Sri Lanka president takes charge of economy as coalition rift widens

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena (C) announced Saturday that he would take control of the island's economy from the prime minister.(Reuters)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Sri Lanka president takes charge of economy as coalition rift widens

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's president announced Saturday that he would take control of the island's economy from the prime minister, as relations worsen between the ruling party and its main coalition partner.
Maithripala Sirisena said he would directly manage the economy through a special economic council headed by him, taking over the responsibility from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his United National Party (UNP).
"Although the UNP was allowed to manage the economy in the past three years, from this month, the President will take it over," his office said in a statement.
Sirisena joined hands with the UNP to topple Mahinda Rajapakse in January 2015, ending the strongman president's decade in power.
But since then their alliance has fractured, with Sirisena clashing with free-market champion Wickremesinghe over economic policy.
There was no immediate reaction from Wickremesinghe to the decision, which came after a heated cabinet meeting in which Sirisena accused the UNP of unleashing a smear campaign against him, according to sources close to the president.
Tensions between the coalition partners have escalated over Sirisena's efforts to extend his presidential term by one more year till 2021, a move that was shot down by the Supreme Court last week.
The UNP has indicated it may go it alone in the next general election in 2020.
Sirisena has publicly accused the UNP of being more corrupt than the Rajapakse regime which they both ousted.
During his rule, Rajapakse granted himself greater powers over the police, judiciary and civil servants, excesses which Sirisena pledged to curb upon his election.
Parliament voted overwhelmingly in early 2015 to restrict the power of the presidency, restoring a two-term limit and reviving independent bodies to manage key institutions such as the police and the judiciary.
In recent weeks, Sirisena has sought to assert his authority, reimposing a four-decade-long ban on women buying liquor, just days after his finance minister and UNP leader Mangala Samaraweera lifted the restriction earlier this month.


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 37 min 45 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”