Ministers promise election winning budget


By Saman Indrajith

The government would continue to be in power for the next ten years and they were laying the foundation for it, said the Non-Cabinet Minister of Public Distribution and Economic Reforms Dr. Harsha de Silva and State Minister for Finance Eran Wickramaratne said, addressing the media at the parliamentary complex yesterday. "We are not fools and the government will present a budget that will win votes at the next election. We work responsibly but that is not a weakness in us."

Dr. de Silva said the rupee had depreciated by 16.4% last year as was the case in other countries in the region, but up to October last year the rupee depreciation had been only 8.7%. However, during the three months during the ‘coup’ it depreciated by 7.6%. "The conspirators should be held responsible for this situation. Further, the currencies of several other countries including India and Indonesia appreciated, and if not for this ‘coup’, the rupee would have stabilised at around Rs.172 against the dollar. The international debt repayment for this year is around $5.9 billion. The domestic debt has not been estimated yet, but that is not an issue."

Commenting on the reduction of gas prices, he said when the price of gas reduced internationally, the gas companies had conveniently forgotten to notify the Consumer Affairs Authority. "The CAA also forgets to notify the gas companies. However, with the new mechanisms to be put in place this forgetfulness will be a thing of the past. The price will fluctuate according to the world market prices. We will stop this forgetful culture."

Minister Wickramaratne said that those involved in the political coup should be punished while those who had behaved violently in Parliament should be put behind bars. "If an ordinary citizen had behaved in that manner, he would have been jailed. But the biggest issue was the economic cost. The financial cost of the coup has been estimated to be around Rs 21 billion and that’s just on interest costs. The cost to the tourism industry was in excess of 250 million dollars. There are obviously other losses which have not been estimated."

He said that despite financial losses, the challenge was to pay the outstanding debt, but they would be meeting their debt obligations. "We have never defaulted on debt and will not default on debt".

Wickramaratne said youth, women and development were the main areas of focus in the upcoming budget, adding that they would take on the role of responsible financial management and continue on the development process. "We will focus on Gamperaliya to strengthen the village economy. During the coup at the first Cabinet meeting they stopped it but now it has been approved and will forge forward. Similarly, Enterprise Sri Lanka will also forge ahead with the aim of strengthening local industries," he said, adding that special emphasis would also be given to the youth and women.

He said that 168,000 GCE /L students had qualified for university admission but only 30,000 would be absorbed and there was another 138,000 that nobody talks about. "Every student is important. We want to give them the opportunities to receive higher education and those measures will be announced in the budget. Sri Lanka can distinguish itself for really having educated and skilled workforce. Every child has a dignity and potential and we are much focused on giving them opportunities."

Sri Lanka was probably the only middle income country in the whole of South Asia with lots of people having vehicles, he said, adding that the country should improve public transport, efficiency and the government was planning on investing on public transport.

Women had made great progress over the years academically and professionally but their careers sometimes got interrupted when they married and started families, he said.

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