SJB urges President to engage all parties to resolve worsening crisis

Thursday, 10 February 2022 01:33 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Says Central Bank and Government disjointed; alleges Cabraal making incorrect statements
  • Country is on brink of collapse, as more international loans up for repayment this month
  • Claims Govt. soft peddling Bond Scam report to hide corruption
  • Calls for exclusion of pensions funds from surcharge tax; wants transparency in EPF investments

By Darshana Abayasingha

Dr. Harsha De Silva
Eran Wickramaratne
Kabir Hashim

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition and all stakeholders to find a sustainable solution to the economic crisis that is crippling the nation.

MP Dr. Harsha De Silva addressing a media briefing yesterday stated that neither the Government nor the Central Bank seems to have a plan in hand to overcome the foreign exchange crisis and rising debt, and scoffed at statements made by the Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal that there is no dollar shortage in the country.

“The Governor of the Central Bank reiterates his factually incorrect statements to a certain newspaper that there is no dollar shortage in the country. However, many other newspapers report otherwise. 

In fact, one leading newspaper stated that we are in need of $ 20 million to clear 2,000 containers stuck at the port, whilst another claims we are unable to import medicine as there is a shortage of dollars. 

Who is the Central Bank Governor trying to fool? We are at the brink of an economic collapse due to insufficient dollars to import essential commodities such as medicine, milk powder, fuel,

food, etc.” De Silva said.

By the end of January, Sri Lanka possessed only $ 2.3 billion even with the currency swap with China, thus ending up with only $ 700 million of usable reserves. The country is in a precarious situation as it needs to settle debt payments of $ 230 million this month, the MP said.

Joining the discussion, SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne, lamented the Government has made the unprecedented move of imposing a surcharge tax of 25% on EPF earnings. The Opposition is vehemently opposed to the move and urged the Government to withdraw the measure.

“Close to 2 million employees look forward to their EPF earnings at retirement, which is why the Yahapalana Government moved to pay senior citizens a maximum interest of 15%, in recognition of their contribution to the country,” Wickramaratne stated.

He questioned why the Government has not focused attention instead on closing the investigation on the alleged bond scam, and charged that the Presidential Commission appointed to investigate the bond scam had recommended that investigations need to be conducted from as far back as 2002. 

The President has done nothing with this report, two years since his appointment and has been swept under the carpet, the SJB MP charged. 

The reports add that the EPF fund must be protected. Of 142 investments made using Rs. 46.95 billion of ETF funds, 98 projects had not received prior approval, he stated.

Wickramaratne added that all discussions at the Central Bank are recorded, but when the commission had called for 1,163 recordings with regard to the EPF funds, only 265 recordings had been made available, and claimed there had been large incidents of malpractice.

SJB MP Kabir Hashim said party leader Sajith Premadasa as per Standing Orders on Tuesday tabled several important questions on the state of the economy and reserves to be answered by the Finance Minister. 

However there was none from the Government who could respond. He said SJB Leader’s questions centred around rising money printing and food prices, plunging foreign reserves as well as by including pension funds for the 25% surcharge tax Government was siphoning-off the working people’s hard earned savings.