Tuesday, December 6, 2016

SL to buy Chinese Xian Y20 military-cum-civil transport planes


Sri Lanka is to buy China-made Xian Y20 military-cum civil transport planes, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told South China Morning Post. 

“I have travelled around in some of the Chinese transport planes we have. They are good workhorses. Some people have raised questions about their quality but I have always said, ‘Look, as far as I am concerned, I will always underwrite Chinese military transport planes’. We will buy two more,” Wickremesinghe said. 

China’s newly developed Xian Y-20 would be in contention if Sri Lanka is looking to buy more Chinese military transport craft, making it one of the first countries outside China to get the new plane. 

Codenamed “Kunpeng” after a mythical Chinese bird, Y-20 makes China the third nation after Russia and the United States to design and develop its own heavy military transport aircraft. 

Y 20 is the largest military aircraft currently in production and the first cargo aircraft to use 3D printing technology. It was officially inducted into service by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in July.

 “The only thing is getting the US federal aviation clearance, without which there might be insurance issues for Western tourists. Since our airports have excess capacity, we will try to get dual-use military planes that can also carry tourists. We are talking to the Chinese to see if we can get planes that can conform to these norms,” Wickremesinghe said.

 “Logically it makes sense for Sri Lanka to buy strategic transport aircraft because the old ones are not serviceable in a cost-effective manner,” he added. 

But according to IHS Jane’s aerospace analyst, Ben Moores, the plane wouldn’t come cheap.

 The Sri  Lankan Prime Minister, however, wouldn’t let on which way he is swinging with fighter jets which his country is going to buy. 

Although there is no war in Sri Lanka now and there is no threat from outside either, the Sri Lankan Air Force needs to replace its ageing fleet of Russian and Israeli fighter bombers and train itself to face a future threat despite the burden any new purchases will foist on the debt-ridden country. 

  Colombo was expected to sign a deal to purchase up to 12 JF-17s co-developed by Pakistan and China in January. The deal was cancelled after intense diplomatic manoeuvres by India, which has been trying to sell its own “Tejas” to the strategically located Indian Ocean island nation. 

“China, India, Sweden and Russia have made offers, we are studying them,” Wickremesinghe said. 

Although India offered the Tejas, it was not ready at that time, as it was undergoing development and trials. Since then, a squadron has joined the Indian Air Force. But the Indian Navy has rejected the aircraft saying that it is unsuitable for use in aircraft carriers and that it has to undergo further development. 

Apparently, Sri Lanka is not particularly interested in acquiring fighter jets now because there is no threat either from the LTTE or any country in the region. But it is interested in transport aircraft, especially if they can be used for military and civil purposes. Sri Lanka needs planes which can carry passengers and cargo. The island has many air fields of World War II vintage but these have remained unused because governments have not developed domestic air transport preferring to rely on road transport.

 A recent report said that government is going to ask the Air Force to run a domestic airline. During the war ,the Air Force had run a service between Colombo and Jaffna on  a commercial basis, replacing some private operators.(Indian Express)

Lanka sugar stuns with sweet R 1Bn turnaround

Lanka sugar stuns with sweet R 1Bn turnaround
Dec 05, 2016
The state owned entity Lanka Sugar, which previously reported heavy losses, has now emerged with splendid financial performance as a result of Industry and Commerce Minister’s initiatives.
“I am pleased to inform the House that for the first time, Lanka Sugar Company (Private) Limited under my Ministry earned Rs  one billion profit” stated Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on December 2.
Minister Bathiudeen was tabling his Committee Stage (budget) speech on the evening of December 2. The speech summarised the performance of various institutions under his Ministry.
“I am pleased to inform the House that for the first time, Lanka Sugar Company (Private) Limited under my Ministry earned Rs one billion profit. The profits came this year and it’s even more important to inform that last year, the Company made a Rs one billion loss” said Minister Bathiudeen and added: “As a result of latest profits, I believe that this is a great success story among state owned business enterprises. I praise Hon Finance Minister’s proposals for sugar industry development in this budget such as imposing a minimum price of Rs. 5,000 per Metric Tonne for sugarcane with effect from 1st January 2017, calling local and foreign investors to invest in Sugar Mills in Monaragala, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi and Ampara districts with a minimum plant size of 2,000 Tonnes etc.  Lanka Sugar reported a profit of Rs one billion by third quarter of 2016 in comparison to the loss Rs one billion in 2015. It plans to establish Sugar Cane Juice Extractor Factory and 2000 Hectare Sugar Cane Plantation in Vavuniya district Settikulam Division. The Company also intends to produce a sugar pricing formula based on incentive to be competitive with any commercial crop in Sri Lanka.”
Upto third quarter (3Q) of 2016, Lanka Sugar’s Pelwatte and Sevanagala facilities cultivated 13164 hectares of sugar canes (an increase of 7.6% compared to the entire 2015), harvesting 561,067 MT of cane resulting in 44059 MT of sugar output (an increase of 2.5% from Y2015). According to Company financials, the Company reported a net loss before tax of Rs 1,030 Million in FY 2015 but reported a stunning turn-around “net profit before tax” of Rs 1018 Million, as of third quarter of FY 2016.

Adaptation – Part II

Colombo Telegraph

By Ranil Senanayake –December 5, 2016
Dr Ranil Senanayake
Dr Ranil Senanayake
Preparing for the future by looking back.
Understanding the issues and options before us.
The central mountains of Sri Lanka drain radially to the sea, through 103 distinct watersheds. A watershed of a river is that area of land whose rainfall feeds the river and begins in the mountains. As commented by the Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake :
“With the evidence daily accumulating of the wisdom of our forefathers, we need scarcely doubt that it was not merely the idea of making the mountain country difficult of approach by the foreign invader that caused them to preserve unfilled and uncleared the dense vegetation of their mountain slopes. We may readily believe that they deliberately left these untouched in order to provide that abundant supply of water on which they might draw for the benefit of man.”
This ‘uncleared and dense vegetation’ that evoked so much gratitude in our founding father, had been existant on the mountains of Sri Lanka for a period exceeding 20 million years and over this time built a soil that contained a treasure in organic matter. Soil organic matter is the living fraction that drives the ecosystem that lies above it. Sustainable agriculture and forestry will be an impossibility without the optimum levels of organic matter for that soil. The organic matter of soil when extracted is seen as a dark, amorphous solid mass. On closer examination this ‘solid mass’ is seen to be comprised of billions of organisms. In fact, any one acre of farmyard soil contains as much biomass as an Elephant. One gram of ordinary farmyard soil can contain over 1 billion individual bacteria, over 100 million individual actinomyctes and over 1 kilometer of fungal hyphpae, notwithstanding plants like algae and animals like collembolids, nematodes or worms. In Sri Lanka the soil ecosystem is further enhanced by presence of many genera and species of soil dwelling snakes, lizards etc; all massive predators in this ecosystem that suggest the age and the massive nature of the soil bank this nation once possessed.
Photo - From poor tea to poorer chemical agriculture
Photo – From poor tea to poorer chemical agriculture
A forest soil, if undisturbed will develop humic acid molecues that allow carbon to be sequestered in the soil for periods exceeding 15,000 years. These soils are deep and ‘spongy’ allowing them to soak up and retain rainwater, to feed springs and rivers below. This function of our mountain forests came to an end with the advent of the colonial adventure. Fredrick Lewis in his book Sixty Four Years in CEYLON makes this observation on the destruction of the mountain forests in the Agra Patana area;
“I know of no more awe-inspiring sight, than that of a thousand acres on fire. Sheets of flame appear to leap into the air, and yell with a sort of devilish delight at their victory over the magnificent trees they are reducing into charred masses of cinder and charcoal. It is more than impressive, it is fearful, yet grand ! After the fire has completed its work, the land is covered with .black logs, lumps of charred timber, masses, and often great fragments of stones, broken by the heat that has swept over them. A deep black covers the landscape; impressive, but depressing.
It was in a burned wilderness like this, that I found my new home. It lay at the extreme end of one of the many blocks of land that had been simultaneously burned off. My path, for road it could not be then called led over hundreds of fallen and charred logs, and followed the valley of the Agra stream……. 

When morning broke upon the day following the events recorded at the conclusion of the last chapter, I found myself gazing upon a scene not altogether unfamiliar to me. All around me lay hundreds of charred black logs, stumps in fantastic shapes and outlines: fallen branches, broken and distorted by fire: cinder heaps, and little rivulets of sodden ash: all indicative of the fierce, merciless fire that but a few weeks ago, had raged over a spot that so lately had been a beautiful forest land. 

It was now a blackened wilderness, to be changed into fields of coffee, by the labour and patience of man. A strange picture; fascinating in one respect: fearful in another  and yet so full of a strange mixture of possibilities was this wild heap of ruins, this uncouth mass of slaughtered giants of an inarticulate, yet eloquent world, to be transformed by , industry in the pursuit of fleeting wealth.”
logoTuesday, 6 December 2016

A country’s fiscal and taxation system is a major determinant of macro-economic policy and sustainable growth, particularly in areas such as government revenue, public debt, fiscal deficit, inflation as well as resource allocation, income distribution and economic stability.

Currently, Sri Lanka’s fiscal and taxation system is at a critical juncture. While overall GDP as well as per capita income have been steadily increasing, the total government revenue and tax revenue have been decreasing over time (Table 1).

As indicated in the table, the total government revenue, tax revenue and even non-tax revenue have declined. The increase seen in 2015 was due to the one-off taxes such as the Super Gain Tax and other levies implemented during that year.

Respective governments have recognised the critical nature of the situation and the necessity to reverse this trend. The Presidential Taxation Commission Report of 2010 as well as the successive recent Budget Speeches have stressed this issue.

Reasons for the decline

The main reasons for this decline include; 
  • Unplanned ad hoc tax incentives in the form of various tax holidays, reliefs and concessions, duty waivers, etc., which have eroded and narrowed the tax base. The tax loss is estimated to be around 1.35% of annual GDP.
  • Narrow tax base and coverage; the total number of taxpayers being about 3% of the population.
  • Increase in allowable expenses in computing statutory income and profit.
  • Periodic increases in tax free allowances and ad hoc reductions in rates of tax both corporate and non-corporate sectors.
  • Ad hoc changes to the tax system to meet short-term cash flow requirements of the government consequent to lack of consistency in fiscal policy leading to uncertainty among tax payers.
  • Lack of elasticity and buoyancy in the tax system both being less than unity.
  • Existence of a large informal economy resulting in large-scale tax evasion and avoidance as well as black money. 
  • The grant of periodic tax amnesties (11 since 1964) which have been largely failures, not producing the expected results.
  • A complicated tax system and weaknesses in tax administration and its mechanism.

Composition of revenue –  direct and indirect

Another aspect in the current tax system, which needs change, is the composition of tax revenue. Direct taxes comprise on average less than 20% of tax revenue (2% of GDP) while indirect taxes comprise over 80% or 8% of GDP. In this context, both the 2010 Presidential Taxation Commission and recent Economic Policy Statement (EPS) of the Prime Minister set the target of achieving a 40:60 ratio of direct to indirect taxes by 2020. This has also been reiterated in the 2017 Budget speech. 

Fiscal and tax incentives

In respect of tax incentives granted both under Law 17 of the BOI and IRD, there are both pros and cons in granting such concessions particularly in relation to attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). On average, Sri Lanka has attracted around $ 500 million (about 1.5% of DGP) as FDI during the last decade. However, the tax incentive regime if considered necessary in a competitive international context, must be designed, and implemented in a more methodical and cost effective way. Their cost-benefit should be properly examined and subjected to continuous review so that the impact on revenue is minimised and the required economic objectives realised.

The 2017 Budget also proposes to minimise tax exemptions by removing exemptions applicable on the income from investment on listed securities, dividends, Unit Trusts and other instruments. Notional Tax Credit applicable on secondary markets are also to be removed.

Base and coverage

One of the important elements in securing a satisfactory level of tax revenue is the base and coverage of the taxes. While certain steps to broaden the tax base and coverage have been taken (for example, the inclusion of public servants hitherto exempt from income tax, widening the base of the VAT and NBT by adding the wholesale and retail sectors among others), the base and coverage still need to be enlarged. This includes a re-examination of the tax free allowances, the enhanced allowable expenses under Section 25 of the Inland Revenue Act and other sections.

Further, the constant changes in the rate structure, the multiplicity of rates, the recent rate concessions for “professionals,” and the recent proposals to change the basis of the corporate rate structure have tended to further complicate the system. 

Capital gains

Capital gains were introduced in Sri Lanka in 1959. It underwent several changes and was abolished in 2002. However, realised, capital gains are: equivalent to income; minimise opportunities for tax avoidance; accrue generally to the property owning class; and concentrated in higher income brackets. Hence, the government in its 2017 Budget announced its re-introduction from 1 April 2017 at the rate of 10%. 

VAT debate

dft-17-ddm The VAT introduced under VAT Act No. 14 of 2002 has drawn much attention and debate recently, particularly its recent amendments. In principle, a VAT system is superior to other forms of sales taxation due to its non-cascading character; about 160 countries have a VAT system in some form or other. However it has also several weaknesses.

In terms of revenue performance, the VAT in Sri Lanka has not shown regularity and reliability. It has been characterised by volatility and the need for complex manipulation to prevent revenue erosion in the form of input credits and refunds. The problems of VAT in Sri Lanka relate to constant changes in the threshold, a large number of exemptions, zero rating list and rate structure. Problems also arise in the area of wholesale and retail trade, financial services and existence of fraud. The much vaunted self-checking and self-policing feature of the VAT system has been found to be wanting. The VAT system is an ideal instrument for a market economy but ill-suited due to administrative capacity. The 2017 Budget proposals envisages certain measures such as the removal of the SVAT schemes, further broadening of the VAT base and consolidating VAT Act to incorporate all amendments up to date.

Customs duties, Excise duties, and other taxes and levies

Customs duties in the form of three band tariffs of zero, 15% and 30%, brought in Rs. 132 billion or 9% share of revenue in 2015. Excise duties including Special Excises are a potential source of revenue and generated 34% share of tax revenue. There are other miscellaneous taxes and levies including cesses, PAL, Telecom Levy, Stamp Duty, Share Transaction Levy etc., which contributed to 17% of the revenue in 2015. The complicated tax system in Sri Lanka of over 22 taxes and levies needs simplification. Simplification however does not depend on legislative measures alone but also on administrative procedures and regulations.

Provincial and local taxation

Apart from national taxes, provincial and local taxation is also a significant part of the Sri Lankan tax system. From a revenue point of view, however, Provincial taxation is unsatisfactory, bringing in only 4% of Central government revenue or 0.6% of GDP. Provincial expenditure is around 11% of government revenue and the deficit is met by grants from the Centre.

The problem has been complicated by the abolition of BTT in 2011, its main source of revenue and its replacement by 100% Stamp Duty, 70% of motor vehicle fees and 33 1/3 % of NBT from the Centre. Local government revenue may also undergo change with the proposed Grama Rajjaya Concept involving the creation of 2500 new units at grassroots level.

Revenue administration

It is the level of efficiency of the revenue administration, which determines the effectiveness of the revenue system. In the current context, with the declining tax ratio and the urgent need to increase government revenue, the effectiveness of the tax administration, its structures, systems and processes need thorough examination, its weaknesses identified and measures to rectify them and make the administrative system an efficient and effective instrument of tax collection.

Several measures have periodically been taken to remedy these weaknesses and improve the efficiency of the tax administrative system at Customs, Finance Ministry, and Inland Revenue. The 2017 Budget contains further proposals such as establishing a National Tax Council and Tax Ombudsman office, smart E-invoice devices for VAT and Excise, streamlining Customs procedures among others. However, there is still a long way to go; further measures are needed to improve revenue administration and co-ordination.

[This article is based on a recently released Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) publication, ‘Taxation in Sri Lanka: Current Trends and Perspectives’, authored by D.D.M. Waidyasekera, Consultant at IPS. The publication can be obtained from the IPS Publications Unit; contact 2143107 or visit www.ips.lk for details.]

Envoy clears the air, denies Udayanga hiding in Russia

MiG deal, killing in Rostov-on-Don

By Shamindra Ferdinando- 

Russian Ambassador in Colombo Alexander A. Karchava, yesterday said one-time Sri Lankan Ambassador in Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga was not involved in the killing of a Sri Lankan in Rostov-on-Don on June 11, 2014.

The Ambassador was responding to a query at a media briefing at the Russian Embassy at Bauddhaloka Mawatha.

Ambassador Karchava pointed out that a Russian national had been found guilty of killing Sri Lankan Noel Ranaweera, who had been attached to the Sri Lankan mission in Moscow. The diplomat said that another Russian had been found guilty of shooting a junior Sri Lankan diplomat on the same day.

After the change of government in January 2015, a fresh inquiry was ordered into the killing.

There had been a fight between Sri Lankans and the Russians hired by the embassy to transport the baggage of a visiting Sri Lankan delegation, Ambassador Karchava said.

Asked whether Russia had been protecting fugitive Weeratunga wanted in Sri Lanka in connection with an alleged corrupt deal to acquire MiGs from Russia during the war, an apparently amused Ambassador Karchava pointed out that Sri Lanka had bought aircraft from Ukraine. The Ambassador said that Weeratunga also had been Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Kiev though he was based in Moscow.

The Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) is currently probing the aforesaid alleged aircraft transaction.

The Katunayake-based MiG 27 No 12 squadron played a pivotal role in the combined forces campaign against the LTTE with several hundred successful sorties in the Northern region during the final three-year phase of the war. Sri Lanka acquired MiG 27s in 2000 to back multi role Kfirs.

Ambassador Karchava asserted that no country would punish its own citizens for crimes committed by others. Ambassador Karchava strongly denied assertion that Weeratunga was in Russia.

At the conclusion of the media briefing, The Island sought a comment from Ambassador Karchava as regards Weeratunga having to explain the circumstances under which Sri Lanka had acquired MiGs. Declining to be drawn on the issue Ambassador recalled that Weeratunga had over the phone explained his plight to him early this year.

The Ambassador said that the Russian now serving a jail term had purposely run over the victim following a dispute over the payment for the services rendered. The Russians had asked for much more than the agreed amount, the Ambassador said, assuring that Russian authorities had acted promptly in the wake of the incident.

Increase in fines is illegal!

Increase in fines is illegal!
Dec 05, 2016

The fines imposed from the budget on traffic law violations are illegal, reports say. Several veterans in the legal field told us that the finance minister had considered the proposing of new taxes and imposing fines to be the same. However, it will be a violation of the constitution if a fine is imposed in the same manner a tax is imposed, they said.

Explaining further, they said the constitution does not prevent the introducing of new taxes and enforcing same with immediate effect, without waiting until they had been made part of the law. The imposition of a fine could be proposed through a budget. However, if that fine is to be implemented, an act of parliament should necessarily be introduced first. Also, that fine becomes law only after parliament passes it and the speaker signs the approved document. The constitution does not provide for the backdated imposition of a fine. That is clearly mentioned in 13-06 clause of paragraph 111 on fundamental rights in the constitution, that a punishment for an offence should not exceed the punishment spelt out by the law at the time the offence was committed, they noted. Ruling party MP, president’s counsel, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne too, referred to this recently. “When the finance minister said the fines will be increased, everybody knew that to implement it, an act is needed. That is not so for taxes. For taxes, laws can be introduced later, to become effective backdated. If fines or prison terms are increased, that can be implemented only from the day the amended or the new law is passed and the speaker certified it,” he said.
Veterans in the legal field said further that the finance minister introduced through budget 2016, without considering the long term implications, an amendment to the Value Added Tax (VAT), and the Supreme Court subsequently ruled to annul it, as that was not in line with the provisions in clause 152 of the constitution and the parliamentary standing order 133. The issue did not aggravate into a clash between the legislature and the judiciary due to the balance of power prevailing at the time. They added that the finance minister should act more responsibly in such sensitive matters.
Three killed in Balapitiya shooting


At least three members of the same family including a four-year-old child were shot dead following a shooting incident in Balapitiya this evening, police said.

 The victims were identified as 31-year-old man, his 28 year-old wife and five year-old child. They were in front of a garment factory in the area, when a gunman opened fire at them. 

Soon after the incident, the critically injured victims were admitted to the Balapitiya hospital, where they succumbed to their injuries.

Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa dies, supporters grieve in streets

A woman walks past a portrait of J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, in Chennai, India, March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Babu/File Photo
A woman walks past a portrait of J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, in Chennai, India, March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Babu/File Photo
Tue Dec 6, 2016
One of India's most popular politicians, Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, died on Monday following a massive cardiac arrest, setting off an outpouring of grief among thousands of supporters gathered outside.
Her political party and the hospital where she was being treated confirmed the popular former film actress and chief minister of southern India's Tamil Nadu state, widely known as "Amma" or "Mother", had died at the age of 68.
"Our beloved leader, The Iron Lady of India ... is no more," tweeted her AIADMK party, the third-largest party in India's lower house of parliament in New Delhi.
Her death deprived her regional ruling party of its only charismatic leader, whose portrait adorned placards and posters around her home state and who was tipped as a possible future Indian prime minister.
Jayalalithaa had gone into cardiac arrest on Sunday night, the Apollo Hospital in Chennai said, following her admission with fever and dehydration in September.
Despite being resuscitated and put on life support, "her underlying conditions rendered her unable to recover and she passed away at 11:30 p.m.", the hospital said in a statement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes, tweeting that Jayalalithaa's death had left a huge void in Indian politics.
"Jayalalithaa ji's connect with the citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalized will always be a source of inspiration," Modi said.
The news of her death was met with howls of grief and tears from the crowd of supporters outside the hospital. Rumours earlier in the evening that she had died, which proved to be false, led to brief unrest.
About 2,000 policemen were deployed around the hospital in case crowds of devoted supporters reacted strongly to Jayalalithaa's death. Supporters have been known to commit suicide in reaction to bad news.
"Nothing can kill Amma," said one man holding a picture of the leader outside the hospital earlier as doctors battled to save her life.
Aloof and powerful, Jayalalithaa had a cult following among the people of Tamil Nadu that endured even though she went to jail for corruption more than once.
She began a film career at 16 and rose to stardom with dozens of hit Tamil films, often with her screen partner M.G. Ramachandran, an actor-turned politician who then served three terms as chief minister of Tamil Nadu state.
With voters ready to confer god-like status on their matinee idols, she also went into politics and trumped her mentor by serving five times as head of the state government.
Jayalalithaa leaves behind a legacy of populist schemes, including giving away free cellphones, laptops and kitchen grinders that endeared her to millions of voters. She also drew foreign investors to India's second largest state economy.
Auto giants Ford Motor (F.N), Daimler (DAIGn.DE), Hyundai (011760.KS) and Nissan (7201.T) have operations in Chennai as has U.S.-listed outsourcing firm Cognizant (CTSH.O) .
Her death opens up a leadership vacuum in her AIADMK party, which she ran with an iron hand with designated successor.
During her latest illness, her picture was put in a chair at the head of the table at state cabinet meetings.
O.P. Panneerselvam, a cabinet colleague, has stood in for Jayalalithaa in the past, but he has repeatedly made it clear he was not replacing her. He pointedly refused to take her place at the head of the cabinet table while she was ill.
"There is no second line of defence here, and these are emotive times. There is a chance of violence," said T.R. Ramachandran, an independent expert on Tamil Nadu politics.
The AIADMK and its bitter rival, the DMK party, are the main political groupings in Tamil Nadu. Both are built around a personality cult of their leaders, both of whom are drawn from the Tamil film industry.
India's two national parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress, have little political presence in the state, despite decades of efforts.
The death of Jayalalithaa's mentor Ramachandran, or MGR as he was known, sparked looting and rioting across Tamil Nadu by his grief-stricken supporters in 1987.
The U.S. consulate in Chennai asked American citizens to avoid areas where demonstrations were happening and be vigilant because of the chance of violence.
"U.S. citizens are reminded that even gatherings intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence," the consulate said in a notice posted on its website.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj; Additional reporting by Parikshit Mishra and Malini Menon; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Israel’s judges taken to court in Chile

An Israeli bulldozer carries an uprooted olive tree to make way for Israel’s wall, near the occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala and the Jewish settlement of Gilo, adjacent to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, 20 August 2015.Oren ZivActiveStills
Charlotte Silver-5 December 2016
Palestinians in Chile are suing three Israeli high court justices in a Chilean court for their role in authorizing the construction of Israel’s wall in the Bethlehem area of the occupied West Bank.
Several Chilean lawmakers, spanning the spectrum of political parties in the country, joined Palestinian plaintiffs, some of whom are Chilean nationals.
But a Chilean court rejected the suit on 2 December after reviewing the complaint over the course of last week.
Five Chilean judges were assigned to investigate the allegations, according to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, which first reported the lawsuit. The judges were scheduled to issue their first determination in the case in mid-December.

Supreme court appeal planned

The legal team says they will appeal the decision to the Chilean supreme court.
Nicholas Paves, a former Chilean governor, filed the complaint.
Paves says the lower court’s rejection was based on erroneous reasoning, including that Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, and that the region is not in a permanent state of conflict and therefore not subject to international humanitarian law.
Paves says that Chile’s constitution allows the suits because it enshrines the concept of universal jurisdiction, and that the construction of the wall uproots a population that is protected under international humanitarian law.
The lawsuit alleging crimes against humanity was filed on 28 November under Chile’s doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which allows Chilean courts to prosecute suspects of international crimes even if they are from countries that are not members of the International Criminal Court.
Though Israeli military leaders and politicians have previously been pursued in several countries under universal jurisdiction, this is the first known case against members of the judiciary. The complaint cites the Nuremberg trials which established a precedent by prosecuting lawyers and judges who helped implement and execute the policies of the German Nazi regime.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that Israel’s wall violates international law.
The Chilean lawsuit names former Israeli chief justice Asher Grunis and justices Neal Hendel and Uzi Vogelman as defendants.
On 2 April 2015, after a nine-year legal battle, the three justices accepted the Israeli military’s proposal to build the wall so that it would keep the religious complex composed of a Catholic monastery and women’s convent on the same side as the Palestinian village of Beit Jala and the rest of the West Bank, but annex the surrounding agricultural lands in the Cremisan Valley.
The ruling instructed the military to provide an opening in the wall to allow Palestinians access to their agricultural lands.
The Chilean lawsuit asserts: “In this particular case, it is the defendants who create, through their resolutions, a legal scaffolding that pretends to give an image of legality to that which is clearly criminal.”

Livelihoods cut off

Though the April 2015 ruling cut off Palestinian landowners from their land, at the time it was celebrated as a relative victory.
The military’s original path of the wall would have separated the monastery from the convent as well as from the Palestinian villages to which it is intricately connected.
The entire path of the wall is within the occupied West Bank and critics argue that its real purpose is to confiscate fertile Palestinian land for Israeli settlements.
In July 2015, the Israeli high court ruled the military could begin construction on a segment of the wall dividing land belonging to the town of Beit Jala.
In August, the military moved into the area, uprooting olive trees and preparing for construction of the wall. But the military disregarded the court’s order and proceeded with construction along the same route the justices had earlier invalidated.
This action severed dozens of families from their land and livelihoods. Nader Abu Ghatas, 55, told the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem that on 17 August 2015, he was surprised to see Israeli bulldozers working on his family’s land.
“The other landowners and I were given no prior notice of confiscation or planned work on our plots,” Abu Ghatas said. “I stayed in the area throughout the day and watched the bulldozers and tractors uproot the ancient olives trees and wrecking the plots. It was a huge disaster for me and for my neighbors.”
Residents immediately appealed to the high court to halt the construction, but the justices refused to intervene.
Over the next six months, Palestinians exhausted legal measures to halt the wall’s construction. In January 2016 the Israeli high court made its final ruling against the villagers.
The Chilean lawsuit holds that the Israeli judges’ decisions are a “clear example that the defendants form part of the system of occupation itself and therefore its decisions will only go in one direction: to justify and endorse the unjustifiable from the perspective of international law.”
The suit notes that as the case advances through the courts in Chile, more people may be named as defendants. Haaretz reports that the justices who eventually authorized the wall’s route were Hendel, Zvi Zylbertal and Miriam Naor, who succeeded Grunis as president of the Israeli court.
As part of the investigation, Chilean judges could summon Israeli judges for questioning or interrogate them in Israel.
Chile has a large Palestinian diaspora, many of whose members trace their roots to the Bethlehem area.
The lawsuit emphasizes this historic connection between Palestine and Chile.

Israel close to legalising nearly 4,000 settler homes

Israeli government minister says legislation moves 'from the path leading to the creation of a Palestinian state'

A general view of caravans in the settlement outpost of Amona, which was established in 1997 on Palestinian land (AFP)

Monday 5 December 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has closed in on a controversial bill with a key rival on Monday that could legalise nearly 4,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
The bill, which is named the Regulation Law, has drawn harsh criticism internationally. Its main backer, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, called it the start of Israel's eventual annexation of most of the West Bank. Netanyahu had originally opposed the controversial legislation.
It would still need preliminary approval and three full votes at Israel's Knesset, but an agreement between Netanyahu and Bennett would likely assure passage.
The bill has severely tested Netanyahu's coalition, seen as the most right-wing in Israeli history. A previous version was given preliminary approval last month.
"With this law, the state of Israel has moved from the path leading to the creation of a Palestinian state to the path leading to (Israeli) sovereignty" over most of the West Bank, Bennett told army radio.
In October, Bennett called on supporters to give up their lives to ensure the entire West Bank is a part of the state of Israel.
Netanyahu told a meeting of members of his Likud party that "we have worked very hard to find a solution", while Israeli media reported that a compromise was at hand.
The international community considers all settlements in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank to be illegal, whether they are authorised by the government or not.
The West Bank, occupied by Israel in 1967, is supposed to be, along with the Gaza Strip, home to the Palestinian state. World powers, including the United States, see the two-state solution as the solution to end the 68-year-old conflict.
The agreement would see a wildcat Jewish outpost in the West Bank, known as Amona, removed from the bill.
Amona, where around 40 families live, is under a court order to be evacuated by 25 December since it was built on Palestinian land.
Some members of Netanyahu's coalition had previously said they could not support the bill if Amona remained part of it because of the court ruling against it.
The agreement will instead see Amona residents temporarily moved to nearby land that Israeli officials describe as abandoned until a permanent solution is found.
Rights groups, however, say that land is also owned by Palestinians and that the move would violate international law.
The bill's progress so far has alarmed many in the international community.
The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, said the legislation "has the objective of protecting illegal settlements built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank.
"It is a very worrying initiative. I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider such a move that would have far-reaching legal consequences across the occupied West Bank."
According to settlement watchdog Peace Now, the bill, if Amona is removed, would legalise some 3,881 housing units.
Most of the homes are located in Israeli-approved settlements but were built on Palestinian land. Around 750 are located in outposts which Israel has not yet approved, Peace Now says.

The Profound Disappointment of Angela Merkel

Mass killing, mass destruction of old societies and cities, induced-coups, threats, fears, torture, the creation of huge and desperate human movements, promotion and reward of terror as a covert policy tool, the decline everywhere in the rule of law, extra-judicial killing on an organized scale, a huge erosion in respect for international institutions like the now much-debased UN, an endless and confusing patchwork of lies told about terrible events – all while ignoring genuinely terrible situations like those in Palestine or in Saudi Arabia or in Turkey.

cropped-guardian_english_logo-1.pngby John Chuckman-Dec 6, 2016

( December 6, 2016, Boston, Sri Lanka Guardian) Anyone who says she admires Hillary Clinton, as Angela Merkel has said, plainly invites revulsion if not contempt. The lack of judgment broadcast by such words strikes the mind like a grating noise. Clinton’s record of behavior literally stinks to high heaven, much as a pile of corpses left to rot in the hot sun, and, as it happens, there are a great many rotting corpses in Clinton’s history.
What an immense disappointment Merkel is. Intelligent and well educated with an appealing, fairly benign face, but, wait, am I describing Merkel or, in fact, Obama? It turns out not to matter. They are a pair of malignant soul mates born thousands of miles apart who conspired later in life to bring the world a great deal of unhappiness.
Merkel has been de facto leader of Europe during an extremely challenging period, one demanding real statesmanship. Instead, she has provided attitudes and short-term fixes married to complete acceptance of the most destructive American policies possible. Her policies have alienated large numbers of her own people and, almost more importantly, contributed mightily to the weakening of loyalties in Europe – not a record of which to be proud.
Unfortunately, during the period of her Chancellorship, there have been no other European leaders of stature and ability to balance or oppose her. Absolutely none. Britain had the flabby joke of David Cameron who collapsed his own house of cards through sheer political incompetence. France had the absurd Francois Hollande, an impossibly pompous man with not a single achievement to his credit, a parody of a French President, certainly the worst leader in modern French history.
So, Europe at a time when America put great new stresses and demands upon it for its own selfish reasons had no leadership worth mentioning. All the major figures were content with accommodating America’s harsh and destructive initiatives. Well, I do think there is something to be said for the dictum that history is biography.
Everyone involved has suffered for Merkel’s attitudes and whims. Europe simply could not have done much worse. The press so glibly speaks of the rise of the political Right in Europe and in America, but what we really see on both continents is public reaction to years of blundering policies causing vast misery in many places.
You cannot support America’s destruction of the Middle East without accepting its direct consequences both in massive migrations of terrified people and in the rise of terror by relatively powerless young men wanting revenge for what has been done to them, their families and homes. Yet this is precisely what Angela Merkel has tried to do, trying to avoid inevitable, destructive consequences of stupid acts she has supported. Having never raised her voice against what America was doing, Merkel decided to deal with some of the consequences by playing the grandmotherly figure who welcomes an avalanche of refugees, seemingly not appreciating for a second what that means on the streets of her own country.
No decent person is against organized, peaceful immigration or against giving assistance to desperate refugees. There is an ethical obligation for both as well as some sound economic reasons. But if a truck, set to deliver two hundred gallons of fuel oil to your home’s heating system, pumps instead two thousand gallons, you suddenly have a disturbing, costly, and dangerous situation. The analogy is actually quite inadequate for what has happened in some places with armies of terrified people fleeing America’s imposed-horrors.
Merkel, realizing what her support of America’s destruction in Libya, Syria, and other places has wrought, tried setting the example of a benign figure ready to help everyone, a kind of bonhomie approach to what was a totally-avoidable catastrophe. The impossibility of this should have been seen, but it was not. Too many extremely-different refugees – different in language, customs, religion, wealth, and politics – cannot be absorbed quickly or peacefully by any country, and perhaps that is even more true of relatively old and homogeneous societies such as Germany.
We like to speak of xenophobia with contempt, but in the gritty real lives of vast populations everywhere on the planet, it is a reality just as much as backward religious practices, which cannot be wished away. True xenophobia, indeed, much resembles fundamentalist religion in that it is an expression of superstitious instincts, deeply-rooted instincts whose origins go beyond mere learned behaviors. Just try asking highly religious people to set aside their feelings for completely different newcomers, the example coming to mind of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel and their “take” on others. It is possible only in the imagination.
But xenophobia is only part of the mix, despite the claims of a superficial mainstream press, and I am not just speaking of it. We promote nationalism and national unity in every Western country with flags, anthems, pledges, holiday customs, uniforms, speeches, parades, even laws, and then some leaders seem to expect their people, almost on command, to turn their backs on all the lifelong indoctrination and embrace sudden, great change? It simply cannot be done.
As with anything else you may care to discuss, the time to act is before a great problem or crisis has been created. Preventative health care is no less valuable for nations than it is for individuals. The leaders of Europe should have seen what America’s fanatical crusade was going to do and opposed it, forcefully, before it was started. In doing so, Europe would have been strengthened instead of diminished as it has been., to say nothing of preventing the death and maiming of millions in the Middle East. Instead they quietly supported it and even donated resources to the insane efforts of America’s Grande Armée in the Middle East.
Merkel’s contribution to disaster goes further, to her relations with one of the planet’s genuine madman-leaders, Netanyahu. She has been selling him sophisticated submarines at knock-down prices for years. Only recently they agreed to three more of them in a deal which has Netanyahu being examined in Israel for criminal activity. I think it fair to ask, too, why a sardine-sized country needs a fleet of sophisticated submarines, some or all of which are widely rumored to be outfitted with nuclear-armed cruise missiles? Does that make sense to anyone other than Merkel, Netanyahu, Clinton, and Obama? Does that contribute to stability in the Middle East? And why doesn’t the excruciating injustice of Israel’s occupation and regular theft of land enter into considerations?
Germany’s taking a million refugees is roughly equivalent to America’s taking four million. It does not take a great imagination to see what the results of such a massive, short-term influx would be. Moreover, never mind Donald Trump, there has been no American government, ever, willing to accept such numbers at one time. Indeed, had America’s recent governments demonstrated the slightest sense of responsibility for what they had caused, they would have taken extraordinary steps for the refugees, but they did not. Instead, they encouraged measures like Merkel’s response, which, in terms of total numbers involved in the human catastrophe, is necessarily pathetic.
But, if you read enough history, you will know it has always been part of the American government’s character to do what as it pleases in the world with little or no regard for the consequences, so long as those consequences are on foreign shores. It is an attitude bred in a people who too often feel they can have it all and have it now and a people who have the illusion, generated both in commercial advertising and in fundamentalist Christianity, of endless youth with all its happy irresponsibility. It is something which actually marks America as especially unsuitable for enlightened world leadership, while it is the very quality demonic figures such as Kissinger or Brzezinski regarded as useful to their twisted international purposes.
Merkel quickly learned what she had done was a terrible political mistake. Consequences were quick, so she backtracked, never a dignified behavior for a national leader. But more than that, Merkel, realizing what the consequences might be of a few million more refugees temporarily encamped in Turkey continuing on into Europe, was quick to strike a deal with another of our planet’s most unscrupulous and dangerous leaders, the madman who rules Turkey, Erdogan. She agreed to pay him several billion Euros to keep the refugees in their massive Turkish camps.
This was not just a highly unethical deal, it should have been seen for the ongoing danger it represented, especially in view of Europe’s general relations with Erdogan and its confused efforts to deal with his many demands, ranging from visa-free travel in Europe for Turks to full membership in the EU. Again, American policy had created a huge problem by treating Turkey, an undemocratic country with limited respect for human rights and one for some years ruled by a madman, as an indispensable ally against Russia, so the EU to this day feels it must accommodate that ugly reality in all its policies.
Obviously, a country in the state we see in Turkey – constant war and terror against the Kurds, serious government suppression of free speech and activities, assassinations, widespread Muslim fundamentalism, and now new waves of repression following a failed coup – is in no shape to qualify for EU membership under the EU’s own requirements, which at least struggle to be faithful to Enlightenment principles.
Erdogan, never one to be shy about what he wants, has already threatened publicly to “open the gates” if the EU does not proceed in treating his demands appropriately. So, Merkel’s dirty deal with the devil is seriously threatened and becomes just one more source of uncertainty and instability. It is not a promising situation.
I believe Merkel was permanently scarred by growing up in East Germany and likely harbors both inordinate fear of Russia and slavish admiration for America, neither attitude being warranted in the least today. Her mental landscape possibly includes images of Andropov versus Jimmy Stewart, but policy built on fantasy and fears is bad policy, always.
The Bush-Obama years have been, in so far as foreign policy goes, about as stupidly and blunderingly destructive as Lyndon Johnson’s bull-headed insistence on fighting a major war in Vietnam. Johnson ended by killing about 3 million people, generating instability and misery, dividing America itself, and achieving nothing worth achieving. Bush-Obama have killed at least a couple of million, generated instability and misery, divided the countries of Europe, also achieving nothing worth achieving. There is not one part of the vast sphere America has arrogantly viewed as its area of influence that has not been made worse by Bush-Obama policies.
Mass killing, mass destruction of old societies and cities, induced-coups, threats, fears, torture, the creation of huge and desperate human movements, promotion and reward of terror as a covert policy tool, the decline everywhere in the rule of law, extra-judicial killing on an organized scale, a huge erosion in respect for international institutions like the now much-debased UN, an endless and confusing patchwork of lies told about terrible events – all while ignoring genuinely terrible situations like those in Palestine or in Saudi Arabia or in Turkey.
Apart from the horrors Merkel has implicitly or explicitly embraced and apart from the anger and disruptions and economic hardship her embrace has meant for Europe – America’s arbitrary and unwarranted sanctions against Russia have cost the German and French economies literally billions which America smilingly allows them to pay – one look at a map of Europe tells you just part of the reason why her views are so utterly counter-productive.
For scores of reasons, the future of Europe is in a cooperative and close relationship with Russia. It just cannot be otherwise, although, if you are determined to waste enough resources, impoverishing to some degree your own people through decreased trade and increased military waste, you can hold the inevitable off for quite a while. Look at America’s ten years of sheer insanity in Vietnam if you doubt for a moment that it is possible for a great country to do absolutely pointless and insanely costly things. Well, another insane and costly crusade is exactly the course America has been on in recent years, and leaders like Merkel have served as the most willing helpers in the task.
Obama and his political associate, Hillary Clinton, are total failures as figures of principle and as leaders, and Merkel very much resembles them, even down to the pathetic recent appeal she is using with German voters in anticipation of 2017 elections. She has imported wholesale Hillary’s squalid, 1950s-style claim that Russia threatens the integrity of elections, her empty claims being just an effort to stoke-up fears to get what she wants.
And then there are the remarkably empty and pretentious words she wrote in her official letter to President-elect Trump:

“Germany and America are united by shared values: through democracy, freedom, respect for the right and dignity of every individual, irrespective of origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or political attitude. On the basis of these values, I would like to offer you a close cooperation between the governments of our countries.”
No clear-thinking person can accept such words as anything but hypocritical establishment claptrap – the kind of phony stuff just rejected by the American people. There is not a sincere phrase contained in the paragraph, just an arrogant assumption of moral loftiness and a presumption of setting standards for future relations. Can any thoughtful reader not sense almost an insult in the words? Insufferable stuff coming, as it does, from someone who never lifted a finger, except to assist, in the killing of tens of thousands of women and their families in half a dozen lands.
Trump will not do everything right, I know, but Merkel has done almost nothing right, much as her admired friends, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.