ADB reaffirms commitment to support Lanka’s development activities, while GMOA antics come-a-cropper | Sunday Observer

ADB reaffirms commitment to support Lanka’s development activities, while GMOA antics come-a-cropper

Dealing with disruptive elements:

Writ of Quo Warranto:

Chinthanaya robs ideas:

On Friday, 5 May, while the senior officers of the Government Medical Officers' Association led by Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya were not attending to their duties and breaking the Hippocrates oath they subscribed to, on the pretext of protesting against students receiving private medical education, Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake made an interesting discovery. When he checked with an online service that provides channelling appointments to doctors, he found a certain Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, a paediatric-neurologist, available that afternoon for channelling practice at a private hospital – for a hefty fee.

Once social media flashed the story around, the hospital was quick to respond, cancelling the appointments made – however, by that time, the damage was done and Dr. Padeniya found himself at the centre of a meme campaign on social media that didn't portray him very well.

Last week, President Maithripala Sirisena was looking for solutions on how to deal with disruptive elements that are obstructing public life by way of indulging in so-called trade union action. While the jury is out on the statement made by cabinet spokesman Dr. Rajitha Seneratne that the President in fact requested the Minister of Regional Development, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to take over as a security czar to control these elements, it's clear that the government, and the people of Sri Lanka, are now sick and tired of the GMOA antics.

Over the years, the GMOA had adopted double standards as far as Private Medical Education is concerned. When former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa rammed through the establishment of a medical faculty at the Kotalawala Defence University (KDU), provisions for fee levying courses in Medicine, the opposition was minimal and approval was given in lightning quickness by the professional bodies.

The GMOA initially opposed, but became submissive when summoned for a meeting with the authorities. They meekly agreed to the proposal. People who are well aware of the episode do not even ponder the reasons behind the decision. Such was the oppression handed down by the ‘iron fist’ of the previous regime suppressing the voice of dissent.

The government over the past few weeks devised a plausible solution to the current problem to broad-base the ownership of the SAITM by listing it in the Colombo Stock Exchange and taking over the Neville Fernanado Teaching Hospital under the wings of the Health Ministry. They also brought in other measures, but the GMOA and the allied TU activists condemned the same and rejected the government proposal.

At the same time, the Sri Lanka Medical Council came up with minimum qualifications that enable an individual to enter private Medical faculties in Sri Lanka. The GMOA and others have taken a stand contrary to this and had expressed the view that these measures have been adopted by the government to force a bitter pill down the throats of the unsuspecting masses. The most pertinent question that arises out of this is, how a responsible organisation such as the GMOA could espouse a political cause that contradicts their professional attributes as a respected professional body. The Joint Opposition extended their support to the GMOA. The latter, once an organisation politically unblemished is now tainted with ugly politics.

They have vouched to launch a relentless struggle until they achieve their target; this could well be a tall order for the GMOA since the government too is determined not to give into unreasonable demands. The GMOA, by being obdurate, will only put innocent lives in danger.

Contempt of Court

Meanwhile, the civil society had taken the matter up on behalf of the public, and had gone before the Court of Appeal to complain that the GMOA is in contempt of court over an earlier ruling handed down by the Court of Appeal that compelled Sri Lanka Medical Council to register the SAITM graduates.

The Court, while issuing summons on the President of the GMOA Anuruddha Padeniya also issued an interim order barring him from being in contempt of Court. This is going to be an interesting contest between the civil society and the GMOA.

There is a huge demand for doctors since there is an unfettered brain drain to other western destinations where most of our doctors seek greener pastures. It is not that there are no shortcomings in the government’s proposed solution; the GMOA could urge the government to appoint a committee of experts on the matter, to study the current situation and formulate a mechanism that is best suited for the country. In the meantime, procrastination on the part of the government also to solve the issue would cause hardship to the people and many are awaiting the outcome of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court after the Sri Lanka Medical Council appealed against the order made by the Court of Appeal in respect of the registration of SAITM students.

Landmark judgements

The Court of Appeal made several landmark judgements in the recent past that caused ripples in the political establishment . The latest one is the order made by the Court of Appeal issuing a Writ of Quo Warranto on Parliamentarian Geetha Kumarasinghe unseating her from her Parliamentary seat.

The court also directed the Attorney General to formulate a mechanism to recover the expenses caused to the state by Geetha Kumarasinghe during her tenure in Parliament. The 19th amendment to the constitution prohibits individuals to function as Members of Parliament if they hold dual citizenship at the time of their election to Parliament. However, now Ms Kumarasinghe is ready to appeal against the order.

This was discussed at length in Parliament after the government benches raised the issue. The Speaker said he had not been informed of the ruling of the Court of Appeal until last Friday. The Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake will get in touch with the Attorney General to explore the exact legal position in relation to Ms Kumarasinghe. Legal experts say the ruling comes into effect immediately and she is unable to sit and vote as a Parliamentarian. However, if she does attend she may also be called upon to pay a fine for the days she attended Parliament without proper legal authority. Legal experts point out that the ruling is in force despite her appeal and until the final determination of the court.

It is likely that more information will surface as to how many Parliamentarians hold dual citizenship. They may be compelled to renounce their dual citizenship without further delay before such information comes into the limelight since many are waiting to file action against such individuals in the Court of Appeal. In Parliament, it was discussed that Ms Kumarasinghe is not the only Parliamentarian with dual citizenship, and the JVP has urged Parliament that justice should prevail on this issue.

The Court of Appeal ruling that strictly adheres with the constitutional provision in the 19th amendment is a cause of alarm to the Joint Opposition who is trying to field Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the next Presidential candidate of the political party that represents the JO.

If there is any desire on the part of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he should renounce his dual citizenship in time for the election and such renunciation has to be reciprocated by the host country. It will be a long drawn process and by the time, the government may try to abolish the executive Presidency, a pledge given by the Rainbow coalition during elections. The JO is left with little choice if they are to contest the next Presidential election, since Mahinda Rajapaksa is also facing an obstacle owing to the 19th amendment to the constitution. In the circumstances, it is difficult to fathom as to what would happen at the next Presidential election, if there is one.

Crowds, not votes!

The JO is now upbeat over their so-called success at the May Day rally. Political analysts however are of the view that crowds do not necessarily translate into votes - if that is the case, the best example is the 2010 presidential election campaign of Sarath Fonseka that drew huge crowds. Fonseka was convincingly defeated by Rajapaksa. Politically, crowds are not a barometer that could gauge or measure the political will of the people. However, crowds at the JO rally served as a good wake up call for the government of which the progress is at a snail's pace.

While the JO rally enjoyed a high turnout, JO´s self-appointed spokesman, former Housing and Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa became mired in another tar baby when he exhorted hoarsely against a tweet made by India´s powerful Minister of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari, indicating he had discussed a train and road link between Dhanushkodi in South India and Talaimannar in North Sri Lanka with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe during his recent working visit to Delhi.

India is mulling the project after the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) had suggested that India look at a project linking Sri Lanka, Minister Gadkari had stated earlier in interviews with Indian media.

“When I met ADB officials (in June 2016), they told me to look at a connectivity project between the Indian mainland and Sri Lanka as well. They said, they would finance it. They proposed a bridge between Rameswaram and Sri Lanka,” Gadkari said in an interview with www.livemint.com in February 2017.

Connectivity has been a key theme in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for many years now and a beginning was made when India signed the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) transport pact in June 2016 in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu.

The pact was proposed after SAARC, which also includes Afghanistan, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, failed to conclude a motor vehicles pact, along with an agreement on regional railways when the leaders of the eight nations met in Kathmandu in November 2014.

Grabbing a tar baby

However, what Weerawansa forgot in his haste to grab the tar baby with both hands was that he himself signed and gazetted the National Physical Planning Policy and Plan of 2010, as Minister of Housing and Construction, clearly indicating and promoting the road-rail link between India and Sri Lanka.

The National Planning Policy was extracted from the 2010 manifesto of President Mahinda Rajapaksa – the Mahinda Chinthanaya – that also contains two direct references to the proposal in pages 102 and 106. It appears that Mahinda Chinthanaya in fact “borrowed” the proposal for the rail and road link to South India from a detailed South Asian connectivity proposal made by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in 2002.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe´s visit to Delhi saw a deluge of activity with a number of accords reached through a single memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries.

LPG hub for South Asia

Main among these is an agreement to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fired 500 megawatt capacity LNG Power Plant, which will be constructed along side an LNG Terminal / Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) in Kerawalapitiya/Colombo; a piped gas distribution system; retail outlets for supply of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to the transportation sector; and conversion of liquid fuel-based power plants to LNG fired power plants in Sri Lanka.

This stems from a proposal made by the Asian Development Bank´s South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Operational Plan for 2016–2025 and its report “Powering Asia in the 21st Century.” Pointing out that around 47% of the world’s LPG exports originate from countries in the Arabian Gulf region with significant proportion of the movement to the Asia Pacific region, the ADB report states:

“At present, Bangladesh and the Maldives procure their LPG supplies through transhipment from Singapore. However, the increasing challenge of waterfront availability and high cost of land in Singapore opens a window of opportunity for Sri Lanka to establish itself as a regional LPG storage and transhipment hub. This would also help SASEC countries to save on logistics cost.

Hence, Sri Lanka’s strategic geographic location may be leveraged to promote it as an LPG transhipment and logistics hub for the region. This facility may not only cater to Sri Lanka’s demand, but can also be used to tranship and supply to other countries in the sub region whose LPG demand is increasing.

Sri Lanka may also capture the break bulk LPG demand of India. It is estimated that the demand for LPG in India is likely to reach up to 35 MMtPA by 2025, with continued imports of around 21 MMPtA until 2025. Sri Lanka can serve the break bulk requirement of India, particularly for the ports at the eastern coast such as Haldia, which are estimated to be importing break bulk LPG of around 1.9 MMtPA.

Sri Lanka can also position itself to cater to LPG demand of Southeast Asian countries like, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam whose demand is increasing at a rate of about two percent annually and which primarily relies on Middle East suppliers. In addition, land availability in Sri Lanka is likely to be a competitive advantage when compared to other trading hubs like Singapore. Sri Lanka may leverage this advantage through the creation of LPG storage facilities and setting competitive storage prices to capture the transhipment demand of both the SASEC and Association of Southeast Asian nations.”

It is in this backdrop that the government is pushing to attract more foreign direct investments to the country and got some more encouragement from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last week when it reaffirmed its strong commitment to support Sri Lanka’s continued development activities, during its 50th Annual Meeting of Board of Governors, in Yokohama, Japan.

Operating under the theme of “Building Together the Prosperity of Asia”, this year’s Annual Meeting focused on the region's growing need for infrastructure as a critical sector towards achieving sustainable and inclusive development. Discussions on how to address urban challenges and strive for clean and climate-resilient development were held during the four-day event.

One of the main concerns of ADB on Sri Lanka is that the country needs to continue its efforts to diversify and expand its manufacturing and export base and prepare for natural disasters, including those induced by global climate change.

Despite reaching per capita income close to the upper-middle-income threshold, Sri Lanka persistently relies on a narrow manufacturing base. In addition, 60 % of the country’s exports still depend on apparel and tea, and worker remittances. Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has not attracted foreign direct investment in manufacturing that could significantly increase its export capacity. Overcoming these challenges will be critical for the country to reach high-income status.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in Japan now attending the conference has met several Asian leaders - discussed about Sri Lanka investments, foreign support etc.; he is confident that by the end of this year the foreign reserves will reach US $ ten billion and that the country can look for a brighter future. Karunanayake talking to the Sunday Observer agreed with ADB’s comments and emphasized the need for expanding export sectors in the country and that he is expecting the private sector to come forward and get into manufacturing bases.

The government is also pushing free trade agreements with Japan, Thailand, and Singapore in addition to the current talks with India and China.

Sovereign bond at cheaper rate

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has raised 1.5 billion US dollars at 6.2 per cent from a 10-year sovereign bond, lower than the initial price guidance, after getting orders of more than 11 billion US dollars.

US investors have bought 58 per cent of the issue, Europe 22 per cent and Asia 20 per cent. Fund managers and asset managers bought 83 per cent, banks 9 per cent, insurance and pension funds 5 per cent and others 3 per cent.

The bond was launched Thursday with initial price guidance of 6.625 per cent and narrowed to 6.25 per cent later.

Meanwhile, business sources reveal that the Colombo Port’s East terminal deal is to be completed by end of May. While India is getting ready to running the business of Colombo Port’s East Terminal, China’s CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd, says they are targeting investors from the West, India and the Middle East to give an international feel to the project, rather than just from China.

The Japanese and the Indians are ready to help the government in their development projects. However, India is concerned over the anti-Indian sentiments expressed by the Trade Unions. The Trincomalee Oil tank farm is one such project. More than a commercial interest, India has a strategic interest to harness the oil tanks, a joint venture with Sri Lanka to balance off the Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean region.

Night operation at Trinco port

India and Japan had joined hands to develop the Trincomalee port. The Japanese government had agreed to an outright grant to develop the technical capability of the Port as a matter of importance and would shortly instal an Automatic Identification System at the Trincomalee Port to identify ships during night time which allows them to berth ships in the port without much hassle. This system was hitherto not available at the Trincomalee Port and it would simplify the night-time operations of the Port. The Japanese have granted two massive loans to Sri Lanka for community development and to develop a liquid natural Gas plant to generate electricity. The Japanese government would probably invest in the LNG facility in Kerawalapitya.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had extensive discussions with Japanese Prime minister Abe, on issues concerning them in the Indian Ocean region. Accordingly, there would not be exclusive rights to any particular country within the Sri Lankan territorial waters and the operations of the Hambantota port will exclusively be handled by the Sri Lankan authorities, including the Customs and the Immigration and Emigration part it.

Japanese partnership in Indian projects is mainly a measure towards mitigating trade union protests against the Indian presence since most of the TUs are imbibed with the idea that India is trying to bulldoze Sri Lankan government to give into their demands. Nothing will be leased out for a song and all such agreements have a guaranteed period of operation and backed by a strong legal framework that would ensure ownership of Sri Lanka. The government at the same time is exploring the option of reducing the lease term of the Hambanthota port to fifty years, which would give more advantage to Sri Lanka.

Japan, India, and United States are in a strategic partnership to mitigate the Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean and Sri Lanka will be the stage for their activity is the pertinent question. 

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