Budget for next year presented under COVID siege
* Special Tax Appeals Court to resolve tax issues expeditiously
* Rs 500,000 start-up capital loan with 5-year grace period for entrepreneurs
* A sports economy worth USD 1,000 Mn from 2021-2024
* New city universities in each district
* Rs 8 Bn for technology enhancement
* Rs. 250 mn to develop temples in villages
* Extra Rs. 2 per dollar sent by Lankans employed overseas
* Two LNG plants, one coal plant to produce 1,000MW
* Sustainable and renewable energy supply by 2023
* Rs.15 billion for expanding mobile, fixed broadband
* An additional provision of Rs. 20,000 mn for the tri-forces
* Allocation of Rs 750 mn for activities of Rana Viru Seva Authority
* 5.5% economic growth rate for 2021 expected
* 4% budget deficit goal to be achieved by 2025
By Saman Indrajith
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Minister of Finance presented the 75th budget of the country, spelling out measures and proposals to achieve poverty alleviation and economic revival.
The budget proposals aimed to support the two year medium term programme of poverty alleviation and economic revival outlined for 2021-2023 in the “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, the Prime Minister said.
“The expected economic growth rate for 2021 is 5.5 percent. I emphasise that it is our medium term vision to reduce the budget gap through increasing the economic growth up to 6% and increasing the government revenue from its current level of 9.7% to 14.1%. By 2025, the budget deficit is expected to be 4% of the GDP due to growth in tax revenue through the expansion of the economy and the trust placed on the management of public expenditure and public enterprises.”
Prime MinisterRajapaksa commenced delivering the budget speech around 1.44 pm. It continued till 4.54 pm including a half-an-hour tea break between 2.43 to 3.24.
Income tax exemptions have been proposed for agriculture, livestock, and fisheries sectors for five years. In addition, a 50% income tax exemption has been proposed for local companies if get listed in the Stock Market before December 31, 2021.
He proposed to establish a special Tax Appeals Court to facilitate the resolution of tax appeals without delays, Prime Minister Rajapaksa said.
“I propose to simplify the Taxes on Capital Gains, where such taxes will be calculated based on the sale price of a property or the assessed value of a property whichever is higher. I propose to exempt the tax on dividends of foreign companies for three years if such dividends are reinvested on expansion of their businesses or in the money or stock market or in Sri Lanka International sovereign bonds.”
The PM also noted that the government intended to bring necessary changes to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) in order to increase the self-compliance of taxpayers and to strengthen tax audits as well as to increase tax revenues.
The Premier went to propose enforcing necessary legal provisions that enabled the cancellation of private tax consulting services that aid and abet issuance of forged tax reports.
A loan of Rs 500,000 as start-up capital with a grace period of five years would be introduced for entrepreneurs. A commitment fee of 0.25 per cent proposed to be levied from loan applicants to ensure that the funds are managed and utilized accordingly.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed to allocate additional funds of Rs. 3,000 million to initiate a scholarship programme to provide Rs. 4,000 monthly allowance each to students receiving vocational education based on their active participation.
Technical colleges of which the annual intake is presently at 100,000 would be increased to 200,000 students per year, he said. A five-year-grace period for tax levied from Vocational Training Centres, which were able to double their annual intake of students, was proposed. Rs. 10,000 million would be allocated from the budget next year for new technical colleges to be established in Colombo, Kalutara, Kandy, Anuradhapura and Batticaloa. New city universities would be established in each district to cater to students pursuing popular subjects.
The PM proposed to create a sports economy worth USD 1,000 million during the period 2021-2024. For that purpose Rs 1000 million was proposed to be allocated from the budget. He proposed measures to increase female participation in national sports.
It was proposed to increase production of milk to meet local demand and a Rs. 500,000 loan will be provided for purchasing cows and meeting other dairy farm requirements. The Premier said that $300 million in foreign exchange was annually needed for milk imports and proposed to reduce that by $55 million by encouraging local milk production.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed to allocate Rs. 750 million for the welfare of disabled armed forces personnel.
He proposed to allocate additional funds of Rs. 250 million to develop basic infrastructure of temples in rural areas.
The Budget proposes to allocate Rs. 8 billion for technology enhancement next year. In addition, allocation of Rs.15 billion for expanding mobile, fixed broadband under the “Gamata Saniwedanaya’ scheme was proposed. State land would be given to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission for the proposal, the PM said.
The Prime Minister said that low-income women migrated for work and their remittances had strengthened the national economy. In a bid to increase annual remittances from migrant workers to over US$ 7 billion, he proposed to pay extra two rupees for every dollar sent by Lankans employed overseas. That was in addition to prevailing exchange rates; he said, assuring to implement a contributory pension scheme for Lankan foreign employees.
It was proposed to expedite the construction of the national expressway network and extend the Marine Drive to Moratuwa. Prime Minister Rajapaksa said a three-year programme to develop road infrastructure in the 25 districts would be introduced. Rs 1,300 million proposed to be allocated to improve the railway network including the extending of Colombo and Kelani Valley track.
Electricity consumers were assured of a sustainable and renewable energy supply by 2023.
The PM said that 70 per cent of the country’s energy supply would be obtained from renewable energy sources by 2023. The Lakvijaya and Kerawalapitiya Power Plants would be strengthened to guarantee interruption-free power supply through years 2021-2022. One coal-fired power plant of 300 MW and two LNG plants would set up. The Kerawalapitiya plant would be transformed into an LNG plant, the PM said, proposing to provide solar panels of 5 kilo watts each to 100,000 houses of low income families under an Asian Development Bank and Indian loan scheme. Loan of 4% interest rate would be provided to low income families for this purpose, he said.
Reforms were proposed for the Foreign Service and under the new reforms bilateral agreements would be reviewed to ensure national security and Sri Lanka’s non-aligned stance, the Prime Minister said, adding that under those reforms a new mechanism would be introduced to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of diplomats and foreign service officers.
“With the aim of ensuring national security, a medium term plan to enhance the professional skills of the heroes of our tri-forces, providing them with modern technological facilities is currently being prepared. In the context of resource constraints and identified priorities in the country, further strengthening of the Sri Lanka Navy has been given priority. We must combat the drug menace and must eliminate it to prevent our country becoming a hub for international illicit drug trade. The government expects to ensure that the investments will facilitate to control smuggling of goods, providing the required protection for the fishery resources and fishery communities and establishing a safe environment for carrying out tasks in the Indian Ocean.”
The PM proposed to allocate Rs. 20,000 million as an additional provision for the tri-forces to fulfill the basic requirements identified in the medium-term and long-term planning frameworks in accordance with their basic requirements.
He also proposed to allocate Rs.750 million for the activities implemented by the RanaViru Seva Authority, including the provision of medical aid, support for development enterprises, conducting of educational and vocational development programmes, housing loans and provision of supporting equipment for the disabled war heroes targeting, the retired and disabled war heroes of the tri forces, police and the civil defense force and the dependents of the families of those heroes have laid down their lives.
The Premier proposed an additional allocation of Rs. 2,500 million, to address special programmes aimed at strengthening public security. “The government has given special attention to strengthening the police so as to assure public security. We must consolidate the environment for all citizens to live freely without any fear. Resources will be allocated to support the control of the drug menace, to regulate vehicles and traffic rules, strengthening Tourist police, special training and provide the necessary facilities to prevent crimes and robberies. It is also proposed to expand the police patrols to ensure public safety by deploying special police vehicles.”
Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed the implementation of a special loan scheme for public servants to obtain solar powered electricity. “When appointing or transferring public servants, it is proposed to ensure that such postings are made giving preference to the districts of residence. Permission will be granted for non-executive office employees of the public service to engage in other jobs or employment after office hours and those who seek foreign employment will be granted leave for two years. I propose to reduce the maximum interest charged on housing and property loans of public servants granted by banks under housing loans and advances up to a maximum of 7 per cent.”
The PM said: “The estimated Government Revenue for 2021 is Rs. 1,961 billion. The total Government expenditure is Rs. 3,525 billion and as such the difference between the revenue and the expenditure is Rs. 1,564 billion. It is planned to maintain the budget gap at 9 percent of the GDP since the private investments which amounted to 32.3 percent of the GDP in 2014 has decreased up to 27.6 percent in 2019 and since it is required to provide a robust start by the government to revive the economic growth which had stagnated recently.”
The second reading debate of the budget is scheduled to commence today (18) and continue till Nov 21. The vote on the second reading will take place at 5 pm on Nov 21. Parliament sittings will be held from the 18th to the 20th from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm. The debate of the Committee Stage will commence on Nov 23 and is scheduled to conclude on Dec 10. The final vote on the budget is scheduled to be taken at 5.00 pm on Dec 10.
COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs
Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.
Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles.
SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee.
Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.
COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.
At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems.
The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.
At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.
That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn.
COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.
COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.
COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.
In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.
COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.
COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.
It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.
India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security
India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.
“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.
“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.
India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “
Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port
A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.
Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.
It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.
The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”
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