Comments /2612 Views / Thursday, 11 February 2016 00:45
By Ashwin Hemmathagama
– Our Lobby Correspondent
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday moved to adopt a Commonwealth Parliamentary tradition in the House which allows members of the legislature to question the Prime Minister directly.
The weekly feature will be included in the Order Paper as “Prime Minister’s Question Time.”
Explaining the new feature introduced in the Sri Lanka Parliament, the Prime Minister said he expects more MPs to participate.
“In response the Prime Minister could go for short answers or explanations in length. However, the members could also raise supplementary questions to clarify the matters,” he said, explaining how the question time would work.
Responding to a question raised by UPFA MP and NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa, about Sri Lankans losing employment opportunities due to the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India that the Government is proposing to start negotiations on, the Premier said employment will be provided for Sri Lankans first.
“When HSBC came here no one lost their jobs. Why should we differentiate between India and China?” the Prime Minister asked.
He said that the Government was planning to keep developing the Information Technology Sector with factories to be established in Sri Lanka in the areas of robotics and digitalisation which had already been identified, he said.
“Discussions have been held with leading companies from Japan, Singapore, China, United States and India. The time has come to enter into agreements with these countries,” Wickremesinghe said.
He said the Government had already identified the needs of the next generation, which were better employment and a higher standard of education.
The Prime Minister also dismissed concerns raised by the opposition about the country’s official reserves, the devaluation of the rupee and a serious balance of payments issue that was emerging. Wickremesinghe said currency fluctuation was not unique to Sri Lanka. He said the Government had already negotiated with the IMF for a standby loan facility to face the challenges of any impending global financial crisis. “There is no balance of payments crisis,” the PM said, adding that everything in the country’s reserves were borrowed funds.
“This year we are bound to pay US$1.5 billion debt interest and capital portions. We lost GSP+ so we had to borrow more money in the past. The biggest issue is we have little exports,” he explained.
The Premier also explained to the House that the Government was faced with no choice but to go ahead with the purchase of four Airbus A350-900 aircraft for SriLankan Airlines, because reneging on the order made by the previous Government would result in Sri Lanka having to pay USD 1.5 million each in demurrages. The Government would have to follow through on the purchases, even though the national carrier was making huge losses, Wickremesinghe explained.
“A350-900 purchase agreements were signed by the previous regime, which lead the company to make a loss. SriLankan was a politically driven company. In 2012 the net loss was Rs.17 billion. It has gone up to Rs.26 billion in 2013. In 2014 the loss was Rs.31 billion. With the oil prices coming down the net loss for 2015 came down to Rs.16 billion,” he told Parliament. Wickremesinghe said the four airbus aircraft will have to be obtained at the full purchased price, with the remaining four being bought on lease, despite the national carrier’s losses. “There was no feasibility study done by the previous Government. They must have expected people to line up in airports to fly in these new aircrafts. Now the FCID is investigating the purchases,” he said.
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