Sri Lankans welcome measures to breathe life into virus-hit economy

People maintain the one-meter distance in-between each other in Colombo. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 March 2020

Sri Lankans welcome measures to breathe life into virus-hit economy

  • President announces relief packages to lessen financial difficulties
  • Rajapaksa has also pledged a donation to the SAARC Coronavirus Fund,


COLOMBO: Sri Lankans from all walks of life hailed relief measures introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday, as the country continues to grapple with economic difficulties caused by the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Some of the measures include the launch of a “COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund,” with an initial capital of $525,000, to aid those directly impacted by the crisis.

“The president’s packages embrace people of all sectors … It is a great relief to the distressed ones,” Ali Sabry, a senior lawyer, told Arab News, adding that the president “had set an example for others to follow.”

Rajapaksa has also pledged a donation to the SAARC Coronavirus Fund, which was launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week. 

“After the president’s move, the management of a leading mosque in Colpetty in elite Colombo has come forward to help the poorest among the poor,” Sabry said.

As part of the relief measures, a six-month debt moratorium will be imposed on tourism and textile industries, with costs to be borne by the central bank.

Additionally, a grace period for the payment of income tax and VAT, monthly credit card bills less than $264 and renewal of driving licenses will be extended until April 30.

The move will also suspend the leasing loan repayment for owners of three-wheeler vehicles for six months. It will also delay the recovery of loans from government and private sector employees until May 30.

Experts, however, expressed some concerns.

Muheed Jeeran, a human rights activist and international lobbyist, told Arab News that the president should “give priority to the health and not the wealth of the people.”

He added: “If the people’s health is in jeopardy, how can we build a healthy nation?”

Jeeran said that the president should impose a lockdown in affected districts and, with the help of the army, ensure that people stay at home until screening procedures are complete.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim Council Chairman N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the president had implemented the measures “realizing full well the plight of the people under the circumstances.”

Mohammed, a leading travel agent in the city, disagreed, reasoning that the relief measures are specifically designed for the middle class, while the upper class — who had incurred considerable losses in the tourism and exports trade sectors — could not benefit from the new proposals.

However, an Asian diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the middle class forms the majority of the population and is part of a sector that needs maximum assistance.

EU pledges to stay green in virus recovery

Updated 29 May 2020

EU pledges to stay green in virus recovery

  • To help economies from the 27-nation bloc bounce back as quick as possible

BRUSSELS: The European Commission pledged on Thursday to stay away from fossil-fueled projects in its coronavirus recovery strategy, and to stick to its target of making Europe the first climate neutral continent by the middle of the century, but environmental groups said they were unimpressed.

To weather the deep recession triggered by the pandemic, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a €1.85 trillion ($2 trillion) package consisting of a revised long-term budget and a recovery fund, with 25 percent of the funding set aside for climate action.

To help economies from the 27-nation bloc bounce back as quick as possible, the EU’s executive arm wants to increase a €7.5-billion ($8.25 billion) fund presented earlier this year that was part of an investment plan aiming at making the continent more environmentally friendly.

Under the commission’s new plan, which requires the approval of member states, the mechanism will be expanded to €40 billion ($44 billion) and is expected to generate another €150 billion in public and private investment. The money is designed to help coal-dependent countries weather the costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

Environmental group WWF acknowledged the commission’s efforts but expressed fears the money could go to “harmful activities such as fossil fuels or building new airports and motorways.”

“It can’t be used to move from coal to coal,” Frans Timmermans, the commission executive vice president in charge the European Green Deal, responded on Thursday. “It is unthinkable that support will be given to go from coal to coal. That is how we are going to approach the issue. That’s the only way you can ensure you actually do not harm.”

Timmermans conceded, however, that projects involving fossil fuels could sometimes be necessary, especially the use of natural gas to help move away from coal.

The commission also wants to dedicate an extra €15 billion ($16.5 billion) to an agricultural fund supporting rural areas in their transition toward a greener model.

Von der Leyen, who took office last year, has made the fight against climate change the priority of her term. Timmermans insisted that her goal to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050 remained unchanged, confirming that upgraded targets for the 2030 horizon would be presented by September.

Reacting to the executive arm’s recovery plans, Greenpeace lashed out at a project it described as “contradictory at best and damaging at worst,” accusing the commission of sticking to a growth-driven mentality detrimental to the environment.

“The plan includes several eye-catching green `options,’ including home renovation schemes, taxes on single-use plastic waste and the revenues of digital giants like Google and Facebook. But it does not solve the problem of existing support for gas, oil, coal, and industrial farming — some of the main drivers of a mounting climate and environmental emergency,” Greenpeace said.

“The plan also fails to set strict social or green conditions on access to funding for polluters like airlines or carmakers.”

Timmermans said the EU would keep investing in the development of emission-free public transportation, and promoting clean private transport through the EU budget.