SLFP-Mahajana wing leader and Matara District UNP Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera described the budget as an ‘IMF-approved wish list”.
Speaking during the budget debate this week, he said Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama was burdened with the unhappy task of presenting an unhappy budget.
He said that as this was the first budget after the defeat of the LTTE, the people were waiting to reap the economic dividends of the victory but the government was instead resorting to autocratic suppression that would ruin the economy.
“We hear that an anti-democratic constitution is being drafted. Economic development cannot be achieved by suppressing the rule of law as countries like Myanmar and Zimbabwe met their economic downturn following suppressive conduct,” he said.
Mr. Samaraweera requested Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa to make sure that economic development came along with democracy – and not at the cost of democracy. “Even some senior government officials too believe that dictatorship leads to economic development”, he said.
He said that the AG’s Department being under the President and Police promotions directly handled by the Defence Ministry are seriously affecting the rule of law.
With regard to European Union’s suspension of the GSP Plus concessions, Mr. Samaraweera said that 250,000 workers mainly in the garment sector would be affected directly while another million would be affected indirectly.
Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Opposition MP Retd. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, taking part in the budget debate dismissed the budget as just as another game of numbers to mislead the public and it offered little or no relief to the people or the security forces who led the country to the historic war victory.
“First and foremost it is important to fight fraud and corruption. During my election campaign I pointed out that the government could easily give a Rs. 10,000 salary increase if corruption was brought to a stop. The government promised to offer a salary increase of Rs. 2,500 for state-sector employees and Rs. 3000 for security forces personnel in this budget but it was unable to honour this pledge because of corruption at high level,” he said.
Gen. Fonseka said the main culprit of the Rs. 24 billion VAT fraud was still at large and presently living in Dubai where he owned several hotels in which some government MPs stayed free of charge when they travelled to Dubai.
He accused the government of not utilizing the Nation Building Tax for the development of war-torn areas or for the welfare of the security forces personnel and war victims.
“The Api Wenuwen Api fund was receiving funds from Sri Lankans living here and abroad. The Defence Ministry announced that the fund had collected Rs. 4.2 billion. But only 1,500 houses were built in Ipalogama. If the government acts in this way, its goal of building 50,000 houses for the security forces will end up a dream,” he said.
Chief Government Whip and Minister, Dinesh Gunewardena said Sri Lanka’s adherence to the guidelines of and the standards set by the International Labour Organization will have a positive effect on the European Union’s decision on GSP Plus concessions.
“I believe that the European Commission cannot make inflexible decisions, our good conduct in labour laws may be a plus point for us. EU countries purchase goods from our country to give their citizens the best in quality and less costly goods. We on our part have been doing our task excellently,” he said.
Minister Gunawardena said the ILO had imposed certain laws including the prohibition of employing underage children.
“Just because one agreement did not work out does not mean Sri Lanka and the European Union are enemies,” Mr. Gunewardena said. He said the government did its best to fulfil the 17 conditions put forward by the European Union but no nation or body has a right to interfere in the affairs of a democratic country.
He said the opposition was refusing to admit that external forces provided the terrorists with weapons and financial assistance and now the same forces were urging foreign countries to pressure the government. “The government is battling against these external forces to protect the democracy and the rights of the country for the sake of our future generations,” he said.