By Skandha Gunasekara
The JVP in Parliament yesterday demanded to know from the Government what its policy was towards the importation of asbestos, and to take measures to prevent the local tile industry from collapsing.
JVP MP Vijitha Herath, taking part in yesterday’s Second Reading debate on the resolutions under the Customs Ordinance made this query, pointing out that the country had benefited only once from scrapping tax on asbestos import. “Soon after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the Government implemented a tax concession on asbestos imports to help and expedite the rebuilding process. This was a justifiable move and greatly helped with the rebuilding.” MP Herath then noted that the current Government had made various statements regarding asbestos but acted in a contradictory manner. “There is a recent announcement by the Housing Ministry that it would not use asbestos roofing sheets for the houses it would build, but the tax reduction on asbestos imports is being maintained. Then there was a statement some time back that the Government would completely ban the use of asbestos. However, I saw on TV the other day the President declaring open a housing scheme in Polonnaruwa, where all the houses had been covered by the asbestos roofing sheets. Has the Government changed its position?”
He noted that following the President’s statement on the ban of asbestos, local tile manufacturers, who increased production expecting higher demands, were now incurring heavy losses due to asbestos prices remaining the same. “When the President’s statement on the banning of asbestos was announced, local tile industrialists obtained bank loans and increased their production. They did not harm the environment by increasing their production. How could they run their industries profitably, when the Government keeps the tax concession it had granted to importing asbestos in the 2004 tsunami aftermath?” he demanded.