Afghanistan UN envoy sees potential to end conflict amid complex situation

30 June 2009The current situation in Afghanistan – marked by the most intense fighting in years, and upcoming presidential polls – is extremely complex, but if managed well could also become a turning point in ending the conflict, the top United Nations envoy to the country said today. “The situation in Afghanistan is certainly the most complex we have experienced for many years,” Kai Eide, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative, told the Security Council, noting that ensuring a credible election process leading up to the August elections is just one of the reasons. “The August election is about more than choosing Afghanistan’s leaders,” he said. “It is about strengthening people’s confidence in the democratic process, and about strengthening Afghanistan’s institutions. It is not only about who will lead, but about the legitimacy of leadership.”Mr. Eide, who heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), added that no one’s interests can be served by an election result which is disputed by the people and affects the legitimacy of a new government. Presenting Mr. Ban’s latest report on Afghanistan, the Special Representative highlighted recent progress such as the strengthening of security institutions, and reforming agriculture and the private sector, noting a “totally new momentum” in these areas.“My fear, however, is that the noise from the election campaign and the fighting season will absorb so much energy and attention that it will overshadow these positive trends and affect the momentum which has now developed,” Mr. Eide stated.“If we do not succeed in maintaining this momentum, then I am afraid we will witness new stagnation and more disillusionment among the public.”He added that more effective and coordinated development efforts that meet the concerns of the Afghan people and their demands for greater economic and social justice will also enhance their confidence in their own Government and in the international community.Also crucial is to strengthen efforts to ensure that international military engagement continues to enjoy the support of the Afghan people, he noted, pointing to the call made in the Secretary-General’s report for a review of the operations of special forces – which by far account for the majority of civilian casualties caused by pro-Government forces.“It is my view that the political costs of recent mistakes are simply disproportionate to military gains and that such reviews are urgently required.” At the same time, he stressed that the clear majority of civilian casualties are caused by the insurgency. “For them, it is not a result of tragic mistakes, but of deliberate policy.”Mr. Eide noted that the ongoing conflict is seriously undermining the prospects for peace. The number of security incidents rose beyond the 1,000-mark for the first time in May, and there are more incidents in parts of the country which have, up to now, been considered relatively stable. “This is the most intense fighting season we have experienced,” he said.He added that a credible and successful peace process can only take place if there is a government that enjoys the support of the people and has confidence in itself. “And it can only take place if we have an international presence which enjoys the support of the people and has confidence in itself.” read more

UN marks Human Rights Day with call to end all forms of

10 December 2009The United Nations marked Human Rights Day today, the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by stressing the enduring need to eliminate all forms of discrimination, with officials in the world’s most crisis-plagued regions – from Iraq to Afghanistan to Somalia – appealing for tolerance in the interests of peace. “No country is free of discrimination,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message for the Day whose theme this year is ‘Embrace Diversity, End Discrimination.’ “It may appear as institutionalized racism, as ethnic strife, as episodes of intolerance and rejection, or as an official national version of history that denies the identity of others. “Discrimination targets individuals and groups that are vulnerable to attack: the disabled, women and girls, the poor, migrants, minorities, and all those who are perceived as different,” he added, pledging UN commitment to fight inequality and intolerance wherever they are found.In Baghdad, Mr. Ban’s Special Representative Ad Melkert called on all Iraqis to respect each others’ political rights, as well as cultural, religious, ethnic and gender differences, singling out the status of women. “Violence against women cannot be seen in isolation from discrimination against them,” he said.In Kabul, too, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) stressed that eight years after the end of Taliban rule, women still face growing challenges in public life and have limited access to justice. “Life in public spaces for Afghan women is shrinking and gender-based violence is still widespread and deeply rooted in Afghan society,” UNAMA human rights chief Norah Niland said.Mr. Ban’s Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah praised the courage of those who continued to risk their lives to protect and defend the human rights in a faction-riven country that has known no peace for nearly two decades. “A whole generation is growing up having never known what it means to live in a peaceful, stable environment where rights are respected,” he said. In New York, General Assembly President Ali Treki joined the chorus of those calling for the respect of human rights without distinction to race, sex, language or religion. “Millions of human beings continue to fight a daily battle against discrimination to gain access to education, health services and decent work,” he said. “The realization of all human rights, social, economic and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, is hampered by discrimination.”And in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay deplored the fact that discrimination is still rampant 61 years after the Declaration’s adoption. “Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, yet earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income and own less than one per cent of the world’s property,” she said, also citing discrimination plaguing ethnic, racial and religious minorities, refugees and migrants.In a joint statement the various independent experts who report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council warned that efforts to end discrimination are falling short and progress is even being reversed in some instances. “Globally, stronger commitments and more determined action are required if we are to defeat discrimination,” they said. “Our ethnic, cultural or religious differences should be acknowledged, valued and respected, not seen as a threat to our unity as they too often are, but as a celebrated component of it.”At UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, Director-General Irina Bokova said this year’s theme is particularly pertinent since the world has become more diverse than ever before. “It is only through mutual respect, understanding, constructive dialogue and acceptance of the right to be different that we will defuse tensions and build more peaceful multicultural societies,” she stressed.Celebrations marking the Day spanned the globe, with the parliament of Timor-Leste – the tiny South-East Asian nation that the UN shepherded to independence in 2002 after its vote to separate from Indonesia – holding a special commemorative session at which Mr. Ban’s Special Representative Atul Khare highlighted the importance of the role of the Government and civil society in ending violence against women.A half a world away in Washington UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Obaid was awarded the UN Association for the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award for her deep commitment to the belief that women’s rights are human rights.“What makes it [the award] more significant for me is that I am receiving it on Human Rights Day,” she said. “Such an honour will only make me, and UNFPA, more committed to promoting the human rights of women and girls who still face gender discrimination and violence, to advancing their empowerment and gender equality and to ensuring universal access to reproductive health.” Meanwhile back at UN Headquarters in New York a special Human Rights Day event, entitled ‘Race, Poverty and Power,’ was being held, as well as a panel discussion on opposing rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And in Geneva, women from 28 countries convened for a UN-backed symposium entitled The Courage to Lead: A Human Rights Summit for Women Leaders. read more

Latin American and Caribbean exports drop 24 per cent in 2009 UN

7 January 2010The value of total exports from Latin America and the Caribbean in 2009 fell 24 per cent compared to the previous year due to the global economic crisis, according to a new United Nations study released today. The value of imports in the region also declined by 25 per cent, according to “International Trade in Latin America and the Caribbean 2009: Crisis and Recovery,” published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).The 24 per cent drop in the value of the region’s exports represents a combined 15 per cent decline in value and 9 per cent decrease in volume. “This simultaneous decrease in price and volume is unprecedented in recent history. The last similar situation took place in 1937,” states the report, which updates a study published last August.It also stated that although both exports and imports declined significantly, the drop is not as bad as during the first part of 2009, when they declined by 31 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively. This implies a better outlook for 2010, according to a news release issued by ECLAC.The report attributed the “economic recovery” in the last quarter of 2009 to, among others, the partial rise in the price of several commodities, such as copper, zinc, oil, wheat and soya, and the strong demand from China since the second quarter of last year. Significant differences were also cited between countries and subregions. While exports diminished 42 per cent in Venezuela and 32 per cent in Andean countries as a whole, they decreased 29 per cent in the Caribbean, 22 per cent in Mexico and Chile, and only 6 per cent in Central America (excluding Mexico). Mining and oil exports fared the worst, according to the study, with an average decline of 42.3 per cent from January to September 2009. Meanwhile, manufactured products dropped 25.4 per cent and agricultural and livestock exports decreased 18.4 per cent. Last month ECLAC predicted that Latin America and the Caribbean will bounce back faster than expected from the global financial crisis, with growth projected at over 4 per cent in 2010. In its annual report, the Commission said it expects positive growth rates for most countries in the region, but notes there are still doubts about whether the recovery will be sustainable, since external scenarios remain uncertain and could impact the area. read more

Environmental disaster looms in Ukraine unless urgent steps are taken – UN

30 April 2010Immediate action is needed to avert an environmental disaster in western Ukraine where toxic materials from former mines could spread into the area and threaten the health of local communities, according to the report of a joint United Nations-European Union mission of experts. The final report of the UN-EU mission to the Kalush area of Ukraine describes the situation there as “critical,” according to a press release issued this week by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which manages a joint environment unit with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).“A window of opportunity exists to prevent the existing situation from deteriorating into a disaster,” the press release notes, citing the mission’s report. “Immediate action should be taken to address and remedy the identified problems.”The mission, conducted last month at the request of Ukrainian authorities, found there was a high probability that an open-cast mine could break through into the Sivka River and thus spread the dangerous organic pollutant hexachlorobenzene (HBC) into the local environment.Mining in the Kalush area has left the ground unstable and prone to subsidence, with mine tailings dams at risk of bursting as a result of snowmelt and spring floods. Ground and surface water has become highly salinized and contaminated.The mission members, accompanied by national experts, assessed the stability of the dams and the risks posed by subsidence, and it also conducted sampling at a nearby hazardous waste site to screen for threats to potential local communities.In addition they assisted emergency management organizations in the region to identify risk reduction measures and other steps to minimize the impact of any environmental disaster on the local population.The nine-member mission team included experts in emergency management, environmental issues, risk reduction, hydrogeology and tailings dams, and was conducted through the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) system and the European Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre. read more

UN voices concern over intercommunal violence in northern Kenya

The clashes between the Borana and Gabra livestock herding communities around the northern Kenyan town of Moyale, which is situated on the border with Ethiopia, have reportedly also displaced thousands of people.“What we are seeing up there is cyclical inter-communal revenge attacks and violence between the communities,” said Matthew Conway, spokesperson for the East African bureau of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.“What appears to be motivating the violence is competition for land for grazing and livestock,” he said in an interview with UN Radio, adding that the violence follows the recent drought in northern Kenya during which pastoralist communities lost large numbers of their livestock due to the lack of pasture and the drying up of water sources.“We seem to be seeing groups competing now for land for grazing and conducting raids on each others herds of livestock in an effort to restock some of the animals they may have lost during the drought,” said Mr. Conway.Clashes have also been reported between members of the Borana and Turkana communities in the central area of Isiolo, he added.He said access to the areas affected by the violence has not been easy due to insecurity, but the Kenyan Red Cross Society has been carrying out some relief work among those displaced.“One of the things certainly that OCHA is calling for is greater provision of security and protection by Government authorities in these regions so that we can have access… to populations in need and so that they can also return to their areas of origin,” said Mr. Conway.He stressed the need to step up ongoing reconciliation efforts to break the vicious cycle of violent animosity between herder communities that inhabit Kenya’s northern and north-eastern regions.“Communities themselves are at the core of resolving this, but certainly greater attention need to be given by central Government authorities to rein in this violence and rein in the instigators of the violence,” Mr. Conway added.He said that an estimated 300 people had died in such violence in 2009 and a similar number lost their lives last year, according to OCHA’s tally. 5 January 2012The United Nations humanitarian arm today voiced concern over inter-communal clashes in northern Kenya where some 46 people have died in recent months in reprisal attacks linked to rivalry over pasture and cattle rustling. read more

Dollarama profit jumps 32 as discount retailer boosts sales and prices

MONTREAL — Dollarama Inc. had a net profit of $49.8-million in its second quarter, up 32% from the comparable period last year, as the Montreal-based discount retailer benefited from higher sales and thicker profit margins.The profit amounted to 66 cents per diluted share in the 13 weeks ended July 29, up from $37.6 million or 50 cents per share in the comparable period last year.Dollarama’s revenue was up 13.8%, rising to $441 million from $387.5 million for the corresponding period last year.Dollarama originally sold products for a dollar each but now offers items of up to $3 — a move that has helped boost its revenue and margins.The Montreal-based company has also grown by expanding the number of stores in its network, which now total 735 locations across Canada.Comparable-store sales grew 7.3% from the second quarter of last year’s fiscal 2012, showing organic growth. The company also increased the number of stores by 55, or 8.1%, over the 12-month period.Profit margins improved to 36.9% of sales, up from 36.7%.“We are very pleased with our second quarter financial and operating results,” Larry Rossy, Dollarama’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.“Our strong comparable store sales are a good indicator that our customers appreciate our great merchandise value and our diverse product offerings.” read more

TSX rises BlackBerry slides commodities decline amid strong data

The Toronto stock market was slightly higher Monday while BlackBerry stock continued to sell off amid collapsing sales and commodities failed to benefit from strong manufacturing data out of China and Europe.The S&P/TSX composite index rose 11.76 points to 12,818.23 with strength coming from the telecom sector as the major domestic players put down a deposit to take part in Canada’s next wireless spectrum auction in January but there were no foreign participants.BlackBerry shares were down 38 cents or 4.2 per cent to $8.70 after plunging more than 16 per cent Friday after the Waterloo, Ont.-based company warned of a huge second-quarter loss of almost $1 billion amid plunging sales of its new smartphones. It’s also slashing about 4,500 jobs. BlackBerry releases its quarterly results Friday.Monday’s further deterioration in BlackBerry’s stock price came amid a number of downgrades, including RBC Capital Markets which cut the stock to underperform from sector perform.It was a much different story at Apple. Its stock rose four per cent to US$485.72 after it said shoppers had snapped up nine million of the newest iPhones since the devices rolled out Friday.The Canadian dollar was up 0.09 of a cent to 97.19 cents US.Losses on American markets gained momentum after the president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve, Dennis Lockhard, said that data show the employment dynamics of the U.S. economy are slower, with fewer firms expanding employment and fewer people quitting work to find new opportunities.The Dow Jones industrials down 34.62 points to 15,416.47 while the  Nasdaq declined 14.64 points to 3,760.09 and the S&P 500 index slipped 7.91 points to 1,702.On the TSX, the telecom sector rose 0.8 per cent as Telus (TSX:T), Bell Mobility (TSX:BCE), Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) and Quebecor’s Videotron (TSX:QBR.B) were among the prominent telecom companies that have put down a deposit to take part in Canada’s wireless spectrum auction next January. Industry Canada says that a total of 15 participants have put down the deposit for the auction next Jan. 14. None of the 15 are foreign companies. Rogers led the pack, up 73 cents to $45.57.Commodity prices were lower despite signs that the world’s second biggest economy is gradually recovering from a prolonged slowdown.The preliminary version of HSBC’s purchasing managers’ index for China climbed to a six month high of 51.2 from 50.1 in August on a 100-point scale. Numbers above 50 indicate an expansion in activity.The eurozone composite purchasing managers’ index, a gauge of business activity across the manufacturing and services sectors published by financial information company Markit, rose for the sixth month running to a 27-month high of 52.1 points in September from 51.5 in August.The base metals sector rose one per cent as December copper lost three cents to US$3.29 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) climbed 34 cents to $28.66.The gold sector was up 0.7 per cent while December bullion declined $8.60 to US$1,323.90 an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) rose 24 cents to $19.35.November crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $1.25 to US$103.50 a barrel. Prices fell almost four per cent last week amid dealmaking aimed at eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and the energy sector dipped 0.45 per cent.  Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) fell 35 cents to $30.34.Investors are now turning their focus to the U.S., where the possibility of a government shutdown looms amid negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that concerns over the latest fiscal showdown was a factor in the central bank’s decision to maintain its asset purchase program. The Fed surprised markets by not announcing that it would start tapering its monthly US$85 billion of bond purchases.Elsewhere on the corporate front, Calgary-based fertilizer producer Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU) says its third-quarter results will be negatively affected by soft prices and lower sales volumes in its wholesale operations. It says wholesale earnings before interest and tax will be about $200 million lower than in the same period last year.Agrium also said it will increase its dividend by 50 per cent to US$3 a share per year but its shares fell $2.90 to $90.60.Overseas, London’s FTSE 100 index declined 0.45 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX was down 0.34 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 dropped 0.54 per cent. read more

Transcontinental profit drops 93 in second quarter on writedowns

MONTREAL — The Transcontinental printing and publishing business is reporting a big drop in profit, which fell by 93 per cent to $5.4 million due to a combination of unusual items that included its writedown of newspapers in Atlantic provinces.Excluding those items, Transcontinental’s adjusted earnings fell by 12.5 per cent to $34.2 million while its revenue edged up to $497.2 million from $490.5 million.The Montreal-based company says the second half of the year should be better for its printing division thanks to the addition of some new customers in recent months.Transcontinental says its media division is also beginning to benefit from efficiency measures begun during the quarter.Media giant Transcontinental sells assets in Saskatchewan, lays off 65 peopleSnapchat Inc changes app design to focus on media channels, bring in more advertising dollarsSince the quarter ended, Transcontinental has announced the sale of its 13 local newspapers and associated newspapers in Saskatchewan as well as some of its printing equipment in that province.For the second quarter ended April 30, Transcontinental’s net income was equal to seven cents per share, which was down from $1.04 per share or $81.2 million a year ago. Adjusted earnings were equal to 44 cents per share, down from 50 cents per share or $490.5 million a year ago.“We experienced a more difficult second quarter in terms of profitability as certain optimization initiatives that were implemented will only impact our results in upcoming quarters,” said Francois Olivier, Transcontinental’s president and CEO.“In our printing division, the second half of the year should be more favourable, since we also have gained market share with some new customer wins in recent months. Our media sector (has) already begun to benefit from the efficiency measures implemented during the quarter.”He added that Transcontinental’s nascent packaging division has a “solid sales funnel” and remains “very active on the acquisition front.”The Canadian Press read more

WatchCashstrapped Liberal budget likely more policy document than spending plan

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government will unveil a federal budget today that’s expected to be heavy on policy and light on spending.The second budget of the Liberal mandate is poised to focus more on the social policies central to its agenda — from skills to job training, from child care to affordable housing.In particular, the government plans to take steps they hope will help — and reassure — those who fear being left behind by a coming sea change in how economic engines function around the world.The budget comes at a time when Ottawa has very little room to introduce new spending. The country has struggled with disappointing growth, and the Liberals have already made billions and billions of dollars worth of commitments in last year’s budget.But even without big-ticket spending, a government source sought Tuesday to counter lowered expectations for the budget, insisting instead that the document would contain “transformative” and “bold” policy direction.“Not everything is spending, not everything is money,” said one Finance Department source, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details in advance of the budget’s release.“The budget’s a public policy document and I think the story will be much more into where the country needs to go as opposed to dollar amounts… If you’re just looking at tables, that’s not where this story is going to be.”A key budget theme will be the government’s focus on easing concerns about the future of Canada’s labour market.Finance Minister Bill Morneau dropped some major hints in a speech last week in Germany, where he argued that “anti-globalization, protectionism and even anti-immigration sentiments” are stoked when people feel nervous about their future.“They look at the pace of technological change, and the seemingly never-ending need for new skills, and are understandably stressed about the future. It’s hard to feel confident, and to face every day with optimism, when you can’t see what’s around the corner.”One way to respond to that challenge, Morneau said, would be “a culture of lifelong learning, helping people develop the skills they need at every stage of their life to succeed in the new economy,” which he said he would be taking steps to create.And while the annual tradition of the finance minister buying a new pair of shoes often brings clues about the budget narrative, the symbolism this year seemed heavier than most.The dress shoes, black with laces, were designed by the two Canadian sisters behind Poppy Barley, an Edmonton company that says its shoes are hand-crafted by fairly paid artisans in Mexico. Morneau donned the shoes in a Toronto classroom, surrounded by children of diverse backgrounds, including girls wearing the Muslim hijab.Watch out for these Top 5 spins when the Liberals deliver the budget on WednesdayHere’s why investors are worried about the capital gains inclusion rateThe Opposition, meanwhile, wants to see more than just bold ideas.“Justin Trudeau has racked up the credit card and now he needs money to pay the bill,” said interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who said she expects to see tax increases in Wednesday’s document.New Democrat MP Alexandre Boulerice said the time has come for the government to close tax loopholes that benefit the rich, and use the proceeds to help more people.“We can bring back billions of dollars for our social programs and public services,” Boulerice said.Here are five things to look for in the budget:1. Will the government provide a timeline to bring the country’s books to balance? The Liberals won the 2015 election on a platform that vowed to invest billions in measures like infrastructure and child benefits as a way to re-energize Canadian growth. They planned to run deficits to finance the investments, but promised annual shortfalls would not surpass $10 billion during the first couple years of their mandate. The Liberals also vowed to return to balance by 2019-20. Since taking office, however, the government abandoned those promises, citing a weaker-than-expected economy.Last fall, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fiscal statement projected a string of double-digit deficits until at least 2021-22, starting with a $25.1-billion shortfall in 2016-17. Many economists have been urging the government to map out a timetable to eliminate the deficit. Morneau has instead focused on another so-called fiscal anchor, promising to lower the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio — a measure of the public debt burden — by the end of the Liberal mandate.2. If Canada’s staying in deficit mode, how big will the shortfalls be? Morneau has projected annual shortfalls across his outlook, but it remains to be seen how those predictions have evolved since his last update in November. Much has changed since then. The Canadian economy delivered a surprise in the final months of 2016 with growth that easily surpassed forecasts.The economic momentum has continued through the first months of 2017, with unexpectedly strong performances in key areas like trade, labour and housing. Economists have translated these promising indicators into more robust growth projections. Some experts are now predicting smaller deficits for the next couple of years; indeed, some believe the economy has improved so much since January that the forecast in Morneau’s budget could be needlessly pessimistic, making it easier to beat those lower fiscal expectations down the road.Another key consideration is the potential impact of U.S. economic proposals, many of which could have major consequences for Canada. Those factors, however, have largely been left out of economic projections because the Trump agenda remains uncertain.3. Will Ottawa re-introduce a contingency reserve? Federal governments have long used accounting actions to set aside funds for emergencies. In recent years, the so-called contingency reserves have ranged from $1 billion to $6 billion per year. Last fall, the Liberal government removed the $6-billion annual risk adjustment that it introduced earlier in 2016 to cover unexpected problems.A government can also give the public a fresh look at its fiscal trajectory by tweaking the accounting buffers; Ottawa’s deficit figures appeared slimmer last fall after it was eliminated. With so many unknowns tied to potential policy moves in the U.S. on taxes and trade, some economists predict the government will re-introduce a contingency reserve to provide a cushion for Canada’s books.4. What will be the scope of the feds’ tax-expenditure review? Morneau launched a comprehensive review of the tax system last June that enlisted seven experts to advise him on how he should proceed. During the election campaign, the Liberals vowed to undertake a broad review of existing tax expenditures as a way to find $3 billion per year in new revenue by 2019-20. The Liberals said their aim was to reduce tax benefits for the rich.But since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, Ottawa is expected to proceed with caution. The Trump administration has indicated it wants to slash personal and corporate taxes in the U.S., which many fear would put Canada at a significant competitive disadvantage with its top trading partner. Experts have called on Ottawa to wait to see what Washington does before introducing major tax changes of its own in Canada. Sources say the review process is ongoing, meaning the budget will not include the full range of tax changes. However, the budget is expected to contain at least a few smaller tax adjustments.5. How will the budget address gender gaps? Morneau has promised to run his budget through a gender-based analysis and to publish the results. Such a tool would be expected to explore how a given budget measure might have different impacts on men and women as well as boys and girls. These studies also consider age, income, culture, ethnicity and other factors.This year’s analysis is expected to examine how some of the big budget themes will affect genders. It’s also expected to lay the foundation for a more in-depth process next year. Morneau’s department plays a special role in gender-based analysis. Not only does it look at its own policies through this lens, it also reviews how other departments examine budget proposals before they are sent to Morneau’s office.The Canadian Press read more

Fast track UK visa in Sri Lanka

For further information about Fast Track including terms and conditions and guaranteed processing time, log on to: From 24 June, customers in Sri Lanka who apply for a UK visitor visa can request for a brand new ‘Fast Track’ visa service. For an additional fee of LKR 10,000 (including taxes), the Home Office will expedite the visa application and return the documents in 5 working days.Customers may request this service if they are applying for a visitor visa (excluding student visas) and have travelled without difficulty in the last five years to UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or a Schengen country.Customers can book an appointment online by visiting Using the Fast Track service does not guarantee that the visa application will be successful. All applicants must meet the requirements of the UK’s Immigration Rules.If a customer has been refused a visa for any one of the countries mentioned above or overstayed their visa to the UK or been removed or otherwise been required to leave the UK, the processing of the application is likely to take longer than 5 working days. (Colombo Gazette) Customers are advised to schedule an appointment in advance as there is a limited allocation of Fast Track slots each day. Customers with a normal online appointment may avail a Fast Track service without a separate appointment only if there are unallocated slots available. read more

UPFA polls manifesto to protect national sovereignty

5. Housing6. Education7. Healthcare 4. Foreign Policy The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) election manifesto launched today, looks to protect Sri Lanka’s national sovereignty.The manifesto was launched by Prime Ministerial candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presence of UPFA members and others. The Manifesto titled “Reincarnate the nation and start over” looks at many ambitious goals for Sri Lanka over the next 5 years. Increasing the salaries of government employees to a minimum of Rs. 25,000, increasing the cost of living allowance to Rs. 10,000, presenting each State University student with a stationary allowance of Rs.10,000, and increasing the Mahapola scholarship to Rs. 6000 are interesting highlights of the manifesto.The UPFA election manifesto has 12 main focal points. 1. National unity and sustainable reconciliation2. Anti-corruption mechanism and maintaining the autonomy of the Supreme Court3. Economic management Earlier in the day a copy of the manifesto was handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena, who is the President of the UPFA, by a UPFA delegation which included UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha and Sri Lanka Freedom Party General Secretary Anura Priyadharshana Yapa. Themed as ‘Assurance for the Future’ the election manifesto describes how a UPFA government would implement plans and programmes for socio-economic development of the country during the next five years. The UPFA leaders held a lengthy discussion with the President about the ways and means of plan implementation. 8. Environment and wildlife9. Culture, Arts and Communication10. Sports and Youth11. Women and childcare12. Investment and infrastructure developmentThe manifesto states further that these projects under focal points will be done following three main factors in mind: national identity, innovation and societal unity. read more

PM designate seeks backing on National issues

Wickremesinghe said he was ready to take oaths as Prime Minister and pledged to work for the betterment of his people. “We will carry this forward as I will take oaths as Prime Minister and I have discussed with President Maithripala Sirisena the need to take this concept forward where we all need to build a consensus on our national policies,” he added.Wickremesinghe who ousted former President Mahinda Rajapakse and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the parliamentary polls said that he would now put forward a national plan which would require all parties to work together. “We want everyone to come together now. Think of the country and think of the people. We can achieve unity and progress in this country if we work together even for two to three years for the sake of the people,” he said.“Together with the president and all party leaders we will be looking forward to having a new era of politics and government in this country,” he added.Wickremesinghe is to take oaths tomorrow as Prime Minister after which his new Cabinet will be appointed. (Colombo Gazette) Prime Minister designate Ranil Wickremesinghe, today sought the support of all political parties represented in Parliament to work together on National issues.The Prime Minister made the appeal when making a brief statement to the media at Temple Trees today. “On Aug 17 the people of this country exercising their franchise in the parliamentary election confirmed the Jan. 8 revolution and the good governance we have started,” he said. read more

Maithripala affirms commitment to human rights

The Maha sanga including Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thero, other religious leaders and political representatives of Polonnaruwa District participated in this ceremony. (Colombo Gazette) “Every State leader who had been elected has accomplished their missions for each era during their period in power. I will fulfill my responsibility of building our motherland to a great state in the world during the time of my Presidency”, he said.A poem book written by the former principal of Polonnaruwa Royal College was presented to the President at this occasion. President Maithripala Sirisena says Sri Lanka is in a leading position among the countries which are committed to safeguard freedom, democracy and human rights in 2015.He said UN Secretary General Ban Ki–moon affirmed that in an international summit. The President was speaking at a ceremony held at Buddhi Mandapa in Polonnaruwa today. This ceremony was organized to extend the President’s congratulations to the people of Polonnaruwa. “When we look back the last year we have made lots of achievements during that year as Sri Lankans”, the President said. read more

Sri Lanka ratifies Trade Facilitation Agreement with WTO

The Trade Facilitation Agreement aims at streamlining, harmonizing and modernizing customs procedures. It contains provision for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. It also sets out measures for effective cooperation between the authorities involved in the Trade Facilitation measures.According to World Trade Report 2015 of the WTO, the full implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is expected to reduce trade time and cost, facilitating increasing trade flows and GDP. It is envisaged to reduce time to export by 91% while reducing the time to import by 47%. The trade cost for all merchandise goods is expected to reduce by 14.3% while adding US$ 345 billion – US$ 555 billion to global GDP per year. The topic of trade facilitation was taken up for discussion in 1996 in Singapore at the first WTO Ministerial Conference held after establishing the WTO. After several years of negotiations it became a reality at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference held in Bali, Indonesia.Member countries are expected to categorize all the 35 trade facilitation measures in the Agreement and notify their identified categories under A, B, and C to WTO. Category A measures to be implemented by the Agreement enters into force. Measures that need extra time can be classified under Category B. Similarly, measures that require not only extra time but also technical and capacity building can be notified under Category C.Sri Lanka, through the Department of Commerce in 2014 undertook a Needs Assessment for implementation of the Trade Facilitation with the technical assistance from the WTO. It was further followed by a team from the World Bank Group identifying the implementation requirements of the Trade Facilitation Agreement. The WTO Mission in Geneva is currently working with World Trade Organization, World Bank Group, International Trade Centre, Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation through World Economic Forum, UNIDO and World Customs Organization to identify and quantify technical and capacity development assistance to Sri Lanka for effective implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement. The Cabinet of Ministers recently approved setting up of the National Trade Facilitation Committee, which is represented by relevant trade facilitation government agencies and private sector Trade Chambers. The National Trade Facilitation Committee is expected to closely liaise with the World Bank Group, the lead agency for Trade Facilitation Programme in Sri Lanka, during their next visit to Sri Lanka to plan out implementation requirements with necessary technical, funding and infrastructure development assistance. Trade Facilitation Agreement is the most significant achievement after the Marrakesh Agreement for both WTO and its Members. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the WTO in Geneva Ambassador R.D.S. Kumararatne has presented to Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of WTO the Instrument of Acceptance of the Protocol on Trade Facilitation. Sri Lanka is the 81st Member to deposit its Instrument of Acceptance with the WTO on the ratification of Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the WTO. Once the two-third (108) of the current membership deposits its Instrument of Acceptance, the Agreement will come into effect.The Trade Facilitation Agreement is expected to significantly benefit global trade while delivering support particularly to developing and least developed countries. The full implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement will achieve trade cost reduction and global economic growth. The developing and least developed countries of the WTO will enjoy implementation flexibilities and assistance. Implementation of this Agreement will bring positive results to developing countries, in particular small economies such as Sri Lanka to improve their competitiveness in the global market and to attract foreign direct investment through application of simplified border control measures in supporting trade. read more

Canadian Mayor draws flak for Sri Lanka sistercity move

Last October, Jeffrey signed an agreement to initiate the process to formalize economic, social or cultural relations with the Portuguese city of Ribeira Grande.Martin Medeiros, the councillor who spurred on that process, said the Vavuniya agreement would follow along the same lines as the arrangement with Ribeira Grande.However, some councillors said they were caught off guard by the mayor’s announcement, and wonder how the initiative escalated to talk of sister-city status without a formal report detailing potential benefits.“I am concerned that it appears that council direction is being ignored,” said Coun. Grant Gibson.Sandhu said staff is working on a report for council to consider.“It is our hope, after all due diligence has been completed, that we are able to explore economic development opportunities between our communities.” (Colombo Gazette) The mayor’s camp was quick to put water onto the flames Tuesday, stating that such an agreement is still in its infancy and that council would ultimately make the final decision. At the December 7 Economic Development Committee meeting, councillors debated a request that would link Brampton and Vavuniya via a ‘friendship relationship agreement’. “I don’t believe the mayor has the authority to bypass council and she would be foolish doing so,” said Regional Coun. John Sprovieri, reacting to a recent announcement from the mayor stating her intention to formalize relations with Vavuniya, a community of about 70,000 inhabitants in northern Sri Lanka. Although several councillors expressed some skepticism about the benefits of such an agreement, committee members agreed to wait on a staff report before making a decision.However, in a move that has irked many of her colleagues on council, Jeffrey issued a media release in late December announcing she would meet with Sri Lankan dignitaries in Brampton this month to formalize a sister city agreement with Vavuniya. “We acknowledge there may have been some confusion — there are many steps prior to any agreement being signed,” said Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, the mayor’s new press secretary.This, despite a December 20 media release that clearly describes Jeffrey’s plans to sign an agreement that “would strengthen existing economic and cultural ties while encouraging commerce and the exchange of goods and services between Brampton, the Greater Toronto Area and Vavuniya.”Brampton has formal relationships with several cities and international organizations around the globe, including the Chinese city of Xuzhou, Plano Tex., Miami Beach Fla., and Brampton, Cumbria, England. The Mayor of Brampton in Canada, has drawn flak for a proposal to enter a ‘sister city’ agreement with a Sri Lankan municipality without council approval.Linda Jeffrey’s foray into foreign affairs has managed to sour relations at home after councillors voiced concerns that the mayor is moving ahead with the plans, the Brampton Guardian reported. On January 11, members of Brampton’s Tamil community held a reception at Brampton city hall that also hosted C.V. Wigneswaran, chief minister of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.Brampton’s Tamil community numbers approximately 20,000 people.The mayor, who has been largely at odds with her council colleagues, is on vacation and did not attend the ceremony. However, local politicians were disturbed that the mayor opted to act without council’s blessing. read more

Harsha to lead committee to implement SAITM proposals

Deputy Minister Dr Harsha de Silva has been appointed to head a committee to implement the proposals on the SAITM Malabe campus.President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a 9 member committee to look into the SAITM issue. The committee headed by Dr Harsha de Silva will look to implement a set of proposals already submitted on SAITM.The committee will also look at other issues related to the campus. (Colombo Gazette)

SC orders voice recording of statement by Ranjan

The Supreme Court today ordered the authorities to submit the voice recording of Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake where he had allegedly been critical of the judiciary.Ramanayake appeared in court today over the case where he has been accused of contempt of court. During the proceedings, the Supreme Court ordered that the voice recording of Ramanayake being critical of the judiciary be submitted to court on December 14. (Colombo Gazette)

Indian envoy briefs MS RW and MR on crisis with Pakistan

The Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, has briefed Sri Lanka on the crisis between India and Pakistan.The Indian High Commission in Colombo said that the envoy met President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa this week and briefed about the terrorist attack in Pulawama and subsequent developments. (Colombo Gazette)

Modi likely to make short visit to Sri Lanka

According to people familiar with the developments, Modi could either stop over in Colombo on the way to Male or on his way back. The aim is to express solidarity with the Sri Lankan people and that New Delhi will be supportive of Colombo in its fight against terrorism, one of the people cited above said. Modi is expected to visit the Maldives on 7-8 June. The Indian foreign ministry is yet to confirm the visit but news reports from Male said the Indian prime minister would be visiting the atoll nation early June and will also address the country’s Parliament. By stopping over at Colombo, the Prime Minister will not only express solidarity with the victims of the carnage—mostly Sri Lankan Catholics—but will also let the Sri Lankan Government know that India is willing to fully support it in its fight against terrorism.New Delhi had sent warnings to Sri Lanka prior to the attacks that shattered a decade of calm in the country that was previously embroiled in a three decade long civil war. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could make a short visit to Sri Lanka on his way to or back from the Maldives in early June, during his first visit overseas in his second term.While his visit to the Maldives would underline the primacy of neighbours and India’s neighbourhood in foreign policy during Modi’s second term in office, the brief stop in Colombo is expected to convey India’s solidarity with Sri Lanka in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings in April. The attacks on several churches and luxury hotels by radicalised Sri Lankans inspired by the Islamic State killed over 250 people. read more