Sri Lanka to sack officer over ‘false’ GDP data row

Updated 11 March 2014

Sri Lanka to sack officer over ‘false’ GDP data row

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main statistics office said a senior official who denounced alleged government pressure to inflate economic growth data would be sacked after he was found guilty of leaking confidential information.
Accounts Director H. S. Wanasinghe faced two separate disciplinary hearings after he complained to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and an opposition lawmaker that the government was manipulating data.
“We have recommended to the PSC (Public Service Commission) to sack him and it will be done soon,” Census and Statistics chief D.C.A. Gunawardena said in Colombo.
Wanasinghe alleged that he was ordered to increase GDP growth rate for the first quarter of 2013 to 6.0 percent when his calculation showed it was only 5.4 percent.
Sri Lanka’s main opposition last month read out a statement by Wanasinghe narrating how he was under instructions to change national accounts to suit the government, an allegation which the authorities deny.
The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) said the senior officer should be treated as a “whistle-blower” and be protected instead of being sacked.
“What we see is a systematic approach of a cover up rather than an investigation into what he has revealed,” TI Sri Lanka chairman J. C. Weliamuna said.
“Sacking a senior officer for raising this issue is completely unacceptable.”
Statistics chief Gunawardena denied that he was under pressure to change economic data to suit the government which relies heavily on foreign borrowings.
“It is a funny joke,” he said of the allegations.
“People can talk about any rubbish, but the department of Census and Statistics has no political agenda.”
President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also the finance minister, told parliament in November that he expected the economy to grow 7.5-8.0 percent in calendar 2014, up from a provisional 7.2 percent in 2013 and 6.4 percent in 2012.
The economy recorded 8.0 percent-plus growth for two straight years after the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war which saw troops crush separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in August last year after a visit to Sri Lanka that the country under Rajapakse “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”


Biden announces return to global climate accord, new curbs on US oil industry

Updated 21 January 2021

Biden announces return to global climate accord, new curbs on US oil industry

  • Biden has promised to put the United States on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced America’s return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change, the centerpiece of a raft of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring US leadership in combating global warming.
The announcements also included a sweeping order to review all of former President Donald Trump’s actions weakening climate change protections, the revocation of a vital permit for TC Energy’s Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada, and a moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Trump’s administration had recently opened to development.
The orders by the newly sworn-in president will mark the start of a major policy reversal in the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, after the Trump administration pilloried climate science and rolled back environmental regulation to maximize fossil fuel development.
Biden has promised to put the United States on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the steep and swift global cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and massive investments in clean energy.
The path will not be easy, though, with political divisions in the United States, opposition from fossil fuel companies, and wary international partners concerned about US policy shifts obstructing the way.
“We got off track very severely for the last four years with a climate denier in the Oval Office,” said John Podesta, an adviser to former President Barack Obama who helped craft the 2015 Paris Agreement. “We enter the international arena with a credibility deficit.”
Biden’s orders also require government agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and methane emissions curbs, and to study the possibility of re-expanding the boundaries of wilderness national monuments that had been reduced in size by the Trump administration.
While environmental advocates were thrilled by the orders, industry groups and conservatives criticized them.

Alaska’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy mocked Biden’s decision to shut down oil and gas work in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying the new president “appears to be making good on his promise to turn Alaska into a large national park.”
The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s top oil and gas industry lobby group, meanwhile, said it believed blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline was a “step backward.”
“This misguided move will hamper America’s economic recovery, undermine North American energy security and strain relations with one of America’s greatest allies,” API President Mike Sommers said.
Global counterparts and climate advocates welcomed Washington’s return to cooperation on climate change, but expressed some skepticism about its staying power and its ability to overcome domestic political turmoil.
Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris deal late last year, arguing it was too costly to the US economy.
“The United States continues to be the one and only country that has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, making it, frankly, the pariah of this multilateral agreement,” former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, told Reuters.
Biden can regain US credibility by “doing the domestic homework” of ambitious climate action at home.
Brian Deese, Biden’s director of the National Economic Council, told Reuters that the United States hopes to encourage other big emitters to also “push their ambition, even as we have to demonstrate our ability to come back on the stage and show leadership.”
Pete Betts, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House who led climate negotiations for the European Union when the Paris deal was struck, said the United States will need to match its promises with financial commitments too.
The United States under Obama pledged to deliver $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries fight climate change. It has delivered only $1 billion so far.
“The US will need to put some money on the table, and also encourage others to do the same,” he said.