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SL wouldn’t have been in this mess if IMF conditions had been complied with – State FM

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By Shamindra Ferdinanado

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up being bankrupt if previous governments had adhered to agreements with the International Monetary (IMF).

Reiterating that the country is experiencing the worst ever economic crisis, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya warned that the government would be under IMF scrutiny this time around.

Appearing on weekly Hiru political programme Salakuna on Monday (26), the Kegalle District MP, who had previously served as State Finance Minister during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President, said that successive governments hadn’t been honest with the IMF. “We conveniently forgot what was promised to the IMF after having received a couple of tranches,” MP Siyambalapitiya said adding that the IMF would be alert now.

The State Finance Minister said that the first tranche amounting to USD 400 mn was expected in January 2023. The SLFPer emphasised that the financial mess couldn’t be settled with the USD 2.9 bn received from the IMF over a period of four years. However, the agreement with the IMF would restore the foreign governments’ faith in Sri Lanka, the State Minister mentioned.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka had received IMF loans on 16 previous occasions and the recently finalised Staf- Level agreement would lead to the 17th loan facility, MP Siyambalapitiya said that he signed the 15th agreement on behalf of Sri Lanka.

Responding to Hiru anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema’s query whether economic crimes had been perpetrated as referred to by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s latest report on Sri Lanka, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that there were no such crimes here. Therefore, the Geneva statement was not applicable to Sri Lanka. But, when Samarawickrema pressed the Minister on the accountability on the part of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government for the economic fallout, the lawmaker acknowledged the wrongdoing on their part.

Commenting on former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government depriving the Treasury of over Rs 500 bn by implementing a wide tax cut, soon after the last presidential election, State Minister Siyambalapitiya faulted those who advised the President on economic matters. The State Minister said that the economy was handled by Presidents and Ministers who didn’t know the subject. When Samarawickrema pointed out that the former President was advised by Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, MP Siyambalapitiya said that he didn’t know that. Subsequently, MP Siyambalapitiya acknowledged the role played by Dr. PBJ, who then functioned as Secretary to the President, and previously as Secretary to the Treasury.

During an heated exchange, the State Finance Minister said that the then government reduced the number of tax files from 1.5 mn to 400,000 and the number registered taxpayers from 1.7 mn to 500,000. The MP said that the country was in a pathetic state today as successive governments followed wrong economic policies. The Covid-19 eruption in 2020 and external factors, too, contributed to the overall deterioration of the situation, the MP said.

In spite of clear indications that the country was heading for an unprecedented crisis, the powers that be steadfastly refused to seek IMF interventions. Instead, they continued the same harmful policies.

Asked whether as the State Finance Minister he felt the need to inquire into those responsible for the economic crisis, the MP said “Geneva was conducting investigations.” Samarawickrema asked why Geneva should be placed in charge of such an investigation when the responsibility lies with Sri Lanka. The Minister said: “I won’t hand over investigations to Geneva. I acknowledge the policies followed by successive governments were utterly wrong.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya also explained actions taken by him to explore ways and means of recovering losses suffered by the Treasury as a result of reduction of duty on a kilo of imported sugar from Rs 50 to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. The Minister said that Sri Lanka lacked laws to deal with those who perpetrated the sugar scam, adding that one of the sugar importers immensely benefited from the duty reduction.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya strongly defended his decision to accept ministerial portfolio, regardless of specific instructions from party leader Maithripala Sirisena not to do so.

Dismissing accusations that he switched allegiance to President Ranil Wickremesinghe for personal benefit, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that some of them accepted portfolios, as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the JVP and others would never have joined the government. They always feared the consequences of President Wickremesinghe overcoming the crisis, MP Siyambalapitiya said.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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