A budget of many parts | Daily News

A budget of many parts

It is difficult for a Government to satisfy all segments of society through a national budget. All budgets, down the years, have come in for both praise and criticism, depending on which political party one belonged to. Budget 2019 will be no exception in this respect. The Opposition, true to form, has started picking holes, with the exception of Duminda Dissanayake who sees a lot of positives in the budget just presented.

The JVP, on the other hand, has painted a dark picture and as usual flayed the liberal economy and the Government's ‘capitulation’ to the World Bank and the IMF dictates. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said Budget 2019 will pile on more debts on the country. He, of course, was alluding to the generous concessions granted to the public and the added welfare measures contained in the budget.

It is only natural that the Opposition is apprehensive of any form of largesse dished out to the public through the present budget, with the country on the cusp of a major election (in fact many in the Government attribute the October 26 coup to such an apprehension).

Be that as it may, election budget or not, a wide segment of the public, no doubt, will welcome the numerous relief measures offered to them in Budget 2019. More so public sector employees numbering 1.4 million, who will receive an allowance of Rs. 2,500, come July. It is hoped that living costs would be on an even keel until then so that when they get the extra sum they would not feel let-down. Pensioners, too, no doubt, would have a huge sigh of relief, especially those who retired before 2016 whose laments have been legion over the injustice perpetrated on them.

They are sure to be grateful to the Government for the gesture, given the tales of woe which often appear in the public columns in the English newspapers detailing the ordeals pensioners undergo due to the rising costs of drugs and treatments they have to undergo in old age. The raise in the allowances for those with disabilities from Rs.3,000 to Rs. 5,000 too would be bound to be met with glee by these individuals. Also welcome is the increase in the commandos’ allowance of all military personnel to Rs. 5,000.

The Rs.10 million housing loan plan for newly married couples, payable in 25 years, and, at 6% interest, certainly would be a huge boon to the newlyweds (former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, offered to pay a Rs. 50,000 allowance to each newly married couple, during the run up to the 2015 general election). The danger, though, is, will the Government be able to cope with the demand in the event of a huge surge in the numbers getting ready to tie the knot. Will this apply only to first timers and will the facility be available to divorcees and those already separated, who remarry?

The plethora of high duties levied on motor vehicle imports too is to be commended, particularly the Rs. 150,000 import tax imposed on 800 cc petrol vehicles and Rs.175,000 for those under 800 cc. Besides, the country's road network can no longer cope with the heavy volume of vehicles and deterrents in the form of increased levies could also reduces the massive fuel bill, thus saving much needed foreign exchange. Ditto for the Rs. 60,000 production tax on three wheelers which have today virtually flooded our roads. Besides, more and more youth are taking to this mode of income at the cost of other, more productive vocations resulting in depleting manpower in other areas of endeavour. Hence, the more deterrents imposed on the three wheeler industry the more it would wean the youth from this ‘profession’ and direct them to other vocations.

A big boost has been given to Condominium building in Budget 2019. Foreign nationals who invest more than US$ 400,000 or more in condominiums have been offered three year resident visas. The CESS on imported construction material too has been reduced by 30%. Considering the fast shrinking space in the city and the humongous increase in land value, this appears to be a wise move on the part of the Government. It is doubtful though that the Rs.1,000 million set apart for the beatification of Colombo is adequate considering wide dimensions of such a project. No doubt, the project is close to the heart of Minister Samaraweera given his earlier attempts to beautify Colombo, particularly the area surrounding the Beira. No mention though is made of any allocation made towards overhauling the ancient sewerage system which is a prerequisite for a beautified Colombo.

Minister Samaraweera spoke about achieving the country's revenue targets. However in the area of revenue collection all Finance Ministers have found to be wanting, particular with regard to tax collection. He said the country's debt repayments will not be hampered by the welfare bill. For this it is paramount that an efficient revenue collection system is put in place. Have the new tax files said to have been opened last time around yielded the anticipated results?


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