PARLIAMENT | Daily News

PARLIAMENT

‘2021 Budget, a relief for stakeholders who hit rock-bottom during previous regime’

The new budget has given relief for many key economic stakeholders who hit rock-bottom due to poor economic management of the previous Good Governance Government, Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardena said in Parliament, yesterday.

He said that the government has offered concessions on loan and tax repayments for those who had to endure major difficulties due to Good Governance Government’s irresponsible economic policies such as rigid taxation.

Dr. Gunawardena made these observations joining the second day of the debate on the budget for 2021 in Parliament, yesterday.

The minister said, “People send us to Parliament expecting us to make a fair contribution to this institution, but most of them only focus on political agendas. The Good Governance Government had two finance ministers during their five-year rule. It was the Good Governance Government that presented Budgets with falsified and misleading numbers.”

“In their 2016 Budget, more than Rs.200 billion was allotted for the Education sector. However, the true amount that was spent for the education sector was only Rs.65 million. Around Rs.100 billion was not spent,” he added.

Dr. Gunawardena said, “There are two main ways that our money flow out of the country: one is our debt service and the other is on fuel. During the Mahinda Rajapaksa rule, the government once had to spend USD 5 billion a year. During the Good Governance rule, world fuel prices decreased from leaps and bounds. These price changes gave the country a benefit of USD 5.3 billion, but that did not flow out of the country. The total cost of many development projects during that era stood at USD 4.8 billion. The previous government could have used this money for development projects without obtaining foreign loans.”

“The Good Governance Government could not even come close to the economic development carried out by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. There was no government in Sri Lankan history that was able to continuously record a consistent economic development rate for five years like the Rajapaksa rule did before 2015.

During this time, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa brought full worth of our country’s economy from USD 20 billion to USD 79 billion,” the minister said.

“When we handed over the government to Good Governance Government, the total worth of our economy was USD 84 billion. Look what they did to such an economy during the last five years. The Good Governance Government had no local or international economic crisis to deal with when they came into power, but Mahinda Rajapaksa when, he was President, had to overcome 30 years of war, a tsunami, and global economic recession. The Good Governance Government had no such challenge. During their rule, they hunted for taxes,” he added.

The Minister of Trade said, “A country may never develop if its government hunts for taxes. The golden era of our economy is then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has introduced a similar economic policy. This government is encouraging exports and local manufacturing. It stands with the hard working people of this country.”

****

Public will not fall for TNA’s lies anymore: Anura Priyadarshana

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians cannot continue to mislead people in the North and East as they have begun to understand the truth, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said yesterday. He made this observation in Parliament in response to Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) Parliamentarian Sivagnam Sritharan during the second reading debate of the Appropriation Bill made by the Prime Minister on Tuesday.

He said some TNA MPs have spread false information among people at a time and they had already realised the truth and hence, the TNA’s popularity has dropped among them. This was reflected in the last election results, he added. The MP said that they would suffer losses in future elections if they attempt to mislead people again.

He said that the worst damage had been done to people in North and East by LTTE Leader Prabhakaran. “We have changed that. We created an environment for all communities to live peacefully anywhere in the country, and to adopt any culture and practise any religion,” he added.

Yapa said there were no martyrs in Sri Lanka, unlike what Sritharan said. “The security forces defeated the terrorists as it was their responsibility to safeguard the unitary status,” he added.

The MP said that although the MPs in the North and East have been provided with the necessary positions and funds for development projects, no such work has been launched yet. “Instead of working for the people, the TNA MPs are spreading false information. We will stand against those who have lied to these people,” he added.

Yapa also said that the government has released many lands to the people in the North and East, and that discussions are under way to release what is left as well. He added that no development work was seen during the past five years under the Good Governance Government’s tenure; it only dropped by 2.3%.

He said the Good Governance Government sold the Hambantota Port promising to settle the loans taken to construct it, but did not do so.

Hence, the present regime has to settle those loans as well, while dealing with a global pandemic. The reduction of fuel prices by the previous government was not advisable as profits from the drop of fuel prices in the world market could have been used to settle the loans of the CPC, he added.

“We now have to encourage an export-based economy, and this budget has proposals to encourage the private sector to do so,” the MP added.

****

2021 Budget Proposals inefficient: Harsha

The budget proposal for 2021 does not support economic development in the country, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Harsha de Silva said in Parliament, yesterday. He made this observation joining the second reading debate of the Appropriation Bill made by the Prime Minister in Parliament on Tuesday.

De Silva said that although they expected it would be a development-oriented one, it just proved to be an ordinary budget proposal that has been prepared by the same people who prepared the previous budgets.

He said that although the IMF and Central bank earlier expected the economic growth rate in Sri Lanka in 2020 would be -4.7% and -1.7%, respectively, the government says that the nominal economic growth rate is 6.7%, which cannot be true. He pointed out that if the nominal rate is 6.7% and the inflation rate is 4 percent, the economic growth rate becomes 2.7%. He queried as to how much the inflation rate in the country is for these statistics to be true.

The MP said that according to the Central Bank Report, the total expenditure of the government was Rs.2,915 billion in 2019, whereas it was said in Parliament on Tuesday that the total expenditure that year was Rs.3,428 billion.

He said that even a massive economy like in Greece collapsed in 2010 because they presented false statistics with about the economy.

****

SL needs major economic, political change: Dr. Harini

The country needs to undergo a major economic and political change instead of having temporary solutions for the chaos created by Capitalism, itself, National People’s Power (NPP) MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said in Parliament, yesterday. She made these observations joining the second day of the debate on the budget proposal for 2021.

Dr. Amarasuriya said, “There is a contradiction between what we say, what we write, and what we practice when it comes to our economy. There is a tendency in this age to propose solutions to the crisis of capitalism, itself. ‘Green Economy’ is one such solution and ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’ is another, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the limitations of this Capitalist system and the crisis it creates.”

The MP said, “There is talk of a national economy—a productive economy—but when we look at how these actually work, we see that these are just words; there is no solution to the crisis in this Capitalist system. What is needed is structural change, however, such a change is nowhere to be seen near us. This budget is just an old model presented with new words.”

She added, “If we look at the tax reforms proposed in this budget, it shows that the tax concessions given here are specifically for the business community of the high class, which is a part of Neoliberal Capitalism. Furthermore, these proposals, once again, show that the Neoliberal Capitalist system relies on trickle-down economics. However, over the decades, we have shown that this system does not work.”

“But why do we need an economic policy? I see it as the best criterion for how it affects people’s lives. We will understand the difference when we take these statistics we are talking about out of here. It is proposed to increase the daily wages of plantation workers to Rs.1,000, but today, the newspaper says that estate owners are against it,” she added.

Dr. Amarasuriya said, “It has now been proven that one job is not enough for people to maintain their lives. In most families, parents do two or three jobs. Now, state employees are also allowed to work outside their job. Doesn’t this mean people cannot do well with just one job? What will happen to families and people’s relationships when they are engaged in several jobs, everyday?”

She said, “I will give a few examples in the field where I work. One of the necessities of the Child Protection Authority since 1994 is that vehicles are needed to transport the children involved in abuse cases. However, to this day, we have not yet received them; it has not been possible to provide a vehicle to at least every province.”

“Another issue is the establishment of institutions to provide temporary protection to female victims of violence. So far, no one was able to send in the perfect solution, and that is a problem. There is a difference between the picture seen above and the real experience,” Dr. Amarasuriya added.

****

Government will raise country’s debt by twofold: Champika

Due to the government’s policies, Sri Lanka’s debt would increase by twofold to Rs.28 trillion within the next four years, SJB MP Patali Champika Ranawaka said.

Joining the debate on the second reading of the 2021 Budget in Parliament, yesterday, he said this year, during the COVID-19-19 pandemic, the public has faced numerous difficulties due to the government’s failure to implement a proper mechanism to handle the situation.

“The country is facing an economic crisis amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. There were allegations against the previous government that we tried to suppress the private sector. However, it is the present government that imposed high taxes last December and gave a huge advantages to the wealthy, costing the country Rs.700 to 800 billion,” he said.

The MP noted that it is a well-known fact that the country is facing a crisis in terms of meeting its foreign debt commitments. “In 2005, loans obtained from foreign markets stood at 5%, but by 2014, it had risen to 55%. These loans were obtained at huge interest rates. Today, the country is facing a huge foreign debt crisis due to this situation,” he said, adding that the government has so far offered solutions neither to any of these problems nor to the economic crisis the country is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ranawaka also said that there are major discrepancies in the figures presented by the government. “To repay the loan interest in 2019, the government quoted Rs.901 billion. However, in the appropriation bill at the time, it was stated that the loan interest payment for 2020 is Rs.965 billion, but in the 2020 Appropriation Bill, it is stated as Rs.866 billion. There is no way that the loan interests could fluctuate in this manner on three different instances,” he said.

Hence, he said that these discrepancies in the figures presented by the government are unrealistic and by next year, the real figures would be evident.

****

Opposition has failed in all aspects: Dilan

The Opposition is a failure in all aspects and is a bigger failure than the UNP, itself, SLPP Parliamentarian Dilan Perera said yesterday.

He made this observation in Parliament, in response to opposition MPs joining the second reading debate of the appropriation bill presented by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament on Tuesday.

He said that the Opposition is trying to find the failures of the government rather than correcting their own mistakes. He said that Radha Krishnan is looking to increase of the daily wages of the estate sector employees to Rs.1,000.

Perera said that the Opposition thought that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would shoot the undergraduates who engaged in protests and those unemployed graduates who demanded employment.

“However, the President gave them a separate place to protest and listened to them. He also recruited 51,000 unemployed graduates to the government service,” Perera said.

The MP added that the Opposition thought he would not provide employment opportunities to youth who failed their G.C.E. (O/L) and (A/L) examinations. President Rajapaksa proved them wrong and granted 100,000 youth with jobs to eradicate poverty.

“Late President J.R. Jayawardena first took resignation letters from his MPs before the Provincial Council Act was passed. But President Rajapaksa did not do so to get the 20th Amendment to the Constitution passed. In addition, six from the Opposition voted for it with the government,” MP Perera said.

He added that the Opposition thought government would charge Rs.10,000 from low-income families when water was given to them, but the President only charged Rs.2,500. He said the SJB lost two elections within three months of its registration, and that six MPs left it as well.

****

Bogambara Quarantine Centre a ticking time bomb: Kiriella

The Bogambara Prison that was recently turned into a quarantine centre is a ticking time bomb as its close to many markets, a bus stand, and a railway station, SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament, yesterday.

“On Tuesday night, one prisoner was shot and killed while attempting to break free, while another is in hospital and several others are missing. Hence, this location is not suitable as a quarantine centre. Furthermore, it’s in the centre of the town and therefore, is dangerous,” he said.

“There are around 50 persons working at the quarantine centre, and they go to the town on a daily basis to get their food and other necessities. This is a big issue. I hope the Cabinet of Ministers would look into this matter immediately,” he said.

Kiriella noted that while initially only 100 people were to be brought to this centre, now there are around 800. This poses a grave threat to many due to the centre’s close proximity to many populated areas in the vicinity.

The MP also brought up the issue of MP Rishad Bathiudeen not being allowed to attend Parliament sessions and said that he is placed in the midst of COVID-19-1-infected persons in prison.

Kiriella said, “He is in a precarious state, with so many infected persons in prison. It is unfair, whereas ‘Pilleyan’ was allowed to open his office recently and move about. Why is there one rule for ‘Pilleyan’ and another for Bathiudeen?”

Kiriella urged the Speaker to look into this matter and take appropriate action. In response, the Speaker said that this matter was discussed earlier.

Joining the discussion on the Bogambara Prison issue, SJB MP Nalin Bandara said that the previous government had developed the prison, which is over 200 years old. “This is a historic place; it should be preserved. I urge the government to not only think of the health factor, but also look into protecting and developing this building.”

****

Opposition’s budget criticism laced with malice: Charitha

The Opposition is criticising the budget because the people voted for the present government after ousting them from their power, Prof. Charitha Herath said in Parliament, yesterday.

“We expected the Opposition to come up with fruitful comments regarding the country’s most important document. However, it is sad to note that all the Opposition’s comments were laced with bitterness,” he said.

The professor added that a budget document is based on a social treaty formed between political parties and the people. “What we expect through a budget statement is to implement these pledges made to the people to obtain economic procedures,” he said.

“Our budget is not a jumble of figures conjured by using data by the IMF, World Bank, and JAICA, unlike the budget presented by the previous government. Our budget is a document containing political ideas, and there is a systemic approach within it,” he added.

Prof. Herath said, “This document is a manifestation of the solutions we present to the issues affecting the people. It will be provided through the President’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ policy framework of the government. We need to understand the broad political programme included in this document.”

****

Edirimanna calls Opposition to join efforts to aid the public

Although the Opposition charges that we have not provided any relief to estate workers, it was during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure that they were granted teaching posts and were recruited to postal service, SLPP MP Sanjeewa Edirimanna said yesterday.

Joining the second reading debate of the 2021 Budget in Parliament, he said that despite the challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the budget has accorded many reliefs to the people.

“By 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, we completed the distribution of the Rs.5,000 allowances to 237,956 families in the Kalutara District. In addition, we are providing essential item packs worth Rs.10,000 to families under quarantine,” Edirimanna said.

The MP invited the Opposition to join hands with the government in this national crisis and work together to overcome the challenges ahead, casting aside all political differences.