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Rajapaksa presents ‘non-traditional’ Budget



* Rs. 30 bn for rectifying teachers’ salary anomalies

* PTL’s Rs. 8.5 bn to be transferred to Treasury

* VAT on banks, financial service providers up from 15% to 18%

* One-time tax surcharge of 25% on some companies, etc.

* Rs. 5 bn for agrotechnology development

* Rs. 1 bn to Batik and Handloom manufacturing sector

* Rs. 5 bn for basic infrastructure development

* Price of cigarette increased by Rs 5

* Retirement age of public sector increased to 65

* Period for MPs to qualify for pension up from five to 10 yrs

by Saman Indrajith

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, presenting what he described as a non-traditional Budget, yesterday, said that it would help increase government revenue and keep expenditure in check to boost investor confidence.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the government was presenting the Budget at a time when the country and the entire world were facing a difficult period.

“We are presenting the Budget amidst global challenges. Many countries are focusing on internal problems, there are climate problems, inflation and Covid-19 have disrupted economic activities,” Minister Rajapaksa said, presenting the country’s 76th annual Budget.

He said the country had been locked down several times to protect the people against Covid-19. The national economy had suffered a loss of around Rs. 500 billion rupees in revenue, he said.

Now, the country had achieved its vaccination target and was working closely with multilateral lenders to revive the economy, he said, adding that Rs. 30 billion would be allocated to rectify the salary anomalies affecting teachers and principals.

A one-time tax surcharge of 25% has been imposed on persons or companies with taxable income over Rs. 2 billion for the year of assessment 2020/2021.

Rs.100 billion is expected to be earned through this tax.

VAT on banks and financial service providers under supply of financial services by specified institutions will be increased to 18 percent from 15 percent. This tax should be paid monthly from 01 January 2022 to 31 December 2022. Furthermore, this tax should not be passed on to the customer. Rs 14 billion is expected to be earned through this tax.

Minister Rajapaksa proposed to transfer Rs. 8.5 billion that Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. had earned in violation of the Code of Conduct, from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, to the Treasury.

He said the economy had to be developed in a sustainable manner.

Sri Lanka was on track to post a budget deficit around 10 percent of gross domestic product with the deficit up to July being at 6.2 percent of gross domestic product.

The price of a cigarette would be increased by five rupees, Minister Rajapaksa said, adding that the decision had been taken as the prices of cigarettes had not been increased in three years. The government expects to rake in an additional Rs. 8 billion.

The Finance Minister proposed to increase excise tax with immediate effect, and additional revenue of Rs. 25 billion is expected through this tax increase, and the gazette regarding the relevant tax increase would be published within a day.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the budgetary allocations for the MP would be increased by Rs. 5 million each and Rs. 15 million would be allocated to each MP for development activities in their electorates. Relief would be provided to school van and school bus operators affected by Covid-19, Minister Rajapaksa said, adding that Rs 400 million would be allocated for that purpose.

Rs. 700 million would be allocated for the provision of relief to three-wheeler drivers and Rs. 1,500 million for the bus operators, who had lost their revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister proposed the employment of methods such as Blockchain technology, and moving towards mobile banking through the digitalisation of banks.

“Our government is always dedicated to safeguard the interests of our farmers,” he said, adding that however a clear law had not been formulated for this purpose. He proposed the drafting of the ‘Green Agricultural Development Act’ for the benefit of the farming community.

The country would be developed as a hub for “Wellness Tourism” and focus its attention on avenues of tourism such as “Event Tourism”, “Destination Tourism” and providing tourists with “Home Stays”.

A regulatory authority would be established for three-wheelers, Minister Rajapaksa said, noting that telecommunications network covering the entire country would be established immediately and all 10,155 schools in the country provided with fibre optic internet connections. Telecommunications connectivity and Internet access shortcomings in the country had been noticed during the pandemic, the Minister said, adding that the construction of new office buildings for the state institutions would be suspended for two years.

Annual Warrant for state expenditure would be made a Quarterly Warrant in the future, he said.

The government is planning to extend the retirement age for state sector employees to 65 years as the average life expectancy had increased and Sri Lanka’s population was ageing. “As they are able to engage in active service for a longer period of time, it is essential to make use of their experiences and maturity,” the Finance Minister added, proposing to extend the age limit for public servants’ pensions to 65.

Fuel allowance for ministers and state officials would be reduced by five litres each a month.

The minimum period an MP has to serve to obtain the pension has been extended from five to ten years.

The Finance Minister said that proposals and opinions of several organisations and individuals were obtained before preparing the budget proposals.

Since independence, all the government had failed to act with a clear vision with regard to the country’s foreign reserves, Minister Rajapaksa said.

The “international drug mafia” was one of the biggest obstacles the country was facing, he said.

“We are a government that does what it says,” Minister Rajapaksa said, referring to the vaccination programme.

There was no more room for terrorism and extremism, said Minister Rajapaksa. “Today, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful countries in the world.”

Yesterday’s was the 76th budget of an independent Sri Lanka. It is also the second budget of the incumbent government, and the first presented by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa.

The 2022 Appropriation Bill was presented to Parliament by the Minister of Finance on 07 Oct.

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UK funds projects here to prevent conflicts that threaten its interests



GoSL not among recipients

‘The CSSF is a cross government fund which supports and delivers activity to prevent instability and conflicts that threaten UK interests’

– UK Govt. website

The British High Commission yesterday (25) announced funding for projects worth £3.7m in 2022/23 here to thwart instability and conflicts that threaten British interests.

The announcement came after the conclusion of the visit of British Foreign Minister, Lord Tariq Ahmad, who is also Minister of State for South Asia, the UN, and the Commonwealth and the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. The British official visited Jaffna and Trincomalee.

The British HC quoted Lord Ahmad as having said: “Building lasting and inclusive peace in Sri Lanka, based on reconciliation, justice and protecting human rights is key to a stable Sri Lanka, which can attract foreign investment and achieve its economic potential. We are pleased to announce continued support to Sri Lanka through the Conflict, Stability, and Security Fund (CSSF) to address legacies of conflict, promote human rights and build cohesion across all

communities through programme funding of up to £3.7m in 2022/23.”

In response to The Island query whether the Sri Lankan government would be among the recipients of CSSF funding, BHC spokesperson said: “The funding is for programmes and projects implemented with support from BHC. All CSSF programming in Sri Lanka, will be delivered through a combination of civil society, private sector, and international development partners.”

According to the UK government website, the CSSF addressed complex national security challenges and promote international peace and stability. The National Security Council (NSC), which is chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by senior cabinet ministers, sets the CSSF’s strategic direction. It is guided by the priorities set out in the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

The BHC stated: “Lord Ahmad met senior members of the government, including President Gotabaya Rajapaska and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He discussed the importance of the UK Sri Lanka relationship and areas of mutual interest such as climate change and economic recovery from Covid-19. The Minister also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Sri Lanka on Healthcare Cooperation, which will improve knowledge sharing, best practice and expertise on healthcare, and develop an ethical and sustainable recruitment programme for the employment of Sri Lankan nurses and other healthcare professionals in the UK.

During his visit to the North and Eastern Provinces, the Minister met with local politicians and civil society. He discussed key Tamil and Muslim concerns, local governance and inclusive political engagement participation. He emphasised the UK’s support for open, tolerant and inclusive societies as well as freedom of religion or belief.

Throughout his visit to Sri Lanka, Lord Ahmad heard about the essential role civil society play in promoting respect for human rights and their views on how to make progress on reconciliation and accountability.”

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UGC Chief receives ‘The Order of the Rising Sun’ twice



Senior Prof. Amaratunga poses for a photograph with Amb Sugiyama after receiving the title

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Senior Professor Sampath Amaratunga, Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) has received the prestigious Japanese title ‘The Order of the Rising Sun’ twice.

The academic received the title the highest order conferred by the Government of Japan in the name of His Majesty the Emperor, on 14 Oct. 2021 from the then Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Akira Sugiyama at his official residence.

For the second time, the UGC Chief received the same title from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at Dharmavijayaloka Vihara in Rukmale in Pannipitiya at an event organised on 22 January, 2022.

The Presidential Media Division said that President Rajapaksa after receiving the award

from W.K.H. Wegapitiya, Chairman of University of Sri Jayewardenepura Alumni Association and Japanese Ambassador Mizukoshi Hideaki presented it to Senior Professor Sampath Amaratunga.

Prof. Amaratunga poses for a photograph with President Rajapaksa

Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne delivered the keynote address on the occasion.

‘The Order of the Rising Sun’ is conferred by His Majesty on individuals who have made distinguished achievements in international relations, promotion of Japanese culture et al.

The Japanese embassy announced Senior Prof. Amaratunga and Manoj Fernando, Executive Vice President of the Sri Lanka Baseball/Softball Association (SLBSA) received the award.

The Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Most Ven. Ittapana Dhammalankara Thera has presented a memento to Japanese Ambassador Mizukoshi Hideaki.

W.K.H. Wegapitiya and Prof. Sudantha Liyanage, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, presented a memento to the President. The members of Maha Sangha, MP S.B. Dissanayake, Chancellors and Vice Chancellors of the Universities, and alumni of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura were also present.

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Cardinal insists on taking Easter killings to int’l community



Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has said they are left with no alternative but to turn to the international community to seek justice for victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, according to a report published by the Union of Catholic Asian News yesterday (25).

“We tried our best to solve the issue within the country and do justice to our people but have failed,” he said during an online forum with an international audience on Jan. 24.

“The legal system under the Attorney General does not consider the recommendations of the presidential commission on the Easter attacks, therefore we have no option but to go international.”

Cardinal Ranjith had hinted in April 2021 of his intentions to not only approach the United Nations but also countries with global influence.

“We can influence those countries as the Church is an international organisation. We have connections all over the world,”he said.

A group of suicide bombers affiliated to local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamaath was suspected to be behind the bombings at three churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in 2019. The attacks killed 269 people, including 37 foreign nationals, and left around 500 injured.

Catholics in Sri Lanka have not been happy with the investigations and led by Cardinal Ranjith have vowed to fight for justice until the truth behind the attacks is revealed.

Cardinal Ranjith said he was not satisfied with the investigations underway since the recovery of a live hand grenade at All Saints’ Church in Borella on Jan. 11.

Muni, a church worker, has been arrested as a suspect by police but the local Church alleged he was being falsely implicated.

Cardinal Ranjith said that such a thing will not be allowed to happen. “We trust the judiciary to take steps to rectify the wrongdoing in the court,” he said.

The arrest of a retired doctor in connection with the same case had further raised suspicion, with Father Cyril Gamini questioning the police investigations.

“We understand that this is an attempt at fabricating a story. The whole country knows that this is a drama and we can see it is a very weak script,” he said.

Father Gamini was earlier questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department over his claims regarding the Easter Sunday attacks during an online forum last November.

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