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Government prepares to force the people to accept the economic burdens

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by Prof.Tissa Vitarana

The people continue to suffer more and more due to inflation but the Government’s response is inadequate. The price of food keeps rising while there is no increase in income. The result is that a large mass of poor are facing a grave crisis. To my knowledge a large number of families have only one meal a day. Some of them with difficulty provide two meals to their children.

Stories of children fainting in school due to hunger are widespread. There are also reports that school attendance has dropped and the education of the children is suffering. Even among lower middle class families there has been an adverse impact. The reports coming from the Medical Research Institute (MRI) and other such institutions suggest that the nutritional value of the food consumed has also deteriorated.

The MRI states that the income of more than 60% of families is below the poverty line. The current data suggest that among them the level of malnutrition is approaching 20%. This means that among children under five years of age, one out of five is malnourished. Not only is their physical development affected but also their mental development. This will have an adverse effect on the future generation.

In the face of this food crisis I appeal to the Government to give priority to addressing this problem. About a year ago I mentioned this situation to the former prime minister but there doesn’t seem to be any positive response up to now. The government should identify the families that are at risk. This can be done easily through the midwives and the public health inspectors (PHIs). The families that are at risk should be provided with dry rations, at least once a week, ensuring that essential food items reach those affected.

Even among those consuming a sufficient amount of food there is concern among nutritionists that the quality of the food from a nutritional point of view is inadequate. The high price of food which is continuing to increase (food inflation) needs urgent corrective measures. While welcoming the fact that the price of flour has been reduced by Rs.24/-, it is distressing to see that the price of a loaf of bread remains unchanged. The government should insist that bakers pass on the price reduction to the consumer. As a result of a number of problems that have arisen in the agriculture sector, like the scarcity of chemical fertilizer, the production of food, both rice and vegetables, have also reduced. There is a shortage of food according to media reports and this should be looked into and corrected.

The Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) has cut down purchasing paddy due to a lack of funds. In this context there are reports that the five main private mill owners are purchasing the paddy at a low price so that the farmers suffer. It would appear that this paddy is being stored in order to raise the market price of both paddy and rice. I have been informed that the government rice mills are also not fully operative. This situation must not be allowed to continue. I call upon the ministers and officials concerned to see that the government stocks are release to the market so that the price can be brought down. Profiteering in the food sector must be prevented by urgent government action.

Another area of concern is the shortage and high price of medicines, specially essential ones. There is an acute shortage in the government hospitals, and statements have been made by doctors that as many as 90 medicines, including essential ones, are not available. This is a very serious situation which may lead to increasing illness and even more deaths.

The government must take urgent action to see that this situation does not continue and that normalcy is restored. It is sad to see that donations of medicine have to be obtained from both local and foreign sources from countries like India, China and Japan. Adequate funds must be provided by government for the purchase of the required medicine as a matter of urgency. I have been informed that shortage of a large number of essential medicines exists both in the government and the private sectors and needs urgent attention.

The government tax policy is also a cause for concern. While indirect taxes which affect the poor are raised, the direct taxation is limited and done in a unfair manner. The middle class is being targeted while the rich and super rich are hardly affected. It is disturbing to see that the government gives tax holidays and waivers to the rich. Not surprisingly government revenue has fallen and both capital and recurrent expenditure have to be curtailed, adversely affecting the development of the country and the lives of the people.

When Sri Lanka was faced with one of its most severe economic crises in 1972/73, Dr.N.M.Perera, who was then the Minister of Finance, put the main tax burden on the rich, raising the upper limit to 70%. In today’s context too the government should take similar action by placing the main tax burden on those who can afford to pay.

The cost of transport has also gone up steeply. This directly affects passengers, but it also affects the price of goods. The lack of dollars also affects industries due to the inability to purchase essential foreign requirements, and many private and public enterprises have had to curtail production. This in turn leads to increased unemployment. The economy as a whole is contracting due to the above changes with reduced incomes of a large section of the population who are also badly affected by inflation and the high prices.

The suffering people are being forced into a situation where they have to openly protest. It is distressing to see that the Ranil Wickremesinghe – led government is strengthening the armed forces and the police. It is clamping down on reasonable peaceful protests. Are we heading for Fascist rule? This must not be permitted under any circumstances. While warning the public of the possible dangers it is essential that the trade unions become more active and warn the working and middle classes and prepare them to resist any moves to suppress the people and force them to submit to the burdens that are being contemplated.



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Parliament prorogued

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by Saman Indrajith

Parliament has been prorogued with effect from midnight yesterday (27) by President Ranil Wickremeisnghe under Article 70 of the Constitution. The Department of Government Printing issued the Gazette notification annoucing the presidential order yesterday evening.The new Parliament session is scheduled to commence on Feb. 08.

A prorogation, which is a temporary recess of Parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning Parliament may be advanced by another Presidential Proclamation, provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

When Parliament is prorogued, the Proclamation should notify the date for the commencement of the new Session of Parliament, under Paragraph (3) of Article 70 of the Constitution.

During the prorogation the Speaker continues to function and the Members retain their membership, even though they do not attend meetings of Parliament.The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current Business before the House, and all proceedings, pending at the time, are quashed, except impeachments.

A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same Session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent Session, after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before Parliament, and have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation of Parliament, may be proceeded with during the next Session,” states the Paragraph (4) of Article 70 of the Constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not put an end to pending Business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new Session. At the beginning of a new Session, all items of Business which were in the Order Paper of Parliament, need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.

At the end of a prorogation, a new Session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the President. He is empowered, under the Constitution, to make a Statement of Government Policy in Parliament, at the commencement of each Session of Parliament, and to preside at ceremonial sittings of Parliament, in terms of the provisions stipulated in Paragraph (2) of Article 33 of the Constitution.

The President is empowered to make a statement of Government Policy at the commencement of each new Session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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LG elections may turn violent – CPA

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By PRIYAN DE SILVA

Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and co-convener of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu has warned that the March 9 LG polls (if held) may turn violent as political parties are fighting for their survival as the results of the election may be considered as a referendum. He said it was doubtful whether the election would be held.

Dr. Saravanamuttu sounded this warning at the conference on Campaign Finance Regulations, convened by the CMEV, and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), which was held last Thursday (26). He recalled that once when he asked former President Mahinda Rajapaksa about campaign and party finances, the latter’s reply had been as follows: “I am not going to tell you the whole story, I cannot tell you the whole story and I will not tell you the whole story”

The Campaign Finance Regulation Act became law last Tuesday (24) and Dr. Saravanamuttu pointed out that the former President’s quip highlighted the challenges of collecting information on exactly how much is actually being used. “It is important that the public should know, whether it be cash or kind, from where the money comes from. And the information be made available to the public.”

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President: Cabinet has agreed to implement 13A fully

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Thursday, informed the All Party Leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the Cabinet was agreeable to fully implementing the 13th Amendment.Issuing a statement on Friday, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said the President is bound to implement the laws of the land and the 13th Amendment is a part of the Constitution.

“The 13th Amendment has been in existence for over 30 years. I must implement it. If anyone is opposed, they can bring in a constitutional amendment to change it, or abolish it,” he said.

The President said that the country has to decide whether to fully implement the 13th Amendment or abolish it. “We can’t decide to do neither. Any MP can bring a private members motion to abolish the 13A. What happens when most people don’t support the motion? We will have to fully implement it,” he said.

The President said that he is working, according to a Supreme Court decision, on 13A. “We have to look, especially at the decision given by Chief Justice Palinda Ranasinghe. We are still in the bounds of a unitary state. I am against a Federal state but I support the devolution of power to provinces. The provincial councils don’t even have the powers enjoyed by the City of London. So we can’t call this a federal state,” he said.

Wickremesinghe added that former President J.R. Jayawardane and his lawyers took great pains to prevent the 13A from leading to a federal state. He added that at the end of the war, against the LTTE, a large number of lands in the North and the East, that belonged to private owners, were under the control of the Army. However, most of it had been returned to the people, under presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena.

“Only about 3000 acres are under the security forces. The forces must be given the opportunity to release these lands, without hindering national security. The Land Commission, too, must be immediately established. The draft on that can be presented by March. The Commission will have nine members, from each province ,and 12 will be appointed by the President. The we can come up with a national land policy and the Commission can implement the land policy,” he said.

The President said that 30 percent of the land will be allocated for forests. Large swaths of forests, in the upcountry, and in the catchment areas, for rivers, have been destroyed.

“We must increase the forest cover and the Land Commission must be entrusted with this,” he said.

The President added that he will provide further information, on February 08, on how the amendment will be implemented. He urged political parties to submit their proposals by February 04, the Independence Day of the country.

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