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To implement Budget proposals: Budget Implementation Unit set up: Finance Minister

A Budget Implementation Unit has been set up within the Ministry of Finance to implement all Budget proposals within the course of next year, said Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday, as he acknowledged that ‘implementation’ was one of the biggest challenges faced by his Ministry.

The Unit will be headed by Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, Mano Tittawella and Economic Advisor to the Ministry, Deshal de Mel. They will produce monthly progress reports to the public.

“Budgets are always impressive and attractive when presented, but the challenge is in implementation,” Minister Samaraweera said, addressing the post Budget Forum organized by Ernst and Young at the Hilton.

Speaking on his maiden Budget, the Minister said his Budget in essence was that of ‘Free enterprise, liberalization and globalization.’

“The whole thrust of the Budget is the Enterprise Sri Lanka concept,” he added, as he explained, “If Sri Lanka is to take off, we have to awaken and re-energize the dormant entrepreneurship in most Sri Lankans.”

The Minister touching on the past, stressed that Sri Lankans historically, were merchants and traders and that the country ‘always excelled when we had dealt with the outside world.’ This has motivated the current premise of opening up markets further through FTAs and the removal of up to 1,800 para tariffs next year.

“Unfortunately, the socialist mindset introduced is still with us, so I thought it was time that Sri Lanka came forward and compete with the world. It should stop being a nanny state, but we are there as a government to give everyone a helping hand. The Budget is about helping the entrepreneurial spirit of our people,” he said.

In the meantime, addressing a media briefing held at the Parliamentary Complex, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, Mano Tittawella said Sri Lankan Airlines within the next three months would be converted into an entity which would no longer be a burden to the Government.

Tittawella explained that the Public Private Partnership Unit of the Finance Ministry had expedited the restructuring process of Sri Lankan Airlines and accordingly, advisors in this regard, are to be appointed shortly with Cabinet approval.

“A final decision on Sri Lankan Airlines would be taken by the Cabinet after considering various proposals,” he said.

The Government is not ready to shoulder the burden of Sri Lankan Airlines any longer, added Finance and Mass Media Minister Samaraweera who also attended the briefing.

He explained that all options would be considered by the Government and that discussions were underway with several parties which had expressed their interest to partner with the national carrier.

Govt. to change country heading towards abyss: Dy Minister Harsha de Silva

The government has taken measures to change the direction of the country which was heading into an abyss and transform it into a prosperous country, said Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Development Dr. Harsha de Silva.

He said so, during the committee stage debate on Budget proposals in Parliament yesterday.

“During the past, there was talk about an electric chair and we were on the brink of having economic embargoes enforced against us and the international community was against us. Today, no one talks about an electric chair or International War Crimes tribunals. This was the situation when we took over the country and we have now changed that and we are in the process of taking measures to ensure peaceful existence between the people through a new Constitution,” he said.

He said the two main parties have now come together to bring the country out of that bleak past and assisted by the TNA when required. The country is now moving towards a better future. “The government headed by the President and Prime Minister, are working their way towards taking the country forward holistically. The government’s mission is to enrich this country not just in terms of rupees, but through social, educational, environmental and cultural development.”

De Silva said in the year 2000, if goods were manufactured for $100, of that $35 worth was exported. However, the export percentage that was at 35% had reduced to 15% - 13% during the previous regime. “We are a small country and we cannot sustain ourselves without imports and we must find solutions to deal with this situation without restricting ourselves. The State income has been destroyed and today it is at 11%. Hence, we need to look at these issues intelligently in order to resolve them and we should not look at these issues through political angles.”

Meanwhile, speaking on the National Pensions Policy, he asked why only government employees are entitled to a pension and why the private sector employees are excluded. “Today there are 8.3 million employed persons in this country. Of them, 1.3 million are working in the government sector. Another 2.7 million are employed in private institutions that contribute to the EPF, ETF funds. The rest are employed in the private sector or their own small businesses. For those driving a three wheeler for an income or farming, what happens to them when they reach 60-65 years? These are issues that every successive government has avoided dealing with and ‘kicked the can down the road.’ We could also do the same, but we are not prepared to kick the can down the road and act irresponsibly,” he added.

Minister Harsha de Silva further pointed out that there was no cadastral register in this country. “The most number of legal cases in this country are related to land disputes.

Further political culprits are also owning lands through fake documents and they turn rich land owners. Hence, these land parcels in this country should be surveyed and mapped and kept safely and we need a transparent procedure. Our government has commenced a programme to map these lands properly and issue people with title deeds for the plots of land they own. Who are we to tell people what they can do with their lands? Therefore, land amendment laws need to be brought in,” he pointed out.

He pointed out that only around 35% of the labour market consists of women, while the rest of the 65% are men.

This is because of the restricting laws that prevent them to tailor their working hours according to their convenience.

These need to be changed in order to make the country more productive, which is what the finance minister has done in his Budget, he said, adding that this Budget is one that is not just caters to just the next year, but it is a exemplary Budget that looks far ahead into the next 50 years and how we need to make these changes today and try to connect Sri Lanka with the rest of the world.

Previous govt. had obtained loans at a very high rate: Dy. Minister Harsha de Silva

The government has had to impose a Rs. 0.20 Medamulana Tax on each Rs. 1,000 transaction taken place in banks to create a fund to settle the loans taken during the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, said National Policies and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva.

He made these observations yesterday in Parliament, in response to Joint Opposition member Udaya Prabath Gammanpila during the round of questions for oral answers who queried if the government had taken loans at high interest rates, while charging that the previous government had taken loans at high interest rates.

Deputy Minister de Silva further said that the previous government had taken loans at a very high interest rate of 9.9 in 2011, when interest rates were comparatively low. He added that the loan rates had increased recently throughout the world. “But we have not taken loans at such high rates,” Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva said.

Govt. not ready to shoulder Sri Lankan Airlines anymore:Finance Minister

The Government is not ready to shoulder the burden of Sri Lankan Airlines any longer, Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.

He made this observation, while responding to a question raised by a journalist at a press conference held at the Parliament Complex yesterday.

Minister Samaraweera’s Economic Advisor Mano Tittawella explained that the Public Private Partnership Unit of the Finance Ministry had expedited the restructuring process of the Sri Lankan Airlines.

“Within the next three months, it would be converted to an entity which would no longer be a burden to the Government. Advisors in this regard would be appointed shortly with Cabinet approval. A final decision on Sri Lankan Airlines would be taken by the Cabinet after considering various proposals,” he added.

Speaking further, Minister Samaraweera said that all options would be considered by the Government, adding that discussions are underway with several parties which have expressed interest to partner with the National Carrier. “The Government is not ready to shoulder the burden of Sri Lankan Airlines anymore,” the minister stressed.

Renovation of Ambatale dam a must to save Colombo city:Minister Ranawaka

The immediate renovation of the Ambatale reservoir dam is urgent, since there was a danger of the same being damaged during a heavy shower deluging the Colombo City, including the Parliament, said Megapolis and Western Province Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka.

The minister made this observation in Parliament yesterday, in response to a question raised by UNP Parliamentarian S M Marikkar, during the round of questions for oral answers.

He further said that action should be taken immediately, since the dam could be damaged even during the next torrential rain, adding that it was the same danger emerging at the Nalagam Street Dam which could break open in a heavy shower inundating the Colombo city.

“Colombo and Kelaniya are protected by these two dams built more than 100 years ago by the British during colonial era,” Minister Ranawaka pointed out.

“These two dams have to be renovated,” Minister Ranawaka said. “I have informed the Speaker of this danger to Parliament. We expect there would be heavy showers in future. So action should be taken immediately,’’ the minister said.

‘No difference between country’s debts and Meethotamulla garbage mound’

Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday, cleared doubts on the newly imposed Debt Repayment Levy and tax revisions on vehicles, telecommunication towers, beer and hard liquor, while recapping on his Budgetary proposals for 2018.

Minister Samaraweera addressing his first post-Budget press conference at the Parliamentary Complex yesterday, termed the Debt Repayment Levy of Rs 2 per Rs 10,000 on all cash transactions for three years from April 1, 2018 as “Medamulana Tax.”

He reiterated that the said levy must be borne by the banks and could not be passed to the consumer. “You are well aware of massive debt repayments due in the next two years. The country’s debt there was was no difference between Meethotamulla garbage mount when we took office in 2015. Despite that, we have undertaken a lot of development activities in the country. We need some support to confront the debt burden. The banks will get income tax waiver in return,” he explained.

The minister said the government introduced a price formula based on the alcohol percentage for liquor in the Budget proposals for 2018 with the intension of discouraging youth from hard liquor.

“According to global trends, the majority of people of many countries are used to consume soft liquor such as beer and wine, instead of hard liquor. In Sri Lanka, only 13 percent of alcohol users consume soft liquor, while 84 percent consume hard liquor. A recent survey conducted by the Colombo University, had found that 49 percent of alcohol consumers are addicted to moonshine. Therefore, we should rescue the general public, especially our youth from moonshine,” the minister said.

Minister Samaraweera said tourist guesthouses would be allowed to sell soft liquor under a license. “Some have expressed fears that after the introduction of this procedure, everyone would sell liquor even in their homes. It will not be allowed. If a guest house owner wishes to get a license, he would have to register with the Divisional Secretariat in the area. He should also produce a tax file. Nobody would be able to sell liquor without obtaining a license,” he added.

Commenting on the Carbon Tax, the minister clarified that it would be higher for old vehicles.

Piyasena Gamage takes oaths as Galle district MP

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate former Minister Piyasena Gamage, was sworn in as the Galle district MP, before Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday.

Gamage was appointed to fill in the vacancy left due to Galle district parliamentarian Geetha Kumarasinghe being disqualified by the Supreme Court for holding dual citizenship.

After taking of oaths, Piyasena Gamage took his seat with the Government.

The Supreme Court determined that Geetha Kumarasinghe could not hold the post of an MP, due to her holding dual citizenship, upholding a previous verdict confirming the earlier Court of Appeal Order. Therefore Piyasena Gamage was deemed eligible for the post as he was next in line on the UPFA list.

Some voters had filed a case against Geetha Kumarasinghe in the Court of Appeal, stating that she was not eligible to hold a parliamentary seat.

Geetha Meanwhile, challenged the Court of Appeal judgement before the Supreme Court.

Singaporean had placed his signature on SL currency notes: Bandula Gunawardena

The government has printed currency notes amounting to Rs 431 billion since 2015, said Joint Opposition Parliamentarian Bandula Gunawardena in Parliament yesterday.

He made this observation joining the Committee Stage debate on Budget proposals for the fiscal year 2018.

He also said that the Rs 5,000 note was not legally acceptable as it bears the signature of a Singaporean not a Sri Lankan national. “If Geetha Kumarasinghe who was a dual citizen could not hold a seat in Parliament, how could former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran who is not a Sri Lankan national, placed his signature on the Rs 5,000 note?” queried MP Gunawardena. “We would go before Court on this matter,” he said.

At this stage Justice Deputy Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe queried if MP Gunawardena would not use the Rs 5,000 note as it was illegal according to the latter’s own criteria.

Finance State Minister Eran Wickramaratne responding to MP Bandula Gunawardena, said that MP Gunawardena was misleading Parliament and the public. He added that Arjuna Mahendran had placed his signature on the note not as a Singaporean, but as the Central Bank Governor.

Buddhika Pathirana queries...

UNP Parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana charged that one private member’s bill submitted by him in 2010 had not yet been taken up in Parliament, while the Tharunyata Hetak Private Member’s Bill which was submitted three months later, had been taken up and passed within another three months period.

MP Pathirana queried from Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, as to why double standards have been used in connection with him and the member who presented the Tharunyata Hetak Bill.

He made this query in Parliament yesterday, raising a point of order at the commencement of public business.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya observed that he would look into the matter.

Country’s economy driven to labyrinth of chaos:Handunnetti

The country’s economy has been driven to the labyrinth of chaos by this Budgetary proposal, said Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti yesterday.

He made this observation yesterday, joining the committee stage debate on the Budget proposals for the financial year 2018.

MP Handunnetti said that disparity between the haves and have nots had increased, while a considerable amount of the population earn only Rs. 350 per day. Even unborn children have been indebted more than before. ‘The Budget has proposed a tax of Rs 0.20 on each Rs 1,000 transaction made at banks to collect funds to settle foreign loans,’ said Handuneeti. ‘This is an opportunity created for the banks to collect money from their clients.’

Finance and Mass Media Minister Samaraweera refuted statements by MP Handunnetti. ‘The Banks were unable to collect that amount from their clients or neither could they reduce it from their income tax payments,’ Minister Samaraweera said.

MP Handunnetti during his speech, charged that Budget proposals were attempting to popularize beer by imposing tax on each gram of sugar, but not on beer.

Minister Samaraweera said that the Rs 0.50 is charged only on sugar which is added in sweet beverages.

He added that as whole, more than 49 percent of liquor consumers still consume illegal liquor, while 84 percent of the rest consume hard liquor. ‘However, in developed countries, only a very little percentage consume hard liquor,’ Minister Samaraweera said. ‘My view is that there was no issue in taking a can of beer than hard liquor or sweet beverages.’

MP Handunnetti stated that there are more than 60,000 unemployed graduates. 


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