The Opposition has slammed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government’s 2021 Budget as a “failure”, attacking it from different fronts. Opposition members accused the Government of failing to provide a lifeline to the COVID-19 pandemic-stricken people. But Government MPs hailed the Budget as a courageous attempt to revive the national economy amidst the pandemic and multiple challenges. [...]


Opposition MPs allege false statistics in Budget, but Govt. says lots of relief for poor people


The Opposition has slammed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government’s 2021 Budget as a “failure”, attacking it from different fronts. Opposition members accused the Government of failing to provide a lifeline to the COVID-19 pandemic-stricken people. But Government MPs hailed the Budget as a courageous attempt to revive the national economy amidst the pandemic and multiple challenges.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa presenting the 75th Budget on Tuesday

In his capacity as Minister of Finance, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa presented the 75th Budget on Tuesday. Coincidentally the following day, November 18, was his 75th birthday. The Budget’s second reading debate also began on this day. Both government and opposition members did not forget to wish the Premier a happy birthday before they began their speeches.

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s economist MP, Dr. Harsha de Silva, started the debate by congratulating the President on completing his first year in office and wishing the Prime Minister a long and healthy life.

Dr. Silva described the 2020 Budget as a typical Rajapaksa budget as it lacked focus and called it a frog-in-the-well-type of budget. “There is no economic stimulus in the entire Budget for the suffering people in this country,” he said. But as much as Rs. 230 billion had been allocated for road paving and this clearly showed mixed-up priorities, he added. “What is more important — road building or the buildup of collapsed industries?” he asked.

Dr. De Silva charged that the Government was regulating almost all aspects of economic life. The President reduced the taxes for the rich, but this did not benefit the people, Dr. De Silva claimed.

Spelling out the Government’s measures to revive the economy was Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardane. He said the 2021 Budget proposed a moratorium on loan repayments while giving tax relief to various industries and the interest rates were also brought down to a single digit.

Claiming that the Government was able to create 160,000 new jobs this year despite the pandemic, he said this was the only government after 1977 to restrict imports to support the farmer. He said there would be no tax on agricultural produce and exports. “We have given the opportunity for people to invest money which could not be accounted for, by just giving 1% tax to the Government.” Opposition MPs described this as black money.

SJB frontliner Patali Champika said it was this Government that had embraced the neo-liberal economic policies by giving huge tax concessions to business elites to the tune of Rs. 800 billion. “This has created a fiscal crisis while we already have foreign currency loan crisis,” he said.

Mr. Ranawaka claimed that the Government’s foreign currency loans had increased by more than ten fold from 2005 to 2014. “Now we have a crisis within a crisis, repaying those foreign currency loans, amidst the financial crisis created by the pandemic.”

He accused the Government of failing to address these issues and questioned the credibility of certain statistics in the Budget.

He said 2021 revenue figures were not realistic and credible. In the Budget proposal the revenue was given as Rs. 2029 bn whereas elsewhere it was mentioned as Rs. 1994 bn. How the Government is going to collect these revenues was conspicuously missed out, he said.

SLPP MP Prof. Ranjith Bandara told Parliament that the Budget had proposals from economic benefits to trickle down to the lower layer of society. The Budget aimed to achieve a manufacturing economy. It had allocated more money for capital expenditure not so much for recurrent expenditure, he said.

National People Power Parliamentarina Dr. Harini Amarasuriya observed that there existed a huge void between beautiful words expressed in speeches and what was found in statistical reports, playing tricks with macro-economic indicators, and the actual world outside. “We experience the crisis of capitalism, but they come out with different solutions every time when there is a challenge,” she said.

“This budget relied upon the much-overused neo-liberal trickle-down economic model. It does not work, it’s a failure,” she stressed. She explained that to find out whether the economic system worked or not, one must go out to see how it had affected the people.

SJB parliamentarian Asoka Abeysinghe said that no stimulus package had been given to COVID-19-stricken people and charged that the Government was offering many benefits for large businesses and facilitating black money laundering. And this was why he would described this as a failed Budget. “People were anxiously waiting for some relief, but there is nothing,” the MP said.

SJB Parliamentarian Velu Kumar claimed that increasing estate workers’ daily wage up to Rs.1000 was a fraud to mislead estate workers. “It won’t help the workers solve their other problems,” he said. He also expressed doubts as to whether the estate companies would be agreeable to increase the wages.

SLPP Parliamentarian Prof. Charitha Herath said the Budget had a systemic approach for economic stabilisation. He said it was a political document to set up an economic model between Marketism and Statism, based on political pragmatism, creating the space for social justice and it was a bottom-up but not trickle-down model.

Opening the second day of the debate former State Minister and banker Eran Wickremaratne noted that government revenue as a percentage to the GDP had recorded the lowest level of 9%. “When we took over the government it was 12.6%. We had increased the income to Rs. 1900 bn in 2018.”

He expressed doubts about the government income figure Rs. 1588 bn for 2021, as stated by the Premier. According to his assessment, it could be Rs. 1300 bn. The Government had targeted to increase state revenue up to Rs. 2029 billion next year.

Former President and government MP Maithripala Sirisena said he believed the Budget was “very good” given the tough ground conditions. He said the limitations of imports and promoting local produce were good policies.

He also said the Budget could minimise poverty at a time when farmers, rural and urban workers were facing “a lot of hardships.” The former President also said the Government’s three-year plan to provide drinking water to the people was appreciative as only 50 percent of the people now had access to clean drinking water.

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said the people expected plenty of relief from the Budget but there was little or nothing for them.

Mr. Kiriella said the President’s “Saubhagye Dekma” manifestor had a target to increase the country’s forest cover to 30 percent. But he complained that Forest Conservation Department’s lands upto 700,000 hectares had been given to the district and divisional secretaries. “What could be the hidden motive?” he asked.

SLPP MP Shehan Semasinghe explained that the President’s election manifesto was drafted  after obtaining the views of the ordinary people in the villages. Accordingly, the Government reduced the Value Added Tax from 15 percent to 5 percent to give life to the national economy, he said.

NPP frontliner Vijitha Herath alleged that the Government got loans of Rs. 2000bn even without the approval of Parliament and it wanted to take another Rs. 3000bn loan, a total of five trillion rupees for the two years. “By the end of 2021, the country will be trapped in a mountain of loans amounting to Rs.18 trillion. There is nothing new, either to borrow or print new money. This is the failure,” he said.

SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman claimed that the Government did not reveal the statistics of factories that had to be closed due to the pandemic. “There is no suggestion how the money could be found to fill the deficit.”

Opening the third day of the debate on Friday, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa accused the Government of downplaying the pandemic, which should have been highlighted in the Budget.

He said the Government did not have any strategic plan to counter the pandemic. “What are the figures for how many ventilators, ICU beds and PCR test kits the country needs?” he asked, and said the Government had no clear cut answers.

Mr. Premadasa said some international companies had developed vaccines and some countries had already ordered millions of doses. He called on the Government to place the orders without joining the queue later. “The Government should give the vaccines free, till then we will fight for the people to get it free,” he declared.

“Since January, we have been telling the Government to take COVID-19 safety precautions, and conduct PCR tests. Now the Government is suppressing the media, especially the social media and arresting journalists to cover up its failures. We do not have freedom of speech,” he said.

The Opposition Leader said the Coronavirus task force should not be headed by military commanders but by medical professionals, he claimed and alleged that the Government often overlooked the advice of health experts. “It is a shame the Government has not consulted its own MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana though he is an expert on virology.”

Replying to the Opposition Leader Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said the Government would order vaccines when they were needed. “I do not think we need it now. We have money allocated for disaster management. We can use it,” he said.

Hakeem makes plea to party members who supported 20AAfter an eleven minute long speech in English, LSri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem began addressing in Tamil briefly since he wanted to address the four fellow party MPs who voted in favour of the 20th Amendment recently.

He urged them to re-consider supporting the government as those who voted for them are traumatised due to the current government decision of mandatory cremation of COVID-19 victims including Mulsims.

“The four of them voted in favour of the 20th Amendment saying that the decision was taken based on their conscience. Today, those who voted for them are hurt as well as the whole Mulsim community is traumatised by mandatory cremation of COVID-19 victims by disregarding our religious beliefs. I hope, at least now, this time of the Budget debate, they will respect the feelings of the community and support party leadership with a clear conscience,” he said.


Second reading of Budget passedThe second reading of the budget was yesterday passed in Parliament with 151 members voting in favour and 52 members against.

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