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CB workers protest tax hike as governor defends painful measures

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ECONOMYNEXT –Employees of the Central Bank have joined a week-long “black protest” campaign organised by state sector unions against a sharp hike in personal income tax, even as Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said painful measures were needed for the country to recover from its worst currency crisis in decades.

President of the Central Bank Executive Association Jayadu Perera told EconomyNext on Friday January 26 that while the protesting CBSL staff were not opposed to paying taxes, they take issue with the unprecedented increase which came into effect in the new year.Perera claimed that the tax he paid in December had increased six-seven fold.

“This is true for most public servants, and we cannot bear this burden,” he said.

“This is a very unfair tax since it is the professionals of this country that make all the sacrifices,” he added.

Perera complained that Sri Lanka’s ruling class maintain high living standards and enjoy all the luxuries while subjecting workers like him to an “extremely unfair and unjust” tax.

Opposition to Sri Lanka’s newly increased direct taxes has been rising, with a number of unions and professional associations taking to the streets demanding that the decision is reversed.

The government, however, defends the tax hike arguing that it is strapped for cash as Sri Lanka, still far from a complete recovery, is struggling to make even the most basic payments, to say nothing of the billions needed for public sector salaries.

Economists say Sri Lanka’s bloated public service is a burden for taxpayers in the best of times, and under the present circumstances, it is getting harder and harder to pay salaries and benefits.

Defenders of the tax hike say that the road to recovery is a painful one, and Central Bank chief Weerasinghe, meanwhile, told reporters at the monthly monetary policy review on Wednesday January 25 that the country would have to take certain painful measures to come out of the crisis.

Asked about the trade union action organised by his staff – with most employees dressed in black – Weerasinghe joked that he too was in black but said in a more serious vein that at CBSL, anyone was free to exercise their democratic right to protest.

He also stressed that taxation is not under the purview of the Central Bank whose primary obligation is monetary policy.

The CBSL staff, however, continues to protest.

“This tax increase was implemented without any discussion with workers who are the victims of this policy,” claimed Perera.

Acknowledging the country’s dire financial straits, he said: “But why must only the professionals make sacrifices? Why not the politicians?”

Another worker who did not wish to be named claimed that he was left with just 10,000 rupees after tax.

“This an intolerable burden laid upon our heads. We will continue this protest until they give us relief. Today we did it during the lunch break. In the future we will do more,” he said.

Other workers who shared these sentiments told EconomyNext that most of them have debt obligations of their own and once they have settled loans, interest and other bills, a large income tax is the last straw.

“We have our own personal commitments. All we say is that taxation should be fair, transparent and equitable. Show us the rulers that are being taxed the same way,” said one CBSL worker.

Sri Lanka’s new tax regime has both its defenders and detractors. Critics who are opposed to progressive taxation said it serves as a disincentive to industry and capital which can be invested in business. They argue that a flat rate of taxation is implemented where everyone is taxed at the same rate.

Others, however, contend that the new taxes only affect some 10-12 percent of the population and, given the country’s economic situation, is necessary, if not vital.

Critics of the protesting workers argue that most of the workers earn high salaries that most ordinary people can only dream of, and though there may be some cases where breadwinners could be taxed more equitably, overall, Sri Lanka’s tax rates remain low and are not unfair.



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President orders probe into notification issued by Department of Immigration and Emigration

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It has been reported that President Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation into the notification issued by the Department of Immigration and Emigration requesting all  Russian and Ukrainian tourists to leave the country within 14 days.

According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), the relevant notification was issued without prior approval from the Cabinet of Ministers.

The decision had reportedly been taken as certain foreign tourists are running illegal businesses in the country.

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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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