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President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa chaired the 5th Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit in Colombo on 30 March, 2022 in virtual mode.

The Summit was attended virtually by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bhutan Dr. Lotay Tshering, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba and the Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-o-cha (Rtd.). The Foreign Minister of Myanmar Wunna Maung Lwin representing the government of Myanmar also joined the Summit virtually.

Opening the Summit, the President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that since it’s founding in 1997, BIMSTEC has grown into an important platform for countries in this region to support each other by sharing their experiences, strengths and expertise. He stated that this is especially important given that the region’s geo-strategic importance, economic strength and the size of its populace, which accounts for over one fifth of the world’s population. He further stated that enhanced cooperation between member states will be necessary not only for economic recovery, but also for greater economic prosperity, better public health, and improved regional resilience in the long term. Alluding to the theme of the Summit, 'BIMSTEC: Towards a Resilient Region, Prosperous Economies, Healthy Peoples,' the President stated that these aspirations are well reflected in the theme chosen for this Summit and that through collective actions of the leaders of the region, BIMSTEC will gear towards meaningful intra-regional cooperation.

The Summit, taking a significant step towards consolidating the grouping, adopted the BIMSTEC Charter today in Colombo. On this occasion, President Rajapaksa observed that the signing of the BIMSTEC Charter would be a significant step towards increasing the organisation’s role, not just within the region, but also as a driving force from Asia in global affairs.

The President of Sri Lanka highlighted the importance of trade and investments within the BIMSTEC region given its strategic location at the center of the Indian Ocean and also highlighted that the resources in the Bay of Bengal should be preserved and managed equally. He called for collectively establishing mechanisms to prevent unregulated, unreported and illegal fishing practices as well as overfishing, which threatens livelihoods in coastal communities.

All the seven leaders at the Summit emphasized the need to accelerate BIMSTEC’s agenda on trade and investment and the need to ensure that private sector and start-ups of the BIMSTEC countries work closer. Adopting the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity, the leaders reiterated the implementation of projects on maritime, transport cooperation and road connectivity.

The leaders also witnessed the signing ceremony of three legal instruments during the BIMSTEC Summit. Representing Sri Lanka, Minister of Justice Ali Sabry signed the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matter, while the Memorandum of Understanding on Mutual Cooperation between Diplomatic Academies/Training Institutions of BIMSTEC Member States was signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris.

 

Minister of Communications and Informatics Johnny G. Plate and Sri Lankan Minister of Mass Media and Information Dullas Alahapperuma discussed efforts to tackle the infodemic and cooperation opportunities in the media sector. "The meeting with the Sri Lankan Minister of Mass Media and Information has discussed the government's effort in tacking misinformation and disinformation," Minister noted on Tuesday.

The 5th BIMSTEC summit starts today in Colombo. The Senior Officials and the Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Thailand will arrive in Sri Lanka for the BIMSTEC Senior Officials’ Meeting and Ministerial Meeting scheduled to be held on the 28 and 29 March, 2022 respectively while the Foreign Minister of Myanmar will participate virtually.

The President of Sri Lanka will chair the 5th BIMSTEC Summit on 30 March, 2022 with the virtual participation of leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Thailand. Myanmar will be represented by the Foreign Minister of Myanmar at the Summit.

During the Summit and preceding meetings, the delegates will discuss the progress of the BIMSTEC as a regional group. The Summit is also expected to adopt the BIMSTEC charter and sign several legal agreements.

Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana (CIAR) commenced International Regional Flight Operations after five decades. Parallel to the commencement of flight operations, the New Taxiway and Overlaid Apron was opened at the CIAR to facilitate smooth flight operations.

Island Aviation Services Limited, wholly-owned by the Government of the Maldives and the Maldivian National Airlines commenced international regional flight operations between its main hub at Velana International Airport (VIA)and CIAR.

The inaugural flight from VIA to CIAR, DHB 300, 50-seater aircraft touched ground at 9.00 a.m. today (27) and was welcomed by a celebratory water cannon salute upon arrival followed by an inaugural ceremony to welcome dignitaries and guests.

Minister of Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa, State Minister of Regional Co-operation Tharaka Balasuriya, Ambassador of the Republic of Maldives to Sri Lanka Omar Abdul Razzak, State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development, D.V. Chanaka, Major General (Rtd.) G.A. Chandrasiri, Chairman AASL, Board of Directors and senior officials of Airport Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) (Private) Limited, and officials of Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) were present on there.

CAASL implemented an aggressive strategy to utilise its resources effectively to contribute to the development of the aviation industry in Sri Lanka. As a result of pursuing the opportunities, AASL was able to re-commence regional flight operations to the Maldives, connecting Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana after a period of 50 years. Initially, the airline will operate scheduled flights, (Dash-8 aircraft with 50 seats) between Sri Lanka and the Maldives (Colombo) three times a week and the frequency will be increased to five from May 2022.

The Schedule flights are Q2 944 MLE 0600 RML 0840 on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Q2 945 RML 0940 MLE 1120 also on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

CIAR was the first international airport in Sri Lanka, established in 1935. CIAR is managed and operated by Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) (Private) Limited (AASL).

 

Celebration of World Water Day was held under the patronage of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees, on the 22nd of March.

This year’s theme of World Water Day is “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible”. It highlights the importance of groundwater in the adaptation for water and sanitation systems, agriculture, industries, ecosystems and climate change.

The President declared open the Kalutara, Agalawatta and Matugama water supply schemes via video technology, providing a solution to the mixing of saltwater into freshwater sources in the Kalutara District.

State Minister Sanath Nishantha presented the scroll to the President on the successful completion of projects by the Department of National Community Water Supply to provide safe drinking water to 1,000 villages.

The Prime Minister launched an insurance scheme for the members of community-based organizations functioning under the Department of National Community Water Supply and presented prizes and certificates to the winners of the competition held among school children by the National Water Supply and Drainage Board.

The National Policy Framework ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ pledged to provide safe drinking water to all. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that the objective of the government is to provide clean drinking water to all the people of the country by 2025.

Sri Lanka’s largest seawater recycling project has commenced in the Jaffna Peninsula. Although it is expensive, the project should be done to fulfill the water requirements of people in the North, the Prime Minister further said.

President Rajapaksa launched the Digital Technology Programme, becoming the first utility establishment in South Asia to provide customer service via social media platforms.

The highlights of this year’s Water Day celebration were the felicitation of eight International Sponsoring Organizations for their contribution in implementing Water Projects and the presentation of the ‘Presidential Awards’ for the Best Manager,  Best Office in Charge of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, and for the Best Community Water Organization.

State Ministers, Ambassadors, representatives and advisors of Local and Foreign Contracting Companies, Secretaries to Ministries and Government Officials were also present on the occasion.

 
 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa says that everyone should work together to find a solution to the current economic crisis. The President also pointed out the need to bring the economy to a stable position by embarking on short-term and long-term strategies.

The President made these remarks commencing the All-Party Conference at the President’s House in Colombo, yesterday (23).

Party leaders and the representatives representing the United National Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, People’s United Front, Tamil National Alliance, National Congress, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, United People’s Front, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Sri Lanka People’s Party, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, the All Ceylon People’s Congress, the National Muslim Alliance, the People’s Liberation Organisation and the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi participated in the Conference.

Lanka Sama Samaja Party Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Athuraliye Rathana Thera representing  11 partner political parties attended the Conference.

The conference was convened in expectation of proposals and ideas to resolve the economic crisis faced by the country. Party leaders and representatives presented their proposals in writing and orally. The party leaders and representatives also stated that they will give their maximum contribution and commitment on behalf of the country and the people at the All-Party Conference in the future.

Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal briefed about the current economic situation at the conference.

The All-Party Conference is a genuine effort. The President said that there is no political motive or narrow objective behind this. The President thanked all the participating parties for accepting the invitation of the Government and for recognising the event as a national need. The President also requested the parties that did not participate, to express their stance at the All-Party Conference. The President said that a committee could be set up to review all the ideas and proposals submitted and formulate a methodology to implement the effective proposals.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Cabinet and State Ministers, Government MPs, Secretary to the President Gamini Senarath, Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Secretary to the Prime Minister Anura Dissanayake were also present.

 
 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa made an inspection visit to the Kankesanthurai Cement Factory belonging to the Sri Lanka Cement Corporation which was closed due to the war. The Kankesanthurai Cement Factory which was established in 1950 was closed down in 1990 due to the LTTE terrorist war. Although the factory owns an area of 728 acres, most of the area is now inhabited. According to a Cabinet decision taken in February last year it was decided to demolish other buildings leaving only the usable buildings of the Kankesanthurai Cement Factory for future development activities. It has been revealed that about 80% of the relevant buildings can be renovated and used. The Government aims to rebuild the Kankesanthurai Cement Factory using those resources as well. Member of Parliament Angajan Ramanathan and Sri Lanka Cement Corporation Chairman Gamini Ekanayake were also present during the Prime Minister’s visit.

Most Venerable Maha Sangha, Priests of other Religions, Mothers, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Dear Children and Friends.

I address you today at a challenging time.

I am well aware of the shortages of essential items and increase in prices. I am also aware of issues such as gas shortage, fuel shortage and power cuts. I am also very sensitive to the many sufferings the people have to experience over the past two months. I know that this situation will continue for reasons beyond our control though we make maximum possible efforts with regard to these situations.

I accept responsibility for the actions I take. Today, I am determined to make tough decisions to find solutions to the inconveniences that the people are experiencing. I have appointed a National Economic Council and an Advisory Committee to assist it. I will constantly monitor whether the decisions I make through this are implemented. Therefore, first of all I request you to have faith in the actions I will take on behalf of the people.

I am well aware of the difficulties faced by the people. I was able to better understand and manage all the difficulties faced by the soldiers who were at the forefront of the war against the brutal terrorism and the innocent civilians who were affected by the war.

Our country is not the only country in the world affected by the prevailing crisis situation. The entire world is engulfed with various hardships. Increasing shipping costs, rising commodity prices and shortages of certain goods caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are all beyond our control. However, we have adopted concessionary initiatives for the benefit of the people.

This crisis was not created by me. When those who contributed to the creation of this crisis are criticizing the government in front of the people today, I am attempting to immediately resolve this crisis and provide relief to the people.

In a crisis situation like this, it is the responsibility of the politicians and intellectuals of a country to collectively find solutions to the issues.

The root cause of current issues is our foreign exchange crisis.

The projected export earnings for this year is USD 12 billion, before the rupee was floated. According to the data of the last two months, we have to bear USD 22 billion as the import cost this year. Accordingly, this will result in a trade deficit of USD 10 billion.

Based on recent data, this year we will receive about USD 3 billion from tourism, as well as export services such as information technology, and USD 2 billion from remittances from expatriate workers. Accordingly, the trade deficit will be USD 5 billion.

Meanwhile, USD 6.9 billion will have to be paid in loan installments and sovereign bonds this year. Then there will be a deficit of USD 11.9 billion.

We expect to generate USD 2.5 billion from other grants and investments. Accordingly, there is a total deficit of USD 9.4 billion in foreign exchange.

However, once the rupee is floated, export earnings are expected to reach USD 13 billion. This will also reduce the cost of imports from USD 22 billion to USD 20 billion. If that happens, the trade deficit could be reduced to USD 7 billion. We should aim for this target.

We can also expect USD 4 billion by providing export services and USD 5 billion in remittances from expatriate workers. Accordingly, our trade deficit will be USD 2.4 billion.

We must take action to fill this deficit and increase our foreign exchange reserves.

To this end, we have initiated discussions with international financial institutions as well as with our friendly countries regarding repayment of our loan installments. The government is in discussions with various parties to implement a new method regarding this which will be beneficial to our country. Yesterday’s discussion with the International Monetary Fund was also held for this purpose.

Through those discussions, we hope to find a way to pay off our annual loan installments, sovereign bonds, and so on. Subsequent to my discussions with the International Monetary Fund, I have decided to work with them after examining the advantages and disadvantages.

Due to some decisions I have taken in the recent past, we were able to control the import expenditure to a great extent. We suspended importing vehicles two years ago because we saw this issue in advance. In addition, we encouraged local industries. We also stopped the importation of many non-essential food items and took steps to cultivate those crops in our own country. Now we can witness the successful results of those initiatives.

The most serious issue we face in controlling the cost of imports is the rapidly rising fuel prices in the world market. Generally, more than 20 percent of our import expenditure is spent on purchasing fuel. In the last few months alone, fuel prices in the world market have more than doubled. This is the reason why the increase in fuel prices in our country was inevitable. Fuel is widely used in our country not only for vehicles but also to generate electricity.

This is why, I constantly took steps to discuss and encourage relevant agencies to use renewable energy sources as much as possible.

Therefore, by limiting the use of fuel and electricity as much as possible, the citizens too can extend their support to the country at this time. I hope that you will understand the responsibility lies with you at this challenging time.

The tourism industry, which was collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is revving. The last two months have seen a clear increase in tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka.

Also, due to the acceleration of the government’s provision of infrastructure facilities in the IT and telecommunications sectors, the revenue generated through these sectors is increasing.

We are a nation that has experienced many adversities and at the same time conquered those challenges throughout the history. We have faced foreign invasions, great famines, natural disasters and threats of terrorism. The way we dealt with the Covid-19 situation has been praised even by international organizations. However, we all need to understand that we have to face difficulties when implementing solutions for the issues for a certain period of time.  Therefore, I urge all of you not to be discouraged but to unite as a nation to overcome this crisis.

You requested me to build a secure, disciplined, and a modern developed country, as well as a better education for your children. Almost two and a half years of my tenure were devoted to protect you and your child from the pandemic. I will dedicate remaining period of my tenure to accomplish those original goals.

I urge the Cabinet, the Parliament and public officials to work together as a team to achieve our desired goal of providing a better country for our children with a great commitment.

I entered into politics on your invitation. All of you have placed an utmost trust in me. I will never betray the trust you have placed in me and protect it with a great commitment.

May the Noble Triple Gem bless you all!

Mass Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma blamed wrong political approaches and media practices, as Sri Lankans were not fluent in languages spoken by fellow communities in the country. As a result, people viewed other communities with suspicion.

Minister Alahapperuma made these observations while addressing the 25th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) held at Al-Hidaya Muslim Maha Vidyalaya auditorium on Saturday (12). 

Alahapperuma recalled that when Sri Lanka gained Independence on 4 February 1948, then Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake announced that Sinhala and Tamil would be used as the official languages of this country. “We can learn lessons from the dark periods this country faced. The youth of this country must be taught of love, tolerance, mutual understanding and brotherhood to protect our country. The Media has a power similar to that of fire. If it is used properly, tremendous benefits could be the outcome. If it is misused it could cause a catastrophe and blow matters out of proportion. The ‘Fire’ of the media must be used for the benefit of our country and the identity of Sri Lanka. Due to wrong media practises, a situation has arisen in the country where people view fellow communities with suspicion. It must be agreed that due to this, they have been subject to great mental anguish. This situation must be changed,”Alahapperuma said.

All government and government-approved private schools will reopen for the new school term today. Schools were closed for a period of one month to facilitate the conduct of the GCE Advanced Level Examination. A new circular signed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Education was issued recently detailing the manner in which the new school term should be conducted. According to the circular, if the number of students in a class is 20 or less, such classes are permitted to function every day.

However, the circular states that if there are 21 to 49 students in a class, such classes should be divided into two groups and classes should be held every other week. If there are more than 40 students, the students should be divided into three groups.

The Lanwa Sanstha Cement Corporation (Private) Ltd, a state-of-the-art cement manufacturing facility that is expected to be one of the region’s largest, will be declared open. The opening ceremony will be presided by the Head of state Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The factory, which spans 63 acres, is located in Hambantota’s Mirijjawila Export Processing Zone. A BOI venture, the total capacity of Lanwa Sanstha Cement Corporation (Pvt) Ltd would be 4million Metric Tons with Phase 1 producing 2.8 million Metric Tons per annum. One of the facility’s strengths is the emphasis on cutting-edge technology, with all mixing being done with European machinery for minimal wastage.

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