SLFP Spokesman and State Minister for Highways Dilan Perera addressing the media yesterday at the Finance Ministry, flanked by State Minister for Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and Social Welfare Minister S. B. Dissanayake – Pic by Ruwan Walpola
By Chathuri Dissanayake
Signalling more changes to Budget 2017, with the support of President Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) members yesterday expressed confidence four amendments would be made before the third reading, threatening to withdraw support from the final vote if their proposals are not adopted.
“We will only vote on 10 December if these amendments are included,” said Minister Dilan Perera, speaking to reporters at the State Finance Ministry.
A group of SLFP members led by President Maithripala Sirisena insisted on amending a number of budget proposals before the third reading vote during their meeting with the Finance Minister last week, he said.
“There are a number of proposals that need amendments and a few more that will need introduction of new laws or changes to existing ones before being implemented,” he explained.
The SLFP protested the proposal to amalgamate the Cooperative Bank and Samurdhi Bank.
“If they are to do that, the Government will have to negotiate with the Cooperative Bank as well, and not just Samurdhi Bank; and, as far as I know, they will not agree. They can have a system to have a joint scheme to give loans, but they cannot amalgamate,” the Minister said.
The discussion also focused on the removal of a loan facility against the EPF from the new budget, which has come under severe criticism. Further, the new taxes that have been imposed on telecommunication and cooperative societies, the establishment of the National Payment Platform outside of supervision of the Central bank have also been taken for discussion.
“Even the UNP ministers are grumbling about the telecom levy. They will also want it removed,” Perera said.
The National Payment Platform (NPP) proposed in the new budget should be under the supervision of the Central Bank, the SLFP delegation has told the Finance Minister.
“It is true that plans for the NPP were there during the People’s Alliance government as well, but during that time, the Central Bank was under the Finance Ministry so there was no issue. What we have told the Minister is that the NPP should be under the Central Bank. Continue with the NPP, under Central Bank supervision, and if you want to keep it under then Finance ministry then, bring the Central Bank also under Finance Ministry, as it has always been,” he said.
However, the SLFP too is insistent on imposing the new fines on traffic violations, the Minister assured.
SLFP members also declared that they will not support full privatisation of any State Owned Enterprise.
Answering questions on a proposal in the 2017 budget to sell shares of several profit making SOEs, Perera said that the SLFP will not support such moves by the government, adding that amendments to the budget in this regard have been proposed by the SLFP.
However, the party will support government’s efforts to enter into Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to manage loss making SOEs.
“We have to go for PPP. Even the US, after Donald Trump’s election, is looking at PPPs, but we will not allow the Government to fully privatise any government institution or any revenue generating institution,” he reiterated.
Sirisena appoints special committee for poverty alleviation
President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed a Special Committee to implement and oversee the approaches and programs on poverty alleviation as the Government has declared 2017 as the year of alleviating poverty from the country, his media unit said in a statement yesterday.
Special Assignments Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama will chair the committee that comprises Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, Kabir Hashim, Sajith Premadasa, Southern Province Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara, Northern Province Governor Reginald Coorey, Ven. Athuraliya Ratna Thero, Secretary to the President P.B. Abeykoon, and Secretary to the Prime Minister Saman Ekanayake.
The President called a meeting on Friday to discuss strategic approaches that are aimed at eliminating poverty from the country. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ministers and MPs, Governors, Chief Ministers, Ministry Secretaries, Presidential Secretary Abeykoon and state officials took part in this meeting that also saw the appointment of this special committee.
The aim of this meeting was to prepare a master plan, obtaining proposals and ideas from all sectors. The Prime Minister, Governors, Chief Ministers, officials of the Ministry of Social Empowerment and the Governor of the Central Bank presented detailed proposals and plans on this issue.
Considering all the presented details, the President instructed the relevant authorities to launch this program more practically from the ground-level. He also instructed all local governments and line ministries to submit a comprehensive report subsequent to the discussions among them in the future.
“Every ministry should implement a suitable project relevant to the poverty alleviation program in the first week of January,” said the President. He further instructed that the appointed Committee should continuously scrutinise those projects and must make the necessary coordination with those institutions.
President Sirisena also emphasised that this program should be implemented based on one policy and one objective and further stressed on the necessity of successful implementation of the program to reduce the poverty rate of the country and to improve people’s living standards.
Another discussion will be held under the patronage of the President regarding the preliminary steps of the program next month.