Sri Lanka News in Brief AUG 2016 - Compiled by Victor Melder

Passengers purchasing items from SriLankan Airlines' 'Serendib Treasures' on-board duty-free collection will from August 1 enjoy enhanced convenience and purchasing power, thanks to a new electronic credit and debit card system developed in partnership with the Bank of Ceylon to provide real-time processing of transactions. The new system gives passengers a purchasing power that is equal to their card limit, and eliminates the possibility of fraudulent transactions. It also assures passengers that they are not vulnerable to card duplication or identity theft. The system was introduced by SriLankan Airlines' IT, Inflight Service and Engineering departments in partnership with Bank of Ceylon, Card Centre which is providing the point of sales machines and technical infrastructure. It operates through the new Internet connectivity on board SriLankan's fleet which also provides passengers with mobile roaming and Internet/e-mail facilities. "SriLankan Airlines is one of the first few airlines in the world to use the latest GSM technology over Inmarsat's Swift Broadband (SBB) service, operated in its newer I-4 satellites, to establish the connection between on-board POS device and the ground Gateway Server. This fast, reliable and secure system was adapted and integrated in-house by our talented team, and is innovatively designed to provide optimum convenience, security and efficiency for both our passengers and the airline." (Daily Island 1.8.2016)

A wild elephant was killed when it was knocked down by the night mail train proceeding from Colombo to Trincomalee on the Habarana- Kantale stretch near Agbopura Police Station early on Sunday, July (31 morning. (Daily Island 1.8.2016)

The government of Japan has decided to grant a US$90 million concessionary loan (Rs.10 billion) to implement Sri Lanka's development policies. The Japanese Government has decided to grant this loan to Sri Lanka as assistance to enable the island to implement the development proposals made by its budget 2016. This loan should be repaid within 25 years and, a seven year grace period has been given to start repayment. Sri Lanka has to pay only 1.4% interest for this Rs.10 billion loan. This is the first time in diplomatic history of the two countries that Japan granted a loan of this kind to Sri Lanka. (Daily Island 2.8.2016)

Hi-tech equipment imported by the Rajapaksa regime meant for tapping telephones had been seized the government said. Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando, addressing a press conference in Colombo, said that the equipment costing US$ 150,000 would be returned to the supplier since the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has no need for such devices. The Rajapaksas had spent the greater part of their ten years in power, spying on the people and Opposition members while filling their pockets and imposing economic hardships on the people, Minister Fernando noted. The Minister said that they were doing their best to reduce the cost of living while repaying the massive high interest loans that the previous government had taken from private foreign banks. "In keeping with our election pledge to take modern technology to the villages, 400 WiFi centres would be established in various parts of the country by November 1", he added. (Daily Island 4.8.2016)

The total heroin smuggled into Sri Lanka can be estimated at around 3.5 tons per year. This would be considerably in excess of the requirements of drug-dependent persons in the country, a top official attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau said. The National Dangerous Drugs Control Board said that over 45,000 Sri Lankan drug addicts use over two kilos of heroin daily and Sri Lanka emerging as a major drug transit point in the region is one of the reasons why it is difficult to arrest the situation, Police Narcotics Bureau sources said. An estimated 350 heroin peddlers and dealers operate in the city of Colombo with about 45 of them deal in wholesale transactions involving hundreds of millions of rupees its sources said. It is understood around 1,000 – 2,000 people become first time drug addicts each year. Accordingly there are an estimated 45,000 heroin users in the country at present, while the number of cannabis users hover around 200,000. The NDDCB chief said drugs, such as, cocaine and heroin are generally smuggled into Sri Lanka from Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Afghanistan from where they find their way to Europe. According to the NDDCB, drug arrests increased by 1.5 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year, with the police nabbing 67, 025 suspects for drug related offences. (Daily Island 4.8.2016)

Nearly 40 per cent of Sri Lankan adults––more than 35 per cent males and two per cent females––consume alcohol, the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) says. NATA Chairman, Dr Palitha Abeykoon, said a survey carried out in 2008 showed over 48 percent Sri Lankan men consumed alcohol. Dr. Abeykoon said that the alcohol industry claimed that it helped the government rake in a large amount of revenue, but the truth was otherwise. The total amount of taxes collected last year from the industry amounted to Rs. 106 billion while the Health Ministry spent over Rs. 140 billion on battling non communicable diseases (NCDs) and treating victims of accidents due to alcohol consumption. Alcohol caused approximately 60 NCDs and led to domestic violence and child abuse, Dr Abeykoon said. The NATA Chairman observed that each village wasted about Rs. 175,000 per month on alcohol and Rs. 150,000 on cigarettes and other tobacco products. (Daily Island 4.8.2016)

The National Institute of Fundamental Studies (NIFS) scientists have named three new Sri Lankan tiny goblin spiders of the genus Brignolia species in honour of prominent Sri Lanka authors. Accordingly, the first species, Brignolia carlmulleri is named in honour of the Sri Lankan writer, poet and journalist Carl Muller best known for his trilogy, The Jam Fruit Tree, Yakada Yaka and Once Upon A Tender Time. The second species, Brignolia ondaatjei named in honour of Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet, Philip Michael Ondaatje best known for the novel The English Patient. The third species, Brignolia shyami is named in honour Shyam Selvadurai, a Sri Lankan Canadian novelist known for Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens. According to the NIFS, all three species are short range endemic to Sri Lanka. Brignolia carlmulleri is known only from Riverston in the Knuckles Range and the Hantana FR. Brignolia ondaatjei is known only from Rawana Ella and Ohiya, whereas Brignolia shyami is known only from the Kurulukele forest reserve, in Kegalle. All three species were known to have very limited distribution ranges and might be critically endangered as they were threatened by increased encroachment and other human activities related to the tourism, housing and agriculture industries, Piyathilake noted. (Daily 1sland 4.8.2016).

Offers of three-wheelers and Maruti cars for long service failed to draw workers to Sri Lanka's construction industry, which is facing a severe shortfalls of tradesmen, but foreign labour is restricted, an industry official said. "We have offered a free three-wheeler for workers who stay with us for five years. A Maruti car for staying for 10 years," Ranjith Gunatilleke, Managing Director of Sanken Construction, told a business forum in Colombo. "They want to be state sector employees." He said there were enough managerial and professional level staff, including architects and quantity surveyors, who were probably paid too low compared to their peers overseas. A basic construction worker gets about Rs30,000 – 35,000 a month, which he thought was 'reasonable', he said. "At one time, they went to Dubai, but now they just want a job in Sri Lanka," Gunatilleke said. "There are a lot of paid holidays and you are not separated (from families)." Over the last few years, the 4.5 inch angle grinder has transformed the lives of Sri Lanka's carpenters, wood finishers, metal workers, painters and tile layers, allowing them to leverage their labour multiple times and charge by the square foot, according to analysts familiar with the industry. Many independent construction tradesmen now own their motorcycle with many moving onto three-wheelers, and some carpenters (powered by Chinese wood working machines, power drills, power saws, power planes) have also moved up to Maruti cars. (Sunday Island 7.8.2016)

The government is planning to initiate a new project to remove all man-made constructions from elephant corridors to solve the human-elephant conflict, Sustainable Development and Wildlife Conservation Deputy Minister Sumedha G Jayasena said. Addressing a seminar at Moneragala recently to discuss measures being taken to mitigate losses caused by human-elephant conflict, the deputy minister said that the country had around 70 elephant corridors and 95 percent of them were now blocked by constructions. "The purpose of the project is to allow the elephants to use the corridor without being harassed, injured or chased from their habitat. The constructions made by people have blocked the migration of elephants. Around 200 elephants are killed by farmers annually since 2008 and elephants have killed about 60-80 people per year, most in their own villages and fields. People who have turned elephant corridors into farmlands or homesteads have to live in fear of elephant attacks. They try to scare the wild jumbos away. "Unfortunately, such behaviour makes elephants more aggressive." (Daily Island 9.8.2016)

A passenger train hit and killed an elephant and three calves in northern Sri Lanka on Wednesday, the latest deadly accident involving the venerated animals. The herd was walking across a newly upgraded railway line that runs through a jungle area when the accident occurred at Cheddikulam in Vavuniya. "One of the baby elephants was dragged about 300 metres along the track after being hit," a local police official told AFP, adding that it was thought to be the country's worst accident involving the animals. No passengers were injured in the collision. Although elephants are considered sacred in Sri Lanka and are legally protected, nearly 200 are killed every year, many by farmers after the animals stray onto their land. Marauding elephants also claim the lives of about 50 people annually, mostly by trampling through villages built near their habitats. In 2011, three baby elephants were killed by a passenger train along the same track in a forest area about 150 kilometres north of Colombo. In May this year, four elephants including two calves were killed by lightning in the country's north. Sri Lanka's elephant population has dwindled to just over 7,000, according to the latest census, down from an estimated 12,000 in 1900. (Daily Island 18.8.2016)

The Northern Province population of 993,741, is 31.92% of the total population of 3,113,247 Tamils in the island. The remaining 68.08% of Tamils live outside the Northern Province. The population composition of Tamils by district is: Jaffna -577,745 -18.56% of total Tamil population Mannar – -80962 – 2.6% -do- Vavuniya -142,561 – 4.58% -do- Mullaitivu -81,263 – 2.61% -do-Kilinochchi -111,210 – 3.57% -do (Daily Island 20.8.2016)

True to its name King coconut, this panacea of nature is a beverage fit for a king. Scientifically called Cocos nucifera and thembili for the Lankan, is an ayurvedic antidote to many an ailment, an offering to the Sanga at an alms-giving, a thirst-quencher, an embellishment in cultural pageants, an offering in pooja and the traditional welcome-drink for the tourist arriving in this sun-kissed island. From the humble wayside thembili seller to the star-class hotel, this king among coconuts moves with equal ease and finesse. Another marvel made possible by the wand of nature, thembili is ours alone, native to this tiny island and a king in its flavour, healing power and dazzling orange texture! A lucrative export From January 1st to May 31st this year, we have earned a foreign exchange of Rs. 165 Mn exporting 1.6 million king coconuts. Last year an export of 3.1 million nuts drew an exchange of Rs. 290 Mn. The price of a king coconut in the export market is more than Rs. 130. The figures speak for the prospects of investing in king coconut cultivation. The king coconut cultivation in the country is still an 'informal' one, points out Chairman, Coconut Cultivation Board, (CCB) Kapila Yakandawala. "Although we have the formal coconut cultivation sector, king coconut is still largely confined to home compounds and the necessity to encourage it as a distinct cultivation is vital in the backdrop of the demand the nut has in the global market", he said. The mounting foreign exchange the nut has been bringing over the past few years from Rs. 131 Mn in 2014 to Rs. 165 Mn by end of May this year, reflects the economic viability of the crop. The demand for king coconut in the nut form is high in the UAE and Middle East while the beverage in bottles and tetra packs is sought by most Asian countries including Japan and those in the Europe including the UK, explains the CCB Chairman. (Sunday Island 21.8.2016)

Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka hit an all-time high in July this year. The number of arrivals which clocked 209,351, represented a growth of 19.1 percent compared to July 2015, and is the highest figure recorded in a single month since records began in the sixties. What is significant is that the July arrivals figure is higher than even that of December 2015, which is traditionally Sri Lanka's highest grossing month in the tourism calendar. Last December too was a record at the time with 206,114 arrivals but the July performance has eclipsed this mark. According to data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) for the period January to July 2016, Western Europe has been the biggest contributor in terms of numbers generating 380,725 visitors. This region generated 321,472 visitors over the same period last year. The second highest generating region was South Asia which is dominated by India with 283,689 visitors while the third highest generating region was East Asia dominated by China which produced 250,274 visitors during the period January to July 2016. Both of these markets have seen significant growth compared to the same period last year. In terms of growth, according to country-specific data, China with 163,473 visitors continue to show the highest growth in arrivals at 36.6 percent for the period January to July 2016. The second highest growth in arrivals has been from Australia with 38,657 visitors showing a growth rate of 19.8 percent followed by the UK with 110,649 visitors at 18.7 percent. (Sunday Island 21.8.2016

A drunken pilot's misbehavior resulted in the regular SriLankan Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Colombo being delayed by almost fifteen hours, with embarrassment and financial loss to the airline and huge inconvenience to passengers, the Sunday Observer learns. Passengers on board UL 554 faced prolonged delays due to its Pilot being under the influence of liquor and was deemed unfit for duty, Sunday Observer learns according to Airline sources. The flight was about to leave Frankfurt, Germany, on the 19 August and scheduled to land at 05.40 yesterday morning. However, citing delays in Frankfurt, the flight's ETA was later changed to 19.50 hours yesterday. A SriLankan Airlines press communiqué last afternoon apologized to its customers for the inconvenience caused and said that they would be compensated in compliance with EU regulations. The reason that was given by SriLankan for this delay was 'unavailability of a flight crew member'. An official of Airlines confirmed to Sunday Observer that the pilot been found to be intoxicated at the scheduled time of the flight and had to be suspended from piloting duty. Once he was removed from the plane, steps were taken to operate the aircraft with the pilot of the outgoing flight crew filling in for the pilot's function for the return flight to Colombo. The flight commenced its travel after a delay which lasted for nearly 15 hours. The Airline source said that they would hold proper investigations into the incident and take disciplinary action accordingly. Sri Lankan Airlines will be suspending its operations to Paris and Frankfurt by the end of this year. (Sunday Observer 21.8.2016)

The government has earned a record tax revenue during the first seven months of this year, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said yesterday. Tax collections of the Departments of Inland Revenue, Excise and Customs have increased by 23 per cent from January to July 2016 compared to the corresponding period of last year, the Minister has said in a media statement issued by the Finance Ministry. The media release has quoted the Minister as saying that the three departments have earned Rs. 769,753 million as opposed to Rs. 625,866 million during the corresponding period last year. Accordingly, the government has earned an additional income of Rs. 143,887 million through the three institutions. The Department of Customs has earned Rs. 457,616 million for the first seven months of 2016 against Rs. 376,842 million last year. Accordingly, the revenue earned by the Customs has increased by 21.5%. The revenue of the Department of Inland Revenue in the first seven months of 2015 was at Rs. 191,596 million and it has increased to Rs. 242,811 million during the corresponding period this year. The income earned by the Departments of Inland Revenue in the first seven months of 2016 has increased by 26%.The Excise Department has earned Rs. 69,326 million for the first seven months of 2016 against Rs. 57,276 million reported during the corresponding period in 2015. Accordingly, the revenue of the Excise Department has increased by 21%. (Daily Island 22.8.2016)

The Department of Immigration and Emigration will be established at its new location in Battaramulla from 29 August in order to provide an efficient and prompt service to the public.The Department will be located at Suhurupaya in Battaramulla from Monday 29th August, Controller General of Immigration and Emigration M. N. Ranasinghe announced in a flier.The services to the public will not be available on 26 August at the Present head office at No 41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mw. Colombo 10 and at the regional offices at Kandy, Matara and Vavuniya. The one day service of issuing passports will not be available on 29 August while the Passport normal service, Issuance of visa, passport alterations and matters relating to citizenship will be available on a limited basis.
(Lanka Business Times 22.8.2016)

The 2015 Maternal Death Report (MDR) reveals that 113 maternal deaths occurred last year and out of them 28 were due to heart diseases. Health Ministry spokesman, Nipun Ekanayake said the report launched at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on Tuesday (23) had identified Sri Lanka as a country which had a very low maternal mortality rate. There had been 34,821 live births during the year. While for every 100,000 live births the infant mortality rate had been 33.7, he said. Although the statistics for 2014 were not available, the 2013 maternal mortality rate given by the Family Health Bureau shows that 32.5 deaths had occurred for every 100,000 live births. Ekanayake said that majority of maternal deaths recorded last year had been in rural parts of the country. The deaths due to pneumonia and anaemia had increased in those areas. (Daily Island 25.8.2016)

The government yesterday said it would take legal action against those who levelled bribery allegations against President Maithripala Sirisena, claiming he asked for money before signing an agreement with an Australian company to build a dam when he was the Minister of Agriculture Development and Agrarian Services in 2009. According to a media report, published on The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers in Australia on Wednesday (24), President Maithripala Sirisena and his coordinating secretary allegedly demanded a political "donation" to be paid by Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (SMEC) when Mr Sirisena was a Cabinet minister. The company emails show a plot to skim the money off a World Bank-funded dam project in 2009. In return, Mr Sirisena was to approve the awarding of the dam contract to SMEC, worth $1.82 million . SMEC's Sri Lankan manager, who was recently sacked, wrote in emails to two Australian colleagues that he wanted to "inform the minister/co-ordinating secretary" of the size of an alleged kickback to be paid and that he needed to "prioritise" certain payments to unnamed parties "since the signing of the contract would depend" on it. According to the media report, Co-ordinating-Secretary said this is the way it goes prior to signing the cabinet papers. He wants us to propose an amount/percentage on the contract value. If you could advise me on an amount of percentage based on the financial figures I could inform the minister/ Co-ordinating Sec ..." Twelve days later, the manager wrote another email saying that unnamed "key people" had asked for approximately "1%... of the total contract." "The key people have now disclosed their cost as 2.5m LKR [Sri Lankan Rupees, a sum worth about $A27,000]". Minister Abeywardena said there was suspicion as to why this issue was came suddenly after seven years and there might be a conspiracy behind that. "It was not a detailed report and no name of the coordinating secretary, but I can't comment further as a legal process is on-going," Abeywardena said. Responding a query whey the government also raised old issues against Joint Opposition MPs, the minister said those cases were filed with detailed evidence, but the report against the President had no such details. (Daily Island 26.8.2016)

The National Council for Road Safety (NCRS) yesterday said there had been over 1,500 accidents from January to July 31 this year causing more than 1,600 deaths, the total number of accidents during this period had been 1,568 and the number of fatalities caused by them 1,632. Of them 666 had been motorcycle accidents which had killed 686 persons, he said. Last year there had been 622 fatal motorcycle accidents between the months January and July and 651 persons had been killed, Prabhath said. Over 60 per cent of such deaths were of young persons in the productive age group, he said Buddhika said there had been a rapid increase in road accidents in the country. At least seven to eight people died in them daily. There was an increase in the number of those who were injured in them as well. Funds which could be invested in development projects was spent on treating those injured in road accidents. The government spent billions of rupees annually to treat road accident victims. Media Coordinator said NCRS Chairman Dr. Sisira Kodagoda had stressed the importance of the proper way to wear a helmet. Some riders didn't bother to secure the chin strap properly. The substandard helmets and failing to wear one was also amongst the causative factors. Outlining the standard of helmets that should be worn, the NCRS Media Coordinator said no helmets available in the market which had been given the Sri Lanka Standard (SLS) certification. The Sri Lanka Standard Institute (SLSI) had urged all helmet importers to apply for SLS certification but in vain. (Daily Island 26.8.2016)

Asia Siyaka Tea market report last week commented that Sri Lanka's tea exports sourced from Sri Lanka Customs data, at 25.71 million kilos was 11% lower than last year. (28.7 million kilos), and was also the lowest recorded since 2002. The Planters' Association (PA) confirmed these negative results were particularly caused by misplaced policy on the ban on Glyphosate and weather extremes experienced over the past few months. The Smallholder sector also acknowledged these findings and were literally in sixes and sevens on their sundry commitments, and their financial insolvency to settlement of their bills. Their extreme was that they would have to abandon their tea lands They said the loss situation was grave and eventually their tea lands would inevitably be overtaken by the advancing weed growth and thick underbrush. "Don't forget that we are the highest tea producers in the Industry here. We produce 70 percent crop. If we fail, the industry also fails", they pointed out. As pointed out by the PA, it was now impossible to fertilize their tea lands because advancing weeds would absorb soil nutrients. The bottom line was that tea would continue to drain whatever remaining funds available, and the end result would be unavoidable, smallholders cautioned. Meanwhile, the Asia Siyaka report, quoting data compiled by the Tea Board of India, said Indian exports at 42.6 million kilos for June registered a 2.56% rise. Shipments rose by an impressive 14%, amounting to Rs. 856.57 Crore. The report also said Ex-Estate teas sold above last week and was a good sign. But, all such euphoria was merely that such pluses may not last. The July price table recorded that last year's prices were better than results obtained this year. (Sunday Island 28.8.2016)

A five-year-old child who was injured in the elephant attack on a van near Meeoya Bridge on the Puttalam-Anuradhapura Road early yesterday died at the National Hospital, Colombo. A 39-year-old man was also killed in the attack while 10 others were admitted to the Puttalam Hospital. A van travelling towards on the Puttalam-Anuradhapura Road came under an elephant attack around 2.20 am yesterday. (Sunday Island 28.8.2016)

The net worth of the Colombo Stock Exchange has decreased by Rs. 284 billion during the past one year, the latest statistics released by the Central Bank reveal. According to the just released issue of the Recent Economic Developments, the net worth of the Colombo Stock Exchange was Rs. 3,076,000,000 a year ago and it has come down to Rs 2,792,000,000 as at August 30, this year. The daily turnover of the CSE was Rs. 1,878 million last year but as at August 30, this year the figure has come down by Rs. 864 million to Rs. 1,014 millions, the Central Bank report states. The CSE index has come down from 9,240 units to 6,551 units and the Standard & Poor's Sri Lanka 20, a stock market index, based on market capitalisation, which follows the performance of 20 leading publicly traded companies listed in the CSE too has crashed from 3,969 units last year to 3,585 units this year, according to the report. (Daily Island 29.8.2016)

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has asked the sports authorities to explain why Sri Lanka's Rio Olympics 2016 contingent comprised 46 officials and only nine athletes representing. The PM had called for a report on the issue, sources closed to Prime Minister said. The prime ministerial inquiry was consequent to a large number of complaints received by the Prime Minister's office, sources said. (Daily Island 29.8.2016)

The investigators of the Criminal Investigations Department and the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team were busy tracing the cyber attackers who had hacked President Maithripala Sirisena's official website and declared cyber war against him. The preliminary investigations suggested that the contents had been uploaded from within the country but it was too early to come to a conclusion, SLCERT sources said. The hackers breached the defences of the website, on two consecutive days and rendered the site offline. The President's Media division sources said the site was been shut down temporarily to enable the investigations and for strengthening its defences. SLCERT sources said that their investigators were focusing on the contents uploaded by the outsiders to the President's site and hoped that they would be able to trace the place of origin. (Daily Island 29.8.2016)

A 17-year-old schoolboy from Kadugannawa was arrested by the CID yesterday afternoon over the hacking of the official website of President Maithripala Sirisena. The CID and the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team began looking for the cyber attacker and yesterday they closed in on the prime suspect at Kadugannawa. A CID team that arrived in Kadugannawa made inquiries about the suspect and found that he was a GCE A/L student of a popular school there. The CID also took into custody the computer allegedly used to hack the President's website. Deputy Inspector General of Police Ajith Rohana said. The President's website has been hacked on two previous occasions as well, but the investigators have so far not ascertained whether the suspect was behind those attacks as well. The suspect was brought to Colombo yesterday evening for further investigations. (Daily Island 30.8.2016)

The Chief Magistrate of Colombo ordered to be sent to a Probation School in Makola, a 17-year-old schoolboy from Kadugannawa, suspected of hacking the Website of President Maithripala Sirisena. The Chief Magistrate also remanded another suspect Janith Maduwantha from Kurunegala aged 26 years. The remand order is till Sept. 10. The suspects were produced before the Chief Magistrate under Section 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 of the Computer Crimes Act. (Daily Island 31.8.2016)

The Cabinet has approved the proposal made by Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake to change the name of the Police of Sri Lanka from 'Sri Lanka Police Department' to 'Sri Lanka Police'. In the weekly Cabinet briefing, it was said that the Police would use its standard name as Sri Lanka Police here after. (Daily Mirror 31.8.2016)