Sri Lanka News in Brief NOV 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)

There had been a 32 per cent drop in the price of heroin in the local market last year due to an apparent increase in supply of the deadly narcotic, the Handbook of Drug Abuse Information (HBDAI) for 2015 reveals. The average street price for one kilo of heroin last year was Rs. 6.5 million approximately (41.379 US dollars) However, the average street price of heroin decreased by 32 per cent in the same year in comparison to 2014. The Handbook revealed that compared to 2014, the street price of heroin decreased from Rs. 9.5 million to Rs. 6.5 million last year. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Ayurveda Drug Corporation (SLADC) yesterday said that approximately fifteen kilos of opium went into manufacturing various Ayurveda medicines annually. SLADC Chief Pharmacist Dr. Soma Namasinghe said the government provided the required amount of opium. Dr. Namasinghe said last year the government had provided 100 kilos of opium for use in hospitals and the SLADC. The estimated quantity of street level supply of heroin in Sri Lanka is 95 kilos per annum. It sufficient for 45,000 heroin dependents, according to the handbook. (Daily Island 4.11.2016)

China has pledged to provide USD one billion for research into the chronic kidney disease. Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne addressing the weekly Cabinet Press Briefing in Colombo on Wednesday, said that a Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU) to build research laboratories had been signed between the Health Ministry and the Chinese Academy of Sciences during his recent visit to Beijing. “In terms of the agreement, China will provide financial assistance totaling USD one billion for this project.” The MoU also provided for capacity building of Sri Lankan healthcare staff on preventive and curative aspects of chronic kidney disease, explore biomarkers for detection of CKDu, strengthen the existing renal registry and update relevant statistics, he added. The main laboratory would be constructed on a land extent of seven-and-a-half acres, he noted. “In addition two mobile laboratories would also be set up.” Research conducted by the Health Ministry reveals that CKD has affected 12 districts with the most number of cases being reported from the North Central Province. The high morbidity among the people in the affected areas has resulted in catastrophic situations, the Research Paper states, adding that many studies have been conducted over the years, but the cause of the disease remains unknown. (Daily Island 4.11.2016)

China says allegations that some of its companies had resorted to bribery and corruption to obtain business contracts in Sri Lanka was not its problem. The Chinese Ambassador in Colombo, Yi Xianliang, addressing a group of journalists at his Embassy premises on Tuesday said that he did not think the accusations were true, but if proved correct, his government would take stern action against the offenders. “The corruption allegations are Sri Lanka’s problem and we need not take the blame for it. Our firms enter into legal contracts before commencing any project in any part of the world. If for example a Chinese company has given a donation to an institution for social service projects and the money has not been used for the said purpose, it is up to your authorities to deal with the situation,” he noted, adding that China could not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. When it was pointed out by The Island that not all the dollar loans taken by the previous Rajapaksa government were at two percent interest as claimed, the Ambassador admitted that some had been as high as five percent or more. “But, now all loans are being provided at two percent. I asked some of the Ministers in the current government including Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake why they, having criticised Chinese loans as expensive prior to 2015, were accepting them now.” Asked how much Sri Lanka owed China in loans and interest , he said, “We do not consider them to be expensive. It’s not a big amount for us, but expect a thank you in return, not unfair criticism.”Xianliang observed that Sri Lanka along with Dubai and Singapore had emerged among the top countries for investment, but if Sri Lanka was to reap the benefits, it had to maintain consistency in policy, otherwise the international community would look elsewhere. People might decide to change their governments, but that did not mean bilateral agreements could be discarded according to ones whims and fancies of anyone, he added. Asked what the loss due to the Colombo Port City project being suspended for about one-and-a-half years by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was the Ambassador revealed that it totaled USD 140 million. “But we will not seek damages from a long standing friend such as you.” Commercial Counselor Wang Yingqi responding to allegations that some Chinese companies had produced substandard work, said that it had not been proved. If evidence was produced, they would be replied to with facts and figures, he stressed. DI 4/11

Sri Lanka’s budget at a glance: Rs 800,000 loan for a private university students, Minimum traffic fines increased to Rs 2,000. Duty, VAT and PAL removed on agri machinery, Rs 5,000 million each for schools to get computers, Rs 17,480 million for developing educations sector, Rs 5,000 million to provide tabs to A/L students, Insurance scheme for all school children, University lecture hours to be extended till 8.0pm, Tax concessions for investments over USD 100 million, Housing bank to be set up by merging HDFC and SMIB, Toll on expressways reduced during night hours, State sector PAYE to be paid to workers themselves. (Daily Island 11.11.2016)
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake yesterday presented what the government called a progressive budget focused on creating “a new economic and social order for the betterment of the country” by not only providing relief to the people but also paving the way for sustainable growth. The Finance Minister, presenting the 71st budget of independent Sri Lanka, said the social inclusion was a matter of prime concern for the new government, which attempted, through the budget proposals, to enable the entire population to participate in the “journey for development”. “Our attention has been drawn to the fundamental requirements of basic needs extending to land, housing, education and health. Hence, continuous improvement will be made in this regard to sustain the process.” Karunanayake proposed to allocate Rs. 400 million for the continuance of subsidies in the agriculture sector. “We encourage the farmers and farmer cooperatives to improve mechanization through the use of machines such as Transplanters, Hand Weeders etc. As such, I propose to remove the Customs Duty, VAT and PAL applicable on such imports. To also further support farmer cooperatives, I propose a loan scheme where 75 percent of the interest will be borne by the government, for which I propose to allocate Rs. 50 million.” The Government land to the extent of 20,000 acres from the Maduruoya Right Bank and other areas will be released to cultivate the 5 major food crops, fruits and vegetables on a commercial scale, using hi tech modern agricultural practices, targeting the export market. I propose that commercial scale farmers to be provided with a minimum land plot of 1,000 acres on a long term lease basis, he said. To increase the supply of liquid milk within the country, he said the government had negotiated with foreign countries to import 15,000 high milk producing cattle breeds. “A minimum of 10 such cows will be given to each self-employed farmer, who must then recruit at least 2 Samurdhi recipients to be employed in the dairy farm. Farmers will be assisted through a gap financing scheme, for which I propose to allocate Rs. 400 million.” “Education is centric in our development model. Since we took office, we have kept our promise of ensuring adequate funding for education. In fact, amidst severe fiscal constraints we faced last year, due to the undisciplined fiscal management of the previous government, we allocated in 2016, almost 3 times that of the allocations made in 2014. However, the Ministry of Education has been able to utilize only around Rs. 38,850 million at the end of the 3rd quarter of 2016. We took careful stock of the situation and therefore allocated almost Rs. 90,000 million for 2017. While I admit that allocation for 2017 is less than that of 2016, it is nevertheless 70 percent more than that of 2014. I will also be proposing the provision of an additional allocation of Rs. 17,480 million to further strengthen the development in the education sector,” Karunanayake said.He proposed to allocate Rs 21,000 million to provide basic facilities such as, classrooms, laboratories and libraries in primary and secondary schools. (Daily Island 11.11.2016.)

Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Yi Xiangliang yesterday reiterated his country’s commitment to making further investments in Sri Lanka amounting to USD 5 bn within the next three to five years. Strongly denying allegations that China was pursuing hidden political agenda in Sri Lanka, the Chinese envoy said that their main focus would be on the proposed Hambantota Economic Zone. Answering a query, Ambassador Xiangliang said that there had been foreign direct investments totalling USD 400 mn in addition to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City project. Referring to problems that had been caused in the wake of the change of government in January 2015, the Chinese envoy emphasised the Chinese policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka remained the same irrespective of the party in power in Colombo. Ambassador Xiangliang recently denied accusations made by some UNP politicians in the run-up to last presidential and parliamentary polls in January and August last year that China provided development loans at a higher interest rate to the previous government. The Chinese envoy challenged the government to prove whether it had received loans at a higher interest rate. Responding to another query on ‘Pathikada,’ Ambassador Xiangliang said: “We are not an economic animal.” Commenting on the suspension of the Colombo Port City project for over one and half years. (Daily Island 12.11.2016)

Capitol Developers Limited of the Sanken Group held the groundbreaking ceremony of its latest 470 apartment twin tower project – Capitol Twin Peaks. Patali Champika Ranawaka – Minister of Megapolis and Western Development participated in the event as chief guest amidst customers, stakeholders of the project and government officials. Scheduled to be ready for occupation by end 2020, the project is expected to be the most centrally located, high profile luxury real estate project in the city and is widely acknowledged as a key project in the government’s vision for a vibrant Megapolis. It is located in the heart of the city in an elite neighbourhood, with proximity to prestigious shopping malls and other conveniences, in addition to a beautiful entry point with the lake frontage of Beira Lake. Capitol Developers and Sanken Construction of the renowned Sanken Group have collaborated to create these iconic skyscrapers whilst the global design firm P&T Group of Singapore are the architects for Capitol Twin Peaks. There are many advantages for investors purchasing apartments at Capitol Twin Peaks. In fact, all properties developed by Capitol Developers have been contracted to Sanken Construction (Pvt) Ltd., one of the most trusted names in the construction industry, which guarantees timely delivery of the apartments to buyers along with the hallmark construction quality of the Sanken brand. Sanken has its roots in the Japanese Mitsui Construction Company and the Japanese passion for perfection and punctuality is evident in its every project. Furthermore, Capitol Developers have collaborated with several leading banks to facilitate attractive loans and long-term repayment plans for prospective buyers. “This high profile development could meet the demands of the vibrant and expanding City of Colombo and could support the government’s plans to build a Megapolis encompassing much of the Western Province. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said. The project is aligned to the government’s vision for a Megapolis. The project also caters to the new lifestyle trend for luxury condominium living amongst young couples and expatriates, who desire to make a lifestyle statement. Built on 214 perches, the project will feature 470 apartments on 50 floors with 2 basements, 6 floors of parking and a roof terrace. Magnificent views and panoramas are set to entice home owners with a Sunset Bar, Sky Lounge and Sky Garden. Capitol Twin Peaks will be an oasis of tranquility for high powered executives and busy professionals. The ground floor will feature a lobby, coffee shop, salon and spa, mini mart with pharmacy and a laundry collection point. Other unique features of the twin towers will be a podium with a lap pool, kids pool, jacuzzi, kids play room, function room, party lounge and deck, outdoor living area, business centre, games room, yoga pavilion and aerobic studio, steam room, reading corner, sensory garden and a well-equipped gym. Design and Build contractor Sanken Construction has successfully delivered Trillium Residencies, Empire City, Emperor, OnThree20, 7th sense on Gregory’s Road and many other high-rises in the city. Capitol Developers has to its credit Capitol Residencies on Dharmapala Mawatha, HR Residencies on Havelock Road, Tulasi Mahal Apartments in Jaffna, Capitol 7 on Rosmead Place, Capitol Elite on Horton Place and the business city hotel, Cinnamon Red. This newest project, Capitol Twin Peaks, a luxury apartment project, will feature a unique Sky Lounge, offering a magnificent view of Colombo, the Beira Lake and even the coastal line and harbour. (Daily Island 14.11.2016)

The Vote on the second reading of Budget 2017 was passed in Parliament with a two- thirds majority. It received 162 votes in favour and 55 votes against. The JVP, MPs of the Joint Opposition voted against while the SLFP, TNA, CWC, SLMC and EPDP voted with the government. Seven MPs were absent. They were S. B. Dissasnayake, Siripala Gamlath, Premalal Jayasekera, Thenuka Vidanagamage, Mahinda Rajapaksa, M.H.M. Salman and Chathura Senaratne. The government side members booed the Joint Opposition when Mahinda Rajapaksa’s name was read out for voting. Budget proposals were presented to parliament on Nov 10 and the second reading debate started the following day. The third reading of the budget is scheduled to commence today (19) morning and the committee stage debate would continue till December 10 and the final vote is scheduled to be taken at 5.00 pm on that day. Winding up the second reading stage debate, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said: “We would make provisions for the local government institutions to develop infrastructure facilities. We are providing for fishermen to purchase multi-day fishing trawlers and to upgrade their vessels so that those funds would result in improving the fisheries sector. “It has been misreported that we made the minimum traffic fine Rs 2,500 for all offences. The fine for driving without a license is at Rs. 1,000 today, we have increased it upto Rs. 15,000. Fine for the drunk driving has been increased upto Rs 15,000. “We would limit printing currency notes. We would attract more foreign investments. “There will be no direct or indirect taxes on those who earn less than Rs. 100,000 a month.” (Daily Island 19.11.2016)

The International Monetary Fund’s Executive Board completed the first review of Sri Lanka’s economic performance under a loan facility and has released SDR 119.894 million (about US$ 162.6 million) after expressing satisfaction of the performance. The three-year facility under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement was approved on June 3, 2016 for approved on June 3, 2016 for a total amount of about SDR 1.1 billion ($1.45 billion). The IMF’s statement at the end of Friday’s meeting said that with the latest disbursement the total so far would be SDR 239.788 million (about $325.1 million). “The government’s reform programme, supported by the IMF, aims to reduce the fiscal deficit, rebuild foreign exchange reserves, and introduce a simpler, more equitable tax system to restore macroeconomic stability and promote inclusive growth,” an IMF statement said . Economists in Colombo said the tax system presented in last week’s budget is in line with IMF expectations. The statement issued by Tao Zhang, Acting Chair and Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, said that Sri Lanka’s performance under the Fund-supported programme has been broadly satisfactory despite challenging circumstances. Macroeconomic and financial conditions has begun to stabilise, inflation trended down, and the balance of payments improved Meanwhile, international reserves remain below comfortable levels. It also said: Fiscal performance has been encouraging. The reinstatement of the amendments to the value added tax will help boost revenues. The 2017 budget proposal aims to strengthen government finances through revenue mobilisation, while guarding against revenue shortfalls by aligning spending with revenue on a quarterly basis. “The new Inland Revenue Act scheduled for early next year should result in a more efficient, transparent, and broad-based tax system. Complementary structural reforms in tax administration, public financial management, and the governance and oversight of state-owned enterprises are critical for durable fiscal consolidation. “While inflation has abated, credit growth remains strong. The Central Bank indicates its readiness to tighten the monetary policy stance further if inflationary pressures resurge or credit growth persists. The authorities intend to continue building up reserves through outright purchases while allowing for greater exchange rate flexibility. “The banking sector is currently well capitalised. Steps are being taken to find a resolution mechanism for the distressed financial institutions. Going forward, there is a need to strengthen the supervisory and regulatory framework, and identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the financial sector, particularly with regard to non-banks and state-owned banks.” (Sunday Times 20.11.2016)

The government has imposed a fine of Rs. 25, 000 on seven traffic offences to encourage road discipline. The seven offences are: 1. Drunk driving 2. Driving without a vehicle insurance 3. Driving without valid license 4. Speeding 5. Overtaking from the left side 6. Driving across unprotected rail-crossing 7. Allowing a person without a valid license to drive your vehicle The Transport Ministry also said in a statement that CCTV cameras would be set up at all unprotected rail crossings to ensure the law is abided by. (Daily News 22.11.2016)

Tea exports continued to decline in October 2016 with figures hitting 22.9 million kgs, down from 29 million kgs during the same period last year, tea brokers reported yesterday. Analysing the Customs data for Sri Lanka Tea Exports, Asia Siyaka Research pointed out that exports from January to October also showed a decline of about 9 million kgs, making up a total of 245.6 million kgs compared to the 255 million kgs in 2015. “On a sectoral analysis of all categories of exports are lower compared to last year for the month with only the export of tea bags is still higher at 19.6 million kgs as against 18.5 million kgs between January to October 2015.”In value terms, Rs. 15.8 b worth of exports reduced by about Rs. 936 m when compared tthe 2015 earnings of Rs. 16.8 b. In US dollar terms, the country generated about $ 108 m of foreign exchange in October this year compared to $ 119 m in October 2015. Cumulatively up to October 2016, the value of tea exports is about Rs. 153.4 b compared to Rs. 151.5 b earned during the same period last year. In US dollar terms, the position is reversed with about $ 1.58 m generated so far this year, compared to $ 1.26 m last year.“Russia/CIS, even though importing less in October 2016, remain our number one destination. The 45.9 million kgs exported from January to October 2016 is lower than the January to October 2015 figure of 47.9 million kgs.” Iraq and Iran at number two and three have imported higher volumes of Ceylon Tea. Iraq’s import of 29.3 million kg is higher by about 4 million kgs in the same period last year. Iran imported 28.8 million kgs compared to 22.8 million kgs from January to October 2015, a gain of about 6 million kgs. Turkey, though 6.8 million kgs lower, is Sri Lanka’s number four destination importing 22.6 million kgs against 29.4 million kgs last year. U.A.E. also imported 16.5 million kgs against last year’s 19.9 million kgs. Syria and Libya occupied the next two spots with 9.9 against 8.9 million kgs, and 9.1 million kgs against 8.2 million kgs respectively. (Daily Financial Times 23.11.2016)

The Cabinet decided to declare a set of regulations to be adhered to for persons wanting to rear domestic elephants with regards to maintaining their health, responsibilities of their owners and caretakers, caring of baby elephants born to elephants in captivity, deploying elephants in the workplace, reproduction, using elephants in Peraheras, shooting videos and attires used on elephants. The government had earlier decided to prohibit the domestication of elephants and a large number of cases have been filed against those who had reared elephants domestically. The proposal by Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera under the Flora and Fauna Act was approved by the Cabinet. (Daily Mirror 24.11.2016)

The US and Sri Lanka Parliament have reached an unprecedented agreement on a Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) three-year project to strengthen accountability and good governance. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched the partnership with the Parliament of Sri Lanka. “This project broadens our support to the independent commissions, Ministries, and provincial and local levels of government,” a US embassy statement quoted USAID Mission Director Andrew Sisson as having said at the launch in parliament. “As always, we will support equal participation by men and women, as well as underrepresented groups in politics and leadership.” This three-year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) aims to improve strategic planning and communication within government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women and underrepresented groups in Parliament and at local levels. Sisson also congratulated the Parliament on becoming the newest member of the United States’ House Democracy Partnership program which supports peer-to-peer exchanges for partner legislatures around the world. SDGAP builds upon the success of USAID’s recent collaboration with Parliamentary staff to strengthen capacity, knowledge base, and procedures. Highlights of that recently-completed project include supporting the capacity building of the new Sectoral Oversight Committees and staff, and updates to the Parliament’s Standing Orders. Since 1956, the U.S. government has invested over $2 billion in the areas of agricultural and enterprise development, environment and natural resources, education, health, good governance, and humanitarian assistance to benefit all the people of Sri Lanka (Daily Island 26.11.2016)

A supplementary estimate was submitted to the House seeking parliament’s approval to purchase 28 cars for 27 ministers, deputy ministers, state ministers and the Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampanthan. The estimate containing 22 proposals to cover the expenses of purchasing 28 cars at a total cost of Rs 791 million dated June 24, 2016 was presented to Parliament by Leader of the House, Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella. The approval of the House for purchasing cars had been sought as per the Presidential Secretariat Circular No CSA/1/6 dated 18.05.2016. Approval had been sought by the estimate to allocate Rs 14,000,000 to purchase two vehicles for the Deputy Minister of Megapolis and Western Province Development, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a car to the State Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Rs 7,000,000 to meet the balance allocation for purchasing a vehicle for Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction, Rs 7,000,000 to meet the balance allocation for acquisition of a vehicle for Deputy Minister of Foreign Employment, Rs 35,000,000 for State Minister of Finance, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a vehicle for Minister of Foreign Employment, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a car for the Deputy Minister of Posts, Postal Service and Muslim Religious Affairs, Rs 7,500,000 to buy a car for Deputy minister of Public Administration and Management, Rs 14,000,000 to meet the balance allocation for acquisition of two vehicles for Deputy Minister of Telecommunication and Digital infrastructure, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a car for Leader of the Opposition, Rs 70,000,000 to purchase two vehicles for the Minister and Deputy Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Rs 70,000,000 to purchase two vehicles for Minister and Deputy Minister of Public Enterprise Development, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a vehicle for the Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a vehicle for State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, Rs 70,000,000 to purchase two vehicles for Minister and Deputy Minister of Ports and Shipping, Rs 35,000,000 to buy a car for State Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a car for Deputy Minister of Rural Economic Affairs, Rs 70,000,000 to purchase two vehicles for the Minister and Deputy Minister of Women and Child Affairs, Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a car for State Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training and Rs 70,000,0000 to purchase two vehicles for the Minister and State Minister of Science, Technology and Research. Another proposal to obtain Rs 35,000,000 to purchase a vehicle for the State Minister of Higher Education and Highways in addition to the previous proposal had been included in the estimate. Among those who sought vehicles are seven ministers, eight deputy minister and 12 state ministers. The same estimate was presented to parliament earlier, but soon after the Salawa blaze, it was withdrawn following an outcry from the public who criticized the government for purchasing vehicles at a time thousands of people were affected by the explosion of the ammo dump at the Salawa army camp. (Sunday Island 27.11.2016)

President Maithripala Sirisena has asked US President elect Donald Trump to pressure the UN Human Rights Council to drop war crimes allegations against the country’s troops. Sirisena’s office said he had sent a “special message” to Trump seeking US intervention at the council, where Sri Lanka faces censure for alleged wartime atrocities. “I sent a special message to Donald Trump asking him to support us at the (council),” the President said. “I am asking him to help completely clear my country (of war crimes allegations) and allow us to start afresh.” Sirisena said he was making a similar appeal to the incoming UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. However, during a visit by outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Sri Lanka last month, Sirisena had asked for more time to investigate war crimes, a sensitive political issue in the majority-Sinhalese country. Sri Lanka has said it will set up special courts to address issues of accountability, but the promised judicial mechanisms have yet to be established. There have been allegations that troops killed up to 40,000 minority Tamils during the final battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, a period when Sirisena’s predecessor and strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse was in power. Sirisena said he had been able to “tone down” a US-initiated censure resolution soon after defeating Rajapakse and coming to power in January 2015. But he was keen to secure Trump’s help to have the allegations against Sri Lanka dropped. The rights council has asked Sri Lanka to ensure credible investigations into war crimes, pay reparations to victims and their families and ensure reconciliation after 37 years of ethnic war which claimed at least 100,000 lives. Troops still have a large presence in the former conflict zones in the north and east and keep a close watch on the local Tamil population, seven years after the end of the war. (Daily Island 28.11.2016)

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that the government had decided to add Rs. 100,000 to the monthly allowances for MPs so as to enable them to help people in their constituencies. “This is not meant to be a take home allowance. The MPs have to attend wedding ceremonies and funerals where they are expected to give gifts and cash donations. The salary drawn by an MP is not enough to meet all such expenses. So they obtain money from others. I ask you which is better; enabling these MPs to help their constituents or to let them obtain money from others? Do not go back to the old system. My opinion is that the salaries of MPs too should be increased. Some journalists draw higher salaries than MPs. Editors of newspapers get higher salaries than MPs. An English daily has published the story about the Rs 100,000 payment to the MPs. Its editor and others requested for a pay hike last year. There is no issue when their salaries are increased, but when salaries of MPs are increased it is wrong,” the Prime minister said. “These newspapers encouraged extremism and hit me as I am not an extremist,” he said. The Prime Minister also responded to a comment made by Chief Opposition Whip Anura Dissanayake, who said the PM had threatened English newspapers several times. He said he would not hesitate to hit back at the media if they hit him. “I cannot attack Wijeya Newspapers or burn the press. These are properties of my uncle. Sirasa belonging to my one time friend Kili Maharajah attacked me several times and did I burn it?” he queried. “I will only hit out verbally if the media hit me and will never go beyond that,” he said. (Daily Island 29.11.2016)

The Cabinet had approved an allowance for the parliamentarians to maintain their offices, said Petroleum Resources Development Minister Chandima Weerakkody. Addressing a press conference at the parliamentary complex yesterday, the Minister said the Cabinet of ministers with President Maithripala Sirisena presiding in the Parliamentary Complex yesterday (29) had approved Rs. 100,000 each as an allowance for political offices. He said the Cabinet had also approved an increase in the Parliament attendance allowance of Parliamentarians from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,500. The Cabinet paper had been presented by the Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media Ministry, the minister said. “The parliamentarians should be provided with facilities to serve the public or they would have to serve the businessmen rather than the people,” Minister Weerakkody said. “I have met the expenses of the political office on my own since the day I entered politics. I can afford to do the same in future too. But, there are others members who cannot afford such expenses”. (Daily Island 30.11.2016)