New Investment Bill soon - Kiriella

Public Enterprise, Kandyan Heritage and Kandy Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella in response to MP Bandula Gunawardena stated that the new Investment Bill will be implemented soon. The bill has been submitted to the Attorney General and waiting for approval.

When asked why the delay of the presenting the bill, he added that there won’t be any further delay. MP Gunawardena asked whether the imposition of taxes would discourage the local businessmen, Minister Kiriella responded by saying the tax concessions aren’t forever. It is till these businessmen sort out their businesses.

Wrong for Govt. to blame me for economic crisis - Mahinda

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday (12) it was wrong for the present government to blame him and his government for the country’s economic crisis.

In the budget debate, he stated Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera on March 5 presenting the budget debate accused the 52—day government for all economic problems faced by people. His attempt was to shift the blame of present plight on him, “I was Prime Minister for 52 days while forgetting that Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister for 1,464 days out of 1,516 days from January 8,2015 to March 5,2019”.

The government appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena could actually function only for 19 days because there were court orders forbidding the functioning of the Cabinet and the Government.

During those 19 days we could complete only a few works for the benefit of people. During those 19 days we were able to get the consent of foreign investors to bring in around 1,000 million us dollars in investments, reduce the fuel prices and provide relief to farmers, by reducing the prices of essential items for paddy cultivation.

According to the Global Finance analysis, Sri Lanka was first place in Asia on development in 2014. In 2017, Sri Lanka was fighting with Afghanistan for the last place.

The incumbent as soon as they came to power agreed with the conditions put forward by the European Union to obtain the GSP Plus concession to improve exports. Among those conditions were some proposals that had been detrimental to the national interests.

The country had to agree with the Human Rights Council in Geneva on war crimes. Thereafter, it had to set up an Office of Missing Persons.A large number of LTTE terrorists had been set free. The government had been compelled to institute legal action against many military leaders. At such a cost with the help of GSP Plus, the government could record only exports less than 11.1 billion US Dollars. They could not improve exports even after betraying the national interests.

In 2014, the most stable stock exchange was the Colombo Stock Market. Its capital was at US Dollars 23.7 billion. Today the corresponding figure is at 15.5 billion US Dollars.

He further added, that present government is selling the resources of the previous government to pay off loans.

The budget allocation for toilets, and to built in the so called ‘Dream Home’, which will be maintained by the private sector. This government has no solutions in saving the country from crisis, but previous government always had solutions.

Higher lending rate borrowings imparting on macroeconomic fundamentals - Hakeem

Borrowing from the international financial markets where the lending rate is higher and the repayment period is shorter is putting the country’s macroeconomic fundamentals on a wrong footing, City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education Minister Rauff Hakeem said.

Speaking during the budget debate in Parliament yesterday, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader raised his concerns over resorting to float International Sovereign Bonds and Foreign Currency Term Financing Facility to boost external reserves.

“The issue of international sovereign bonds started in 2007. For the past decade or more we have been resorting to this mode. We need to be very careful. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is equally responsible for having resorted to this mode of financing particularly to boost our external reserves at times of difficulties,” he said.

The minister also pointed out that poor selection of infrastructure projects which were low on long term returns put the country’s economy in further danger.

“The Hambantota Port was a typical case of infrastructure projects with financial returns being questionable because there was no proper business plan. These business planS need to be looked in very aggressively before we invest in income generating infrastructure projects,” he added.

He also stressed that poor management of the debt portfolio and the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) has also led to the current plight of the country’s financial status. “There are SOEs which deal with public utilities. The National Water Supply and Draining Board is unable to raise its tariffs for the past 6 years. This has seriously hampered its ability to repay its loans. The Treasury has stepped in to pay a substantial portion of the debt stock, but we need to have a novel approach and change the financial model when it comes to SOEs if we are to reduce the external debt stock.

The budget does not reflect the entire debt stock of the SOEs. We need to be prudent in looking at our overall financial management issues,” he commented.

The minister also commended the ‘Gamperaliya’ and ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ projects, adding that they would help improve social economic conditions of village level people and entrepreneurship of the youth.

Country has established financial discipline - Ravi

The Central Bank officials are further stretching the path of the country which can easily be restored. They are the ones who are stalling the progress of the country, said Power and Renewable Energy and Business Development Minister Ravi Karunanayake joining the Budget debate in Parliament yesterday.

“The policies of the Central Bank contradict the financial resources available. It was recently announced that we could get around Rs.3 billion into the country. They have mislead the government and obtained the loan at 7.85% for ten years. During the same period Malaysia had obtained loans at 3.87%, Thailand at 2.51%, Vietnam at 4.78% for ten years, Greece at 3.84% and Botswana at 5.27%. Around 2-3 years back we were able to obtain this loan at around 5% interest,” he said.

Meanwhile, JVP-MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake said Karunanayake had presented very valuable information adding that the Central Bank had issued a sovereign bond for $ 1.4 billion and its interest was 7.85% whereas the adjoining states have obtained this loan for less than 4% interest. He asked Karunanayake if, as a Cabinet Minister he would explain why the Central Bank had issued a sovereign bond for such a large sum at such a high interest rate.

“In fact we have and that is why I said sometimes the Central Bank officials act in a manner that is against the best interest of the country. When we tell them, they are too quick to act. They know we have to pay back these loans. No matter who has taken these loans as a country these have to be repaid. They are aware that these loans have to be paid. However the administration knows they have to prepare to pay these in five years. But instead of preparing for it they wait till the last moment and say there is no money to make these payments. Whatever the IMF says, Sri Lanka has to take the country’s policies forward and we have to determine how to take the country forward. These foreigners won’t come and tell us how to do it. No matter who tries to tell us what to do, we need to know how we should act. Hence, despite all the obstacles and difficulties, the Finance Minister has succeeded in bringing the country onto the right track through this well thought of budget,” Karunanayake said in response.

He noted that through Budget 2019, allocations have been made for a vast array of provisions with limited resources. “For this we have established financial discipline and this is our biggest joy today,” he said.

He said that SriLankan Airlines is a vital institution for the country but it lacks proper leadership and this year it suffered losses of Rs. 55 billion and unless the government acts promptly to resolve this matter, tax payers money will be wasted unnecessarily. It is clear that there is no clear vision for the future. Hence, it should be addressed instantly.

Karunanayake also noted that the shipping trade is one of the most important aspects of the country. “This area has seen dramatic progress through the endeavours initiated by Lalith Athulathmudali in 1978. But, now we need to build on the foundation that was laid by him back then. Japan has been very helpful to us and at a time when around 7 million containers pass through our port , we need to work towards increasing that by another 2-3 million. If we fail to be able to offer these facilities,” he said these ships will steer towards other ports.

“As the Minister of Power and Energy, my ministry has a big role to play in developing the country’s infrastructure facilities. We have the responsibility of generating the power required by the country. While land in around the Colombo Port is very limited, and therefore restrictive in its ability to expand marine engineering facilities which is much needed in expansion of the breakwater in Phase 2 of the original port expansion will allow the construction of a custom LNG bunkering facility in a compliant and easily accessible location of the west of the port of entrance to have a quick phase extension to the existing piers which are there where the LNG storing and bunkering facility could be easily brought in. Phase 2 was originally expected to be constructed in around 2025 and per the SLPA’s long term development plan. The advantage of rapidly expanding will serve several purposes. The being that it will serve several purposes to fulfil the future SLPA development plan. Secondly to expand the SLPA deep water berthing facility in order to attract shipping lines.

We understand that we need to switch from coal to LNG but there is an issue with regard to LNG floating terminals. When the harbour is engaged in generating revenue, we cannot simply install the LNG floating terminals there. But we can use the South Harbour Phase 1 ECTSAGT extension to become the worlds longest back to back deep water terminal position to the port of Colombo to be a major relay port when the transhipment volumes are going to decline. To make Colombo Port one of the first ports globally to offer LNG bunkering facilities. These are the measures necessary to get things moving,” he said.

Karunanayake noted that currently power is generated at Rs. 22 per unit and sold at Rs.16 at a loss per unit. The best thing to do is generate power at low cost and give the advantage to the consumer. He assured the consumers that he would definitely not allow the electricity tariffs to be increased. Greater focus would be placed on renewable energy sources and as far as possible move away from thermal power generation.

Country in a death trap - Anura Kumara

The Appropriation Bill 2019 is a death trap for the people in rural villages as it would increase their indebtedness even further, noted Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in Parliament yesterday.

Participating in the Second Reading debate of the Appropriation Bill 2019, Dissanayake said many suicides have been reported from rural villages, especially from Jaffna.

“These people are victims of the microfinance companies.

The government promised to ease their burden but nothing has been done so far to assist them. This Appropriation Bill is all about granting loan schemes. This is a deadly trap for the innocent people who live in rural areas because this will drag them deeper into indebtedness,” he added.

“Meanwhile, the country’s transport sector has collapsed while the majority of the citizenry are forced to spend most of their time inside buses and trains. No plan has been proposed to solve that through this Bill. Furthermore, the government has failed to even mention anything about food security. Nothing has been proposed for the well-being of our farmers. No long-term plan to increase the quality of lives of the estate workers either. This Bill is a huge failure,” he noted.

He noted that the country is already in a debt trap. “It has been reported that the CBSL has released International Sovereign Bonds for a higher interest rate. The government must notify the House why the CBSL did so,” he added.


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