Long queues, Thinning patience lead to increased public mistrust

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In Sri Lanka, fuel queues are getting longer with each passing day, with patience levels of people rapidly wearing thin. While the number of people dying while stuck in fuel queues is increasing, the number of clashes at fuel stations are also on the rise.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), in a recent statement, said it is of utmost importance that the Government informs the public, on a regular basis, of its plans to extricate the country from the political, economic, and social crises, as well as on the ongoing progress of its work on these issues and its plans to address the shortages of fuel and gas and other essentials and the progress of these plans.

The BASL said, the Government should take urgent and practical steps to ease the burden on the public and to ensure that their needs are met in a reasonable manner.

Issuing a statement on the law and order situation in the country, the BASL’s Executive Committee said law enforcement officers must, in all instances, act with fairness and impartiality and that any acts seen as being biased and unfair will add to the distrust which already exists.

BASL acknowledged the difficult environment in which the members of the Police and the Armed Forces are compelled to function at present, since they and their families too are no doubt facing the same pressure as the rest of the public.

The BASL reiterated that reassuring the people and creating public confidence are important steps in addressing these crises. “Public mistrust of the Government and law enforcement will have dire consequences for the country and lead to irreparable harm,” it said.

IMF Crucial

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament on Tuesday (22) that it is not possible for Sri Lanka to seek assistance from any donor without assurance from the IMF on assistance.

Making a special statement, the Premier said a team of representatives from the US Department of the Treasury will arrive in Sri Lanka next Monday (27).

“Sri Lanka has taken loans amounting to USD 4 billion under the Indian credit line. We have requested more loan assistance from our Indian counterparts. But even India will not be able to continuously support us in this manner. Even their assistance has its limits. On the other hand, we too must have a plan to repay these loans. These are not charitable donations,” he said.

“The only safe option before us now is to hold discussions with the International Monetary Fund. In fact, this is our only option. We must take this path. Our aim is to hold discussions with the IMF and arrive at an agreement to obtain an additional credit facility. As the next step, we hope to form a foundation to stabilise the economy and implement an immediate programme to increase our export revenue.

This plan has been formulated following discussions with the Central Bank, Treasury, relevant government officials, professionals and experts.”

A majority of the Cabinet was appointed by 20 May. We began our programme from then onward. First, we decided to revert back to the tax system we had in place back in 2019. We then agreed to ensure a primary surplus in the national budget by 2025. Next, an IMF team on revenue and taxation visited Sri Lanka for discussions. They presented us with the relevant report. On Monday, the main IMF team arrived in Sri Lanka and the talks with the group will continue for the next several days, he said.

“We have concluded the initial discussions and we have exchanged ideas on various sectors such as public finance, finance, debt sustainability, stability of the banking sector, and the social security network. Representatives of the financial and legal advisory firms, Lazard and Clifford Chance, are now in Sri Lanka to assist us in our debt restructuring efforts. The framework for debt restructuring is being formulated.

We ensured that we created the background necessary for the immediate arrival of these three teams in Sri Lanka. We will conduct lengthy discussions with them. Their presence in the country will now allow us to hold meetings together with all three teams. It will only further assist us in expediting our programme. We intend to enter into an official level agreement with the IMF by the end of July.”

Considering this planned framework and the official level agreement, it is expected that the Executive Board of the IMF will then arrive at its final decision.

“Parallel to this, we will organise a credit aid conference which will be led by India, Japan, and China, our main lending countries. However, there have been some conflicts and disagreements between us in the recent past. We are working towards resolving these and fostering friendly relations once again. Each country has different processes for granting loans. Through the credit aid conference, we hope to arrive at a general consensus on the lending processes.

If we receive the IMF seal of approval, the world will once again trust us. It will help us to secure loan assistance as well as low-interest loans from other countries.”

Wickremesinghe said, the Budget for 2023 will be presented in November. He said the Government is also working towards ensuring food security and introducing political reforms. Already, a plan has been formulated to provide farmers with the necessary fertiliser for the next cultivation season. The Government will also take steps to import rice under an Indian credit line and issue stocks to the Sri Lankan market to ensure price control. This will provide some relief to consumers, he said.

“The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the National People’s Power have pledged they will take the lead in setting up farms in the country. I thank them for their efforts in setting up these farms without government support. As mentioned by MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake recently, his party has already chosen the areas to commence these programmes.”

He urged the SJB and Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) that boycotted this week’s parliamentary sittings to attend Parliament immediately and support the passing of the 21st Amendment and agree to establish the new parliamentary committee system. He said he has requested former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to present a comprehensive plan and report on the newly proposed parliamentary committee system. He handed over his report on Monday (20).

Once we have established a firm economic foundation, you can hand over power to any political party as per your wish at an election and elect 225 representatives to Parliament, Wickremesinghe said.

Speaking further, Wickremesinghe said he requested the IMF to hold a discussion with all political parties.

A 10-member International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation arrived in Sri Lanka on Monday (20) and held discussions with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe at the Prime Minister’s Office in Colombo.

The preliminary discussion with the IMF delegation was attended by the Finance Secretary, the Central Bank Governor, and senior finance adviser to the Prime Minister.

The IMF team, visiting Colombo through 30 June, will continue recent talks on what would be Sri Lanka’s 17th rescue programme, the IMF said on Sunday.

“We reaffirm our commitment to support Sri Lanka at this difficult time, in line with the IMF’s policies,” the global lender said in a statement.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said this month, an IMF programme is crucial to access bridge financing from sources such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Representatives from Sri Lanka’s financial and legal advisers, Lazard and Clifford Chance, are also in Colombo.

Walkout

Several Opposition parties walked out of the Parliament Chamber on Monday (21), saying they would boycott Parliament Sittings this week in protest of the Government’s inability to provide solutions for the burning problems of the public.

“This Government has no heart. They do not care about the suffering of the people. In this situation, we do not want to attend sittings in this Chamber. We will boycott the rest of the sittings this week. We will take to the streets with the people,” Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa stressed.

Meanwhile, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake also said his party would boycott Parliament this week.

He suggested that the Government submit a short-term programme to address the ongoing crisis, to take the country forward.

Following these, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), independent MPs Patali Champika Ranawaka, and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera walked out of the Chamber, along with the SJB and the JJB.

Corruption Watchdog

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) decided to take an oath from officials who will be appearing before it in the future at the beginning of the Committee session that their statements are accurate and truthful.

This decision was reached following the controversial statement made by former Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando, which nearly sparked a diplomatic dispute between Sri Lanka and India.

The former CEB Chairman said before COPE recently that the tender for the wind power plant in Mannar had been given to India’s Adani Group following pressure from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After President Rajapaksa categorically denied the statement, Ferdinando withdrew the statement claiming he became emotional and it was inaccurate. Ferdinando resigned from the post days later.

When COPE convened a special meeting on Tuesday (21), a letter sent by Ferdinando on 11 June requesting to expunge the respective contents of his testimony was considered.

“Ferdinando will be summoned before the Committee again to hold discussions with him and thereby re-determine the contents of this letter and then take the decision regarding expunging the respective contents of his testimony as requested,” COPE Chairman Dr. Charitha Herath said.

Ferdinando appeared before COPE on Thursday (23) and the parliamentary watchdog has decided to further examine the controversial Adani Wind and Solar power project in Northern Sri Lanka when the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is investigated.

The COPE has made available Ferdinando’s explanation dated 11 June 2022 addressed to the Chairman and members of COPE.

The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

“I wish to place on record my unreserved apology for the comment I made at the COPE meeting held on 10 June 2022 on a matter pertaining to the M/s Adani Investment in the country. In replying to the allegation made against me on the proposed Mannar and Pooneryn Wind and Solar Project with Adani Energy Ltd to generate renewable energy of 500 MW, I explained the circumstances behind the issuance of my letter dated 25 November 2021. (A copy is attached for easy reference). During this discussion, I became so emotional due to pressure and unreasonable allegations levelled against me to issue this official letter of request. Therefore, due to the unexpected pressure and emotions I was compelled without limitation to express the word “India Agamathi balakara bawa kiwwa” (pressured by the Indian Prime Minister), which is totally incorrect and I wish to withdraw the relevant statement, as it was a genuine mistake and was never intended to cause any embarrassment to this Committee or any party.”

During Thursday’s proceedings, COPE highlighted a problem created by Ferdinando’s interpretation of the Adani investment as a Government-to-Government transaction, though it was not. COPE questions how Ferdinando arrived at the conclusion in the absence of any written documentation or at least a joint statement.

However, in a strange move, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has decided to postpone releasing the full video of Thursday’s proceedings. The video footage of the meeting will be released next Monday (27). COPE failed to provide a logical explanation behind this move. It is unclear whether the video footage that will be released on 27 June will be unedited.

After Thursday’s COPE meeting concluded, Parliament correspondents were informed that COPE members had decided not to release video footage of the meeting to the Media. It was informed only a Media release of the meeting will be provided.

However, when journalists repeatedly inquired the motive behind not releasing the video footage, the COPE Chairman hinted there were some “controversial” remarks made by the former CEB Chairman.

It was later announced that the video footage of the meeting will be released on 27 May. 

According to the Media release, COPE, after extensive discussion, decided to censor a few words of Ferdinando’s controversial remark. Concerns were also raised as to why Ferdinando’s letter was copied to MP Namal Rajapaksa, who was the Sports Minister at the time.

Excerpts from Ferdinando’s letter to former Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle:

The proposal of M/s Adani Green Energy for investment in renewable energy sector has been a matter of discussion during the recent past, where in pursuance of directive of the President ‘joint inspection’ was carried out by the General Manager/CEB along with the representatives of M/s Adani to see the ground situation of Mannar and to satisfy the potentiality of the investment for M/s Adani Green Energy Ltd.

As per this joint inspection followed by the meeting with the Prime Minister at Temple Trees, it was the direction to me by the Prime Minister to recognise the proposal of M/s Adani Green Energy as a proposal from Indian Government to the Government of Sri Lanka, as both Heads of State are in agreement to realise this investment in Sri Lanka, to meet the present day FDI crisis.

Immediately after the progress review meeting on renewable energy with the President held on 16 November 2021 at the Presidential Secretariat, I was directed by the President to facilitate M/s Adani Green Energy to develop 500 MW wind and solar, renewable energy project in Mannar and Pooneryn, as he has already agreed to invest substantial amount of FDI in Sri Lanka. As per this directive, I assumed that this is a proposal of an investor backed by the Government of India on the basis of bilateral discussion between two Heads of State. Therefore, on the above basis, it is logical to assume that this is an investment proposal on the basis of G-G and can be processed as an investment channelled through the BOI as required under Cabinet Appointed Management Committee on Investment Process, pursuant to the Cabinet decision dated 15 February 2021. This position was explained by me to the Chairman/BOI at the recently held discussion through Zoom virtual meeting and Chairman/BOI confirmed that this is an investment proposal within the purview of the BOI Act and will do the rest of the requirement under the law of BOI.

Giving due consideration to the above facts, I requested the Chairman/BOI to submit the documents to CAMCI and to me, for me to provide the facilities to the investor to ensure this project is implemented in accordance with Section 43 of the SLE Act and to move forward for signing of the Power Purchase Agreement and other related definitive agreement with this investor proposal to Sri Lanka.

Therefore, as per the directive of the President and the Prime Minister, and in keeping with the authority vested in the CAMCI and with its approval, I recommend, the Treasury to proceed with the signing of MoU as an initial step required to be originated BOI and becoming S/T Chairman/BOI, Chairman/CEB and Chairman/SEA as the parties to the MOI.

M.M.C. Ferdinando

Chairman

Ceylon Electricity Board

CC:      Gamini Lokuge, Ministry of Power

            Namal Rajapaksa

            Duminda Dissanayake, State Minister of Solar, Wind and Hydro Power Development

            Secretary to the Prime Minister

            Secretary of Power

            Chairman/BOI