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President Ranil Wickremesinghe Addresses G77 & China Summit in Cuba

President Ranil Wickremesinghe delivered a compelling address at the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the G77 & China in Havana, Cuba yesterday (15). In his speech, President Wickremesinghe emphasized the crucial role of science, technology and innovation in overcoming the current development challenges faced by developing nations worldwide.

President Wickremesinghe began by commending Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez for convening the summit and acknowledging Cuba’s historic role as a champion for the concerns and aspirations of developing nations within various multilateral forums.

He noted the unprecedented challenges confronting the global South, including the pandemic, climate change, food, fertilizer and energy crises, which threaten the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and exacerbate the global debt crisis.

President Wickremesinghe then delved into the historical perspective of technological development, highlighting how Europe’s advancements in the 15th century, such as gunpowder, cannons and ocean-going ships, enabled it to conquer other parts of the world, resulting in the technological divide seen today. He underscored that a new technological divide is emerging in the 21st century, necessitating the adoption of digitalization and new technologies, such as Big Data, IoT, AI, Blockchain, Biotechnology and Genome Sequencing, to bridge the gap.

He emphasised the importance of an educated manpower well equipped with knowledge and technological know-how essential for the smooth flow of the needed transformations which will lubricate the development and catching up process in developing nations.

The President outlined his government’s initiatives, including the evaluation of underperforming Science and Technology Research Institutes and the establishment of a Technology and Innovation Council and a Digital Transformation Agency. Additionally, Sri Lanka plans to create four new universities specializing in new technologies, with one being the result of technological cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. The International Climate University will be the 05th.

Addressing the digital divide, President Wickremesinghe cited challenges such as limited access to costly technology, insufficient digital skills and infrastructure, cultural and institutional barriers and financing constraints.

He called for effective cooperation mechanisms within the G77 and China, including the revitalization of the Consortium of Science & Technology & Innovation for the South (COSTIS) and the commitment of member countries to earmark 1% of their GDP for R&D over a decade.

President Wickremesinghe stressed the importance of collaboration between governments and the private sector and proposed creating technological platforms in fields like digitalization, health, medication, AI and renewable energy including green hydrogen, inspired by the European Union’s Technology & Innovation Platforms.

The brain drain from the South to the North and the resulting loss of educated manpower is another threat to the development of Science Technology and Innovation of the South, President Wickremesinghe said, adding that China, India, Japan and South Korea have developed Science Technology and Innovation by nurturing their manpower. “Therefore we must ask for compensation from the North for the loss of our manpower,” he added.

He also urged increased South-South cooperation and proposed a scheme akin to the Colombo Plan to enhance collaboration, exchange best practices and develop policies that harness the transformational potential of science, technology and innovation.

In conclusion, President Wickremesinghe reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to supporting the new Havana Declaration and called for the collective voice of G77 and China to be heard in international fora.

The President’s address underscored the significance of science, technology and innovation in shaping the future of developing nations, making it a pivotal moment at the G77 and China Summit.

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2023 GCE A/L examination timetable released

The Examinations Department unveiled the timetable for this year’s GCE Advanced Level (A/L) examination. The 2023 GCE A/L exam is slated to take place from November 27 to December 21.

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Over 900 Sri Lankan prisoners get Presidential Pardon

933 prisoners have been given a Presidential Pardon.

The Department of Prisons in a statement said that 926 male convicts, and 7 female convicts were thus given Presidential Pardons to coincide with the the 25th National Prisoners' Day.

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Former MP Nishantha Muthuhettigama remanded

Former MP Nishantha Muthuhettigama has been ordered to be remanded over an incident involving an illegally assembled jeep.

According to reports, the former Parliamentarian was ordered to be remanded until September 21, 2023.

The order was issued by the Galle Chief Magistrate today.

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President meets Cuban Counterpart for bilateral talks

President Ranil Wickremesinghe engaged in bilateral discussions with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez, reinforcing the bonds of friendship and dialogue between the two nations.

The President who is currently in Cuba, engaged in the discussion ahead of his participation in the G77 plus China Summit in Havana on September 15-16, hosted by Cuba as the current Chair of the G77 plus China.

According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), during his visit, President Wickremesinghe’s arrival in Cuba was marked by a warm welcome, as he received a Guard of Honour at the Palace of Revolution.

President Díaz-Canel Bermudez expressed Cuba’s appreciation for the visit, emphasising its significance during these challenging times globally. He praised Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendship with Cuba and to the vital role played by the G77 and China in representing the global South.

In their discussions, President Wickremesinghe recalled the history of bilateral cooperation between Sri Lanka and Cuba, particularly in multilateral forums. Both nations have supported each other on issues like lifting sanctions against Cuba and human rights matters. They identified areas of future cooperation, including public health, agriculture and sports.

President Díaz-Canel accepted President Wickremesinghe’s invitation to visit Sri Lanka in 2024, underscoring Cuba’s continued support for Sri Lanka. He also highlighted Cuba’s role in addressing North-South gaps in Science, Technology and Innovation, expressing willingness to share expertise, particularly in vaccine development.

The two leaders emphasised the importance of bolstering the relationship between their countries, focusing on collaboration in medicine, healthcare, sports training and coconut cultivation. President Wickremesinghe expressed Sri Lanka’s commitment to supporting Cuba in international forums, while President Díaz-Canel assured support for Sri Lanka regarding human rights resolutions.

The PMD stated that this meeting represents a significant step forward in strengthening diplomatic ties between Sri Lanka and Cuba, with far-reaching implications for both nations and the broader global community.

President Wickremesinghe was accompanied by key officials, including Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ms. Aruni Wijewardane, the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Cuba Lakshitha Ratnayake, the Director General of the United Nations and Multilateral Affairs Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rekha Gunasekera and Private Secretary to the President Sandra Perera.

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Fuel pricing : Minister hints of new daily automated system

Plans are underway to implement a daily automated price revising system from next year, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera said.

Taking to ‘X’, the minister said fuel dealers were briefed on the plans of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) to automate all fuel dispensing and stock taking facilities with new equipment.

He further said that discussions were also held on issues related to dealer margins, distribution of fuel, future developments, and new fuel stations to be established.

The matters were discussed during a meeting with the CPC Dealers Association and other officials of the CPC held at the Ministry of Power & Energy.

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Sachithra further remanded

Former Sri Lankan cricketer Sachithra Senanayaka who was arrested over match fixing allegations has been further remanded.

Sachithra Senanayake was remanded until September 25 by Colombo Chief Magistrate Prasanna Alwis today.

He was brought before the Government Analyst Department on Wednesday (Sep 13) for a voice test related to the audio tape received in connection to the match-fixing allegations.

Sachithra Senanayake was arrested earlier this month (Sep 06) after surrendering to the Special Investigation Unit of the Sports Ministry.

He is accused of trying to fix matches during the Lanka Premier League (LPL) in 2020. It is alleged that Senanayake had approached two cricketers in the first edition of the LPL in 2020 via telephone from Dubai to fix matches.

The former off-spinner has denied all the allegations, claiming them as baseless charges aimed at defaming him and his family.

Sachithra Senanayake (38) has played one Test, 49 ODIs and 24 T20 Internationals for Sri Lanka between 2012 and 2016.

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Gowers Corp money laundering case: Court to deliver decision on Namal’s acquittal request

The Colombo High Court has announced that the decision relating to a request made by the attorneys of MP Namal Rajapakse, seeking his acquittal without calling any evidence for the defence over the charges pertaining to the case involving Gowers Corporate Services (Pvt) Limited, will be delivered on November 02, 2023.

In 2022, the Attorney General had filed indictments against six accused including SLPP parliamentarian Namal Rajapakse over alleged involvement in the misappropriation of funds amounting to Rs. 30 million, said to have earned illegally while working as a Member of Parliament through Gowers Corporate Services (Pvt) Limited, which is allegedly owned by him.

This order was issued when the relevant case was taken up before Colombo High Court Judge Navaratne Marasinghe today (Sep 13).

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Two-year service contract for doctors once they retire

Doctors will be offered a two-year service contract once they retire, in addition to their extended retirement age of 63 years, said health minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

Cabinet approval is to be sought for the move.

This will be a solution to the impact on the health sector from the prevailing brain drain, he said.

Rambukwella hoped the situation to ease somewhat once around 600 doctors presently in overseas training return.

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Last warning given to 84 striking railway drivers

The eighty-four (84) railway engine drivers who are engaged in a strike action have been requested to report for duty immediately, Sri Lanka’s Railway Department stated.

According to the department, those who fail to report for duty will be considered as having vacated their posts.

The Railway Department added that relevant letters to such employees will be issued in due course.

The public have been severely inconvenienced as a result of the strike action carried out by the Sri Lanka Locomotive Operating Engineers Union.

Several train services were cancelled yesterday and today due to the strike action. A 20-year-old youth died and another passenger sustained injuries, both after falling off overcrowded trains yesterday.

Minister of Transport Bandula Gunawardena said today that the Railway Department has decided to pay a sum of Rs. 500,000 to the family of the youth who had died after falling off the roof of a train at the Horape Station.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Army was deployed to provide security at 32 Railway Stations across the country today in view of the railway strike action.

The Sri Lanka Locomotive Operating Engineers Union is engaged in the strike action despite President Ranil Wickremesinghe having issued a Gazette notification yesterday declaring railway services an essential service.

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Sri Lanka unveils vision for Indian Ocean

The President’s Senior Advisor on National Security and Chief of Staff, Sagala Ratnayaka has unveiled a bold vision for the Indian Ocean region, highlighting Sri Lanka’s pivotal role in shaping the future of this strategically vital region.

According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), the unveiling was done during a landmark discussion held in Colombo on Tuesday (12). The event was attended by notable figures including President Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and high-ranking diplomats.

Ratnayaka attended as the keynote speaker at the Geopolitical Cartographer discussion on the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific dimensions of recent high-level visits. He commenced the discussion by highlighting the profound transformation of the Indian Ocean from a mere maritime trade route to a global nexus encompassing security, economics, environmental concerns, social issues and strategic interests. He also emphasised the implementation of a robust reform program, which is poised to bring harmony to the Indian Ocean with its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, while noting that the national interests of individual states significantly influence the international system.

He also underscored Sri Lanka’s unique position in the Indian Ocean region, highlighting the nation’s on-going economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of robust reform and revival programs. These initiatives have positioned Sri Lanka to play a crucial role in fostering harmony within the Indian Ocean.

One of Sri Lanka’s central policies in the region is the promotion of a free and open Indo-Pacific, encompassing maritime safety and security, protection of undersea cables, combating illegal fishing and trafficking, addressing human trafficking and tackling environmental issues, including disaster relief and maritime pollution. Ratnayaka drew attention to Sri Lanka’s responsibilities in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and stressed the importance of stability and growth through reform.

He acknowledged the importance of maintaining a stable and credible image, emphasising that Sri Lanka’s reform processes and economic stabilisation are crucial for attracting international support and cooperation. The domestic debt restructuring process in Sri Lanka is currently approaching its final stages, marking a significant milestone in the nation’s economic recovery efforts. This comprehensive restructuring initiative is designed to address and manage the country’s domestic debt obligations more effectively. One crucial step in this process involves the enactment of the Central Bank Act, a legislative framework that will provide the necessary regulatory framework and guidelines for managing domestic debt. Once this act is enacted, it will facilitate the completion of the domestic debt restructuring process. As part of this restructuring, Sri Lanka plans to convert existing treasury bills into bonds, a strategic move to better manage its debt portfolio and ensure long-term financial stability.

In the initial phases of the debt restructuring process, Sri Lanka sought assurances and support from international partners. Notably, the Paris Club, along with India and China, responded positively and cooperatively, extending their assistance to help Sri Lanka navigate its economic challenges. As Sri Lanka nears the completion of the domestic debt restructuring, it anticipates continued support from these key partners in the upcoming rounds of restructuring. The discussion further emphasised connectivity in various forms, including air, sea, road, logistics, energy security and power grid development. Sri Lanka aims to collaborate with countries like Japan to build confidence in its reform process and attract investments.

France’s role in combating climate change and the establishment of a School of Regional Maritime Safety and Security in Trincomalee were among the key highlights of the discussion. Additionally, the talk emphasised the significance of Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, including the Port City and Hambantota, in driving economic growth and creating job opportunities.

As Sri Lanka positions itself as a key player in the Indian Ocean, the discussion underscored the pivotal role of the private sector in driving the nation’s vision forward. With global diplomatic support and ambitious plans, Sri Lanka’s aspirations for the Indian Ocean region have taken centre stage on the international platform.

The culmination of discussions during President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India resulted in the issuance of a visionary document that outlines Sri Lanka’s strategic goals for the region. This document underscores the central theme of connectivity, highlighting the importance of fostering robust connections by air, sea and road. It also emphasises the significance of logistics, an efficient economy and the trading of currencies. Additionally, the document places a strong focus on digital finance and energy security, acknowledging their pivotal roles in Sri Lanka’s economic future.

The commitment to enhancing connectivity extends to the development of a power grid and pipelines for fuel, not only within Sri Lanka but also extending to its neighbouring regions. This ambitious approach aims to provide greater flexibility and reliability in meeting the energy needs of Sri Lanka and its surrounding areas.

Furthermore, the vision document prioritises food security, with an emphasis on high-tech agriculture and the development of livestock and dairy sectors. These initiatives are aimed at bolstering Sri Lanka’s self-sufficiency in food production and reducing its reliance on imports. In addition to these economic facets, the document recognizes the importance of tourism, with India playing a vital role in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. The focus on education, as emphasised by President Wickremesinghe, highlights Sri Lanka’s commitment to fostering a skilled workforce and promoting educational partnerships with India and other nations.

The recent high-powered visit to China was of great significance and it was noted that President Ranil Wickremesinghe will soon embark on his third Belt and Road Initiative visit to China. Notably, President Wickremesinghe had previously represented Sri Lanka as Prime Minister during the inaugural Belt and Road visit.

In terms of China-Sri Lankan relations, Sri Lanka has benefitted from two substantial Chinese investments. One of these is the ambitious Port City project, which, while encountering occasional challenges, is currently undergoing consultations for the finalisation of new legal frameworks. These legal adjustments are expected to be particularly enticing to prospective investors.

Additionally, discussions included the Hambantota investment, where the port has faced challenges due to a lack of sufficient maritime traffic resulting from delays in the development of the investment zone. Addressing this issue is deemed crucial for Hambantota’s full potential to be realised, as it holds the promise of job creation, the establishment of export industries and a significant increase in revenue for Sri Lanka. These topics, among others, constituted key areas of focus during the discussions between the leaders.

Both Japan and Sri Lanka emphasised the crucial role of the private sector in driving Sri Lanka’s development. This emphasis on the private sector’s leadership was a central theme in discussions and the vision document. Recent visits by Japanese officials highlighted discussions on climate change and education, aiming to build confidence in Sri Lanka’s reform process. Concerns among Japanese investors and private sector players prompted a call for reform, standardisation and improved safety regulations to attract foreign investment. Overall, the focus remains on fostering a business-friendly environment and instilling confidence in foreign investors, particularly from Japan, to participate in Sri Lanka’s growth and prosperity.

Subsequently, during the diplomatic engagement with France, the President’s discussions were conducted efficiently. A significant portion of the dialogue was dedicated to the critical subject of climate change, including the establishment of a Climate Change University. Moreover, the talks cantered on enhancing cooperation in regional maritime safety, with a specific proposal to establish the School of Regional Maritime Safety and Security. This institution is slated to be headquartered in Trincomalee while maintaining affiliation with the prestigious Kotelawala Defence University.

The discussion was attended by notable figures such as High Commissioner of India Gopal Bagley, Ambassador of China Qi Zhenhong, Ambassador of France Jean-Francois Pactet and Ambassador of Japan Hideaki Mizukoshi, each providing unique perspectives on the region’s evolving dynamics and expressed their support for Sri Lanka’s Role in Shaping the Future of the Indian Ocean Region. Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms Aruni Wijewardane was the moderator at this event.

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Russia donates Sunflower oil to Sri Lanka as part of WFP aid

Russia has donated a consignment of Sunflower oil to the people of Sri Lanka as part of its contribution to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Around 352 tons of sunflower oil enriched with vitamins and minerals has been donated to Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the event to mark the donation, Russian Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan said this marks a truly historic moment in the development of Russia – Sri Lanka ties.

Ambassador Dzhagaryan pointed out that one of the purposes of the Russian foreign policy is to promote international cooperation in solving economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems.

“In terms of these aspects, the Russian Federation never stays on the sidelines. Despite all the challenges faced by our country, we will continue supporting our friendly states. Keep moving forward! Great things are ahead,” he added.

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