Monday, July 05, 2010

Sri Lanka: EU withdraws GSP+

Europa | Press Releases Rapid

Sri Lanka will temporarily lose its preferential access to the EU market starting from August 15th 2010. The decision to withdraw the preferential tariff system GSP+ from the country had been taken by the Council of Ministers in February 2010. Based on dialogue with the Sri Lankan authorities on shortcomings in its implementation of three UN human rights conventions, the EU in June offered to delay the entry into force of the Council decision by a further six months. In exchange, it asked for tangible and sustainable progress on a number of outstanding issues. In the absence of a reply from the authorities in Colombo by 1 July, the Commission is not in a position to table a proposal with a view to delaying the Council Decision.

"We very much regret the choice of Sri Lanka not to take up an offer made in good faith and in line with the EU commitment to a global human rights agenda. We will however keep the door open for Sri Lanka to return to talks," said HR/VP Catherine Ashton. "Our precedent-setting offer sought to recognise some tangible progress yielded during these last months of dialogue," added Commissioner Karel De Gucht. "We hope that these results, however partial, will be sustained, in line with the incentivising characteristics of GSP+."

On 15 February 2010, EU Member States decided to temporarily withdraw preferential tariff benefits that Sri Lanka receives under a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance, known as GSP+. This decision followed an exhaustive 12-month investigation concluded in October 2009 by which the European Commission identified significant shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka's implementation of three UN human rights conventions relevant for benefits under the scheme. Since February, the European Commission has been able to engage in a dialogue with the Sri Lankan authorities with a view to agree a set of measures that would result in rapid, demonstrable and sustainable progress in relation to the issues addressed in the investigation.

In June 2010, the European Commission took stock of results obtained during the dialogue. In a letter addressed to Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, Professor Gamini Lakshman Peiris, EU High-Representative/Vice-President for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and EU Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, offered to propose to the Council of the European Union to maintain GSP+ preferences for an additional six months. This offer was conditional on the receipt of assurances from the Sri Lankan government as to the sustainability of results obtained since February 2010 and a firm commitment that fifteen principal outstanding issues would be addressed during the proposed extension. A longer-term dialogue covering the full range of human rights issues would be undertaken in parallel by the European Commission and Sri Lanka.

In order to properly prepare for the next steps in EU decision-making, the Government of Sri Lanka was invited to respond in writing by 1 July. As of today, and despite best efforts to secure a different outcome, no official reply has been received from the authorities in Colombo.


"GSP+" is common shorthand for the "special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance" which is one of three non-reciprocal, preferential import regimes for developing countries under the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). Under GSP+ the EU provides additional preferences to economically vulnerable developing countries which have ratified and effectively implemented 27 international conventions in the fields of human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance and which voluntarily apply for GSP+ benefits and accept the associated conditions. Sri Lanka is a current beneficiary of GSP+, along with 15 other Developing Countries. Like all other GSP+ beneficiaries, Sri Lanka committed to maintain its ratification and effective implementation of the 27 conventions when it applied for the scheme.

The decision to withdraw GSP+ from Sri Lanka is based on the findings of an exhaustive European Commission investigation launched in October 2008 and completed in October 2009. This investigation relied heavily on reports and statements by UN Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, other UN bodies and reputable human rights NGOs and identified significant shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka's implementation of three UN human rights conventions – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

If GSP+ countries no longer respect the criteria for the scheme, the Commission must undertake an investigation to assess the situation and take appropriate action. Having completed the investigation on Sri Lanka, the European Commission proposed a temporary withdrawal of the country's benefits under GSP+. EU Member States in the Council agreed to put this measure in place on 15 February with a date of entry into force of 15 August.

Sri Lanka is a major beneficiary of the trading opportunities offered by GSP+. In 2008, EU imports from Sri Lanka under GSP+ totalled EUR 1.24 billion. The most important import products benefiting from these trade preferences were t-shirts and other clothing items, as well as fisheries products. After temporary withdrawal takes effect, EU imports from Sri Lanka will instead be subject to standard GSP preferential treatment, under which Sri Lanka would still enjoy preferential access to the EU market for its key export items such as clothing that is at least as generous as it presently enjoys in other major developed country markets.

© Europa

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Monday, July 05, 2010

Mystery killings in Colombo unsolved

By Charles Haviland | BBC Sinhala

In a horrific turn of events in Sri Lanka's biggest city, Colombo, between seven and ten hawkers, homeless people or beggars have been murdered in the space of a few weeks.

The murder methods have been particularly violent, the victims crushed with rocks or beaten with poles as they slept.

Unsolved mystery

The police have not solved the mystery series of killings.

Manoj, a seller of lottery tickets became the latest person working or living in the streets to be murdered.

"He didn't have enemies", his mother cries.

Like several of the victims Manoj was killed especially brutally with a rock which now lies in two pieces by the bloodied corpse.

At least seven poor people have now been killed within a few weeks all over Colombo.

One of the first of this gruesome series of murders happened here in the mean streets of Kotahena, a poor part of the inner city.

The victim, a homeless labourer, came to this spot and was crushed to death while sleeping. Another of the killings also took place just close by.

In Kotahena there is a community of beggars, homeless people and others who ask for money on the streets.

Some are badly disabled - as were some of the murder victims. I get the sense that they care for each other. They already lead an insecure existence, afraid of being moved away by the police, who say begging is illegal.

Mounting fear

The killings create mounting fear, says a disabled beggar, A.D. Gamini.

"Some of us live in fear. Those who don't have houses are scared because they usually sleep on the pavement. I am going home soon now to avoid it.", he said.

The police spokesman told the BBC that to try to catch the criminals some of his staff are now sleeping in streets pretending to be beggars.

He believes they have already arrested the killer of one victim. But the murders have continued and some believe there is a serial killer.

Lakshan Dias, a lawyer, says the criminals appear to be well organised, possibly linked to paramilitaries or organised gangs.

"This kind of brutality cannot come from an ordinary citizen. This kind of brutality cannot come from a fellow beggar. This kind of brutality cannot come from someone who wants to rob. So it's beyond their capacity. This is some kind of people who have capacity who are doing these things. ", he said.

The police have a macabre mystery to deal with. And street-dwelling people have a new reason to live in fear.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, July 05, 2010

China holds sway at Hambantota

By Halik Azeez | The Sunday Leader

Involved in constructing and part financing the projects to the tune of Rs 60 billion, China is literally calling the shots in Hambantota. The multi billion rupee projects include a port, airport, cricket stadium and convention centre. Costs for the four big projects total almost up to more than USD 500 million or Rs 60 billion. Construction is largely carried out by Chinese corporations which employ a Chinese workforce.

Most of the funding for the projects is being generated from China; mainly from the China Export-Import Bank. The loans are offered at concessionary rates with short grace periods. But these, together with borrowings made for other development projects, still add up to huge amounts of potential debt for the Sri Lankan government which will have to be paid back. How the current government of Sri Lanka is going to do this is anyone’s guess.

The Sri Lankan people get little or no benefit from the large amount of monies spent on the projects. The money lent from China is going back into the pockets of Chinese construction firms and workers, completely bypassing Sri Lankans and minimizing any trickle down and/or multiple effects which could have stimulated the local economy.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority signed a contract with a Chinese firm, China Harbour Engineering Company, to start the second phase of a new port in Hambantota on the South Coast.

Phase two would start in November this year with the completion of the first phase of the port project.

This agreement was signed by SLPA Chairman B. Wickrama and the Chairman of the China Harbour Engineering Company Sun Ziyu.

China will continue to provide finances for the second phase of the port project. Phase two of the project will include further excavation of the site for the harbour basin and dredging of the approach channel as well as building berths for ships.

Reaping Benefits

Whether the use of the port in Hambantota will be monopolized by China or if it will completely belong to Sri Lanka is as yet unclear. Officials have stated that the port will be turned over to the Ports Authority who will then repay the debt to the government.

It is also unclear yet whether the other projects, once completed, will remain in state control or not. Public-private partnerships are a mechanism to ensure that state institutions run with efficiency but given the recent track record of the government, which looks to be on a reverse privatization spree, such partnerships don’t look likely. Meanwhile, the inefficiency in the Ports Authority and Mihin Air does not bode well for the new institutions at Hambantota. The Sunday Leader was unable to reach Minister Basil Rajapaksa for comment on this issue.

A Political Partnership

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Colombo, Dr. Srimal Abeyratne said, “Partnering with China is seen as more of a political move rather than an economic one. It is in step with the current government’s tendency to partner with non-traditional countries”.
The Professor went on to state that any potential benefit from the projects will heavily depend on the state of the overall economy and business environment.

“Infrastructure such as ports and airports are heavily dependent on robust economies. Successful implementation of the government’s five hubs concept and steps to create the connectivity, compliance and business friendly environment of an open economy will be necessary to ensure profits from these initiatives.” Not a lot of information has been released to the public on costs and completion dates.
At the inception of looking for potential construction partners, Sri Lanka apparently looked to other nations like the US, but China seems to have offered the best terms and hence seem to have been accepted. “We have no favorites,” said Jaliya Wickramasuriya speaking to the New York Times on the subject. China has recently emerged to become a global construction powerhouse capable of offering major cost advantages as compared to competition.

String of Pearls

International controversy surrounds the Chinese entrance, worrying India; Sri Lanka’s powerful neighbour. China has been engaged in similar activities throughout the region; setting up powerful naval bases in areas of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has also begun constructing railroads in Nepal, a country which previously had no railway system at all. This strategy, the Indian government somewhat sarcastically calls the ‘string of pearls’; to indicate an emerging Chinese stranglehold. Though China insists that this is merely to strengthen regional markets for its products and secure its supply chain, India fears that China is beginning to pose not only an economic but also a security threat.

The two nations do not exactly have a rosy past. The countries fought a war in 1962 over the Himalayan border and to India’s annoyance, Pakistan, with whom India has fought four wars, maintains close military ties with China. Sri Lanka could become the latest battleground between these two giants with both of them eager to be exacting the most influence. India has invested heavily in Sri Lankan projects and has just committed a 200 million credit line for a power project in Trinco, as well as agreeing to construct a railway line between Talaimanar and Madhu in the North.

© The Sunday Leader

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Monday, July 05, 2010

Sri Lankan Army obliterates Tiger Heroes' Cemeteries, erects military bases

Tamil Net

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) which has been systematically razing to the ground without any traces the Thamizh Eezham Heroes War Cemeteries (Thamizh Eezha Maaveerar Thuyilum Illam) in several places of North and East, has in recent weeks obliterated the Thuyilum Illam at Kodikaaman in Thenmaraadchi, Jaffna, and is erecting a big SLA base in its place. Ellangku’lam Heroes Cemetery in Udupiddi in Vadamaraadchi had been already destroyed without any trace and the premises converted into an SLA base. The obliterated Thuyilum Illam is now enclosed by barbed wire fence and hidden by coconut cadjans where a large number of SLA soldiers are hurriedly constructing a base. Tamil circles view the systematic destruction of Tamil war heroes' cemeteries and the symbols of the Tamil struggle in north and East as part of a large-scale genocide programme on Tamils by the Sri Lankan state.

All the Heroes Cemeteries maintained by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Vanni had been completely razed to the ground and all the graves, memorial plaques and the dais where the Common Flame is lit on Heroes Day have been totally destroyed.

The SLA is very particular in erecting its bases on the grounds where Tamil Hereos cemeteries had stood so that nothing remains to remind the fighters who had sacrificed their lives for the cause.

LTTE war heroes' memorials in Jaffna peninsula at Koappaay were bulldozed by the Sri Lanka Army in 1995. The other cemeteries destroyed in Jaffna were: Chaaddi in Veala'nai (1995), Kodikaamam in Thenmaraadchi (1996) and Ellangku'lam in Vadamaraadchi (1996). These war cemeteries were re-built following the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement.

The war heroes cemeteries located at Kagnchikudichcha'ru in Ampaa'rai district, Thaa'ndiyadi, Tharavai, Ka'ndaladi and Maavadi Munmaari in Batticaloa district and Aalangku'lam, Iththikku'lam, Verukal, Uppaa'ru and Paalampoaddaa'ru Trincomalee district were destroyed after the SLA occupied LTTE held areas in the East in 2006 and 2007.

In Vanni, there were at least ten War Heroes Cemeteries. The cemeteries were located in Aa'ndaangku’lam, Aadkaaddive'li and Pa’ndivirichchaan in Mannaar, Kanakapuram and Muzhangkaavil in Ki’linochchi district, Uduththu’rai in Vadamaraadchi East of Jaffna district, Eachchangku’lam in Vavuniyaa and four at Vanni-vizhaangku’lam, Visuvamadu, A’lampil, and Mu’l’liyava’lai of Mullaiththeevu district.

During the last battles of Eezham War IV, when genocidal attacks were launched from all fronts by the Sri Lankan military, the Tiger fighters killed in the war were buried at Ira’naippaalai and at Iraddaivaaykkaal in Mullaiththeevu.

The Sri Lanka Army bulldozed the Heroes Cemetery at Visuvamadu between March and April 2009. The SLA captured Tamil civilians of Vanni, who were made to pass through Visuvamadu on 21st of April 2009, before reaching internment camps in Vavuniyaa, had witnessed the complete destruction of the largest Maaveerar Thuyilum illam in Visuvamadu, where more than 4,000 war dead Tamil fighters had been buried by the Tigers.

© Tamil Net

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Monday, July 05, 2010

National sovereignty or Rajapaksa sovereignty?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara | The Sunday Leader

“…tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.” — Voltaire (Philosophical Dictionary)

There is hysteria in the air. The regime and its allies are flailing at the UN and the EU, to the tune of wild drumbeats of national sovereignty and shrill accusations of unwarranted and unjust interference. That a cabinet minister exhorted the masses to take the UN staff in Colombo hostage until the UN advisory panel is disbanded is a measure of the dominant madness.

Amidst this verbal melee, the IMF announced its decision to release the third tranche of its Lankan loan, a reward for the post-election willingness of the Rajapaksas to implement the attached conditionalities. If national sovereignty is not violated by IMF conditionalities, why is national sovereignty violated by EU conditionalities?

The IMF conditionalities have a disastrous impact on the living conditions of the people but they have no impact on the Rajapaksa Dynastic Project. The EU conditionalities do not have a disastrous impact on the living conditions of the people but they would impact on the Rajapaksa Dynastic Project. That is why the regime forgets national sovereignty with the IMF and remembers national sovereignty with the EU. That is why the regime embraced the IMF conditionalities as its own, while rejecting the EU conditionalities as alien interference.

The government’s assertion that the IMF loan came without conditionalities is an infantile propaganda gimmick, like its ‘zero-casualty’ myth. The IMF website has a separate page defining and explaining MF conditionalities. The conditionalities for the Lankan loan include reducing the budget deficit, overhauling the tax system and ensuring that the Electricity Board and the Petroleum Corporation become ‘breakeven’, as the Letter of Intent and the Memoranda indicate. And as proof of its capacity to abide by these conditionalities, the government cites past tough measures, such as increasing the ‘Nation Building Tax’, oil prices and electricity rates.

The third tranche of the IMF loan was suspended in February because of the Rajapaksas’ election oriented spending orgy. But once the election season ended, the government could and did revert to the obedience mode. As the IMF statement of May 21 put it, the government pledged to “correct the slippages and move toward sustainable deficit reduction”. Indirect taxes were increased and subsidy cuts effected pushing up the prices of many essential commodities. The IMF was appeased and the third tranche was released, even as the regime was putting Sri Lanka on a collision course with the UN and the EU in the name of national sovereignty.

Government of, by and for the Rajapaksas

The different responses to IMF and EU conditionalities are proof positive that what is really at stake is not national sovereignty but Rajapaksa sovereignty. The IMF operates within the Washington Consensus and has no concerns about democracy or human rights. The IMF demands deficit reduction, but does not object if developmental expenditure is reduced while defence expenditure remains intact. The IMF demands deflationary measures, but cares not if they further depress the purchasing power of the poor and the middle classes.

The IMF therefore has no issues with the Rajapaksa policy of maintaining defence expenditure at astronomical levels at the expense of social and developmental expenditure; nor does it object to obese cabinets, tax breaks for luxury vehicles or wasteful extravaganzas such as the IIFA, so long as there are tax hikes on essential commodities, subsidy cuts and wage freezes in lieu. The choice of guns over butter and of the super rich and the super powerful over the rest would have serious consequences for the development prospects of a country and living conditions of its people; but this is not the IMF’s concern.

Little wonder that the Rajapaksas embraced IMF conditionalities, the way innumerable anti-democratic regimes did in the past. After all, the IMF never interferes with a regime’s sovereign right to violate the democratic and human rights of its people; on the contrary, the IMF knows that the successful implementation of some of its conditionalities may require such aberrations.

The EU conditionalities are of a different order. Promoting good governance and sustainable development are the declared purpose of the GSP+ criteria. The GSP+ is therefore a politically motivated programme. Just as the IMF demands a structural adjustment regimen to qualify for its loans, the EU demands adherence to 27 international covenants dealing with human rights, workers rights and environmental protection. And unlike IMF conditionalities, many of the EU requirements interfere with the Rajapaksa project of concentrating all power in the hands of the President, and through him, the Ruling Family. That is why the regime, though remarkably flexible towards IMF demands, have rejected in toto, the EU demands.

National sovereignty does not give a government the right to act with impunity, in total violation of a country’s democratic system, its constitution, its national law and its international obligations. Many of the EU conditionalities are aimed at compelling the government to act democratically, constitutionally and lawfully. What most EU conditionalities erode is not the ‘authority of the government of Sri Lanka’ as the External Affairs Ministry claims but the Rajapaksas’ right to impunity.

This is why the Rajapaksas are reacting with ferocious negativity towards such unexceptionable demands as the full implementation of the 17th Amendment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the repeal of the Emergency and some provisions of the PTA, the publication of the full report of the 2008 Commission of Inquiry and the ensuring of journalistic freedom. The GSP+ issue is therefore not a heroic battle by a beleaguered government to safeguard the national sovereignty but an attempt by a megalomaniac family to safeguard its right to absolute rule without checks and balances.

The President told The Times of India that the loss of the GSP facility is ‘not a problem’ because Sri Lanka can find alternate markets. Sri Lanka became a major garment exporter thanks to the Multi-fibre Agreement which gave us access to European and US markets via a quota system. The MFA ended in 2004; but due to the GSP+ facility our access to the EU markets expanded and the garment sector regained its vitality. If we lose the GSP+ our garments will be taxed (currently we enjoy zero taxation) and the resultant higher prices will cause us to lose most of our EU markets.

Given the intensity of the global economic crisis, our chances of finding alternate markets are miniscule; China or India cannot fill the vacuum because both are garment exporters and thus competitors. Consequently, many garment factories may have to curtail their operations or close down altogether. Losing GSP facility will have a catastrophic impact not on the Rajapaksas, but on the families of garment factory workers and on small scale entrepreneurs who have indebted themselves to start micro export enterprises aimed at European markets.

Unemployment and poverty will increase while many a woman may be compelled to seek employment abroad — not a happy fate given that a Lankan migrant worker dies or is killed everyday, and more than 60% of the victims are women.
Sri Lanka is rapidly becoming a government by the Rajapaksas, of the Rajapaksas and for the Rajapaksas. The nature of the constitutional reforms clearly indicates that their main purpose is neither national security nor popular wellbeing, but the perpetuation of Rajapaksa rule. According to media reports, Basil Rajapaksa is negotiating to purchase the former British High Commission building for his Ministry of Economic Development. The next G15 summit will be held in Colombo because Latin Americans do not want to spend billions on hosting an event of dubious political import and Rajapaksas have no such compunctions.

First Son, Namal Rajapaksa’s Tharunyata Hetak began a project to construct a swimming pool in Jaffna Central College, with much fanfare. This project is now abandoned and instead of the promised swimming pool, the students have been left with a mosquito breeding hole of enormous proportions. This failure may well be a forewarning of what is in store for the country and the people, if the Rajapaksa Dynastic Project is a success.

A Land Polarised

Post-war Sri Lanka is a virulently polarised land with no space for the moderate centre. Though the war is over, war mentality dominates Lankan rulers and the search for enemies continues apace. The Navy is to be expanded, though the Sea Tigers are no more. According to the Army Commander, not only will the army be
entrenched in the North and the East permanently; “Army personnel arriving in those areas for duty are to be provided permanent houses and allowed to engage in cultivation work” (Daily Mirror – 28.6.2010). This time the North and the East will be colonised not by Sinhala civilians but by Sinhala soldiers. The President boasts that the world need not be concerned with the Tamils because they are our concern and yet, according to media reports, the displaced are given food and financial assistance by the WFP, housing and agricultural assistance by India and other necessities by INGOs such as Caritas. Defence costs is swallowing the peace dividend and the Rajapaksa vision of post-war Sri Lanka, as a theatre of permanent political conflict with omnipresent ‘enemies’, intent on violating our national sovereignty and territorial integrity, will cost the country dear.

Insensitivity and intolerance are hallmarks of the Rajapaksa regime. No Sri Lankan government would have dreamt of celebrating the day the JVP’s brutal insurgency collapsed as a day of ‘national victory’ or of instituting a practice of holding an annual victory parade to mark the occasion. And yet, the first anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE was celebrated with greater fanfare than the day of independence. The triumphalist tone and tenor of the official victory celebration made no allowance for the collective human and material losses of the Tamil people, their present uncertain existence and their fears for the future. Meanwhile the UDA, reborn as an arm of the Defence Ministry, has graduated from hounding pavement hawkers and shanty dwellers to demolishing churches; a 25 year old church in Rajagiriya was branded an unauthorised structure and destroyed on Poson Poya Day.

As President Rajapaksa’s Victory Day speech indicated there is no room in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka for any who do not subscribe to the Rajapaksa worldview (or at least makes a pretence of it). And so long as the ‘any challenge to Rajapaksa rule cannot but be a threat to national security’ fallacy remains dominant, the Rajapaksas will be able to persecute and prosecute any opponent of the family as an enemy of the nation. In this context, a demand by Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front (which in general functions as a mouth-piece of the Rajapaksas) for a constitutional amendment decreeing that any person charged with the crime of separatism be tried by the Supreme Court within a period of 90 days, with the onus of proof on the accused assumes an ominous import.

The proposal seems incredulously preposterous, but we need to remember that under Rajapaksa rule, measures and developments hitherto considered incredulously preposterous, do tend to become transformed into banal realities. One year ago, constitutional amendments removing presidential term limits and enabling the president to appoint members to the independent commissions would have seemed incredulously preposterous. And yet today they are fait accompli, politico-psychologically and will become so legally and constitutionally before the year is out. We are living in a transformative period and during such times, no development, no measure, however abhorrent or aberrant, can be predetermined as impossible.

© The Sunday Leader

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Monday, July 05, 2010

GSP Plus suspension will cost Lanka Rs. 570 billion a year

By Leon Berenger | The Sunday Times

The European Union’s suspension of the GSP Plus preferential tariffs from August 15 this year will lead to a loss of US $ 500 million or Rs 570 billion a year, a top official in the apparel sector said yesterday.

“This will mean a loss of 12 percent of the country’s apparel exports,” Joint Apparels Association Federation (JAAF) President A. Sukumaran told the Sunday Times yesterday.

Speaking on the telephone from New York, he said export earnings from apparel which stood at US$ 3.3 billion (Rs 376 billion) last year would drop to US $ 2.7 billion (Rs 307 billion) or 2.8 billion (Rs 319 billion), this year. Earlier, Government officials had placed the loss of revenue at US $ 150 million or Rs 171 billion.

The news of staggering losses comes as trade unions in the apparel sector voiced concerns of cost cutting by employers in the apparel sector. “The future looks bleak and fears of retrenchment are worrying the workers,” Progressive Union President Palitha Athukorale said.

He said 40,000 workers had been laid off during the past 14 months. “These figures can rise rapidly when the suspension of the GSP Plus scheme takes effect,” he said. Free Trade Zone and General Services Employees Union Secretary Anton Marcus said there were fears over the future of workers. Cost cutting to cope with the losses caused by the GSP Plus suspension would naturally affect some members of the workforce, he said.

Their remarks came as the Government granted clearance for a team of US officials to visit Sri Lanka to discuss the planned review of worker rights. This is to determine whether the United States should continue its own GSP tariff concessions for exports from Sri Lanka. A US embassy official said, “We are working on dates and other issues for the visit.”

The US Embassy in Colombo said in a statement last Wednesday that the US Government had accepted a petition from the American Federation of Labour (AFL) and CIO (Congress of Industrial Organisations) for a review of worker rights in Sri Lanka. This is to ascertain whether Sri Lanka was following the designated criteria to remain eligible for the GSP preferences from the United States.
Union leader Marcus said US officials have been visiting Sri Lanka regularly to consult many stakeholders on worker issues.

© The Sunday Times

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Monday, July 05, 2010

As Sri Lanka party in power threatens UN staff, Ban stays silent

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

The UN said it was an “individual opinion,” when Sri Lanka's Minister for Housing and Construction Wimal Weerawansa last week called for UN staff in Colombo to be taken hostage to forestall any consideration of war crimes.

Inner City Press inquired a second time, and the same UN spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said “we have received some indications that an apology might be in order... I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.”

Now, Weerawansa has said he was and is speaking for a political party that is part of the Rajapaksa coalition, the “National Freedom Front.”

The UN hasn't clarified or amended its obfuscation of the threat against its staff. In fact, a senior UN official tried to call the threat “Gandhian,” a sort of non-violent hostage taking. Talk about the Stockholm syndrome, one wag mused.

In fact, the UN's hopeful or intentionally misleading statement of receiving indications - from whom? - that “an apology might... come through” was shot down the next day, with the UN on vacation:

“When asked by Daily Mirror online if he was under any pressure regarding his comment after it had created a lot of controversy, Weerawansa said there was no such pressure as the position was that of his party. 'We should surround the UN office in Colombo and put pressure on UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon to reverse his decision to appoint a panel on Sri Lanka. I am saying this as the leader of the NFF.'”

Mr. Ban, who was spending a full eight hours in a pro-Kabila parade in Kinshasa when the first threat came in from Colombo, is now headed to Jamaica. Will he address the clarified and sharpened threat to UN staff?

© Inner City Press

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