SJB’s reply to President’s Policy Statement

Saturday, 10 February 2024 00:56 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Nothing will change with passing laws unless there is political will to resolve issues

MP Eran Wickramaratne speaking on the adjournment debate on the policy statement by President Ranil Wicckremesinghe said the main Opposition SJB disagrees with the broad theme of the President’s statement delivered on Tuesday that the problem facing this country is economic and not political. Speaking on the debate on Thursday he stressed that from the outset he rejects the President’s theme as the economy, politics and political economy are imperative in governance and politics.

“The problem facing the country is the rule of law under this regime. The President did not really go to the root causes of the problem but he was dealing around some of the issues on the surface. He had emphasised that it was the law that was needed and more laws have to be brought in. We are not objecting to bringing in laws. The problem is the compliance of the law rather than the law itself. Nothing will change unless there is compliance with the law on the part of the Government. If laws are violated people need to be punished through the judicial process and this really is the problem under this administration. Those who are convicted in a court of law are sitting in the Chamber of the House, not only making laws but even trying to see whether they can change judges as well. This is like making a joke of the whole matter,” alleged Wickramaratne

From the President’s policy statement it is perceived that we often don’t need targets that have been set on the economy, the revenue and others. The Government, instead of achieving the target due to its inability, alters the targets saying achieving of new benchmarks. It’s all hype. This is not the way; we need to fix the loopholes, he said.

The MP cautioned that tax concession have to be fixed otherwise there wouldn’t be a level playing field in investments and businesses.  Large scale industries often get tax concessions. This needs to be fixed if the Government aims at fixing the economy. He referred to the sugar scam as one of the major scams reported under this Government. It is no secret that friends and cronies of the Government frequently get the benefit under this economy that is detrimental to the growth of the country, he alleged.

The VAT has caused enormous pressure on the middle class and the poor; that is really scandalous. We have tax concessions for selected parties, while bringing pressure on the public and the wage earners. Until now even the casino taxes have not been collected. So how do we address these issues under such circumstance? he questioned.

Wickramaratne further articulating the issues that emanates from the theme of the President’s policy statement said a research report issued a week ago proved that the armed forces expenses for food and uniform in 2022/2023 cost Rs. 75 billion. On the other hand the President in a previous speech in Parliament, that proposed to increase the tax free income to Rs.200,000 from the existing Rs. 100,000 to provide some respite to the middle class, replied to me that it would cost the government Rs. 63 billion. The middle class people look after their family and do not depend on the state. What a contrast in rationalising the Government’s expenditures. It shows the absence of rationale thinking on the affairs of Government’s revenue and expenditure plans, he pointed out.

Wickramaratne revealing the figures on exports revenue given by the President said it contradicted his own previous statistics. The President quoting a figure from 2022 had stated it was $ 13.1 billion. But the actual figure in 2023 is $ 11.9 billion highlighting a downward trend. Export is our only salvation and we need a sustainable growth in export if the country is to be developed.

FTA with Thailand will bring fruition only after 10 years

Last week, Sri Lanka signed an FTA with Thailand and a notable feature in it is the duty free concession granted to the Thai market starting from the 10th year for our exports. But he said when an FTA was signed with India by the previous Government the duty free concession started from year one and so Sri Lanka had market access to India from year one, whereas we have to stay a decade to gain duty free concession.  Hence, the FTA signed by this Government is not a favourable factor to boost our exports. 

In addition to such shortfalls in the FTA that the Government negotiated with foreign governments Sri Lanka has no way of attracting FDIs because of various restrictions. The absence of an electronic procurement system and poor implementation are some of the debacles that stand in the way to achieving FDIs.

Honest Treasury official objects to corrupt deal 

of $ 100 million Ilmenite project

Another big issue is corruption in the country and the MP said it has been brought to his notice that an FDI of nearly $ 100 million for a BOI proposal to establish an industrial site in Puttalam has been sabotaged. Further, Sri Lanka Insurance has signed a 30 year agreement with Asha Minerals on 10 April 2023 that sounds to be a paper company without any  capital, neither have they licences from the relevant authorities such as GSMB  nor approval for experience to look at minerals.

Despite connivance by public servants as well in such an endeavour Wickramaratne praising an honest official declared that the Treasury official Walpola who is in the Board of Directors has objected to this project being given in a surreptitious manner. The MP elaborating on this corruption in the Ilmenite Company deal said he found out that Dilma, Access Engineering and Hayleys are the owners of this company.

In conclusion, Wickramaratne said the President from the very beginning said he would wipe out corruption and catch the thieves. But the country needs a strong scientific base with required law and implementation of laws with experienced officials. This Government brought an anti- corruption law but I would like to state what the country faces is not  economic problem but political instability and lack of political will to provide a political solution to the problems in the country.