domenica 18 aprile 2021

Port City no threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty - Ajith Nivard Cabraal

The China-backed Port City in Colombo, which has been exempted from a series of local laws, is no threat to the country’s sovereignty and would only function as “a single-window facilitation of business”, a senior minister said on Saturday. Multiple petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court this week by Opposition parties, civil society groups, and labour unions against a proposed controversial legislation on the Colombo Port City, alleging that the USD 1.4 billion project violated the country’s sovereignty, the Constitution and labour rights. The bill titled the Colombo Port City Economic Commission was gazetted on March 23 and the ruling Rajapaksa administration tabled it in Parliament last week. The bill aims to provide for a special economic zone to establish a commission to grant registrations, licenses, authorisations and other approvals to operate business in such economic zones. The Opposition parties have mounted against the proposed bill and some of government allies have also raised concerns over it. There have been many petitions filed against it in the Supreme Court, questioning its constitutionality. A 5-member bench of the apex court will hear the petitions next week. Defending the project, touted by the government as an investment hub for foreign capital, Minister of Capital Markets Ajith Cabraal said Sri Lanka had dropped in the ease of doing business index in the past few years. “In South Asia, Sri Lanka is the fourth. Do you really want to go through the hassle of getting approvals? This will be a one stop shop,” he said. The petitioners have asked the Supreme Court to rule that the bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and by a referendum if it is to become law. The petitions said that the Port City Commission to be established will be empowered under the Act to the detriment of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. Cabraal said the government would change the laws if required by the Supreme Court. Responding to accusations that it would end up being a centre for money laundering, Cabraal said Colombo Port City has not been exempted from money laundering laws. It had been exempted from Sri Lanka’s contract law for faster resolution of commercial disputes. All other local laws will continue to apply, he said. The Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Corporation, which reclaimed the sea to build the city was keen that non-Chinese foreign investors also arrive. “They want investors from all countries to come,” Cabraal said. He said the directorate of the Colombo Port City Commission would be appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and not by the Chinese. They would serve at the pleasure of the President and could be removed by the President, Cabraal said. The Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China’s ambitious ‘Maritime Silk Road’ project in India’s backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development ever in the island. Sri Lanka, in recent years carried out various development projects with an estimated USD eight billion loans. The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally after Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota port to China in 2017 as debt swap amounting to USD 1.2 billion for a 99 years’ lease. Source: PTI -Agencies

Remaining importers notified to re-export carcinogenic coconut oil stocks

Sri Lanka Customs has informed the 02 remaining importers to re-export their coconut oil stocks containing carcinogens. Katana Refineries, one of the three importers whose oil stocks were found to contain an overdose of carcinogenic Aflatoxin, has re-exported its entire 105 metric tonnes of unrefined coconut oil back to Malaysia. Meanwhile, Ali Brother had brought down a total of 1513.7 metric tonnes of carcinogenic coconut oils in 04 containers and Edirisinghe Edible Oil Company had imported 230 metric tonnes of coconut oil contained in 03 containers. Accordingly, the two companies have been instructed by the Sri Lanka Customs to take immediate action for the re-export of their stocks. It was recently revealed that stocks of unrefined coconut oil imported by 03 companies - Ali Brothers, Edirisinghe Edible Oil, and Katana Refineries - contained the carcinogen Aflatoxin. It was confirmed through a second test that the relevant coconut oil stocks contain high levels of Aflatoxin. Thereby, the Sri Lanka Customs ordered the relevant companies to re-export their coconut oil stocks.

Australia Gifts Sri Lanka Drones to Spot People Smuggling

Australian Aviation Magazine - Australia has gifted Sri Lankan police five drones to monitor people smuggling between the two countries. It’s part of a wider project to help Sri Lanka establish a “drone surveillance capability” that will also conduct natural disaster scene assessments and recovery and transnational crime investigations. The commander of Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders, Rear Admiral Mark Hill, said, “Working together, Australia and Sri Lanka send a strong message that people smugglers and potential illegal immigrants considering illegal travel to Australia by boat have zero chance of success.” AFP Senior Officer Sri Lanka, Rob Wilson, said the drones can identify people smuggling in otherwise hard to access areas and provide assistance for search and rescue operations. Operation Sovereign Borders is a military border security operation located primarily within the Department of Home Affairs but supported by a range of federal government agencies. In February, Australian Aviation reported how a RAN robotics team developed a drone prototype that can be autonomously dispatched to record critical incidents and beam the footage back to the ship. HMAS Cerberus’ Robotics Club hope its ‘Marine Evolutions Response Vessel’ (MERV) could speed up responses to scenarios such as a man falling overboard, and interrogating trespassing vessels or towing targets for live firing. The land-based prototype is made from plywood and fibre-glass and propelled by a 3D-printed water-cooled brushless motor, made at the Centre for Innovation at Fleet Base East.

Bandaranayake Says Sri Lanka war widows face sexual exploitation

Tamil women who survived Sri Lanka's civil war now face widespread sexual exploitation by officials in their own community as well as from the army, the head of an ethnic reconciliation body said Wednesday. Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, the chairwoman of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, said women who were widowed during the 37-year conflict were among the victims of abuse by officials who frequently demand sexual favours just to carry out routine paperwork. “There is a lot of sexual abuse still going on by officials, even Tamil officials and even at lower levels, the grama sevakas (village officials),” she told Sri Lanka's Foreign Correspondents' Association. “Even to sign a document, they abuse the women and of course some people in the (armed) forces” continue to commit sexual abuse, she said. Kumaratunga, who lost an eye in a Tamil Tiger suicide bombing when she was president at the height of the conflict, said the best way to make women less vulnerable was to improve their livelihoods. “We feel that when women have livelihoods, they will be empowered... they feel safer and they don't have to be exploited,” she said. Kumaratunga said many women had been traumatised as a result of the sexual abuse and needed psychological support but the authorities lacked qualified experts to treat them. “We cannot bring counsellors from abroad because they won't know the language,” she said. Many women, particularly widows, have struggled in the war's aftermath to obtain identity papers and birth certificates which are essential to obtain government handouts and other aid. Prosecutions of military personnel or officials for sex crimes are rare in Sri Lanka, although four soldiers were jailed for 25 years for the gang-rape of a young Tamil mother in 2010, a year after the war ended. At least 100,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives during the conflict that saw horrific abuses by both sides.

Colombo city garbage to Karadiyana

The army backed by villagers continued their search for bodies around the Meethotamulla garbage dump as the death toll exceeded 30 with a similar number feared missing, officials said. As heavy machinery was being used to clear up the area villagers expressed concern that the search parties would not be able to account for all the bodies of those who were buried after the collapse of the garbage dump on Friday. Authorities have so far relocated some 450 families in schools and other temporary shelters as some 145 houses have been damaged in the incident. With the government decision to halt dumping of garbage in Meethotamulla, the Colombo Municipal Council obtained a court order to dump the garbage at the Karadiyana, Piliyandala. Meanwhile, the government was assessing the compensation payments for the affected families yesterday after contradictory claims were made about the compensation to be paid. The Finance Ministry in a statement initially said they were to pay Rs 100,000 compensation in the event of a death, but later Minister of Environment and Disaster Management Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said they were still finalizing the amount to be paid. He explained that the Rs 100,000 was an insurance payment for which the victims families will be entitled in any case. The Finance Ministry later corrected itself.

Trump to seek changes in visa program to encourage hiring Americans

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday will sign an executive order directing federal agencies to recommend changes to a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill high-skilled jobs. Two senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters at the White House said Trump will also use the "buy American and hire American" order to seek changes in government procurement practices to increase the purchase of American products in federal contracts. Trump is to sign the order when he visits the world headquarters of Snap-On Inc, a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The order is an attempt by Trump to carry out his "America First" campaign pledges to reform U.S. immigration policies and encourage purchases of American products. As he nears the 100-day benchmark of his presidency, Trump has no major legislative achievements to tout but has used executive orders to seek regulatory changes to help the U.S. economy. The order he will sign on Tuesday will call for "the strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the United States of labor from abroad for the stated purpose of creating higher wages and higher employment rates for workers in the United States," one of the senior officials said. It will call on the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to take action to crack down on what the official called "fraud and abuse" in the U.S. immigration system to protect American workers. The order will call on those four federal departments to propose reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest paid applicant. H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in "specialty" occupations that generally require higher education, which according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) includes, but is not limited to, scientists, engineers or computer programmers. The government uses a lottery to award 65,000 visas every year and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers. The number of applications for H-1B visas fell to 199,000 this year from 236,000 in 2016, according U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Companies say they use visas to recruit top talent. More than 15 percent of Facebook Inc's U.S. employees in 2016 used a temporary work visa, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. Labor Department filings. But a majority of the visas are awarded to outsourcing firms, sparking criticism by skeptics who say those firms use the visas to fill lower-level information technology jobs. Critics also say the lottery system benefits outsourcing firms that flood the system with mass applications. The senior official said the end result of how the system currently works is that foreign workers are often brought in at less pay to replace American workers, "violating the principle of the program."

Finally old budget proposal on 15% interest for senior citizens enforced

The budget proposal to pay 15 per cent special interest on fixed deposits of up to Rs 1.5 million held by senior citizens in commercial and specialized banks is being finally enforced, it was announced on Wednesday. Earlier the limit was up to Rs 1 million. The Business Times was in the forefront of the campaign urging the government to enforce this proposal first proposed in Budget 2015. The new rule takes effect from March 1. On the instruction of the Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga has informed the Central Bank to notify all banks amending the previous circular in this regard. The special interest scheme applies to those who are 60 years and above. Under this scheme the government pays the difference between the 15 per cent and the market standard interest rate offered by commercial banks. The Treasury had allocated Rs.13 billion for this purpose in 2016 for these scheme which offered 15 per cent to deposits of up to Rs 1 million. “As a result of this offer to senior citizens, the number of fixed deposits by senior citizens rose to 450,000 in 2016 from 91,000 in 2015,” the ministry said in a statement.

Port City no threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty - Ajith Nivard Cabraal

The China-backed Port City in Colombo, which has been exempted from a series of local laws, is no threat to the country’s sovereignty an...