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SLPP caused media furore over Ranil’s re-entry into parliament to divert public attention – SJB leader



Kiriella: ‘Who wants to switch allegiance to one-man parliamentary group?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa says an increasingly unpopular Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is making a desperate attempt to divert attention from its growing woes.

A near two-thirds majority for the SLPP in parliament does not reflect the actual ground situation, Colombo District MP Premadasa, who is also the Opposition Leader says.

“Let me tell you. The government cannot overcome challenges by causing turmoil in the main Opposition. The SLPP seems to have conveniently forgotten how such despicable strategies failed in the past,” lawmaker Premadasa told The Island. The SJB leader said so when The Island raised the challenge he was facing with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s forthcoming re-entry into parliament as declared by the ruling party.

In spite of UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena declaring that Wickremesinghe would be nominated through its only National List slot, the party is yet to submit his name to the Secretary General of Parliament.

Noting the statements made by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and State Minister of Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment, Business Development Shehan Semasinghe in parliament on June 8, SJB leader emphasized the government was hell bent on diverting public attention. 

Lawmaker Premadasa responded to The Island from hospital, where he along with wife, Jalani are receiving treatment for  Covid-19.

Former Deputy UNP leader Premadasa said that the SJB absolutely had no issue with the UNP filling its National List slot. Pointing out that that vacancy hadn’t been filled for 10 months much to the disappointment of those who exercised their franchise for the party at the last parliamentary election in August 2020, the SJB leader emphasized the importance of the UNP being represented in parliament.

The UNP secured one National List slot at the 2020 general election, whereas the SJB secured 54 seats, including seven National List slots. One of its National List members, Dayana Gamage has already switched her allegiance to the SLPP.

Lawmaker Premadasa recalled how the SLPP boasted the passage of the 20th Amendment in Oct 2020 would restore political stability. The same lot repeatedly assured the enactment of the Bill on Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCECB) would be the panacea for the troubled economy.

SJB Leader Premadasa also pointed out the pathetic handling of what he called X-Press Pearl incident. Lawmaker Premadasa pointed out that the UNP missed an opportunity to take a stand on the dictatorial 20th Amendment and the CPCEC.

He warned the government that it couldn’t overcome challenges by propaganda efforts against the Chief Opposition party. Of course, some short-term political advantage could be achieved through such efforts, including social media offensives but contentious issues wouldn’t go away, the SJB leader said.

Having failed to fulfill aspirations at least of those who voted for the SLPP at 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, a desperate government was now looking for excuses. For the SLPP leadership, the Covid-19 seemed to be the panacea for its failure to address problems, Premadasa said.

The SJB leader questioned the rationale in having an online investment forum in the wake of the country’s worst ecological disaster triggered by mishandling of X-Press Pearl incident several nautical miles away from the Colombo Port City. The amateurish handling of the container carrier exposed the SLPP in spite of big boasts of professionalism, the lawmaker said.

The Opposition Leader urged the SLPP parliamentary group to mind its own business. “Why should they worry about the SJB? Have they forgotten the recent trouble among its ranks in the wake of a constituent party seeking a role for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the SLPP?” MP Premadasa asked.

The SJB leader queried whether the SLPP successfully addressed at least one contentious issue, instead creating additional problems for itself. There couldn’t be a better example than the unprecedented ongoing countrywide fertilizer shortage experienced by farmers, the SJB leader said.

MP Premadasa said: “What is of paramount importance is to ensure the wellbeing of the people. There is absolute policy paralysis that has taken place in the government structure. Absolute incompetence has become the order of the day, economic distress, loss of employment and livelihoods, environmental and  fertilizer issues bungling of the inoculation process, lack of government focus, and  governance by default. These are the real issues and SJB will represent the interests of those struggling to make ends meet as well as other sectors affected by bungling SLPP.”

The SJB leader said that the Opposition wouldn’t be distracted by SLPP strategies. The lawmaker said that it would be a grave mistake on the part of the government to believe it was a victim of social media. The media couldn’t be suppressed today because the public always took advantage of the social media platforms to express their views, the SJB leader said, urging the SLPP administration to review its policies or prepare to face the consequences.

Responding to what he called a fresh SLPP propaganda drive, both in and out of parliament, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella alleged that the government was in such a desperate situation it would do anything to distract public attention. “We were quite amused to see a Minister and a State Minister taking up the issues related to the SJB when the government is in turmoil over Covid crisis. The Shangri-La mess exposed so called much touted One Country one Law,” Kandy District lawmaker said. MP Kiriella denied there being a crisis within the party over Wickremesinghe’s possible reentry into parliament.

Ongoing social media campaign backed by some print media coverage was nothing but a ruse to cause trouble, lawmaker Kiriella said. Responding to another question, the MP asked who would switch allegiance to a party with one National List MP and no realistic hope of staging a comeback. “The UNP group in the last parliament comprised 106 members. Now the once mighty party with a 5/6 majority is down to just oner MP and we have no doubt it will remain so,” Kiriella said.

Both Messrs. Premadasa and Kiriella said that the public could ascertain the situation for themselves once the UNP filled its National List slot.

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Personal income tax shock dims economic activities



ECONOMYNEXTSri Lanka’s personal income tax hikes have hit economic activity in the first quarter though despite currency stability helped businesses cut prices, Hemas Holdings, a top consumer goods group has said.As the currency stabilized, as central bank ended contradictory money and exchange policy conflicts, businesses had cut prices. Mainstream economists generally claim that price falls lead to delayed transactions and try to generate positive inflation through money printing, though businesses believe otherwise.

“The market witnessed price reductions and promotional trade schemes to stimulate consumption,” Hemas Holding told shareholders in the March quarterly statement.

“However, changes made to the personal income tax structure severely impacted modern trade sales volumes as consumers rationalised their purchases under reduced disposable income levels.”

Sri Lanka hiked personal income tax rates in 2023. Value added taxes were raised to 15 percent from 8 percent last year. Another 2.5 percent cascading tax was imposed on top of VAT, the effect of which was estimated to be around 4.5 or more through the cascading effect.

While value added tax allows the government to get tax revenues after citizens make transactions and getting the economy to work, based on best decisions needed to drive the economy to satisfy real needs, income tax kills economic decisions and transfers money to state actors, analysts say.

Net gains on income tax therefore comes at a cost of lost value added tax as well as killed real economic activities which would otherwise have been based on decisions of those who earned the money.

UK also almost doubled VAT in 1979, also to 15 percent, cut the base income tax rate and widened thresholds above inflation to give choice to individuals, amid criticism from Keynesian style or mainstream economists to recover the economy, after two back-to-back IMF programs failed to deliver concrete results, analysts point out.At Hemas Holdings, group revenues went up 52.6 percent to 32 billion rupees in the March 2023 quarter from year earlier amid price inflation as the rupee fell, and cost of sales went up 45.1 percent to 22.2 billion rupees, allowing the group to boost gross profits 72 percent to 9.8 billion rupees, interim accounts showed.

However, administration costs went up 54 percent, selling and distribution costs went up 36 percent, and finance costs went up to 1.3 billion rupees. Profit after tax was flat at 1.06 billion rupees.Sri Lanka’s central bank stabilized the rupee in the second half of 2022 after the rupee collapsed from 200 to 360 to from two years of money printing and also removed a surrender rule in March allowing the exchange rate appreciate.

The US Fed also tightened policy from March 2022 helping bring down global commodity prices after triggering inflation not seen for 40 years through Coronavirus linked money printing or accommodating a real shock through monetary expansion.

“While the modern trade channels witnessed a slow down due to the adverse impact of the tax reforms and high cost of credit on the middle-class urban population, the general trade channels experienced significant growth and increased foot fall,” Hemas told shareholders.

“The decline in global commodity prices in the second half of the year, enabled the business to make price reductions across the portfolio.

“However, the benefit of appreciation of the Sri Lankan Rupee in March 2023 was not seen during the quarter due to the lag effect but is expected to realise in the quarters to come, provided the current economic conditions prevail.”

Hemas is also has operations in Bangladesh where the central bank is also buying up government securities with tenors as long at 20 years to mis-target the interest rate, triggering forex shortages and depreciating the Taka, according to analysts who study the country.

Inflation had hit 9.3 percent in Bangladesh by March.

“In the face of numerous challenges including slowdown in the global economy, depreciation in Taka, heightened inflation and depleting foreign currency reserves, the country entered an IMF programme in January 2023,” the firm said.

“The value-added hair oil market witnessed a degrowth, as consumers curbed consumption in many non-essential items and switched to value-for-money alternatives.”

Mainstream economists mis-target rates to boost growth known as either monetary stimulus or bridging an output gap, though the effort result in instability and economic contractions.

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