Industry services improved, agriculture sector affected by adverse weather
Economy experienced mixed performance this year: Mangala
Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the economy had experienced mixed performance during the first nine months of this year as industry services improved and the inclement weather affected the agriculture sector.
He was moving the amendment to the Appropriation Act No. 24 of 2016 yesterday in Parliament.
“The economy grew by 3.9 percent in real terms in the first half of the year compared to the same period in the previous year significantly marking below potential growth prospects. The drought and flood related disturbances mainly affected agricultural activities reversing overall growth and it spilled over to other sectors of the economy as well,” he said.
Minister Samaraweera said it was required to increase the borrowing limit from Rs. 1579.1 billion to Rs. 1629 billion by amending the section 2(B) of the Appropriation Act No. 24 of 2016.
He noted that domestic supply disruption, tax revision and increased prices of imported commodities caused consumer price inflation to remain at elevated levels during the year so far. In November, Colombo consumer price inflation rose to 7.6 percent and the growth of credit extended to the private sector decelerated gradually during the year as monetary policy remained tight and less accommodative.
“Meanwhile, revenue collection in the fiscal sector and the primary balance of the government improved during the first nine months along the fiscal consolidation as supported by the IMF funds facility programme. Nevertheless, revenue estimate for 2017 could not be achieved due to the delay in introducing the new Inland Revenue Act. It will be introduced from April 1, 2018 and the delay dampened the economic activity which weighed on income tax and taxes on goods and services,” he said.
The Minister pointed out that droughts and floods incurred significant fiscal cost with immediate relief measures and steps to control disaster destruction. He said the government intended to spend more on disaster insurance while extending the coverage to droughts so that more relief could be provided ahead for those affected by natural disasters.
“Further measures are underway to formulate procedures to link up the weather related compensation to an index which reflects changing weather patterns so that government support is extended to needy people in a better targeted manner. Targeted debt service payments owing to higher interest payments and rupee depreciation made a sizeable impact on the government cash inflows. Therefore, some deviation from the envisaged budget deficit target is likely in 2017 from the initial estimate of 625 billion to a revised estimate of 680 billion. Further expanding the borrowing limit is warranted to offset the immediate impact caused by unplanned events on the government’s budget,” the Minister said.
“Such expansions would facilitate fiscal operations and exert a lease burden on the ongoing government funded activities,” Samaraweera said. “The government will keep using the expanded borrowing capacity to the least possible level,” the Minister said.
All para tariffs will be removed over next three years: Malik
Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said the Finance Minister took some measures through the budget to remove para tariffs of over 1200 items with a road map for the removal of all para tariffs over the next three years.
He was speaking on the Anti-dumping and Counter wading Duties Bill and the Safeguard Measures Bill in Parliament yesterday,
“Apart from this, substantial liberalisation will come through new free trade agreements that we are signing with Singapore, China and India. While welcoming greater trade with the rest of the world, we have not forgotten to look after the interest of our own industries at home. This is why the two bills presented today are so significant,” he said.
Minister Samarawickrema said Sri Lanka was now decisively moving towards an economy driven by entrepreneurship trade and investment. “Our government will create one million jobs for the youth and the only way to do this is by actively participating in international trade. We are not new to this as we were a country where trade accounted for 80 percent of the GDP over a decade ago. Thereafter, we slipped down and we are now at half of that. We are moving to a more decisive and dynamic regime by removing para tariffs or reducing duty through bilateral trade agreements,” the Minister said.
Minister Samarawickrama said the Anti-dumping and Counter Wading Duties Bill and the Safeguard Measures Bill would be a measure to safeguard the local industries.
He noted that the Acts do not aim to provide protection to the domestic industry, but they are only remedial measures in the event of injury to the domestic industry caused by dumping or by subsidisation or by sudden surges of imports.
“The primary aim behind these remedy measures is to re-establish fair competition and to provide the domestic industry a level playing field,” he said. “As part of the government’s trade policy, it will be entering into bilateral free trade agreements with India and China while its negotiations with Singapore have reached its finality and the FTA is expected to be signed with Singapore towards the end of January 2018,” Samarawickrama said.
“FTAs with Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand and others are in the pipeline. Under these agreements, the government seeks tariff liberalisation while gaining market access in those countries,” he said.
“While these measures are taken, these bills have been brought in to provide the legal framework to go ahead strongly and confidently into further trade liberalisation and greater trade openness while knowing that the domestic industry has recourse to a good legal framework to prevent unfair trade,” he said.
Railway strike is unjust: Abeysinghe
“The railway strike is unjust as their issues were discussed even with the President, and an agreement was reached. Despite the agreement, the railway workers had embarked on a baseless strike,” Transport and Civil Aviation Deputy Minister Ashoka Abeysinghe said in Parliament yesterday.
He was responding to opposition side members’ views on the proclamation made by the President under the Essential Public Services Act published in the Gazette Extraordinary No 2048/47 dated 09.12.2017.
Deputy Minister Abeysinghe said the opposition members’ claim that army personnel would be employed to the Railway Department was baseless. “Railway workers’ demands are unjust. They were given three discussions and all possible attempts were taken to resolve their issues,” he said.
The Deputy Minister said the Railway employees demanded to change the recruiting procedure of Engine Driver Assistants. “They demanded to recruit unqualified people, and not to hold tests to select them,” the Deputy Minister said.
“They had discussions with the President as well. Even after coming to agreements, they have resumed the trade union action. The Prime Minister and the Minister have submitted a joint paper to the Cabinet to resolve the salary issue. A committee was appointed in this regard,” the Deputy Minister said.
He said a discussion was arranged for the trade unions to focus on their issues with the Finance Ministry Secretary.
“We had to proclaim public transport an essential service because trade unions resorted to strike amidst all these attempts to resolve their issues,” the Deputy Minister said.
He said the measure had to be taken for the sake of 2,000 employees. He said the government was aware that the measure would affect other 18,000 employees as well.
“But we have no other option to resolve the issue,” the Deputy Minister said.
“Instructions were issued not to send the letters informing the employees that they have left their employments. But we will have to do so if they do not report to work,” the Deputy Minister said.
“The employees get paid overtime for nearly 600 hours, so what they are doing now is unjust,” the Deputy Minister said.
Some parties attempt to gain political mileage through protests
Some parties attempt to score during election period by organising protests, while others are working hard, UNP Parliamentarian Ajith Mannapperuma said in Parliament yesterday.
He said the public should understand for whom to vote at the elections. He was responding to opposition side members’ views on the proclamation made by the President under the Essential Public Services Act published in the Gazette Extraordinary No 2048/47 dated 09.12.2017.
MP Mannapperuma said members of the parties that shot children on the head when they attempted to study with the light of kerosene oil bottle lamp were speaking about protests.
“The Maithri-Ranil government is ready to listen to all,” MP Mannapperuma said.
“But those days it was not so. The public servants were tied to trees. The teachers were made to kneel down. When people asked for compensation for fuel, Antony was killed.
“People were killed when they asked for water at Rathupaswala. During the previous regime, trade union activists were abducted in white vans and killed.”
He said the ordinary people elected this government and they should be provided with facilities. “The people should not misuse the freedom that they were given by the government,” he said.
Attempts against railway unions unacceptable: JO
The Joint Opposition (JO) members said they would object to the government’s attempt to suppress the Railway trade unions by a proclamation under the Essential Public Services Act.
They made these observations in relation to the proclamation made by the President under the Essential Public Services Act published in the Gazette Extraordinary No 2048/47 dated 09.12.2017, which was taken up yesterday in Parliament.
MP Dinesh Gunawardena said the government was attempting to create more issues instead of resolving the existing ones. “We urge the government to withdraw the proclamation,” he said. MP Ranjith de Soyza said the trade unions had initiated strike action since the government failed to resolve their (trade unions’) issue. “The Country was ranked among the top most four countries where corruption is rampant,” he said.
MP Wimal Weerawansa said the Railway employees had made a fair request but it was not addressed. “Supplementary estimates were submitted to pay for ministers’ vehicles, houses and offices, but the public servants’ issues were not addressed,” he said.
Speaker adjourns Constitutional Assembly
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya adjourned the Constitutional Assembly held in Parliament since the members who were nominated to speak were not present.
The debate on the Interim Report of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly was fixed to hold from 11.30 am to 6.30 pm yesterday but lasted only for few minutes as none of the members in the House were there when the Speaker called out their names to join the debate.
The Speaker called out names of members of Joint Opposition and the government.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake speaking to the media following the adjournment said the sittings was taken up today after the budget debate, mainly on the request of the Joint Opposition.
“Normally, the sittings are not taken after the budget is passed. But the JO said they needed all their 22 members to join the debate. So the sittings was taken up at the cost of the public funds. But none of them were not present. The government members were also scheduled to join the debate, but they too did not attend,” Rathnayake said.
MP Rathnayake noted that these members attempt to indicate that they really stand against these moves, but they are just pretending.
Making railway essential service is unwarranted: JVP
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) objects the gazette notification of the government that proclaims the public transport and railway an essential services, JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake said in Parliament yesterday.
He was expressing views on the proclamation made by the President under the Essential Public Services Act published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2048/47 dated 09.12.2017 was taken up. He said that when a protest halts an essential service, public are affected. Mostly, staff of essential services stage protests at faults of their managements.
“Since these managements do not heed employees’ issues, they initiate trade union actions. Six trade unions have joined the railway strike,” MP Rathnayake said.
“Instead of resolving the problem through discussions, the government attempt to suppress the trade unions. We object to this move,” JVP MP Rathanayake said.
Proposal under Essential Public Services Act, Appropriation (A) Bill 2016 Second Reading passed
The proposal under the Essential Public Services Act was passed in Parliament yesterday.
The Opposition requested a vote for the proposal.
Accordingly, the Speaker commenced the vote and 52 voted in favour while eight voted against.
The Appropriation (Amendment) Bill 2016 second reading was passed with a majority vote with 53 voting in favour and eight against.