Tax concessions for the private sector, a more technocratic approach to administration and depoliticising policymaking were among the pledges made by six of the leading presidential candidates who came together yesterday on a common platform.
The candidates also addressed issues such as corruption, inclusive growth and increasing efficiency in the State sector.
The candidates – Sajith Premadasa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Dr. Rohan Pallewatta, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Dr. Gamini Nanda Gunawardena who represented Mahesh Senanayake - participated in the third edition of the popular Fireside Chat series held under the title ‘What Lies Ahead: With the Leading Presidential Candidates’ at the Galle Face Hotel yesterday. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not present but sent a voice message which was played at the event.
The event was hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka (ICC Sri Lanka) together with Daily FT and CIMA. All proceeds collected at the event will be donated to Apeksha Hospital.
New Democratic Front (NDF) candidate Premadasa said his economic policies would encourage free enterprise and measures to avoid unnecessary obstacles to the country’s wealth-creating mechanism and foster an environment in which small, medium and big businesses could grow.
“We are trying to empower the private sector with adequate fiscal and monetary support. This balance is essential if one is to stabilise the economy and encourage growth. Fiscal growth provides businesses and private entrepreneurs with a conducive environment with tax breaks, reduction of the tax burden and simplified tax structures,” Premadasa said.
He added that the famous dictum that higher taxes led to a decline in entrepreneurship, which in turn led to lesser economic growth, was an accepted fact.
He said it was important to reduce the tax burden on small, medium and big wealth-generating businesses and free them up to be smart and innovative while the monetary policy had to be balanced with the proper management of interest rates.
“There must be concerted efforts to give adequate interest rate relief so that access to credit will benefit entrepreneurs, giving them the opportunity to obtain credit so they become active participants and stakeholders in a wealth-creating mechanism,” he said.
National People’s Power (NPP) candidate Dissanayaka said that his economic policies would primarily focus on minimising waste and corruption as well as simplifying the tax structure while adding at least 100,000 new tax files to the existing 170,000 files within five years.
Dissanayaka also said there had to be a partnership between the state and private sector for the country to develop, which means freeing the private sector from the shackles of political interference and favouritism.
“If the private sector wants to invest in a project today, they have to go behind a politician to get approvals. Today most businesses get projects depending on their connections to politicians but we will completely put a stop to that and ensure that the private sector can do business in a legal manner,” Dissanayaka said.
He also promised a consistent tax structure which did not change with each Budget.
“There must be at least five years of a consistent tax framework and we have to simply the tax structure,” he said.
Businessman Pallewatta, who is contesting from the Jathika Sangwardhena Peramuna, said that he placed his bets on Sri Lanka’s economic growth due to the uniqueness of Sri Lankans.
“When I started my business of producing impact sensors for airbags, I was told it was impossible for Sri Lankans to do this but I realised by providing the right leadership it could be done. It is this confidence I am trying to instill in the minds of Sri Lankans,” he said.
Pallewatta also said Sri Lanka could break the economic deadlock it was in by getting at least $ 10 billion as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in a short period of 12 months.
“Many people will say this is impossible but you can do it. For that you have to understand the psyche of the investor; what triggers their mind when they decide to make an investment and you can convince them to invest in Sri Lanka,” he added.
Dr. Perera of the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka said that one reason for the economy stagnating was that elected presidents did not give up their political affiliation but worked to strengthen it instead of concentrating on development.
She also said that the manner in which policies were framed should be changed.
“We use consultants to make polices but those who are involved in the sector are left out. This slows down development and leads to bad policy decisions,” she said.
Gunawardena said the National People’s Party’s (NPP) policy was to bring more educated people into the fold and use their skills to develop the economy.
“Our movement started four years ago. The two main political parties have failed to fulfil the aspirations of the people. We want to bring about new hope for the people,” he said.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) candidate Rajapaksa, in a message which was aired at the Fireside discussion, said that what Sri Lanka needed was not a traditional politician but a technocrat who could think innovatively and work closely with multiple stakeholders to ensure the nation did not get left behind by the rest of the world.
“I have delivered all the responsibilities vested in me in the past. My approach has been to identify the right people, fix flaws and create systems that work for the country. That is how I have earned my reputation as an implementer,” he said.
Rajapaksa said his policy was to empower the private sector to take charge of economic growth and to create an enabling environment.
“Already the fiscal reforms I have proposed have received a resounding approval from many quarters. FDIs will be encouraged while safeguarding our sovereignty, especially the competiveness of local entrepreneurs,” he added.