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No change in fuel prices! 

Though fuel prices were to be amended last night (11) Ministry of Finances say it is unlikely to be amended this month.

According to the pricing formula introduced, which sees the prices of fuel being revised on the 10th of every month, it was due to be amended yesterday as the 10th was a public holiday. 

Sources say the pricing committee has decided the fuel price does not need to be revised this month. Therefore according to government reports criticism against the pricing formula at the time of inception were made to paint the government in a bad light.

However, ministry sources say the aim was to implement a policy which can benefit the people immediately and was not taken to cause any issues to the public.

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Tax on children's savings accounts will only affect 'kid millionaires'

Officials from the Ministry of Finance confirmed today that reports alleging the UNF government’s efforts to tax children’s savings accounts in an unfair manner are false.

They point out that a withholding tax of 5% will be imposed only if the interest income from savings exceeds Rs. 5000. A senior ministry official said that one should have at least Rs. 1.2 million to get an interest income of Rs. 5000. If one is making an interest income of Rs. 6000 for instance, that person will be only subject to the 5% withholding tax on the additional Rs.1000 as the tax-free limit is Rs. 5000, they added.
Furthermore, the official said that a vast majority of children’s savings accounts in the country do not fall under this category and that this would only affect the savings accounts of ‘child millionaires’.

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Army ready to deal with drug dealers: Commander

Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Commander of the Army, said that they are ready to wage the war on drugs.

“Once legal provisions would give coverage to us as envisaged, the Army is ready to apprehend peddlers of narcotics and addicts and to launch operations with other law enforcement authorities, identical to how we finished off LTTE terrorism ten years ago,”  Lieutenant General Senanayake said this morning (8) during a Media conference, held at Kollupitiya Media Centre of the Ministry of Defence, presided by the Chief of Defence Staff and flanked by tri-service Commanders.
To be in line with president Sirisena's directive for an all-out national ‘war’ against all varieties of illegal drugs, now fast spreading to many corners of the island, the Presidential Task Force has sought the active contribution of the tri-forces to tackle the devastating menace in cooperation with the Police and the Special Task Force.
Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Navy Commander Vice Admiral K.K.V.P.H De Silva, Air Force commander Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy and Military Spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu addressed the press conference.
“Currently, the Army at different levels, is helping the Police, STF, National Committee on Dangerous Drugs, Excise Department officials since the use of narcotics has now become a social stigma and a baffling problem. Nearly 1/3 of our low-income families have fallen prey to this social evil. We are presently conducting awareness programmes, recruiting volunteers to empower existing drug prevention committees at village levels, in addition to different training modules we have already introduced. We support this drive by exchanging intelligence with other agencies as well,” he added.
The Army has consented to launch rehabilitation courses (1 year-long) at the Kandalkadu and Senapura rehabilitation centres and would engage in rehabilitation efforts of addicts once they are released from prisons in consultation with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice.
The Navy has also taken an active role despite being faced with many challenges and has been responsible for the arrest of many drug peddlers in the past 4-5 years.

Similarly, the Air Force carries out regular air missions focusing on specific jungle areas where cannabis is grown while helping law enforcement authorities to destroy such cultivation. The Chief of Defence Staff in his interaction explained how closely the armed forces are working with international stakeholders for the same cause and stated that they continue to exchange vital information with their foreign counterparts in their efforts to fight the war on drugs.

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October Conspirators back at work! 

Political reports are rife that there are attempts to defeat the 2019 Budget presented by Minister Mangala Samaraweera in order to topple the United National Party Government. 
According to sources, the conspirators are attempting to defeat the budget vote and establish a caretaker government. 
It is said the same individuals behind the October 26 coup are behind these attempts and are currently in discussion with various parties who are part of the government in order to gain their support. 
Sources say the group suspect the people will be favourable to the budget presented and therefore have estimated the situation will be unfavourable for them in the future.

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Karannagoda Lawyer Romesh De Silva’s Dirty Tricks: Tells SC Judges AG Is Seeking Promotion To Apex Court

Dirty tricks and high stakes political gamesmanship took centre-stage at the Supreme Court when former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda’s fundamental rights petition to prevent his arrest by the CID in the controversial kidnapping and murder case of 11 youths came up for support before a bench of three judges last night.

The court granted final relief after several hours of hearing preventing Karannagoda’s arrest or being taken into custody despite the AG officially announcing that indictments will be framed against the former Navy Commander for his role in aiding and abetting the murder of 11 young men abducted by a ring of naval personnel involved in a ransom racket.

President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva who has become the lawyer of choice for suspects trying to prevent their arrest by law enforcement agencies investigating corruption and violent crimes kicked off his submissions in the Supreme Court on Thursday morning directly accusing the Attorney General of currying political favour in seeking Karannagoda’s arrest.

“It is well known that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General have met the President and asked to be promoted to this very court,” De Silva PC claimed in open court as officials causing ripples in the courtroom.

Legal observers analysed that the remark – reiterated several times – was a badly disguised attempt to prejudice the bench headed by SC Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare.

Justice Aluwihare is a contender for the position of Chief Justice when the incumbent CJ Nalin Perera retires in April 2019. However, the Attorney General can be directly promoted as Chief Justice, overlooking more senior members of the Supreme Court if necessary. AG Jayantha Jayasuriya therefore is also a contender for the position.

“Minutes after that remark you realised that the attitude of the bench seemed to change” a senior lawyer who watched the proceedings told Colombo Telegraph.

This is an attempt to prejudice the judges, the senior lawyer analysed.

Additional Solicitor General Viraj Dayaratne who appeared for the AG refused to respond to the charges but reiterated that the AG had no political interest in pursuing Karannagoda as a suspect. (By Ramani Bulathgamuwa - Colombo Telegraph)

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Sirisena to send opposition MPs to Geneva breaking diplomatic protocol

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said today that he will send his own representatives to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session currently underway in Geneva, Switzerland.

Addressing a media briefing in Colombo, President Sirisena said these representatives are to appeal to the UNHRC that Sri Lanka should be allowed to handle its own issues. 

"What I want to tell them is don't dig the past and re-open old wounds. Let us forget the past and ensure that we all live in peace", he said.

The Sri Lankan government had co-sponsored a resolution in 2015 to address war crimes and bring accountability while its progress is to come up for discussion during the ongoing session. The UN has acknowledged that Sri Lanka has taken positive initiatives to address human rights concerns and to introduce a more democratic and accountable government.These include the return of military-held civilian land, the establishment of an Office of Missing Persons and the ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

Veering from diplomatic protocol

President Sirisena has named opposition MPs Sarath Amunugama and Mahinda Samarasinghe along with Northern Province Governor Dr.Suren Rāghavan as his special representatives. However, informed sources from the Foreign Ministry suggest that this is a complete break in diplomatic protocol and norms, especially when the country's Foreign Minister is also excluded from the official delegation. 

In January, President Sirisena took a group of SLFP MPs on state visit to the Philippines in which he held bilateral discussions with President Rodrigo Duterte and his delegation. Informed government sources said that the inclusion of SLFP MPs in the bilateral discussions was a “waste of time” as they had no authority to make decisions on behalf of the government nor did they wield any positional power. 

diplo 1
Several SLFP MPs., including Dilan Perera, Nishantha Mutuhettigama, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dushmantha Mithrapala, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Angajan Ramanathan and Sriyani Wijewickrema were seen touring in the Philippines with President Maithripala Sriisena in January.

In the same month, President Sirisena again took SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera and S.B. Dissanayake, both opposition MPs,on an official visit to Singapore where he attended a number of events including a Forum of Asia Pacific Ministers and Environment Authorities.

Government sources point out that Sri Lanka will soon become the laughing stock among the diplomatic community if they resort to only nominating opposition MPs for official government delegations.

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President against Sri Lankan women going abroad to work as maids! 

President Maithripala Sirisena said he was against sending Sri Lankan women to the Middle East as housemaids. 

Speaking at an International Women's Day event, Sirisena said the rich and the powerful of society are enjoying their benefits owing to the remittances from migrant workers majority of whom are women. 

"Even though the migrant domestic workers are the main source earning foreign exchange for the country, the life stories of mothers, sisters and daughters who are engaged in this field are tragic," Sirisena said.

Although Sirisena said he was against sending women to the Middle East as housemaids, he fell short of presenting a viable alternative.

According to the statistics of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, over 500000 Sri Lankan women are currently in the Middle Eastern region working as housemaids. (Asian Mirror)

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FinMin Mangala increases allowances of tri-forces after 20 years

Allowances of tri-forces increased 

The allowances for members of the tri-forces has been increased under the budget proposal for the year 2019 presented by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera in parliament yesterday (05). The Commando Allowance, Uniform Allowance, Rent Allowance, Good Conduct Allowance of the Armed Forces, where some have not been increased for over 20 years, will be increased from July 1.

Accordingly, the Good Conduct Pay Allowance, which will be paid with effect from July 01, 2019, are as follows:
figure 8
The Rate of Housing Rent Allowance paid in the month of January 2019 will be increased by 100% with effect from July 01, 2019.

The Uniform Upkeep Allowance will be increased with effect from July 01, 2019, and are as follows:
figure 9
 Additionally, the Commando Allowance will be increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 per month with effect from July 01, 2019.

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SriLankan Airlines marks International Women's Day with first all-women flight crew

Sri Lanka's national carrier, SriLankan Airlines marked International Women's Day today operating its first all-female crew flight.

The airline tweeted that in recognition of International Women's Day, SriLankan Airlines operated its first all-female crew flight from Colombo to Singapore and return. "The flight UL306 landed in Singapore a short while ago," it said. (Colombo Page)



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Sweeping benefits for women from 2019 Budget

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera presented his second budget titled “Empowering the People, Nurturing the Poor” yesterday in Parliament. Many women’s chambers have commended the many proposals that were included to promote participation of women.

Chiranthi Cooray, Chief Human Resources Officer of Hatton National Bank, at a pre-budget forum organised by Daily FT last year, spoke broadly on human capital-based challenges at national level. She acknowledged the serious lack of women participation in the labour force and highlighted women’s duties as primary caregivers as a key impediment on the participation of women in the labour force.

Samaraweera pointed out that although the female student population at our universities constitute almost 50% or more, women constitute only about 30% of the labour force, often making them financially dependent and thereby dis-empowered. He said that the lack of child and elderly care facilities and inflexible labour laws to be the reasons that women leave the labour force or never enter it at all.

As a solution, Samaraweera said that commercial establishments with more than 250 employees will be directed to provide child-care facilities. Furthermore, selected schools will be supported to establish After-School and Vacation Centres (ACVC) within the school itself, while the private sector will also be facilitated to establish child-care facilities, through the “Rekawarana” Concessionary Loan Schemes of “Enterprise Sri Lanka.

Minister Samaraweera said that the Government will encourage the private sector to support the country’s working mothers, by allowing 50% of the salary cost of the mandatory 3 months maternity leave granted, as an additional deduction, in calculating their corporate taxation, subject to a maximum of Rs. 20,000 per employee per month.

“We will extend this to an additional deduction of 100%, for the 4th month of maternity leave, if so granted. The concession would apply for a 5-year period”, he added.

Samaraweera also said that whilst constituting over 50% of the population, the presence of women in senior positions in business is very limited.

“This has come about due to, numerous social structural and business practices, that result in the exclusion of women from important decision-making roles in society. As such, I propose a sequenced approach to enable greater participation of women in boards of listed companies. The Securities and Exchange Commission will be encouraged to implement this proposal”, he said.

Samaraweera also said that he will lobby the House to support amending the labour laws to allow part- time, flexi hours, home-working, etc., which will facilitate more women to be active participants in our economy.

Last year, for the first time in Sri Lanka,  Samaraweera appointed three women as heads of three leading state media Institutions in the country. He also appointed two women to head the Excise department and Customs department, two of the biggest institutions that bring revenue to the government.

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Internal opposition to Mangala’s proposal against Naval mafia!

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s proposal and the UNF government’s attempt to change the existing laws to facilitate modern requirements in goods exchange and naval trade and break the monopoly in the naval trade, has been vehemently opposed by several parties within the government, reports say.

This has caused the Finance Minister disgruntlement, according to internal sources. 

The proposals in his 2018 budget to pave the way for foreign investment into the naval industry and develop it and appoint an independent ports regulator, has been challenged by two companies involved in the naval trade and have spent a fortune in order to create opposition from within the government. 

The former Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe had also vehemently opposed Samaraweera’s proposal. 

'Lanka News Web' had earlier reported that two companies dominating the naval trade is initiating political pressure against the efforts taken by the government to demolish this monopoly. 

The website further stated that both of these companies had been closely involved with the former Rajapaksa regime and had funded their political campaigns. 

Now an UNF government!

However, in presenting the budget 2019, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera referred to the budget proposals as the first ‘UNF’ budget.

He also referred to the budget 2019 as the ‘first UNP budget’ during a media briefing held at the Finance Ministry yesterday. 

He further said, “Now there is no one within the government to oppose the measures taken by the government to bring down the monopoly by just a few in the naval and shipping trade. This is now a United National Front Government.”

These companies engaged in the monopoly of the naval trade, is said to have pumped millions of dollars into the political campaigns of several leading political parties in the country. 

Marikkar to the fore against the mafia!

Meanwhile, MP- S.M. Marikkar said that as the naval trade is dominated and monopolised by only two companies, it should definitely be opened out to others and this monopoly should be broken. 

He noted that his ;party would give their fullest support to the proposal brought forward by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera in his budget to open up the naval trade to foreign investors and establish an independent ports regulator. 

Marikkar noted that it was the government’s stance to relax the ocean trade industry and develop the business sector.

(Sri Lanka Mirror)

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Gov sector salaries increased!  :  Rs. 2500 allowance added! 

All government sector employees will be paid Rs. 2500 as an allowance interim monthly. The proposal was part of the budget presented today (05) by Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera.  

The allowance will be paid until the recommendations of the Wages Commission appointed by President Sirisena comes into effect. According to Ministry sources, the allowance will be paid from July onwards. 
Accordingly the government has set aside Rs. 40 Billion for the purpose through the 2019 Appropriation Bill. Since coming into power the Yahapalana government has increased the salaries of government employees by 107%.

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