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Live streaming wildlife; Sri Lanka tourism goes virtual

Adapting to the new normal of the global travel and tourism industry, a strategic initiative will be taken by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) to deploy technology to connect with the travellers both local and international in bringing out the experiences the island nation can offer.
 
First in this initiative is the promotion of ‘wildlife’ through live-streaming. SLTPB will collaborate with the private sector in driving this initiative and to live-stream the national parks of Sri Lanka, showcasing its exotic wildlife and natural habitat.
 
tourism tweet
 
This will enable Sri Lanka Tourism to maintain its top of the mind awareness among the travellers and to place itself as a diversity driven unique experience with an aspirational positioning. 
 
This is also expected to enhance Sri Lanka’s digital footprint and to build on its social media reach. As Sri Lanka Tourism takes a shift in focus from value to experience driven, ‘Wildlife’ streaming will be an important measure to reposition and to reinforce the message.

Live streaming will cover National Parks to include ‘Yala’, ‘Minneriya’ ‘Kaudulla’ and ‘Udawalawa’ and will focus on a wide spectrum to cover leopards, bears, elephants, crocodiles, birds, wildlife scenery and the spectacular behavior and movements of the astounding variety of birds and mammals.
 
The project is expected to expand to eight wildlife streaming video sessions of one hour each while enabling a global viewer base to engage, to entertain and to be informed of a world of colour, adventure and beauty.
 
These live streaming sessions will be telecasted through social media platforms to include youtube, instagram, twitter and facebook and pre promoted through social and digital platforms. Also will enable further sharing and telecasting through broadcast media reaching out to a wider audience base.

Though the initiative directly targets the wild life enthusiasts, it is not limited to one segment but will expand to a wider spectrum of global travellers.
 
It is also expected to contribute positively to the local industry, specially the wildlife service providers to capitalize in a post covid traveller scenario.
 
The live-streaming will create digital footage of ‘wildlife’ that can be deployed by the local tourism fraternity to keep in touch, to connect and to promote Sri Lanka as a destination and ‘Wildlife’ as an experience among its loyal base and new traveller segments.
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EU funds nine capacity building for higher education projects in Sri Lanka

Capacity building for higher education in Sri Lanka is to be further improved with the assistance of the European Union, The EU Mission in Colombo revealed. The Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Sri Lanka and the Maldives in collaboration with the University of Peradeniya announced the EU-funded Capacity Building for Higher Education (CBHE) projects for 2020 .

The announcement took place at the University of Peradeniya together with 15 other participant institutions.

The EU in Sri Lanka is funding nine capacity-building projects in 2020 through the Erasmus+ programme, which aims to promote the sustainable development of its partners in the field of higher education.

 “Education, research, and development are key EU priorities for its external relations with partner countries such as Sri Lanka and that higher education institutions play a key role in advancing societies," Frank Hess, Head of Cooperation noted.

He explained that Erasmus + offers a broad range of funding opportunities which allows university staff, including academic and administrative staff, to benefit from CBHE projects.

Prof. Upul B. Dissanayake, Vice-Chancellor, University of Peradeniya said that the University has thoroughly focused on initiating both Capacity Building and International Credit Mobility (ICM) Programmes with European Universities under both Erasmus Mundus and ERASMUS+.

He also added that from 2015 until now, the University of Peradeniya has been a recipient of most of these awards in Sri Lanka, as a partner in many applications that were successful in winning the grants.

He also mentioned that as the No.1 Ranked University in Sri Lanka, University of Peradeniya has taken the leading role in a collaborative effort with other Sri Lankan Universities as well in this venture.

Fifteen universities are participating in the EU-funded CBHE projects. They are the Universities of Moratuwa, Ruhuna, Eastern, South Eastern, Sabaragamuwa, Uva Wellassa, Colombo, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence  Jayawardenepura, Rajarata, and Jaffna.

Other participatory  higher educational institutions are Sri Lanka Institute of Information and Technology, Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority, Sri Lanka Energy Managers Association, and the SLT campus.

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President suspends Colombo LRT project

Sri Lanka has arbitrarily decided to terminate the Japanese-funded, US$ 2.2 billion Colombo Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, stretching from Malabe to Colombo Fort on the directions of presidential secretary Dr. PB Jayasundera. In a letter to Transport Ministry secretary Monti Ranatunga, he noted that this project is "very costly and not the appropriate cost effective transport solution for the urban Colombo transportation infrastructure."

Therefore, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has directed to terminate the implementation of the project and close the project office with immediate effect, he informed. 

Light Railway

This decision has created confusion and misdeed among authorities of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which has already signed the loan agreement and the transport ministry has called tenders to award the contract to build the Colombo LRT system, informed source said.

The government’s priorities have shifted from mega projects to micro-level initiatives such as irrigation, agriculture, the 100,000km road project and 150,000 household water connections, he said. “Since the JICA agreement is an official loan contract, the government has to start negotiations and cancel it,” a senior treasury official said.

A cabinet committee that is reviewing projects is yet to present its report. However, various government sources indicated from earlier this year that the JICA-backed LRT was off.

They also said the project was likely to be a public-private partnership (PPP) rather than loan-funded.

This prompted JICA to urge the Sri Lanka Government in writing to follow “due process” if it intended to shift from Japanese funding to a PPP.

In a strongly worded letter to the Treasury Secretary in June this year, JICA’s Sri Lanka Representative Fusato Tanaka expressed “great shock” at hearing that “the current government has decided not to obtain JICA loans and instead to implement the project as a Public Private Partnership, and that necessary action would be taken to select a private investor."

However, the Ministry of Transport said that it has decided to temporarily suspend the Colombo-Malabe Light Railway Track System Project.

Transport Secretary Monti Ranatunga said that the Finance Ministry officials advised to suspend the project following foreign exchange concerns.

Interest rate of just 0.1%

In March last year, JICA signed a loan agreement with the Sri Lankan government to provide an official development assistance (ODA) loan to introduce a LRT system with 16 stations distributed over 15.7 kilometres of track in and around Colombo.

The project would use Japanese technology including rolling stock and electromechanical equipment. Completion was due in April 2026. The loan has a 12-year grace period and the interest rate is 0.1 percent.

Early termination to cost $100 million?

The government will have to incur a loss of around US$ 100 million if the LRT project is suspended or if there is a delay as a result of renegotiations. The entire project is currently scheduled to be completed by early 2025.

In addition, there will be certain penalties from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – the funding agency of the project – as Sri Lanka has already signed an agreement on the project, a senior official closely connected to negotiations with JICA revealed.

The total consultancy cost of the project is estimated at around US$ 140 million for seven years, including the feasibility review, detailed design, evaluation assistance, and construction supervision inclusive of all government taxes.

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Highways minister to visit each district to inspect the progress of 100,000 km project

Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando has stated that he will personally visit every district in Sri Lanka to monitor the progress of the 100,000 km road development project launched in accordance with the "Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour' national policy framework of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The Minister expressed these views while participating in a meeting held at the Ministry of Highways.

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India to assist Sri Lanka in capacity building & skill development

Indian High Commissioner Gopal Bagley initimated the Indian government's willingness to assist Sri Lanka  in areas such as capacity building and skill development. This was revealed during a meeting between High Commissioner Baglay and the State Minister of State for Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovation, Dr. Seetha Arambepola, on 15 September 2020.

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Army launches leadership and training programme for 50,000 graduates

Sri Lanka has launched a leadership and skills development military training programme for 50,000 graduates, recruited to the public sector in line with the President’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ policy statement. The phase one of this new Army orientation-training programme began on Monday (14) in 51 island-wide Army Centers including, Security Force HQs, Regimental HQs and Training Schools, consequent upon guidance given by Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army.

The purpose of this one month long residential programme, implemented under five phases, is to absorb 10,000 graduates under each phase to cover all 50,000 graduates within a period of five months.

It is implemented together with the Directorate of Training in order to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes of those recruited graduates to ensure the effective contribution to nation-building as a trained, fully-fledged and energetic workforce.

The project is to be closely monitored by the Ministry of Defence and coordinated and supervised at all seven Security Force HQs.

Each phase through this methodology is set to train 10,000 graduates and achieve the full potential of the public sector simultaneously, covering subjects such as ‘Leadership and Team-Building Training’, ‘Management Training’, ‘Training in Private and State sector Establishments’, ‘Project Work and Field Studies’, ‘Cohesiveness and Resilience,’ etc, critical in developing an efficient public sector employee while mitigating poor productivity.

The training would also impart knowledge on managerial skills, understanding of the objectives of the government mechanism, commitment, interest and dedication, self-confidence, innovation, flexibility, visualization, respect and recognition in society.

In addition, an opportunity would be made available to the participants to engage in project work and field studies to improve their skills by identifying issues and possible solutions in relevant fields.

It is focused on the critical requirement to change the mindset of the public sector employee right from recruitment to retirement.

The Army training course aims at developing their conceptual understanding on leadership, management, focus, confidence and competence to work effectively and efficiently on long term goals and short term goals.

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Illegal deforestation continues with the help of politicians

The devastation caused to Sri Lanka's forest cover by stooges connected to powerful provincial politicians of the ruling alliance is continuing unabated amidst slow action of the police and state forest conservation authorities, environmentalists complained.

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Sri Lanka's marine life affected by New Diamond oil spill

Sri Lanka’s marine life has been affected due to a fuel leakage from the 'MT New Diamond' oil tanker that caught fire in local territorial waters, officials said on Saturday.

"A fuel leakage about 2 centimetres thick had been detected," Dharshani Lahandapura, the chair for the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) said.

She pointed out that experts had observed turtles, fishes and penguins in the sea area in which the oil had leaked from the oil tanker.

The ‘MT New Diamond’, which caught fire, is currently 45 nautical miles off the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Navy said adding that the ship is safely anchored in the deep sea using tug boats.

Meanwhile, a team of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers has been deployed to obtain a statement from the captain and crew of ‘MT New Diamond’. A senior CID official stated that the relevant team of officers left for Galle yesterday (12).

Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne recently ordered the CID to conduct an investigation into the fire of the ‘MT New Diamond’.

Meanwhile, merchant shipping specialists have pointed out that Sri Lanka faces the risk of receiving compensation due to the involvement of salvage companies.

“If they (salvage companies) tow the vessel further away and claim money for that, they will receive it,” Capt. Isharaka Perera, a merchant shipping specialist said.

He added that Sri Lanka had lost an opportunity to receive compensation when 12 vessels had sunk in the Kankesanturai area after a US company had intervened.

The Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) has held discussions on the future course of action regarding ‘MT New Diamond’ which caught on fire in Sri Lankan waters. Director-General of MEPA, Dr. Turney Pradeep Kumara said that a final decision regarding the ill-fated oil tanker would be taken soon after concluding discussions with all parties involved in the firefighting.

MEPA says that there is no risk in the oil tanker being brought ashore as it has been confirmed that there will be no damage caused by the ship.

Dr. Turney Pradeep Kumara says that further action regarding the tanker will be taken after the relevant conditions are fully ascertained.

Further, measures are being taken to cover the expenses incurred to Sri Lanka in the fire fighting activities of the tanker, said MEPA Director-General.

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20A: 120 SOEs exempted from government audit

Nearly 120 State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) including the debt ridden SriLankan Airlines will be exempt from government audit under the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Among other state owned business entities to be excluded are Lanka Electricity Company (LECO), Sri Lanka Insurance, Lanka Hospitals PLC, Litro Gas Lanka Ltd, Lanka Sathosa and Lanka Coal Company Ltd. among many others.

The draft proposal drew strong protest from the Sri Lanka Audit Service Association (SLASA) and opposition parliamentarians.

The 20th Amendment was taken up for discussion at today's (16) cabinet of ministers meeting, government sources said.

On Tuesday (15), a nine-member committee appointed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to study the 20th Amendment handed over its report to the Premier.

Meanwhile, former State Minister of Finance Eran Wickremaratne stressed that the power to audit government finances, funds, and public institutions should remain independent of the executive.

“However, the National Audit Service Commission has been revoked by the proposed 20th Amendment. The independence of the auditor has been stripped completely," he said.

“Under the 20th Amendment, all the power to appoint persons to all the Commissions, including the Auditor General, will be centralised with the President,” Wickramaratne pointed out adding that it is not the character of the person who is in the seat of power that will ensure democracy, justice, and equality, but a robust system with check and balances.

Offices of the President and the Prime Minister exempted!

Opposition MP J.C. Alawathuwala has hit out at the government for exempting the President’s and the Prime Minister’s offices from being audited under the 20th Amendment.

“We wish to ask the President and the Prime Minister what is the objective of doing that? ” the SJB parliamentarian queried.

He pointed out that the Prime Minister had recently said that he was unaware of the provision until the amendment was sent to be gazetted.

He said that the inability of the government to reveal who drafted the 20th amendment is an indication of the type of new constitution that is to be introduced in the future

When State owned companies, in which the government is a majority shareholder, are audited by private entities, the reports are not required to be submitted to Parliament, the union said. This would undermine parliamentary financial oversight.

The 20th Amendment also seeks to abolish the National Audit Service Commission which, the union says, was established to comply with international and global requirements related to independence in public finance and governance. And it does not propose an alternative.

The qualifications required of an Auditor General which were more defined under Article 153(1) of the Constitution have been removed and the method of appointment changed to allow direct nomination, by the President, without the Constitutional Council’s involvement.

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Agriculture Minister returns to the North after four decades

The farmers in the North who once supplied rice, potatoes, onions, vegetables and fruits to a self-sufficient Sri Lanka had collapsed due to the three decade long war that annihilated the economy of the North.

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UN raises concerns over 20A

After the Sri Lankan government set the ball rolling for a new Constitutional Amendment (20th Amendment) that would remove many of the curbs placed on presidential powers, there have been rising concerns of both local and international organisations. Most of the provisions brought by the 19th Amendment will be swept away if the current amendment is passed. The provision of full immunity to the president will be restored.

The Constitutional Council, which had the right to approve several key appointments, will be turned into an advisory body, with the composition changed to have only members of parliament.

It also allows dual citizens to stand for presidential elections and reduces the age limit of candidates to 30.

The wariness among the western countries about the new Rajapaksa regime remains, but there will not be an immediate reaction.

One of the key ways to express their disenchantment was to bring resolutions against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC, which did not occur in the past five years.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.

While delivering the opening statement of the 45th session of the Human Rights Council on Monday, Ms. Bachelet said she was troubled that the new Government of Sri Lanka is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1.

Ms. Bachelet said the pardon given in March to a former Army sergeant convicted of participating in unlawful killings, appointments to key civilian roles of senior military officials allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity, and moves within the police and judiciary to thwart the investigation of such crimes, set a very negative trend.

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Sri Lanka’s slow progress on transitional justice due to lack of commitment by government: UNHRC

Sri Lanka has come under criticism on transitional justice, in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Pablo de Greiff has noted in his report that nothing has hindered the transitional justice programme in Sri Lanka more than lack of commitment on the part of the Government.

The report has been submitted to the UNHRC for its September session which begins on Monday.

Pablo de Greiff noted that the Sri Lankan Government was not only slow in terms of design and implementation of the transitional justice system, but also wavered in its messaging and ultimately failed up to this point to take full ownership of the process.

In his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff visited Sri Lanka from 10 to 23 October 2017.

He reviewed the progress made by the Government in the areas of truth-seeking, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and to advise the authorities and Sri Lankan society on efforts to provide redress for past massive gross violations and abuses.

The Special Rapporteur had previously conducted four other trips to Sri Lanka, at the invitation of the Government, to provide advisory services, during the course of whichhe was able to follow the developments since March 2015.

In his report the former Special Rapporteur notes that Sri Lanka has a long history of partial compliance with its human rights obligations, which is not actually a form of compliance but, ultimately, one of non-compliance.

“Breaking out of this pattern means making unambiguous commitments, expressed both in words and in deeds, starting with the President and the Prime Minister, and making the case for a comprehensive human rights-based and gender-sensitive redress and prevention policy that integrates measures to satisfy victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence,” he said.

He also noted the tendency to discuss transitional justice in Sri Lanka as if it concerned only victims of the conflict with the Tamil Tigers and, in turn, as if it affected only the Sinhala and Tamil communities. Doing so leaves out the Muslim and other religious communities that have been affected by the conflict.

“One need only recall the expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna in 1990, from land that had been theirs for generations, and the lukewarm embrace they received from the majority community,” he said.

He repeated calls to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and promptly replace it with new counter-terrorism legislation that adheres to international best practices.

He said the Government should also promptly deal with long-standing cases pending under the Act and put in place a procedure to review convictions handed down under the Act that were based solely on the confession of the accused.

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