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HR Watch urges IMF to force the Govt to tackle crisis before talks

International NGO  Human Rights Watch has urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ensure that effective measures to address governance issues and corruption are negotiated prior to the commencement of any new program in Sri Lanka and are implemented early in any program.

In a letter to IMF Managing Director Dr. Kristalina Georgieva, the human rights organization  noted that as the experience of the 2016-19 program shows, reforms that are left for later are unlikely to be implemented. 

Central bank independence was then a keystone of the Fund’s approach. However, the promised Central Bank Act was never adopted, finally being scrapped by the current government in June 2021, it added.

Human Rights Watch  has also made some recommendations that should be incorporated in any IMF program in Sri Lanka to protect the rights, lives, and livelihoods of all Sri Lankans.

These recommendations are as follows 

Ensure that social protection programs are adequately expanded to mitigate the cost of any adjustments. This includes assessing the impact of adjustments, setting adequate social spending floors as Performance Criteria, and appropriately defining floors.

Support higher social spending by the government, and require evaluations based on performance.

Urge policies to increase women’s access to employment by reducing barriers, including by providing state-funded maternity leave and access to affordable menstrual hygiene.

Implement progressive tax measures that do not further burden people living in poverty.

Implement any reduction or removal of subsidies in a progressive manner or with an adequate compensatory system to ensure affordability for low-income people in advance of reforms.

Human Rights Watch has documented that the Rajapaksa administration has aggressively repressed civil society by subjecting activists and nongovernmental organizations to intense surveillance and intimidation, reducing the ability of the public to hold the government to account.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was himself facing corruption charges related to his previous period as defense secretary at the time of his election in 2019, it added.

It has requested the IMF to put pressure on the government to abolish the 20th amendment to the constitution which gave unprecedented powers to the President who ha staken the law on to his hands to suppress mass protests and upheavals.

The 20th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, adopted in 2020, undermined the independence of the judiciary, as well as key institutions including the National Audit Office and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), by giving the president unfettered control of appointments of senior judges and officials.

The amendment also removed the Auditor General’s constitutional authority to audit the Prime Minister’s Office and the Presidential Secretariat, and removed the constitutional status of the CIABOC, meaning it can be abolished by a simple majority in parliament. 

These changes make it harder to hold government officials and others accountable for corruption and threaten the public’s ability to safely monitor their government’s spending decisions, Human Rights Watch claimed  

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