#AskWatchdog - 09

#AskWatchdog - 09

Research by Umesh Moramudali and Joshua Perera Edited by Tineeka de Silva Translated by Nishadi Gunatilake and Kesavan Selvarajah

@October 22, 2022

Read this article in English | සිංහල | தமிழ்

You asked:

What’s there to know about the Rehabilitation Bill?

Our Answer:

President Ranil Wickramasinghe’s government proposed a Bill that has received backlash on account of its repressive nature and human rights violations.

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill was presented to Parliament by the Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs, and Constitutional Reforms, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. It has received much criticism from politicians and activists alike.

As of October 09, the Supreme Court initiated hearings in response to 08 Special Determination petitions filed in opposition of the Bill on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

The Bill’s supposed goal is the rehabilitation of drug-dependent individuals, ex-combatants, the ‘misguided’, and members of radical extremist groups. Most of these classifications do not have a legal definition in Sri Lanka. As such, it could target anyone from religious extremists to activists and groups fighting for social and democratic justice. Anyone whose ideology deviates from the accepted norm is likely to come under fire.

Dr. Rajapakshe stated the Bill was initially intended to rehabilitate LTTE cadres who had surrendered. In the wake of the Easter Sunday Attacks, it was repurposed to include “drug addicts” and “misguided youth”. He added that the Bill was drafted to meet the needs of families who sought to rehabilitate kin with drug dependencies.

The Bill will legitimize and legalize military involvement in the rehabilitation process. It legitimizes the use of “minimum force, as may reasonably be necessary to compel obedience to any lawful directions”. This is a tacit, legally sanctioned endorsement of torture. The rehabilitated will be at the mercy of their caretakers. Additionally, section 25, regarding matters of secrecy, could hinder whistleblowers. The Bill affords employees immunity enough for any number of human rights violations to be enacted without fear of legal retribution.

Individuals being rehabilitated can be “used productively to enhance the economy”. In other words, individuals could be turned into a labor force.

On October 29, Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana announced the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Bill. It was determined that the Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill was inconsistent with Article 12(1) of the Constitution. Additionally, it would only be enacted by the special majority required by Article 84(2) of the Constitution on condition that the aforementioned categories of “ex-combatants,” “violent extreme groups”, and “any other group of persons” are removed from the Bill. In lieu of this change, the Bill will be narrowed in its application to drug dependent individuals and “other such persons” as identified by the law.

Even with these alterations being made, it remains to be seen how the Bill’s long-term implications will affect the Fundamental Freedoms of the country’s populace.

What’s the fuss about Sri Lanka downgrading to a low-income country?

Our answer:

Cabinet spokesman Dr. Bandula Gunawardana announced that the cabinet approved the proposal to downgrade Sri Lanka from lower-middle-income county to a low-income country. After a while, the President's media division clarified that Sri Lanka will remain a middle-income country, but the government is pursuing a "reverse graduation" policy for a limited period of time.

Sri Lanka, nor any other country, cannot determine which income category they belong to. It is purely determined by the respective countries’ per capita income. This is based on the per capita income which the World Bank has classified to four categories. These categories are low-income, lower-middle income, upper-middle income, and high-income countries.

GNI Per Capita (USD)
Low income
< 1.046
Lower-middle income
1,046 – 4,095
Upper-middle income
4,096 –12,695
High income
> 12,695

Source: World Bank

According to the World Bank classification, countries with per capita income below USD 1045 are considered as low-income countries. In 2021, Sri Lanka’s per capita income was USD 3,820. Therefore, Sri Lanka is categorized as a lower-middle-income country. For Sri Lanka to become a low-income country, its per capita income should be decreased below USD 1045. This, at present, is an impossibility.

What then is ‘reverse graduation’ for?

Sri Lanka can, however, request World Bank to change the country’s lending category. This is different from the income category. A country’s eligibility to receive concessional loans from World Bank is determined by the lending category, not by the income category.

In World Bank, there are three lending categories named International Development Association (IDA), Blend, and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). Of which loans provided under the IDA category have the most concessional terms (lower interest, longer payback period, and longer grace period).


Source: OECD

Sri Lanka has been in the IDA lending category till 2017 and graduated to the IBRD category in 2017. This means that after 2017, Sri Lanka is no longer eligible for loans provided by IDA. Thus, to receive loans from IDA (highly concessional loans), Sri Lanka will be required to downgrade from the IBRD category to the IDA category.

World Bank determines the lending category of a country based on that country's creditworthiness. Usually, as a country’s per capita income increases and such countries upgrade from low income to middle-income level, it is considered an indication of improved creditworthiness.

However, given Sri Lanka’s inability to repay foreign loans, the country’s creditworthiness has deteriorated while its income level remains the same (lower-middle income country).

Sri Lanka is currently in need of more concessional loans given the constraints on foreign debt repayment capacity. Based on this rationale, the cabinet of ministers had approved the proposal to request downgrading Sri Lanka’s lending category. This will provide access to more concessional loans as it will make Sri Lanka eligible for IDA loans.

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