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Govt. to set up to a 100 megawatt floating solar power plant in Maduru Oya

The Power, Energy and Business Development Ministry and Canadian Commercial Corporation entered into an agreement to set up a 100 megawatt floating solar power plant in the Maduru Oya reservoir. The agreement was signed in the presence of president Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday. 

The Cabinet of Ministers recently granted approval for the joint proposal made by the President as the Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment together with the  Ministry of Science Technology and Research and the Ministry of Power and Energy to establish floating solar power generation plants on the reservoirs in the Mahaweli Economic Zone as a measure to solve the present power crisis and as a step towards using low cost renewable energy sources.

Accordingly, through these floating solar power plants to be established in several parts of the country, it is expected that 50% of the energy supply would be supplemented by renewable energy by 2030.

The first project will be implemented in the Maduru Oya reservoir using solar panels and batteries which can store electricity with the cooperation of Canadian Solar Inc.

Meanwhile, 10 megawatts of solar power is expected to be added to the national grid by the end of November 2019 while 100 megawatts is expected to be added by the end of year 2020.

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EU urges Sri Lanka to maintain moratorium on death penalty

The European Union (EU) called on the Sri Lankan Government to maintain its moratorium on the death penalty in line with its vote at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in December 2018. 

"While acknowledging that combatting the proliferation of drugs is a serious challenge for countries around the world, and that action to counter the illicit drug trade is important and necessary, the evidence does not support the argument that the death penalty is an effective deterrent", the statement said adding that the EU is prepared to share their experiences in addressing the threat posed by drugs.

The EU further said that more than two-thirds of countries around the world, with a variety of legal systems, traditions, cultures and religious backgrounds, have either abolished the death penalty or have refrained from practicing it. 

"The death penalty is an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity", the EU said. 

Today's statement from the EU comes a week after president Maithripala Sirisena announced that dates have been set for the country’s first executions in 43 years amid rising alarm over drug-related crimes.

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Pad Women: the all-female business easing period poverty in Sri Lanka

Every month, Fathima Rifka used to suffer the embarrassment of rinsing out the rags she used during her period at a public tap - the only source of running water available in the poor Sri Lankan neighbourhood she grew up in.

"You have to stand in line, and then you also have to wash our utensils from the previous day. There is only one source of water and everyone is there," said the 24-year-old.

"We hide it and dry it. But sometimes it doesn't dry properly and the cloth is stiff."

All that changed a year ago when Rifka got her first job making low-cost, organic sanitary towels - something she now teaches other women in her Colombo neighbourhood of Kithulwatte to do.

The business was inspired by Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian inventor who developed a way of making cheap pads after watching his wife struggle with rags during her period - the subject of the 2018 Bollywood hit "Pad Man".

At 60 Sri Lankan rupees (35 cents) for a packet, demand for the product, which goes by the name Sinidu meaning soft, is growing.
pad women

A woman makes a sanitary pad at the Sinidu Factory in Kithulwatte, Colombo, Sri Lanka, on March 13, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Smriti Daniel

Commercially produced towels typically sell for between 100 and 140 rupees, putting them out of reach of most Sri Lankan women. Imported brands can cost up to 500 rupees.

The women behind Sinidu first started manufacturing in Sri Lanka in January 2018 - the day of the "Pad Man" premiere and set up their first full-fledged factory a year later in Kithulwatte.

They import the wood pulp that Muruganantham developed to make the pads from India, using his design for the simple machines they manufacture on.

Rifka and her colleagues can take what they need and sell the rest, pocketing 15 rupees per packet.

The operation - a social enterprise, or business with a social as well as a commercial aim - was started by the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC), which works to help women in South Asia access business opportunities.

They have just introduced the machines in a prison, where female inmates will be able to make their own pads, and plan to expand the operation to other communities in Sri Lanka, and eventually to Nepal and Bangladesh.
Period poverty has hit global headlines in recent years, with statistics showing that even in a wealthy Western country like Britain, one in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary products.

This year Meghan Markle became the first British royal to speak out on the once taboo issue, saying girls were missing school "because no one wants to talk about it or has what they need".

In Sri Lanka, the problem is particularly acute because sanitary products are so heavily taxed - until last September, the levy on imported pads was more than 100 percent.

It has since been reduced to about 63 percent and Sri Lanka's finance minister, Mangala Samaraweera, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he was looking into how taxes on sanitary products could be reduced further.

"Access to affordable female hygiene products is certainly expected to have an important positive impact on girls' school attendance and thus educational outcomes," he said.

"It will also facilitate fuller participation of women in the economy."

But Anuki Premachandra, head of research communication at The Advocata Institute, an independent policy think tank, said the issue still wasn't being given the importance it deserved.

"People are enraged about the cost of carrots, but when it comes to taxes on sanitary napkins, they dismiss it as a women's issue," she said.
Last year New Delhi abolished the sales tax on sanitary products although other South Asian countries still tax them.

But for women in the region, the problems go beyond cost.

In parts of India and Nepal, cultural taboos mean menstruating women and girls are banished from their homes at night, putting them at risk. Several have died in Nepal in recent years.One in three girls in South Asia miss school during their periods and in Sri Lanka, the figure is even higher.

A 2015 survey of adolescent Sri Lankan girls conducted by the United Nations children's agency UNICEF and the government found more than half had to miss school when they had their period.Another U.N. study found 60 percent of teachers in Sri Lanka thought menstrual blood was impure.

"Women complain about rashes when using the normal pads. Some have other illnesses related to periods, but there is a lot of stigma. So it's a challenge and we don't speak about it," said Rifka, who sold 100 packets this month."I have already started selling these pads and there is a lot of demand. Many women come back to me and tell me how good it was. They all want to buy more."

Smriti Daniel I Thomson Reuters Foundation

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Two cases filed against Gotabaya; issued summons by US Court

The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP)  together with the US law firm Hausfeld have filed a civil damages case in California against former secretary to the ministry of defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The case was filed on behalf of Roy Samathanam in the Central District Court of California, ITJP said in a press statement today.

ITJP claimed that Canadian national, Roy Samathanam was detained in Sri Lankan in September 2007 by the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Sri Lanka police, who reported directly to Rajapaksa.

Further the statement claimed that Samathanam was "physically and psychologically tortured and forced to sign a false confession before being released in August 2010 on a plea deal and payment of a fine. In 2016. Samathanam won a UN human rights committee case but Sri Lanka has failed to abide by the compensation ruling."

Accordingly, ITJP said that summons were issued on Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (Apr 07) night after private investigators tracked down Rajapaksa who was on holiday. 

Notice was officially served to Rajapaksa at a parking lot of Trader Joe's store in California. 

At the same time ITJP said notice was also served in a separate case filed by another organisation on behalf of Ahimsa Wickrematunge the daughter of slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga.

“Mr. Rajapaksa has to give up his US citizenship to be able to stand in presidential elections so this was probably the last chance for a long time to begin to hold him accountable,”  ITJP’s executive director Yasmin Sooka was quoted as saying.

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$50 casino fee for Sri Lankan nationals

After initial confusion, the Sri Lankan government clarified that only local visitors to Sri Lankan casinos will have to pay a $50-dollar entrance fee.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the measure is in place to prevent locals from gambling, and the country instead wants to focus on tourist dollars. Some countries in the region do not permit their own citizens to enter casinos unless they are employees.

The decision came as part of a wider group of measures from gambling authorities in the country. Sri Lanka also announced licensing fees for casinos would double to $2.2 million and a 15% tax on revenue.

These measures came into effect on April 1.

The country still has some other strict regulations on the book, including a ban on gambling on cricket. Samaraweera stated the government is looking to tighten up regulations in order to keep up with the country’s anti-money laundering laws.

Sri Lanka has been regulating gambling since 2010 in specialized zones designated for legal gambling.

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Matara - Beliatta railway extension declared open

The Matara - Beliatta railway line was declared open today by Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera together with Government and Opposition MPs also attended the event.  

Seven trains have been scheduled to start form Beliatta Station. One of them will be plying up to Galle and four trains will travel up to Maradana. The two remaining trains will be heading to Jaffna and Vavuniya. Three main stations, Kakanadura, Bambarakanda, Wawurukannala and two substations Piladuwa and Weherahena are constructed between the two destinations for the convenience of the public. 

Construction of the Matara to Beliatta section at a cost of USD 278 million was carried out by a Chinese company with the funding from China Exim Bank. Supervision is being carried out under the guidance of the Central Engineering Bureau.

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Global executions at lowest level in a decade

Executions fell worldwide by nearly a third last year to their lowest levels in at least a decade, but several countries recorded a rise, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Use of the death penalty dropped in Iran – by an eye-popping 50 per cent, following a change to its anti-narcotics laws – Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia, the rights group found in its annual review. But it rose in Belarus, Japan, Singapore, South Sudan and the United States, while Thailand resumed executions for the first time in a decade and Sri Lanka threatened to follow suit.

"Despite regressive steps from some, the number of executions carried out by several of the worst perpetrators has fallen significantly," said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's Secretary General.

He added the "dramatic" drop globally proved that "even the most unlikely countries are starting to change their ways and realise the death penalty is not the answer".

"This is a hopeful indication that it's only a matter of time before this cruel punishment is consigned to history, where it belongs," Mr Naidoo said.

In total, death penalty figures fell around the world from at least 993 in 2017, to at least 690 last year.

Amnesty's count excludes China – the world's top executioner – where the numbers are classified as a state secret. The organisation estimates thousands of people are sentenced to death and executed there every year.
Iran (253), Saudi Arabia (149), Vietnam (at least 85) and Iraq (at least 52) were the other countries that resorted to the death penalty most in 2018.
Vietnamese authorities' decision to release figures for last year was "unprecedented" for the southeast Asian nation, Amnesty noted. Elsewhere Japan, Singapore and South Sudan reported their highest levels of executions in years.

Mr Naidoo said these three countries "now form a dwindling minority" and challenged them "to act boldly and put a stop to this abhorrent punishment".

Amnesty also noted concern over a sharp spike in the number of death sentences imposed in some countries – particularly Iraq and Egypt – over the course of 2018 but its annual review found the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty had gathered steam.

Burkina Faso adopted a new penal code effectively banning executions, while Gambia and Malaysia both declared an official moratorium.
Meanwhile, courts in the US state of Washington declared the death penalty unconstitutional there.

Amnesty highlighted a December vote by the United Nations General Assembly that saw 121 countries support a global moratorium on the death penalty, with only 35 states opposed.

"Slowly but steadily, global consensus is building towards ending the use of the death penalty," Mr Naidoo said.

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Indian Housing Project extends to Matara

In a special event held on Saturday (06), at Indola Estate in Matara, Indian High Commisioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu along with Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera and Minister for Hill country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development  Palani Digambaram, laid foundation stone for 50 new houses being constructed under the Indian Housing Project.

Members of Parliament and Southern Provincial Council, senior Government officials as well as officials from Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT), Plantation and Estate Management and a large number of people from the Indola Estate participated in the ceremony. 

High Commissioner in his remarks, reiterated Government and people of India’s commitment to participate with the people of Sri Lanka in their journey towards prosperity and development. 

Out of the 14000 houses committed by the Government of India in the plantation areas, over 1000 houses have been completed and construction of 3000 is currently underway. As soon as the land for the remaining houses is identified by the Sri Lankan Government, construction of these houses will be undertaken. The locations of these houses are in Central and Uva Provinces covering Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Kandy, Mathala and Monragala and also in Sabragamuva and Southern Provinces including Galle, Matara, Kegalle and Ratnapura.

These houses are being constructed under an innovative owner driven process with technical support from independent implementing agencies on behalf of the Government of India viz. UN Habitat, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC)/Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), Habitat for Humanity, Sri Lanka and National Housing Development Authority of Sri Lanka. IFRC/SLRC is the implementing agency for the houses being constructed at Indola Estate. 

In addition to the houses under the Indian Housing Project, 1200 more houses are being built seperately under 50 model villages all across the Southern Province including Galle, Matara and Hambabtota. The 1990 free Emergency Ambulance Services under Indian assistance was first implementedin Southern and Western Provinces and followong its tremendous success, it is currently being expanded Island wide.

 India has undertaken more than 70 people-oriented development projects in various fields including health, education, housing, skill development, infrastructure, vocational training among others, all across the country including the largest University Auditorium in Ruhuna University in Matara. About, 20 such projects are currently under progress. The overall development portfolio of Government of India in Sri Lanka is close to US$ 3 billion out of which US$ 560 million are in grants.

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Global Tamil Forum calls for victim-centric approach in coordination with UNHRC

The statements made by the Sri Lankan delegates at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 40th session and again within a week after returning from Geneva are highly disappointing, The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) said in a statement today.

"The Global Tamil Forum finds this disconcerting, considering Sri Lanka has just taken the positive step of co-sponsoring the HRC Resolution 40/1. The statements dealing exclusively with macho nationalism and inviolable sovereignty; constitutional scapegoats; and even misrepresentation about private meetings with high-ranking OHCHR officials were clearly aimed at pacifying the Sinhala hard-line elements.

The merits of the UNHRC processes, the disappointments expressed by most countries regarding the pace of progress, and the failure to date to make real impact on individual victims and their families did not deserve any mention," GTF said.

The core of the argument presented by Foreign Minister Marapana at the Human Rights Council centred on the Supreme Court resolving the constitutional crisis late last year and how that is giving credence to the independence of Sri Lanka’s judiciary. The peaceful resolution of that crisis is welcome, and it indicates improvement from previous years in the objectivity of the Supreme Court when it concerns constitutional matters. However, the Sri Lankan judiciary and other key institutions administering justice on serious crimes committed during the war, perhaps with the connivance of some who were associated with the government, is altogether a different proposition.

Speaking in the Sri Lankan Parliament after the passing of the Resolution 40/1, the Foreign Minister again ruled out the possibility for foreign judges, saying “Without legislation, we cannot have foreign judges sitting in our judicial system deciding the capability of our citizens. Even if we bring in such legislation, the Supreme Court will strike it down.” While his constitutional interpretation has been questioned by many, the Minister was oblivious to the fact that Sri Lanka co-sponsored the UNHRC resolutions three times, and the resolutions unambiguously specified the importance of including “Commonwealth and other foreign judges” in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, not as mere observers or advisers, but in full judicial capacity.

It is an undisputable fact that ten years after the end of the war, not a single family affected by enforced disappearance has been able to ascertain the truth, or received justice or reparation, and no one has been punished for the war crimes committed. Even in the emblematic cases such as – the killings of 5 students in Trincomalee; the massacre of 17 aid workers in Muttur (both in 2006); and the murder of the high-profile journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge (2009) – there has been no judicial outcome more than a decade after. If the past is of any indication, there is not a single case or outcome to support the independence and impartiality of the judiciary when serious cases of human rights violations are heard – particularly when the perpetrators are security forces and those linked to the establishment, and the victims are Tamils.

There is no doubt among the victimised Tamil community and the human rights bodies that Sri Lanka lacks the capacity will and laws to criminalise atrocity crimes and provide witness protection. Hence credible international participation is vital in any worthy judicial process.

Insisting continuously on a purely domestic court and judges will only lead to increased calls for an international judicial mechanism to address criminal accountability.

High Commissioner Bachelet was accurate when she addressed the Human Rights Council, stating “Sri Lanka’s process of implementing human rights reforms has been delayed due to the lack of common vision among the country’s highest leadership.” The deplorable statements by Sri Lankan officials during and after the UNHRC sessions are consistent with this lack of vision and leadership that is symptomatic of Sri Lanka’s troubled transitional justice process.

There never was a serious attempt to incorporate in the national dialogue the importance of accountability, the need to end impunity and the urgency of constitutional reforms to achieve genuine reconciliation, peace and prosperity benefiting all communities. A comprehensive plan to implement all aspects of the UNHRC resolutions in a timely and synchronised manner was never developed. Instead, it was always an ad hoc politicised process to keep the international community at bay, while no serious step was taken fearing it would result in political fallouts. At times it even appeared that imaginary opposition by extremist elements was used as cover to mask lack of political will. Justice for the victims and their families was never a serious concern.

Almost a decade has passed since the war ended and it is unconscionable to let the victims remain in limbo and suffer. The access to truth and justice – a basic universal human right – should no longer be denied to the victims, irrespective of their origins and backgrounds. Rather, a victim-centric approach and an action plan arrived in coordination with the OHCHR, along with full utilisation of Technical Assistance provided by UNHRC and other UN agencies is vital, to regain the momentum to prevent failure of the transitional justice agenda.

GTF further said that they fully concur with High Commissioner Bachelet’s call that “the Sri Lankan Government should now refocus its efforts on fulfilling its obligation to provide justice and accountability and honour its commitments to establish the truth about what happened and to promote reconciliation,” and would like to reaffirm its commitment to assist such a process that will lead to true accountability, political resolution and closure to the emotional sufferings of the surviving victims. 

"Only such measures will guarantee non-recurrence of conflict and foster durable peace for all peoples of Sri Lanka," the GTF added.

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Army offers general amnesty period for absentees

Army offers general amnesty period for absenteesSri Lanka Army (SLA) in a statement today said that a General Amnesty period has been offered from 22 April to 10 May 2019 to all Army absentees, enabling them to receive discharge from service under four categories.

The Army said that the amnesty has been offered by the President, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence, on the recommendations of the Ministry of Defence and the Commander of the Army.

This newly-devised General Amnesty under the 1st Phase in the year to begin on 22 April 2019 accordingly facilitates the discharge of all Army Officers who are absent without leave (AWOL) for more than 21 days, Other Rankers who are absent for more than 6 months (180 days) by 22 April 2019 and those absentees willing to rejoin the Army after their absence of more than 6 months.

Considering practical necessities, discharge of those absentees is to be implemented under four categories as mentioned below;

Category No - 1:

Those long-term absentees who do not owe any money to the Army or are not implicated in any legal matter are eligible to receive a direct discharge, irrespective of paraphernalia (Q items), issued to the subject or any other legal matters, involved in civil courts.

Category No - 2 :

Those who have no legal obligations and are capable of settling their loans against remaining balance money in the Army Benevolent Fund, Suwa Sahana Fund and Compulsory Savings Fund or through the guarantors or relatives, can be discharged, irrespective of paraphernalia, issued to the subject or any other involvement in legal issues in civil courts.

Category No - 3 :

Under this category, those absentees without any legal issues or any loans that should be paid back to the Army or whose loans can be settled against their balances in the Army Benevolent Fund, Suwa Sahana Fund and Compulsory Savings Fund either from the guarantors or the relatives, are eligible to receive a discharge from the Army.

Category No – 4 :

Absentees who have been charged for indiscipline or accused of other malpractices or criminal acts could also receive a discharge in accordance with existing Army legal procedures and regulations.

Likewise, all paraphernalia (‘Q’ items) issued to the absentees and any of their involvement in non-Army related civil court cases, would in any way not be considered under all four categories expecting to receive discharge from the Army as specified above.  

Similarly, all those absent for more than 6 months from service but are still willing to rejoin, will be considered for reinstatement if requested so.

Under this new programme for delisting, absentees within this General Amnesty period are requested to directly reach their respective Regimental Headquarters either in person or by communication to receive their discharge from service within the specified period.

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6th Indo - Sri Lanka Defence Dialogue underway

The Indian delegation, led by Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra participated at the 6th Indo-Sri Lanka Defence Dialogue at the invitation of secretary to the Ministry of Defence Hemasiri Fernando, in Colombo, today (08).

Since its inception in 2012, the annual Indo - Sri Lanka Defence Dialogue reviews the entire scope of Defence cooperation between the two countries while expanding its activities into new areas of interests.

During the meeting, both parties had lengthy discussions on matters of mutual interest and bilateral defence cooperation.

Deputy High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of the tri forces, senior officials of both defence ministries and military representatives of both parties participated at the annual meeting.

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Final vote on Budget 2019 passed in Parliament

The vote for the Third Reading of the Budget 2019 which was presented by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera under the the theme of 'Empowering the people;nurturing the poor' was passed today in Parliament with 119 votes in favour and 74 votes against.

Samaraweera in his wind up speech said that during the final days of 2018, Sri Lanka was in a precarious situation, the likes of which had never been seen in our post-independence history. Without a budget in place, Sri Lanka was within weeks of defaulting on sovereign debt for the first time in its history, the state was not in a position to pay salaries, pensions, and welfare payments, come January 1st 2019, he pointed out.

"The judiciary and independent institutions that our government helped foster, had the fortitude and resilience to stand up to the anti-democratic forces that grabbed power for 51 days," he said.

Samaraweera said that it has been an uphill battle to stabilize an economy that was in disarray by December 2018 and added that he was pleased to state that we have made significant progress towards this end.

"We are now seeing investments return to all aspects of our economy. There has been Rs. 10 billion net inflows of foreign investments into government securities since January, a strong recovery following the exodus of Rs. 57 billion during the 51-day crisis," he said.

As a result of the improved fundamentals, the rupee has now appreciated by 4.5% since January 2019.

"The Rupee is among the top 3 best performing currencies in the world in 2019", Samaraweera said.

Following 3 credit downgrades during the 51 day crisis and imminent debt default, the Finance Minister said that it was indeed creditable the way in which the government was able to regain the confidence of global markets and refinance at a favourable rate.

"Having stabilized the economy once again, the government’s priority now is to rejuvenate economic growth. Whilst Enterprise Sri Lanka’s concessional credit schemes are already stimulating small business investment with over Rs. 70 billion in new finance for SMEs and entrepreneurs, several other measures are being undertaken in parallel", he added.

Samaraweera also said that the Gampereliya programme is once again moving ahead at pace, with significant investments going into rural roads, rural markets, minor irrigation, places of worship, and other rural infrastructure.

"Gampereliya is directly injecting cash into the rural economy – it is doing so in a manner that builds the economic capacity of rural Sri Lanka, by improving connectivity to markets, enhancing drought resilience, and building other productive infrastructure", he said.

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