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SLPP concerned about revenue proposals but won’t rock the boat

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Final vote on Budget 2024 today:

Namal R. to skip vote

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) on Monday (11) decided to vote for the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill (2024) today (13).

The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Premier Gunawardena, who is also the leader of the MEP. Gunawardena emphasised the responsibility on the SLPP to thwart Opposition’s attempts to dislodge the government ahead of the releasing of the second tranche of the USD 2.9 bn IMF bailout.

The warning was issued at a group meeting at the Committee Room 01. SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga and Leader of the House Susil Premjayantha were present at the meeting held before the commencement of the day’s proceedings. State Finance Ministers Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Shehan Semasinghe, too, attended the meeting.

Political sources said that Premier Gunawardena had explained the need to foil Opposition plans after Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera strongly criticised increase of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) from 15% to 18% and imposition of VAT on 97 out of the 138 goods that were previously exempted from the tax. The MEP group in Parliament consists of three lawmakers, including the Premier.

In response to The Island query, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said that the party would vote yes at the final vote though it didn’t agree with revenue proposals 100%. Attorney-at-Law Kariyawasam said that defeating of the 2024 Budget would cause economic and political chaos.

The SLPP announced the controversial decision as the party prepared to hold its second convention on Friday, December 15, at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium.

During the group meeting at Committee Room 1, former Public Security Minister Weerasekera pointed out the failure on the part of successive governments to collect taxes, penalties and interest amounting to Rs 943 bn as disclosed recently by the relevant parliamentary watchdog.

Expressing serious concern over major taxpayers’ taking advantage of the legal process to hold up the entire process, lawmaker Weerasekera pointed out as much as Rs 35 bn in VAT hadn’t been paid to the government. The Colombo District MP also questioned the failure on the part of the relevant authorities to collect VAT received by traders and staggering Rs 55 billion dud cheques issued to the government.

MP Weerasekera said that instead of going flat out to collect money owed to the government, taxes had been raised, new taxes introduced and the VAT imposed on items that were previously exempted from it. The ex-Minister stressed that the government strategy was not fair to the people struggling to make ends meet as imposition of further indirect taxes could be quite devastating.

The Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill for the year 2024 was passed in the Parliament on Nov 21 by a majority of 45 votes. Altogether 122 MPs voted for the Bill and 77 voted against it.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance Minister presented the budget on Nov 13.

Political sources said that the UNP and SLPP at the highest level agreed in principle that they would work together, regardless of differences. SLPP MP Namal Rajapaksa, having skipped the vote on VAT on Monday, was most likely to refrain from voting today, sources said, adding that there was consensus between the two sides that the current alliance should remain.

The SLPP elected UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in July last year to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.

The next presidential election has to be conducted and a new president elected by Nov 2024.



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President orders probe into notification issued by Department of Immigration and Emigration

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It has been reported that President Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation into the notification issued by the Department of Immigration and Emigration requesting all  Russian and Ukrainian tourists to leave the country within 14 days.

According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), the relevant notification was issued without prior approval from the Cabinet of Ministers.

The decision had reportedly been taken as certain foreign tourists are running illegal businesses in the country.

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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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