‘Ethnic issue should be resolved fast’
The ethnic issue has to be resolved fast, Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella yesterday said.
He was participating in the Committee Stage Debate on the budget 2018 proposals.
The Minister said an Indian newspaper has stated that the Sri Lankan three decade conflict cost the country USD 400 and the government incurred half of the sum.
The Minister said the actual damage on the Sri Lankan Economy was not yet estimated.
“I have directed the matter to the Parliamentary Research Unit, and they will prepare the estimate in future,” Minister Kirella said.
He said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to end the war, but he could not develop the economy, bring in investments and start enterprises.
He said Mahinda Rajapaksa , however, got massive loans.
The Minister said Sri Lanka had a surplus budget when it achieved independence, but today, the country is caught in a Rs. 7,000 billion debt trap. He said all previous government were responsible for this situation.
“After decades, this government was able to record an increase in the state revenue,” Minister Kiriella said. “The 11.5 percent revenue in 2014 has increased to 14.2 percent in 2016,” he said.
He said the poverty head count index was 6.7 in 2012 and 2013, it was reduced to 4.1 in 2016.
The Minister said the construction sector earns 8 percent of the GDP. He said express ways, and other roads are in progress at the same rate and it will continue.
He said the new budget is focused on enterprises and youth and the budget 2018 includes more proposals to develop the business sector.
Budget proposals open country to world: Amaraweera
The Finance Minister in his maiden budget has presented proposals that would create more jobs and open the country to the world thereby taking it forward, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said.
He was participating in the committee stage debate on the budget 2018 proposals.
“Generally, the Opposition condemn the budget. If a budget is good, instead of praising it, the Opposition say it is a fantasy budget. The Finance Minister has managed to come up with a budget that almost everyone approves.He has a good understanding of parties in the government. I believe that he has taken the good proposals of both parties and included them in the budget proposals,” he said.
“Currently, the shipping industry allows only around 40 percent foreign companies, while 60 percent is handled by local companies. A proposal was made in the budget to open the shipping industry completely. I suggest that a proper mechanism has to be devised to develop the shipping sector whilst protecting the local shipping industry,” he said.
He said the public was of the view that telephone charges would increase due to the proposed taxes on transmission towers. “The Finance Minister has clarified that the tax will certainly not be passed onto the consumers and there would not be an increase in telephone charges.
The tax imposed on banks will also have no impact on the general public,” he said.
Amaraweera said no foreigner or foreign company would be allowed to purchase lands at its will unless it creates employment opportunities and benefits the country. He said this had been discussed and clarified. Only if such ventures benefit the country, will the government provide tax concessions to foreign entities. “During the past, foreigners were allowed to purchase lands at will and we lost a great extent of coastal lands as a result. Now it is not the case. Such projects will only be approved subsequent to the Cabinet approval after extensive discussions.”
He pointed out that the budget had allocated funds to develop several sectors of the fisheries sector. He said the country has 116 undeveloped lagoons that offer great fishing resources. He said Rs. 1,000 million has been allocated as an initial step to develop 10 lagoons. “There is great export potential for fish. By developing these lagoons, we can generate foreign income. To encourage the fishing industry and for it to introduce new technology, the budget includes concessions of 50 percent of the cost to manufacture boats over 55 feet in length. Proper fish storing facilities will also be provided. Fifty percent of the cost of upgrading storage facilities on fishing boats is also provided to further develop the industry,” Amaraweera said.
Importance of obtaining 50,000 houses highlighted :
‘Northern politicians should come to one stand’
Northern politicians should come to one stand to get 50,000 houses for the displaced people at this important juncture, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva yesterday said.
Minister Silva was participating in the Committee Stage debate on the budget proposals.
He said the government had funds to construct those houses during the last two years but the politicians could not come to one stand over the houses.
They, at least this year, should come to one decision to get the houses for the innocent people, he said.
He said the country had to face last year many challenges including drought and floods. “We, however, could increase the export income by 7 percent and tourism industry by 3 percent. The tax income has increased by 12.3 percent. He said the garment export income has dropped by 3 percent.
“The capital expenditure for 2017 was Rs. 633 billion, while the proposed expenditure for 2018 is Rs. 761 billion,” Minister Silva said. “This is a 20 percent increase,” he said.
The Minister said the country has to pay Rs. 1,150 billion this year for loans.
“The estimated total earnings is Rs. 2,326 billion and this is not enough for the expenditure and pay the loan premiums,” Minister Silva said. “So we have to borrow another Rs. 1,895 billion. As a result, we increase our loans by another Rs. 745 billion.
Can we get out of this trap?” he asked.
“The proposals, however, are designed to develop the country. Rs. 2,677 million was allocated to construct houses for the Estate sector, Rs. 6,000 million to construct houses in rural areas, Rs. 17,500 million to construct urban houses and Rs. 2,800 million to construct houses for those affected by the landslides while constructing 50,000 houses for those IDPs in North,” he said.
The Minister said allocations were made during the last two years but could not realise the targets due to the tug-of-war among the politicians in North.
The Minister said Rs. 1,674 million was allocated to develop the human resource in the health sector.
COPA third report:
One third of 842 state institutions neglected financial guidelines
The COPA report tabled in Parliament yesterday indicated that nearly one third of total government institutions out of 842 investigated by the Committee have shown poor compliance with the state financial and performance guidelines.
The third report of the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) was presented to Parliament yesterday by its Chairman and Deputy Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna.
“Findings pertaining to all the 842 institutions coming under the scope of COPA are presented today. From 1978, 31 COPA reports were presented to Parliament. Of them, only 410 institutions were called to Parliament. All these state institutions have been evaluated annually,” he told the House presenting the report.
The report observes that only 67.57 percent of public institutions were able to adhere to financial and performance guidelines. Only seven percent pf them were able to adhere to 90 percent of guidelines in their financial transactions.
The total number of institutions that had achieved a compliance of less than 60 percent was 240. It is approximately 29 percent of the 842 institutions.
Twenty eight ministries and 61 departments have not properly maintained the fixed assets registry.
The committee would take action to recognise the institutions that failed to achieve high performance level and inform their chief accounting officers of the shortcomings and hold them responsible for the subject areas to be developed.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya thanking the Committee said the Finance Minister would take measures to carry out future investigations and take appropriate measures.
The Auditor General’s Department, Prime Minister’s Office and Elections Department were among the institutions that received gold medals for high performance level in 2015.
Concessions given for beer sale will harm youth: Rajitha
Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said the concessions given for the sale of beer in the budget 2018 proposals would encourage youngsters to consume alcohol and it could create social and health issues.
Joining the Committee stage debate on the budget 2018 in Parliament yesterday, Minister Senaratne said the statistics given to the Finance Minister that 49 percent of alcohol users consume illegally brewed alcohol has no grounds.
“The NATA has commenced an investigation to get the proper statistics and it will complete soon. In 1990, the same proposal was brought to provide concessions for beer. According to data we have gathered from the Police, Excise Department and Divisional Secretariats, the consumption of illegal alcohol has reduced. The actual number of persons who consume illegally brewed alcohol is only between 2.5 percent and 6 percent, not 49 percent,” Senaratne said.
He said the Finance Minister had compared the European countries to Sri Lanka, but this comparison could not be made as beer consumption in the West is basically a part of their culture and food habits. He said that in Sri Lanka and other Asian countries, people consume alcohol to get a high or to reach a level of intoxication.
He said the Health Ministry together with the World Health Organisation had carried out a survey and concluded that 35 percent of males over 15 years of age consume alcohol, but only 1 percent females. “According to the statistics, the percentage of alcohol drinkers from the population is less than 20 percent. Of that, only around 6 percent consume illegally manufactured brew.
Therefore, making beer more affordable could entice youngsters to try out beer. It would encourage them to move onto hard liquor later,” he warned.
According to the Health Minister, accidents kill 9,000 annually and disable around 49,000. Alcohol consumption is a leading cause for these accidents. “Encouraging the consumption of beer would not deter people from illegally brewed alcohol consumption; it would instead create many other issues,” he said.
Budget lacks proposals to bridge deficit: Anandan
This budget 2018 has no proposals to bridge the deficit, Tamil National Alliance MP Shivashakthi Anandan said in Parliament yesterday.
He said the budget has proposals to provide reliefs and welfare for the people, but they were not clearly pointed out. It is a piece of paper because of this reason, he said.
He was participating in the second reading debate on the budget 2018 proposals. The parliamentarian said the developments that are promised to North are only in reports. Therefore, the TNA that supported the government at elections cannot face the voters. He complained that the TNA is attempting to revenge the voters who stood against them.
“None of the pledges given to the people in North have not been kept,” he said.
Budget 2018 has nothing new: Bimal
This government is going on the same path like the all previous governments took and this budget is no different except for a few changes in terms of the environment, JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake said.
He was participating in the committee stage debate on the budget 2018 proposals.
“Of the 7,000 million world population, 3,000 million are categorised as poor or those under the poverty line. Of the US population, 14.3 percent are poor and in Europe, one in every four is said to be poor. As Minister Kiriella said, Sri Lanka’s poverty is at 4.6 percent. Therefore, one can determine how wrong our statistics are. In 2016 May, the Prime Minister said 43 percent in Sri Lanka earn less than $ 2 per day, around 20 million. The daily income of 9 million people is less than Rs. 300, according to the Prime Minister. He said the figures just a year ago. Then Minister Kiriella claims it’s 4.6 percent,” he said.
Rathnayake said the Uva Province has more poor people than the war-affected North has. “Who has caused more harm to the people, is it the LTTE or the Sri Lankan Government? The richest district in terms of gems is Ratnapura. Yet it is among the poorest five districts in the country. Most are of the view that the North is the poorest, but other districts are,” he said. “Even the government MPs tell us in private that even they cannot provide jobs to the people. Some told us they could only provide 16 jobs for the last three years. The government cannot even provide private sector employment. The youth unemployment rate is at 22 percent,” he said.
“We will not be able to reach the goals we desire even though the government has good intentions because we are heading along the unsuccessful path followed over the past 70 years. There is no country that has reached success based on foreign investment. “The blue-green budget is like painting a car externally without changing its old engine. The FDI has increased, but it did not improve country’s economy,” he said.
Dinesh’s adjournment motion today
Joint Opposition Parliamentary Group leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena is scheduled to move an adjournment motion for the debate in the evening today on a recent debate on Sri Lanka’s conflict at the House of Lords in Britain.
The motion to be moved has already been handed over to the Speaker’s office with copies to the office of the Secretary General of Parliament.
According to parliamentary sources, the motion says the Sri Lankan Government should take the matter raised in the House of the Lords and follow it up.
The sources say the motion says that since Lord Naseby while addressing Britain’s House of Lords, drew attention that the casualty figures for the last period of the civil conflict in Sri Lanka, which ended in May 2009, cited in the United Nations’ Darusman Report, were brought into question by the figures quoted by former UN spokesman Gordon Weiss, by former US Ambassador Blake, in the report by the UK’s Major General Holmes, and finally, by the heavily-redacted communications from the UK’s Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash released to him by the British Government.
Since he further stated that “the UK must recognise that this was a war against terrorism, so the rules of engagement are based on international humanitarian law, not the European Convention on Human Rights” and that “the West, and in particular the US and the UK, must remove the threat of war crimes and foreign judges that overhangs and overshadows all Sri Lankans, especially their leaders.” The Government of Sri Lanka should take action to pursue this matter with the Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with the UN Human Rights Commission to change their unjust positions regarding Sri Lanka and thereby remove the threat to this country, to its defence forces, and to its leaders, and that the Government should also report back to Parliament on this matter, the motion says, according to the sources.
Speaker should annul Constitutional Assembly: Rajapakshe
United National Party Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in writing to annul the motion passed in Parliament to set up a constitutional assembly to prepare a new constitution.
MP Rajapakshe wrote to the Speaker that the conduct and process of the Constitutional Assembly was against the Constitution. He said the Speaker was partially responsible for allowing Parliament to engage in an anti-constitutional act. He said in his letter that it was the duty of the Speaker to correct the error.
He said that the Constitutional Assembly is an illegal institution. The assembly’s process would create a constitutional crisis in the country, the letter said.
“The Constitution outlines a clear procedure to be followed if there is a need to amend the Constitution or bring about a new constitution,” MP Rajapakshe wrote. “Deliberately violating that process would amount to callous disregard to the Janatha Paramadipathya or ultimate power of the people. The process initiated by the government is strangulating the democracy and is creating an anarchy in the country.”
He said in his letter the interim report of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly contains proposals to divide the country and they violated the Constitution. He said the decision made by the MPs including himself to set up a constitutional assembly should be considered a wrong decision made with good intentions, so the Speaker should annul it.
He calls on the Speaker to declare the Steering Committee report and the Constitutional Assembly null and void. He said no condition prevails in the country conducive to prepare a new constitution and incumbent parliament is not suitable for the task.
Parliament is engaged in an anti-constitutional task and therefore an illegal process, he wrote. “If the Speaker fails to rectify the error immediately, he should take the full responsibility of the situation being brewing in the country with protests and public displeasure against the new constitution.
Parliamentary sources said the letter dated yesterday has been handed over to the Speaker’s office on the same day. According to the sources, copies of the letter were sent to the President, Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and party leaders in Parliament.