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Ranil plays role of one man Opposition raising pertinent questions



(L-R) Ranil Wickremesinghe, Shehan Semasinghe

By Saman Indrajith

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday (07) asked the government to reveal to Parliament why the Finance Minister visited India during the budget debate.
Raising a privilege issue in Parliament, Wickremesinghe said that the government had promised to present details on the foreign currency reserves to the House the week before, but had not done so.

“However, the government has failed to do so until now. Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa is on an official visit to India at the moment. They presented to India the information we have asked for. Why can’t the Finance Minister reveal this information to this House,” the UNP leader queried.

Wickremesinghe said that the Central Bank Governor had, at an online forum, said that Sri Lanka’s foreign currency reserve was about USD 1.5 billion now. “Why do you hesitate to reveal this to us? This is actually a violation of our privileges. The Finance Minister should be in the House during the budget debate. This is the first time in which a budget debate is being held without the presence of a Finance Minister.”

The UNP leader asked the government if it was following the ‘Cabraal Way’ or the ‘Rajapaksa Way’.

Smurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment and Business Development State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said that the government only followed the President’s Policy Statement, and added that there was only one leader in the government.

Semasinghe said that a detailed answer to the questions raised by Wickremesinghe and other MPs regarding the economic situation in the country, including the foreign currency reserves, was being prepared and it would be presented to the House very soon.

Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena said the Finance Minister attended the debate from time to time.

“When there are special meetings and events, he has to attend them. I know about the conduct of past Finance Ministers. I also was a Finance Minister back then,” Minister Gunawardena said.

UNP leader Wickremesinghe said that no Finance Minister had visited foreign countries during budget debates. “Can you tell us why? Did he go to India on a pilgrimage?” he queried.

State Minister Semasinghe: “The Finance Minister has done his duties properly. He attended several sittings. The problem is Wickremesinghe does not attend the sittings regularly.”

UNP leader Wickremesinghe: “The CBSL Governor said that the government would not kneel before other nations. Then why did the Finance Minister go to India?”
State minister Semasinghe said the UNP leader was single-handedly performing the job of an entire Opposition. “I thank him for that. The Opposition Leader and the SJB never ask questions like this. The SJB fled Parliament because they cannot face the people now,” the Minister said.

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Overtime gravy train for public sector back



Govt. MPs make contradictory statements on state of economy

By Shamindra Ferdinando

UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena on Sunday (26) disclosed the issuance of a circular by the Finance Ministry to restore overtime and other payments in the public sector.

The declaration was made in Galle soon after Transport and Media Minister Bandula Gunawardane lamented that the government was short of billions of rupees to pay public sector salaries, pensions, Samurdhi payments and meet recurrent expenditure.

Minister Gunawardena and UNP National List MP Abeywardena addressed the local media after the handing over of several buses to the Galle SLTB depot.

Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena said that the government needed as much as Rs 196 bn before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and its projected revenue was Rs 173 bn. In addition to that Rs 500 mn was required to settle what Minister Gunawardena called bilateral debt.

Minister Gunawardane said that a part of the first tranche of USD 333 mn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be utilised to pay public sector salaries.

Of the USD 333 mn received so far, USD 121 had been used to pay the first installment of USD 1 bn credit line secured from India early last year, according to State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in the second week of August last year revealed as much as Rs 3 bn had been paid as overtime to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers for several months. This disclosure was made in response to a query raised by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.

One of the major demands of the public sector trade unions on the warpath over the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new tax formula is the restoration of overtime.

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Now, Opposition wants Finance Secy. hauled up before Privileges Committee



Prof G L Peris

Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (27) urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to act speedily on the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) request to summon Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena before the parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

Addressing the media on behalf of the Freedom People’s Alliance, the former External Affairs Minister said that the Treasury Secretary had challenged the parliament by withholding funds allocated in the budget 2023 to the Election Commission thereby sabotaging the election.

Prof. Peiris said that there couldn’t be a far worse violation of parliamentary privileges than a government official undermining Parliament.

Instead of appreciating the intervention made by the Supreme Court to facilitate the delayed Local Government polls, the ruling party had sought to challenge the apex court, Prof. Peiris said, urging Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to fulfill his obligations.

Prof. Pieris said that if the government lacked funds, just one percent of USS 333 mn received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was sufficient to conduct the election.

The ex-minister said that the IMF wouldn’t oppose the utilisation of a fraction of the first tranche of USD 2.9 bn loan facility provided over a period of four years to guarantee the constitutional rights of the Sri Lankan electorate. (SF)

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Cabinet nod for fuel distribution by three foreign companies



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera announced yesterday that the Cabinet of Ministers has granted approval for allowing China’s Sinopec, Australia’s United Petroleum and RM Parks of the USA, in collaboration with multinational Oil and Gas Company – Shell plc, to enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.

The minister said that each of the three companies would be given 150 dealer operated fuel stations, which are currently operated by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). A further 50 fuel stations at new locations will be established by each selected company, he said.

They will be granted licences to operate for 20 years to import, store, distribute and sell petroleum products in Sri Lanka, the minister tweeted.

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