Finance Minister enhances economic cooperation with India | Sunday Observer

Finance Minister enhances economic cooperation with India

5 December, 2021

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa ended his first official visit to India on a successful note on Friday, securing an agreement for an extension of a Line of Credit to cover the import of food, medicine and other essential items from India to Sri Lanka.

The visit also resulted in an ‘Energy Security Package’ that would include a line of credit to cover the import of fuel from India, and an early modernisation of the Trincomalee tank farm. An offer of a Currency Swap to help Sri Lanka address the current balance of payment issues was also on the table.

All these decisions were arrived at following discussions with the Minister’s Indian counterpart Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. During his two-day visit, Minister Rajapaksa also met Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and National Security Advisor of India Ajit Kumar Doval for bilateral talks.

Finance Minister Rajapaksa briefed the Indian side of the economic situation in Sri Lanka and the Government’s approach to addressing post-Covid challenges. The Indian Ministers expressed India’s solidarity with Sri Lanka at this juncture. They reiterated that India has always stood by Sri Lanka and in the current situation would be guided by its Neighbourhood First policy.

Finance Minister Rajapaksa sought to further enhance economic cooperation with India, when he met Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi on Wednesday, December 1. Minister Rajapaksa thanked the support India had given to Sri Lanka in many spheres through economic cooperation programs. They discussed how economic programs between the two countries could be further enhanced.

The two Ministers also discussed a range of issues pertaining to bilateral economic cooperation. Minister Basil Rajapaksa also met National Security Adviser of India, Ajit Kumar Doval in New Delhi on Thursday, December 2. Doval extended a warm welcome to Minister Rajapaksa and discussed a range of issues pertaining to the mutual strategic interests of the two countries.

Insurance for journos

The presentation of Insurance policies under the Asidisi insurance scheme for journalists introduced by the Mass Media Ministry was held at Temple Trees under the patronage of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mass Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma on Thursday.

Around 3,000 media personnel have already been identified by the Mass Media Ministry to award the Asidisi insurance policy under the first phase of the scheme. Of them 98 journalists representing all media institutions received insurance policies.

The proposal to introduce an insurance scheme for the benefit of those in the media sector is an aspect of the Government’s Policy Statement ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.

Premier Rajapaksa said the Government is always with journalists and takes every possible measure to protect them. He said that various forces are active to destabilise this country in a way that even journalists don’t understand.

The Premier said, “The media can form Governments but the media cannot protect Governments. Only those who run the Government can protect it. If the media is going to protect the Government, the media will have to be given more insurance.”

Speaker disappointed

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Tuesday, November 30 expressed disappointment over the absence of the majority of the ruling party front-benchers during parliamentary sessions. He drew the attention of the Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando to the situation.

The Speaker said, “No front-bench Ministers on either side of your seat are present at the moment. This is a very disappointing situation.” He said that all lawmakers are present when the President attends Parliamentary sessions.

The Speaker said if this trend goes on, he will be compelled to invite the President to take part in all sittings of the House in the future. All parliamentarians need to attend the sittings to respond to the issues raised in the House and the Speaker stressed, urging them to fulfill their collective responsibility.

Sarath vs Sarath

Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (Retd) and SJB Parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, locked horns again in Parliament on Friday during the debate on the Ministry of Defence Expenditure Head.

Weerasekera said that Sarath Fonseka had called him a coward adding that the whole country was aware of Fonseka’s cowardice and hypocrisy. “Don’t blame the Police for being cowards, the whole country knows what a coward and hypocrite you are,” Minister Weerasekara said.

He said that Sarath Fonseka, who did not call for the arrest of Tinkering Lasantha, was saddened when he was killed during a search for hidden weapons. At this point, Sarath Fonseka was seen yelling various allegations at Sarath Weerasekara.

Minister Weerasekara said that Fonseka was vying for the post of Defence Minister. He said, “Even the previous Yahapalana Government did not give it to him because they know who he is. We don’t have the kind of corruption allegations that are against him. He should know not to throw stones while being in a glass house.”

MP Sarath Fonseka then said that Weerasekara went with criminal Lahiya’s brother to open a building. “He calls me a coward. Ask the country who the coward is, whether it is this Sarath or that Sarath.”

Field Marshal Fonseka said that the Government does not have a stringent plan to ensure national security, when looking at the allocations for the Defence Ministry within next year’s budget. He said the defence expenditure should not be reduced despite the battle against terrorism having ended.

He stressed that the country must be ready to face foreign threats, even if there is peace internally. Citing Singapore’s defence budget, Fonseka said that it is among the highest defence budgets in the Asian region despite there being no war.

Quits UNP

Former Minister Arjuna Ranatunga has resigned from the membership of the United National Party (UNP). Sri Lanka’s former World Cup-winning cricket captain tendered his resignation to UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

In his resignation letter to the UNP leader, Ranatunga gives reasons for his decision to quit the party and also expresses his gratitude to Wickremesinghe for the responsibilities entrusted to him under the Yahapalana Government. He said that he joined the United National Front (UNF) ahead of the 2015 Presidential Election to bring about positive change for the benefit of the public.

Ranatunga said he is aware that a strong Opposition beneficial for the country is needed to safeguard democracy and good governance and that even though a number of the party members had quit the UNP before the 2020 General Election but he decided not to abandon the party to protect it. In his letter, he also said that the UNP suffered a massive defeat at the 2020 election and that they should be self-critical and accept that fact.

Ranatunga said he remained with the party with the firm belief that they would be able to prepare a proper plan to face the existing and future challenges. However, even today there appears to be no such program adding that, therefore, he believes there is no longer any point in him remaining with the party.

Gas explosions

The gas cylinder explosions have turned into a much-debated topic in media circles. The Opposition and various sections have raised serious concern on the increase in gas cylinder explosions adding that it is a threat to national security. During the Budget debate in Parliament, the issue was raised on several occasions and sometimes it led to heated arguments between the Government and Opposition lawmakers.

At a press conference on Friday, State Minister of Cooperatives and Consumer Affairs, Lasantha Alagiyawanna said that companies dealing with gas should bear responsibility for the adverse consequences that happen due to various related incidents.

He said the Government has urged gas dealers to ensure that safe gas goes for home use. He called on all political party leaders and media institutions to team up with the Government to resolve the gas problem which has affected a majority of the citizens living in all parts of the country.

He recalled that during recent days the number of incidents due to gas explosions had increased, panicking consumers who use gas at home. The main Opposition SJB has called for a criminal inquiry over the recent increase in gas explosions.

Speaking in Parliament recently, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa listed out several places where such gas explosions have been recorded and stated that there is now a growing fear among the people. He said “There is a growing fear among the public now, where no one is confident to use domestic gas anymore. We strongly believe that the gas cylinder compositions have been altered with and the weight has reduced as well. We request for an inquiry to be done in this matter.”


SLFP National Organiser State Minister Duminda Dissanayake said the SLFP plans to advise the SLPP Government on how to keep pledges made to keep the current administration in power, which includes pointing out the mistakes they have made and may make. He said the SLFP does not wish to go against the Government, while the political arena has become heated, adding that the public is concerned that the current administration would fall apart soon, but that some members of the Government are unable to comprehend the situation.

He said, “Some are making a series of caustic accusations against the SLFP, other political parties and individuals who helped bring the Government to power. We do not want to leave the Government; we established it and elected the President; why should we leave? We went for an open agreement publicly when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President and we disclosed the substance of that agreement.”

Dissanayake said that while the SLFP is a key member of the Government, they will also talk about the Government’s inadequacies in a constructive way.


SLPP General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam said that any allied party of the Government which cannot work as an alliance according to the President’s Policy Statement should leave the ruling alliance.

He told a recent media briefing, that criticising the Government when there is any issue with a policy decision is unacceptable. He said that what the SLFP is doing at this moment is akin to ‘fishing in shallow waters’. The SLPP Parliamentarian charged that if the country’s transition to organic fertiliser had been successful, former President Maithripala Sirisena would have been the first to come out and say that he started it first.

However, when it goes wrong, they speak against it adding that this is something that should not happen in alliance politics. Kariyawasam said, “If a certain party thinks that they cannot conform to the principles of the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour policy statement, it should leave.”

Heated argument

A heated argument erupted between UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and SJB Parliamentarian Tissa Attanayake in Parliament on Thursday over the Hambantota Port.

Participating in the Committee Stage debate on the Expenditure Heads of the Ports and Shipping Ministry, MP Attanayake said the Hambantota Port was sold. However, Wickremesinghe, who intervened said the port was not sold, but was given on lease for only 70 years.

Attanayake said, “I do not want to argue with Wickremesinghe. He was my former leader. But when an asset is leased for over 33 years, it is considered sold. Can you tell me if we have ever taken back an asset which was leased decades back?”

Wickremesinghe said, “If we want to take back the port, we can do it even tomorrow. According to the agreement, we will have to pay a fine. That is what is mentioned in the agreement.”

Ports Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena said, “What the former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said about the lease period of Hambantota Port is incorrect. It has been leased for 99 years, not for 70 years. I will send a copy of the agreement to the former Prime Minister.”

Education level

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament that Parliamentarians should be allowed to enroll in the Sri Lanka Law College or any other university to further their studies.

Participating in the Committee Stage Debate on Expenditure Heads of the Education Ministry, Kiriella said a debate is taking place in society about the education level of MPs.

He said, “There was a program like that in the 1970s. Under that, some MPs enrolled at the Law College without sitting for the entrance examination. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa also enrolled in the 1970s and became a lawyer.

The MPs are elected to Parliament because they have some sort of intelligence.” There are talented MPs in the Government and the Opposition. We can help them improve their education levels by launching such a program.

UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene said all Opposition groups should come to the same stage to oust the Government which is oppressing the people economically and socially. Wijewardene said that although the split in Opposition groups was to the advantage of the Government, it was to the detriment of the people.

He also said that what the Opposition should do if it thinks about the people is not to be divided but to come on to the same platform on behalf of the people.

Participating in a UNP reorganisation program in the Ampara District, Wijewardene said the Government that came to offer claiming that fertiliser would be provided free forcibly imposed organic fertiliser on the farmer and destroyed the country’s agriculture. The farmers were deceived into believing that they would be paid to produce organic fertiliser.