‘Miscellaneous Goods and Services’, ‘Recreation and Culture’, ‘Furnishings, Household Equipment and Routing Household Maintenance’ and ‘Clothing and Footwear’. In the ‘Transport’ group expenditure value increase was mainly due to an increase in the prices of fuel (petrol and diesel) with effect from 11 May 2018 and in the ‘Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels’ group expenditure value increase was mainly due to an increase in the prices of kerosene oil and LP Gas with effect from 11 May 2018 and 28 April 2018 respectively. However, a decrease in expenditure value was reported for the group of ‘Alcoholic beverages, Tobacco and Narcotics’ compared to the preceding month. Meanwhile, the expenditure value of the ‘Communication’, ‘Education’ and ‘Restaurants and Hotels’ groups remained unchanged during the month. (Daily Financial Times, 22.6.2018)

The Government spent about Rs 450 billion annually to maintain public institutions, Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament .He said Janawasama and Elkaduwa Plantations were being operated by the Government incurring heavy losses. He said the Government had come up with 250 project proposals to be carried out in non-utilized state estate lands which were poorly maintained for many years with the aim to turn them around. He stressed that no land coming under the Knuckles forest reserve would be given to the private sector.   Kiriella observed that those project proposals were made by five consultants on the guidance of Minister Kabir Hashim. He vehemently denied charges that those lands were given to Minister Hashim and his close associates.  He pointed out that the EPF of estate workers had not been paid for 20 years and when the Government assumed work in 2015, Rs 1,800 million in EFP arrears needed to be settled. He said the Government spent about Rs 1,500 million annually to maintain the state-owned plantations.     Minister Kiriella also observed that it was during former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s period (in 1996) that 500,000 acres from state owned estate lands were given to nine private companies.  He made the observation as a reply to Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardena who pointed out that the residents in the area and environmentalists had been objecting to the moves to give lands adjacent to Knuckles Mountain Range to the private sector.  (Daily Island, 22.6.2018)

 

Fictional characters originally ‘described’ by famous English children’s writer Enid Blyton have given their names to six new species of minute  goblin spiders discovered in the diminishing forests of Sri Lanka. According to the website phys.org, the goblins Bom, Snooky and Tumpy and the brownies Chippy, Snippy and Tiggy made their way from the pages of: “The Goblins Looking-Glass” (1947), “Billy’s Little Boats” (1971) and “The Firework Goblins” (1971) to the scientific literature in a quest to shed light on the remarkable biodiversity of the island country of Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean. As a result of their own adventure, which included sifting through the leaf litter of the local forests, scientists Prof. Suresh P. Benjamin and Sasanka Ranasinghe of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, described a total of nine goblin spider species in six genera as new to science. Two of these genera are reported for the very first time from outside Australia. Their paper is published in the open access journal Evolutionary Systematics. With a total of 45 species in 13 genera, the goblin spider fauna in Sri Lanka—a country taking up merely 65,610 km2—is already remarkably abundant. Moreover, apart from their diversity, these spiders amaze with their extreme endemism. While some of the six-eyed goblins can only be found at a few sites, other species can be seen nowhere outside a single forest patch.  “Being short-range endemics with very restricted distributions, these species may prove to be very important when it comes to monitoring the effects of climate change and other threats for the forest habitats in Sri Lanka,” explain the researchers. In European folklore, goblins and brownies are known as closely related small and often mischievous fairy-like creatures, which live in human homes and even do chores while the family is asleep, since they avoid being seen. In exchange, they expect from their ‘hosts’ to leave food for them. The newly discovered goblin spider species Xestaspis kandy in its natural habitat. Credit: Suresh P. Benjamin (Times online, 26.6.2018)

Sri Lanka’s tea output rose 11.04% in May from a year earlier, aided by good agro-climatic conditions and lower production in the previous month, the State-run Tea Board said. Production in the first five months of the year rose 4.76% from the same period last year. Tea output fell 15.3% in April from a year earlier, with industry officials attributing the decline to a high base effect and more public holidays this year. “The May production is high due to several reasons, one is that the production in May is generally high and also this year we had good agro-climatic conditions and also the April production was very low,” Sri Lanka Tea Board Director-General S.A. Siriwardena told Reuters.Tea is Sri Lanka’s top agricultural export and one of the main foreign currency earners for the $87 billion economy. Earnings from tea for the first four months totalled $ 478 million, up from $ 458.2 million last year. Sri Lanka’s tea output rose 5% to 307.1 million kg last year, recovering from a seven-year low of 292.6 million kg hit in 2016. Industry officials expect production to reach 320 million kg in 2018 if the weather holds, but a ban on cost-effective weed killers, disruption to regular agricultural practices and the high cost of fertilisers could affect the outlook for production. Tea production in 2017 was affected by severe drought followed by flooding, the poor application of fertilisers, a Government ban on pesticides and restricted labour.(Daily Financial Times, 26.6.2018)

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka yesterday said that the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will be loaning out $ 1.7 billion to fund the proposed light rail transport (LRT) project from Malabe IT Park to Pettah. The Minister was speaking at his Ministry after officially being presented with the feasibility study report of the project by JICA Sri Lanka Chief Representative Fusato Tanaka.“We are grateful to the Japanese Government for giving us a loan of $ 1.7 billion to initiate this project. This will be the next best experience in the transport sector since the introduction of the railway service to the country in 1860,” said Ranawaka. He revealed that plans are being made to establish three more similar LRT systems parallel to this project in the form of a public-private partnership (PPP), and that it would commence within the first half of next year.
The Minister further clarified that this project would not worsen the country’s debt situation. “For a project to be successful, a proper feasibility analysis, environmental analysis, societal analysis and, especially, a financial analysis are crucial. Due to improper financial comprehension and analysis of projects we did in the past, the country got caught in a debt trap,” Ranawaka asserted.
He further said that the feasibility study clarifies that this project is not one that will add to the debt of the country, but one that will uplift the local economy. On a different note, the Minister and JICA Chief also launched the official website of the project.
Acquiring of land related to the commencement of the project has already begun. The strategy is to conclude the comprehensive plan within 2019, begin construction during 2020, and enable public access by 2024. The project will cover a distance of 21 km with a total travel time from Malabe to Pettah of around 40 minutes. (Daily Financial Times, 30.6.2018)

 




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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)

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SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF (OCTOBER 2017)

Compiled by Victor Melder

Victor Meldor

The national carrier SriLankan Airlines recently held its 39th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Shareholders last Monday at the Auditorium of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka at Malalasekera Mawatha in Colombo 7. It was well attended by many former and current employee shareholders, anxious to ascertain the future of the airline. A Group Net Loss of LKR 28,339,51 was reported in 2016/17, up 135% from Group Net Loss of LKR 12,083.62 in 2015/16. Latest Group Net Loss includes LKR 14,362.81 Mn. paid as compensation for the cancellation of lease agreements for four Airbus 350-900 aircraft. Significant increases in Operating Expenses compared to previous year were; Aircraft Maintenance & Overhaul (22%), Rental on Leased Aircraft (13%) Employee Costs (12%) and Marketing & Advertising (11%). In his message to shareholders, Chairman Ajith Dias stated, “Although our financial performance for the year is, on the face of it, less satisfactory than the year before, it has been seen in the context of numerous challenges which we faced”. He need be applauded for highlighting in his message, the airline’s operations being hampered by the “method of interacting, reporting, decision-making through bureaucratic and political channels”, an obvious reference to political interference. It contradicts what was stated during his recent interview with Ada Derana of having submitted a restructuring plan to the government and awaiting approval. Or else, the airline has implemented at least parts of the restructuring plan, whilst awaiting approval. He also claimed during the interview, the carrier required less wide bodied A330 aircraft and more A320/321 narrow bodied aircraft in order to make the airline profitable. However, only six out of 24 routes operated with A320/321 narrow bodied aircraft during 2016/17 achieved breakeven load factor. The CEO has elaborated on the reduction in the single biggest cost component i.e. fuel. It is not known what percentage of the saving is due to reduction in fuel consumption resulting from discontinuation of long haul flights to Paris, Frankfurt and Rome. He made no mention of the 12% increase in manpower costs from previous year. No meaningful response was forthcoming on the issue of high employee costs. The airline employed 7,021 staff to service 24 aircraft, a staff to plane ratio of 292 for each aircraft. Carriers known with staff to plane ratios worse than that of the national carrier are Syrian Arab Airlines 400:1 and Pakistan International Airlines with 391:1. Air India has managed to reduce staff to plane ration from 300:1 in 2012 to 108:1 by 2015. In 2016/17, Group Employee Costs including Crew Salaries amounted to LKR 20,015.81. Crew Expenses consisting of allowances amounted to an additional LKR 5,435.70 making the total Salaries and Allowances bill a massive LKR 25,451.51 Mn. Aircraft Maintenance & Overhaul Costs amounted to LKR 17,644.09 Mn. in March 2016/17, a 48% increase from LKR 11,932.41 Mn. in 2014/15, despite the induction of several new aircraft which generally results in reduced maintenance & overhaul costs. (Sunday Island 1.10.2017)

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SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF

(NOVEMBER 2016)
Compiled by Victor Melder

The Handbook of Drug Abuse Information (HBDAI) – 2016 reveals that the total drug related arrests last year was 82, 482 up from 67, 025 made in 2014. The HBDAI released by the National Dangerous Drug Control Board (NDDCB) stated that drug related arrests had increased by 23 per cent last year. NDDCB has said that the total number of drug related arrests in 2012 was 47,926. When compared with the year 2013 drug related arrests increased by 1.5 per cent in 2014. Thirty five per cent of arrests was related to heroin and 65 per cent to cannabis. According to the HBDAI – 2016, 32 per cent of the total drug related arrests last (2015) year was related to heroin and 63 per cent to cannabis. Most number of drug related arrests has been reported from the Western Province (60 per cent) while the Southern and Central provinces had recorded 10 percent and eight per cent respectively. “The Colombo District contributed to 43 per cent of the total drug arrests while Gampaha and Kurunegala contributed to 14 percent and four percent respectively.” The HBDAI?states that the prevalence of drug related arrests was 397 per 100,000 of the population last year. The HBDAI says that most of the drug related arrests in 2014 were reported from the Western Province (61 per cent) while the Southern and Uva Provinces had recorded 10 per cent and four per cent respectively. The Colombo District accounted for 44 percent of the arrests and the Districts of Gampaha and Galle 13 percent and five per cent respectively. The prevalence of drug related arrests was 329 per 100,000 in 2014. (Daily Island 1.11.2016)

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SRI LANKA NEWS IN BRIEF- AUGUST  2016- Compiled by Victor Melder

Passengers purchasing items from SriLankan Airlines’ ‘Serendib Treasures’ on-board duty-free collection will from August 1 enjoy enhanced convenience and purchasing power, thanks to a new electronic credit and debit card system developed in partnership with the Bank of Ceylon to provide real-time processing of transactions. The new system gives passengers a purchasing power that is equal to their card limit, and eliminates the possibility of fraudulent transactions. It also assures passengers that they are not vulnerable to card duplication or identity theft. The system was introduced by SriLankan Airlines’ IT, Inflight Service and Engineering departments in partnership with Bank of Ceylon, Card Centre which is providing the point of sales machines and technical infrastructure. It operates through the new Internet connectivity on board SriLankan’s fleet which also provides passengers with mobile roaming and Internet/e-mail facilities. “SriLankan Airlines is one of the first few airlines in the world to use the latest GSM technology over Inmarsat’s Swift Broadband (SBB) service, operated in its newer I-4 satellites, to establish the connection between on-board POS device and the ground Gateway Server. This fast, reliable and secure system was adapted and integrated in-house by our talented team, and is innovatively designed to provide optimum convenience, security and efficiency for both our passengers and the airline.” (Daily Island 1.8.2016)

A wild elephant was killed when it was knocked down by the night mail train proceeding from Colombo to Trincomalee on the Habarana- Kantale stretch near Agbopura Police Station early on Sunday, July (31 morning. (Daily Island 1.8.2016)

The government of Japan has decided to grant a US$90 million concessionary loan (Rs.10 billion) to implement Sri Lanka’s development policies. The Japanese Government has decided to grant this loan to Sri Lanka as assistance to enable the island to implement the development proposals made by its budget 2016. This loan should be repaid within 25 years and, a seven year grace period has been given to start repayment. Sri Lanka has to pay only 1.4% interest for this Rs.10 billion loan. This is the first time in diplomatic history of the two countries that Japan granted a loan of this kind to Sri Lanka. (Daily Island 2.8.2016)

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