BJP weighing up ‘political split’ in Rajapaksa camp?

Even as Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa angles for a political comeback, New Delhi appears to be weighing up possible political shifts in the island, including a split in the Rajapaksa camp, the Hindu reported. On February 10, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, known to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s point man on Sri Lanka, met President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, a week before Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s scheduled official visit. Mr. Madhav also met a few other key political actors, The Hindu learns, and reportedly discussed political options that might “neutralise” former strongman Rajapaksa. Confirming that he met the President and the Prime Minister to discuss bilateral issues and a forthcoming Indian Ocean conference in the island, Mr. Madhav, when contacted in New Delhi, said “the [other] allegations are false”.

While he categorically denied having discussed the former first family in any of his meetings, political sources in Colombo told The Hindu that the BJP’s key strategist seemed to explore the possibility of Gotabaya Rajapaksa decamping from Mahinda Rajapaksa in return for high political office. One of Sri Lanka’s most controversial figures and brother of the ex-President, Mr. Gotabaya was prominent in the leadership to defeat the LTTE, playing a key role as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. Currently facing corruption charges for allegedly transferring state-owned weapons to a private firm, causing a loss of nearly $75 million to the country, he has been a staunch critic of the government’s reconciliation strategy. While Mr. Madhav’s reported enquiries about him have raised eyebrows in political circles, its timing is also significant. Two years after coming to power, Sri Lanka’s national unity government — formed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that President Sirisena leads and its rival United National Party with PM Wickremesinghe at the helm — is pulling apart. Amid mounting criticism over the government’s delay in delivering its key election promises, coupled with looming corruption charges, the government is facing another immediate task for its survival — managing the ex-President, who leads a faction of the SLFP.

This political grouping is challenging virtually every move of the government as a “joint opposition” in Parliament. Meanwhile, Mr. Rajapaksa has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of India. Observing that New Delhi has been “mouse-like” on the current government’s China policy, while it objected to his, the former President has accused India of plotting his defeat in the January 2015 elections. Even as Colombo tries to iron out issues with Beijing on a massive port and investment zone being built with Chinese assistance, Mr. Rajapaksa went to China in late 2016 on an invitation from the government. At the same time, Colombo-New Delhi ties improved visibly with Mr. Modi’s visit to the neighbouring country in 2015, the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister in nearly three decades. India and Sri Lanka are currently negotiating a trade deal and exploring partnerships in the strategically crucial eastern city of Trincomalee, in addition to collaborating on development projects. Mr. Madhav is a frequent visitor to Colombo and a known emissary of Mr. Modi. Foreign Secretary Mr. Jaishankar, who arrives on Saturday for a two-day visit, will meet the Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister and other key political actors.

Bandaranayake Says Sri Lanka war widows face sexual exploitation

Tamil women who survived Sri Lanka's civil war now face widespread sexual exploitation by officials in their own community as well as from the army, the head of an ethnic reconciliation body said Wednesday.

Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, the chairwoman of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, said women who were widowed during the 37-year conflict were among the victims of abuse by officials who frequently demand sexual favours just to carry out routine paperwork.

“There is a lot of sexual abuse still going on by officials, even Tamil officials and even at lower levels, the grama sevakas (village officials),” she told Sri Lanka's Foreign Correspondents' Association.

“Even to sign a document, they abuse the women and of course some people in the (armed) forces” continue to commit sexual abuse, she said.

Kumaratunga, who lost an eye in a Tamil Tiger suicide bombing when she was president at the height of the conflict, said the best way to make women less vulnerable was to improve their livelihoods.

“We feel that when women have livelihoods, they will be empowered... they feel safer and they don't have to be exploited,” she said.

Kumaratunga said many women had been traumatised as a result of the sexual abuse and needed psychological support but the authorities lacked qualified experts to treat them.

“We cannot bring counsellors from abroad because they won't know the language,” she said.

Many women, particularly widows, have struggled in the war's aftermath to obtain identity papers and birth certificates which are essential to obtain government handouts and other aid.

Prosecutions of military personnel or officials for sex crimes are rare in Sri Lanka, although four soldiers were jailed for 25 years for the gang-rape of a young Tamil mother in 2010, a year after the war ended.

At least 100,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives during the conflict that saw horrific abuses by both sides.

Finally old budget proposal on 15% interest for senior citizens enforced

The budget proposal to pay 15 per cent special interest on fixed deposits of up to Rs 1.5 million held by senior citizens in commercial and specialized banks is being finally enforced, it was announced on Wednesday. Earlier the limit was up to Rs 1 million. The Business Times was in the forefront of the campaign urging the government to enforce this proposal first proposed in Budget 2015.

The new rule takes effect from March 1. On the instruction of the Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga has informed the Central Bank to notify all banks amending the previous circular in this regard.

The special interest scheme applies to those who are 60 years and above. Under this scheme the government pays the difference between the 15 per cent and the market standard interest rate offered by commercial banks. The Treasury had allocated Rs.13 billion for this purpose in 2016 for these scheme which offered 15 per cent to deposits of up to Rs 1 million.

“As a result of this offer to senior citizens, the number of fixed deposits by senior citizens rose to 450,000 in 2016 from 91,000 in 2015,” the ministry said in a statement.

Sri Lankan PM says failed asylum seekers safe to return home

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Wednesday that failed asylum seekers held in Australian-run detention centres in the South Pacific will not face prosecution or harm if they return home.

Wickremesinghe's comment comes as Australia increases pressure on failed asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea's Manus island and the tiny island nation of Nauru to return home voluntarily, including offering large sums of money, amid fears a deal for the United States to take refugees has collapsed, REUTERS reported.

Only five men from Nepal on Manus have so far opted to leave despite the threat of deportations.

Australia does not publish details on the nationalities of the 1,152 people held on Manus and Nauru though refugee advocates said there are approximately 150 Sri Lankans detained.

Many of these would have received their refugee status, advocates said, but for those who have been rejected, they face the choice of accepting the offer of cash from Australia or the threat of deportation.

"They are welcome to return to Sri Lanka and we won't prosecute them," Wickremesinghe told reporters in Australia's capital Canberra.

Despite the assurances from Wickremesinghe, refugee advocates said many Sri Lankans would be reluctant to return home amid reports of mistreatment of members of the ethnic Tamil minority, a claim Wickremesinghe rejected.

"It is quite safe for them to come back... we want all the Tamils to come back," said Wickremesinghe.

Human Rights and Female protection

In the face of the recent mass molestation of female revellers at a New Year's event in Bengaluru, the words “men will be men” continues to be sloppily thrown around. It's an excuse we've had drilled into our psyche since time immemorial.

This begs the question “What constitutes a man?” A feral beast that cannot control its sexual urge? A title that offers liberties over the fairer sex? A being with an inborn masculine complex that is only fuelled and sated by exercising dominance over females?

We are constantly outraged as story after story of molestation and rape is featured in the media. We are up in arms, we vent our frustrations on every social media outlet, we begin trending hashtags (in case you were wondering, there's one this time too - #notallmen), sometimes, depending on the severity, we take to the streets. And then we move on. That is, until the next case once again fuels our anger and frustration.

While Sri Lanka may seem comparatively tame compared to our neighbours, we aren't particularly  devoid of such evils. Women here still face harassment in all forms. Many are raped.

Little boys grow up being taught that possession of a certain appendage gives them way more than a smidgen of entitlement. A license, if you will, to do as they please. Without a doubt, a few exploit this freedom. Excuses are made. They are forgiven - they are men, after all, and men will be men.

This in turn paves the way for victim blaming. Words like “culture”, “clothing” and “asked for it” get thrown around. So let's get this straight - are we to understand that this same “culture” denies women simple freedoms under the guise of modesty and safety, but justifies a man's right to rape and molest, yes?

Such excuses are why society is to blame for the continued spate of attacks against women that show no signs of abating. Attacks that happen in plain view as countless people pass by. We teach little girls to behave a certain way, to dress a certain way, to speak a certain way. What a girl may be chastised for, a boy will receive praise and applause. We never tell the boys to respect women, that women are not sexual playthings to be had. We don't teach them about consent - that “No” actually does mean NO. We don't tell them that wearing “revealing” clothes is NOT an invitation to molest and rape. We don't explain to them that even if a woman is drunk or has passed out, that it in NO WAY means you have a right to throw yourself at her.

We take high actions - Said SP

Two police constables have been hospitalized after they were assaulted at Baththalangunduwa Island in Kalpitiya last night. Police said the two constables had gone to inquire into a complaint received from a women at the Island stating that her son was acting aggressively. Police said the constables were assaulted by the same individual who was acting aggressively at the scene. The injured constables were brought to the land by the Navy and admitted to the Kalpitiya Hospital. The individual who had assaulted the constables were later arrested.

Turkish plane Crash Killed 30 people

A Turkish Airlines cargo plane from Hong Kong has crashed in Kyrgyzstan, killing at least 32 people, most of them on the ground, say officials. The Boeing 747 crashed into homes near Manas airport, about 25km (15 miles) north of the capital, Bishkek, the Kyrgyz government said. Several buildings were destroyed, and a number of children are reported to have been among those killed. The flight was making a stopover at Manas en route to Istanbul in Turkey. It came down at 07:31 local time (01:31 GMT) in the populated area. Visibility was poor because of thick fog at the time, but the cause of the crash has not yet been confirmed. Images on social media purporting to be of the crash site show fire and smoke rising from the rubble of destroyed buildings. There are reports that one crew member survived. Emergency services are at the scene. Local media is reporting that Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov is also there. The plane is thought to be around 14 years old and currently operated by MyCargo. Manas airport, the main airport in the country, has been closed.

Ravi Says Wijeyadasa doesn’t know what he is talking about

Replying to a statement made by the Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe with regard to the access to temporary resident visas, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake maintained that Minister Rajapakshe was misinformed and did not know what he was talking about. Criticizing Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s statement that temporary resident visas would be issued to foreigners who invest a minimum of US$300,000, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe had earlier made a comment that such a move only opens the door for beggars to enter the country. He also alleged that Finance Minister Karunanayake had no business issuing such a statement without consulting the Cabinet.

Basil admitted to Colombo National Hospital

Former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who was arrested and remanded yesterday on charges of misappropriation of state funds, has been admitted to the Colombo National Hospital. As per the recommendation of the prison medical officer, he was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital for a medical checkup, prison spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said.  Rajapaksa was arrested by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) and remanded till August 01 after being produced before court.  He is charged with misappropriation of funds belonging to the Divi Neguma Department while he was the Minister of Economic Development.

The fares of Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses will also be increased by 6 per cent with effect from August 01, Deputy Minister of Transport Ashoka Abeysinghe said.

The minimum fare of the state-owned bus operator in Sri Lanka will be Rs 9 from that date, he said.

Addressing an event in Kundasale, he stated that the fares would be increased due to the rising costs at the SLTB.

The deputy minister further said that the government has absolutely no plans to privatise the Sri Lanka Transport Board.

Last Thursday, the Cabinet approved the proposed 6% bus fare increase with effect from August 01.

The decision was made after a report with respect to the proposed bus fare revision based on the annual bus fare amendment was submitted to the Cabinet.

Bandula said this is Most widespread opposition to taxes in Sri Lanka’s history

The most widespread opposition to taxes in Sri Lanka’s history, by consumers and businessmen on the same stance, was witnessed in the past couple of weeks, former minister Bandula Gunawardena said.

He stated that previously shops were closed down in Pettah, Sri Lanka’s main and longstanding trading hub for wholesalers and retailers, only during the riots of July 1983.

“This is the first time in history that Pettah was closed due to VAT since the riots of July 1983,” he told reporters in Colombo today (19).

The UPFA MP said that certain prominent figures in the government had claimed the opposition was created by traders who are avoiding taxes and

He stated that businessmen don’t easily join protests, unless they are burdened to the extent that they cannot bear it and no matter what political party tells them to do or not to.

The Government is eyeing to increase the prices of fuel instead of tax increase, National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa said. The observation was made at a press conference held in Colombo this afternoon (18). “While amending the bill on VAT, there is a move to increase the prices of petrol and diesel by Rs.10 each, according to sources” Weerawansa charged. He also accused the present Government of supporting Tamil extremism. “But, the previous Government backed the Tamil community, not extremism,” said Weerawansa. The NFF leader also went on to say that there will be a job crisis in Sri Lanka if the proposed economic pact is signed with India as scheduled next month.