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Five-year income tax exemptions for agriculture, livestock, and fisheries sectors

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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.



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SC: Anti-Terrorism Bill needs approval at referendum and 2/3 majority to become law

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Certain sections inconsistent with Constitution

By Saman Indrajith

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa informed Parliament yesterday that the Supreme Court (SC) has determined that some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, the Bill had to be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum.

Rajapaksa said that the Supreme Court had determined that the Sections 3, 4, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 72 (2), 75 (3) and 83 (7) of the draft Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The SC has determined that sections 3, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 75 (3) should be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum if they are to become law.

Sections 4 and 72 (2) of the Bill have to be amended as per the SC determination.

Section 83 (7) requires passage by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, the SC had stated that it could be passed by a simple majority if the recommended amendments are accommodated, Rajapaksa said.

Opposition MPs say the Anti-Terrorism Bill is being introduced in an election year to repress Opposition parties.They said the proposed law is a threat to democracy itself.

“This Bill is being presented not at a time of terrorism prevailing in the country but during an election period. The Bill has not defined nor analysed what a terrorist is. Anyone can be arrested,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

The MP said both the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the controversial Online Safety law were meant to quell democracy.

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Harin’s claim that SL is part of India: Govt. says it is his personal opinion

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Manusha accuses Wimal of having taken parts of Fernando’s speech out of context

By Saman Indrajith

Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament to refrain from taking chunks of others’ speeches out of context and misinterpreting them for political mileage.

The Minister said so following concerns raised by Weerawansa over a recent statement by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on India-Sri Lanka relationships.

Weerawansa said that Minister Fernando had recently stated that Sri Lanka was a part of India. “Was it Minister Fernando’s personal opinion or the government’s official standpoint? Was it the opinion of the Cabinet?”

Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said what Minister Fernando had stated was the latter’s personal opinion.

Minister Nanayakkara: “If anyone has read the entire statement made by Minister Fernando this type of question would not have arisen. The Tourism Minister was referring to historical relationships between India and Sri Lanka to ask Indians to visit Sri Lanka.

A distorted version of the speech by Minister Fernando is being circulated on social media. Certain parts have been removed while some words have been introduced to this edited version. Ones should read the statement in its entirety to understand it. We have not discussed this in the Cabinet meeting” Minister Nanayakkara said.

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US backs Lankan journalists vis-a-vis Online Safety law

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Kumar Nadesan, Chairman Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (left) Elizabeth Allen ( Centre) and US Ambassador Chung (pic courtesy US embassy)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Elizabeth Allen on Monday (19) declared US support for journalists here against the backdrop of enactment of ‘Online Safety Bill’

She spokes about press freedom and related issues at the Sri Lanka Press Institute Press Club.

A statement issued by the US Embassy quoted Allen as having said the U.S. Embassy is all in on supporting your incredible work. Sure, we might bump heads over a story now and then, but above all, we’re your biggest fans. We’re all in on programmes that hone your skills because we believe in your right to pursue journalism freely and fearlessly.

I want to thank you for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists here in Sri Lanka and around the world, ensuring all citizens enjoy the right to express their ideas and opinions openly and freely. Even in difficult times, you continue to press forward and ask difficult questions. Your commitment to seeking out the truth and shouting it from the rooftops remains a democratic staple, and I truly appreciate what you do.

It’s only fitting that I begin my remarks this afternoon by telling a story that I think is relevant in light of today’s topic about the media’s role in a democracy.

Over a century ago, American media coined the term “muckraker” for journalists who delved into societal issues, exposing corruption.

Although the term carried a somewhat negative connotation, labeling these journalists as mere “gossip mongers,” today, we honor them as the pioneers of investigative journalism.

These muckrakers played a pivotal role in ushering in the Progressive Era, a time of significant social and political reform in American history.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt referred to them as “muckrakers,” criticizing their focus on society’s flaws through figures like Lincoln Steffens, whose work shed light on corruption and spurred a nationwide call for accountability and reform.

Steffens’ book ‘The Shame of the Cities,’ published in 1904, made him renowned for uncovering corruption within American cities, highlighting the nefarious links between political leaders, businesses, and organized crime.

His fearless journalism raised critical awareness about the urgent need for governmental and corporate accountability. Steffens wasn’t acting as a public relations officer for the government; his role was to uncover the truth; however unpleasant it might be.

Faced with the stark realities Steffens presented, American officials and the public were compelled to confront a pivotal question: ‘Is this the kind of country we aspire to be?’ The resounding answer was no.

Steffens’ work didn’t just expose wrongdoing; it sparked a nationwide demand for reform and played a crucial role in fostering a dialogue about the essential role of investigative journalism in ensuring power remains accountable.

This story showcases how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not just fundamental human rights, they are also vital contributors to a country’s development and growth.

This brings me to my main point: how the global media space supports democracy and fosters peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

In my mind, the correlation is obvious: When a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country will naturally suffer.

Globally, we’re witnessing serious and escalating challenges to media freedom. The United States stands firmly for the freedom of expression, advocating for press freedom both online and offline, and ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. Unfortunately, these essential freedoms are under threat globally, including concerns raised here in Sri Lanka.

When governments intensify efforts to withhold information from the public by restricting internet access and censoring content, we must speak up. Notably, when Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill in January, the United States voiced concerns over its potential effects on freedom of expression, innovation, and privacy.

It’s common to hear arguments against unfettered freedom of expression. Critics claim the media is biased, aiming to embarrass governments and undermine public trust. Others worry that without checks, freedom of expression may fuel the spread of misinformation. Some argue that an unchecked press can incite tension and compromise security. And there’s concern that continuous reports on corruption, violence, and political strife can tarnish a nation’s image, deterring investment and hampering development.

However, the media’s bias should lean towards the public’s interest, acting as a guardian to ensure that leaders fulfill their duties. This principle holds in Sri Lanka, the United States, and globally.

The challenge of negative press, often labeled as “fake news” or “biased journalism,” is not new. For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship. This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press. This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance. It’s a familiar scene: politicians and journalists engage in heated exchanges, especially when leaders feel their actions are misrepresented, leading to accusations of inaccuracies and biased reporting.

The press’s duty is to deliver facts as they stand, shedding light on the government’s achievements as well as spotlighting areas where policies or programs fall short. This transparency not only informs the public but also strengthens the nation as it encourages constructive action and improvement.

And suppressing voices only complicates matters further. Attempting to conceal issues rather than addressing them is akin to hiding a broken tool rather than fixing it. True progress comes from collaborative dialogue, even if it means embracing the messiness of public discourse.”

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