Bouquets and brickbats for Budget in the House

Saturday, 28 November 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Ashwin HemmathagamaOur Lobby Correspondent

Opposition lawmaker Annamalai Nadesu Sivasakthi alias Sivasakthi Ananthan moved the fourth day of the ‘Appropriation Bill 2016 – Second Reading Adjournment Debate’ blaming the Government for increasing taxes which will increase the burden on the struggling people in the Northern Province. 

“There is no big difference between the previous and the current Governments. Both are poor in delivery and not keeping promises,” he charged.

Joining the Adjournment Debate, Minister of Housing and Construction Sajith Premadasa praised the Budget 2016 as a foundation laid to take the country towards golden era where State resources will no longer be stolen but will be spent for public betterment. 

“State resources were utilised to meet plans of a handful of henchmen of the ruling family. People expected an era that fulfilled socioeconomic development goals. So the economic development rate decreased. Some 20% of the entire population was enjoying 54% of the national economy during that era. The national policy was to rob public property. Let me take Tissamaharama, where no purified pipe borne water is available; 40,000 people consume water unsuitable for human consumption. But the Government had money to build a racetrack for cars. Is this the miracle they boasted about? This Government managed to allocate Rs.395 million to build a water purification system in Tissamaharama, finding a solution,” said Minister Premadasa.

The Opposition lawmaker was critical about Budget 2016, which has failed to significantly reduce the budget deficit and enhance the revenue without taxing the ordinary.

“Next year the Government expects Rs. 2,047 billion income out of which Rs. 2,032 billion is the real income whereas the remainder goes as donations. The tax income composition amounts to Rs. 1,584 billion. Meanwhile the anticipated expenditure stood at Rs. 2.787 billion. This creates a deficit of Rs. 740 billion. Compared with 2015, the budget deficit was Rs. 675 billion. In 2014, the budget deficit was 5.7% of the GDP. Now this has gone up to 5.9% in Budget 2016. This increase is not a miracle, which will be accepted by the masses. All-in-all over three-fourths of your Budget 2016 will be earned from the direct and indirect taxes,” he said.

Opposition lawmaker Vasudeva Nanayakkara joining the debate suggested the Government should take over the now profitmaking ventures which were privatised many years ago.

“We reject this disgraceful Budget brought forward by the UNP and the Maithripala Sirisena Government. The Budget is nothing but a program to give the assets of this country to the wealthy. The transfer is in the reverse where it is from the poor people to the rich. This is an effort taken to bring in a service economy, which is already there in this country. It will affect the finance companies, especially the banks, which will not get stronger. Agriculture is also at stake where land and water are being sold, forcing the farmers to migrate from villages to the Megapolis in search of employment opportunities. Furthermore, if the land purchase is allowed, the land will eventually get transferred from the local wealthy to foreign wealthy. The Government has taken away the barriers which were in place. You are trying to sell national assets to the private sector, wagging their tails to the tune of the politicians. What is required is to take the profit making companies such as Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka back to the Government. I am sure that you will pass the ownership of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation to Harry Jayawardena again. I curse this Government and hope its days will end soon.”

Minister of Rural Economic Affairs P. Harrison said: “I don’t know why he is so worked with regard to people getting ownership of land that they were living on for over 10 years. Where were you when the last Government sold Colombo land to China? You were a part of that Government. You having seen society with envy in the past, I don’t see much difference now in your behaviour. This Budget has provided to uplift education. This is an investment made for the betterment of the future generation. The monies will be used to enhance infrastructure at schools, also to recruit suitable teachers and provide them training. Most importantly there are over 1,000 schools in Sri Lanka without toilets and water to drink. The Budget will provide for these requirements.”

“I saw former Minister Weerawansa saying that the emission test will ruin families. He is mistaken. It is not the emission test which will ruin families but having several different passports that will ruin families. Anyway, there are two companies engaged in emission tests. Since 2008, these two companies – Clean Co Lanka Ltd. and LAUGFS Eco Sri Ltd. have paid the Government 10% of the total charges paid by vehicle owners to obtain the certificate,” added Minister Harrison.

Minister of Labour and Trade Unions Relations W.D.J. Senewiratne said: “We are happy that the FM was able to present a better Budget despite all difficulties. It is evident that tax revenues have gone down. We need to increase the tax income taking into consideration the measures taken to invite foreign investments and the subsidies being continued at some level. The funds are required to meet the development goals. The land tax that got removed when a foreigner obtains land was introduced by the previous Government to stop land grabs by foreigners. We expected at least a few Fortune 500 companies to come here and start ventures.”

“The previous Government also did some work to develop this country. But people were not satisfied about what took place and this Government was elected. So we too joined this Government to continue the effort. In the late ’80s we too had the fever to criticise the former Government. We spoke about an era of a 17-year curse and the local killing fields. But the time has come to stop criticism and start working,” he added.

Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said: “According to the JVP, both the UNP and SLFP were instrumental in bankrupting the economy since Independence. They identified this Budget as nothing more than loans, taxes, and fines. Do let me know if there any other countries that have presented a budget without those three factors included. The question is the responsibility of the Government to manage those three. But you have the right to point out the mistakes, if there are any, in the Budget.”

“The most important features of this Budget is that the total Government income is Rs. 1,468 billion and the total pay-out is Rs. 2,787 billion, which is 22% of the GDP. Non-tax revenue will also be increased by threefold in this Budget. Last year it was Rs. 126 billion. But in 2016 non-tax income will be increased to Rs. 378 billion. Education and health got allocated Rs. 517 billion in 2015 for both recurrent and capital expenditure. Rs. 874 billion was allocated this year for both these sectors in 2016. This is an increase of Rs. 350 billion at large. Government recurrent in 2015 was Rs. 1,468 billion. Next year it will be Rs. 2,032 billion. Ultimately the budget deficit will be reduced from 6% to 5.9% of GDP. Among the possible amendments, we will continue to discuss with the Finance Minister to explore the possibility to reduce the emission test prices,” added Minister Rajapakshe.

State Minister of Highways Dilan Perera said: “If you take the previous CBSL Annual Reports, the economy was developed under the UPFA Government. While fighting the war against terrorism, we managed to drive the economy. We need to look at the brighter side of this Budget too. The Finance Minister assured us that emission test prices will not be on motorcycles and three-wheelers, telephone charges will also not be increased. We can discuss this between the UNP and the SLFP. But those who killed many and robbed banks and destroyed public property have no right to talk about these. The action taken to reduce prices of essential food items is a good move. But we have to establish a mechanism to enforce the price reduction. Only the UNP and the SLFP can take this country forward. Some other parties want to bury this country.”