SJB slams Govt. for rushing key bills sans proper stakeholder consultation

Thursday, 30 May 2024 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne

SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva

 SJB MP Kabir Hashim


  • MP Eran Wickramaratne questions is Economic Transformation Bill a manifesto or a policy since half the people to be appointed to Economic Commission are done by President
  • Exposes Govt.’s lack of action with over 4,500 businesses and individuals found avoiding tax; and 28 alcohol manufacturers haven’t paid excise taxes
  • SJB MP Kabir Hashim stresses importance of relooking at tax policies to help domestic industries; flags off fresh concerns within poultry industry
  • SJB MP Harsha de Silva calls for greater discourse and clarity from Govt. on policy
  • Insists Sri Lanka must enter into workable agreements on external debt restructuring without delay
  • Says SJB rejects GDP 
  • macro-linked bonds scheme that provides upside to bondholders and not to people of Sri Lanka

By Darshana Abayasingha

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday lambasted the Government for rushing multiple bills in Parliament without proper consultation with stakeholders.

At a media briefing by the economist trio of the SJB, Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne urged the Government to engage in a broader discourse with all stakeholders with respect to key bills that are being presented in the House.

He noted the Economic Transformation Bill was particularly important, as it involves the new agency to attract foreign direct investment replacing the BOI and industrial zones.

“Some of the objectives laid out in these are very good, but don’t rush them through. Take time and engage all stakeholders so there can be substantial value generated to all quarters,” Wickramaratne said.

“We must ask if this is a manifesto or a policy. Because half the people to be appointed to the Economic Commission that governs these are done by the President. If it’s a policy then we should discuss this more and provide more inputs. If nothing else, it all revolves around the President and his operations.” 

Wickramaratne also questioned why the Government isn’t converting policy into action, pointing out that over 4,500 businesses and individuals have been found avoiding tax. He also said 28 alcohol manufacturers have avoided excise tax payments and this constitutes a rather grave situation and cannot be condoned. 

At the media briefing, SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva also said the Government is rushing many bills before Parliament, but stressed it is important to ensure they offer workable solutions that will enhance productivity and combat corruption. He too called for greater discourse and clarity from the Government on policy.

Dr. de Silva who also heads the Parliamentary Committee on Public Finance (COPF) said Sri Lanka must enter into workable agreements on debt restructuring without delay, and noted that delays will lead to interest payments that would only grow the country’s quantum of debt. He said bureaucrats and officials who have dealt with international lending agencies and banks are aware of this scenario, and said the country cannot afford to delay payments for too long.

SJB MP Kabir Hashim also spoke on the importance of relooking at tax policies to help domestic industries, and pointed out that 18% VAT and income tax of around 30% is killing Sri Lanka’s poultry industry. He also noted the lack of a cohesive policy to support the poultry industry, and pointed to the shortage in animal feed as corn import licences are handed to third parties who create artificial shortages and control price.

“That is a serious concern. Doesn’t the relevant Ministry understand the problems it is creating and the revenue we are missing as a nation. An FTA was signed with Thailand, but I wonder if the Minister knows that duty free access for Sri Lankan products to Thailand comes only in another 15 years. In the meantime Thailand exports over 100,000kgs of chicken to the world and is the 3rd largest exporter. The Government must look at restructuring these laws and support our domestic industries. But there is no such real program,” he alleged.

Parliamentarian Dr. de Silva said SJB is the only party that has put forth a workable and relevant policy roadmap pertaining to the economy and external debt restructuring, and called on the NPP/JVP and other parties to agree to a debate with itself on these points.

SJB exposes NPP/JVP

He singled out the JVP-led NPP for making hollow statements with respect to debt restructuring. De Silva noted the NPP’s Economic Council claims International Sovereign Bond Holders had accepted that the party’s proposal to defer debt repayments to a later date after Sri Lanka establishes an economic and governance mechanism that will boost revenue with no corruption. He also scoffed at claims that ISB holders had accepted repayments with a haircut at 7% interest.

“The NPP are using the same numbers we put forth well over a month ago and are bandying them about as if it’s their projections. The SJB is the only party to have presented a policy on how we will approach external debt restructuring. We have stated the SJB rejects GDP macro-linked scheme that provides the upside to bondholders and not to the people of this country. We have stated we can accept the counter proposal of the Government. What is the stance of the NPP? They have not commented at all on it, do they even have a cohesive policy on this? We would welcome a public debate with their economic council, so the public can decide who has a workable economic roadmap for the country,” De Silva said.

SJB criticises moves to postpone polls

At the briefing, MP Wickramaratne responded to speculations of postponing elections. “Is postponing Presidential and the Parliamentary election the next leap of the President who took over power of the local Governments and provincial councils through the Governors? One person alone cannot build a country or a good business. There must be a good team with the leader to be successful. The forthcoming two major elections are a good opportunity for professionals and the people to work for the country and elect good leaders and members to Parliament. The people’s sovereignty cannot be changed by the rulers at their whims and fancies,” emphasised Wickramaratne.