New Government saved country’s declining economy: PM

The country’s economic growth rate that commenced to drop since 2015 under the Good Governance Government was worst-affected by the economic recess triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet it recorded a plus rate in the third quarter of 2020 with the changes made in the economic policy under the new government, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said in Parliament, yesterday.

He made these observations in response to the questions raised by Samagi Jana Balawegaya Parliamentarian Patali Champika Ranawaka. The PM said that the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa could increase economic growth rate to 1.5% in the third quarter from the -16.2% in the second quarter during the period when the global economic growth rate was predicted to be -4.4% by the International Monetary Fund.

He said the economic growth rate in the country dropped since 2015, but when the new government was elected, tax rates were reduced to rejuvenate the economy. Although the expected economic growth rate for 2020 was 4.5%, it was challenging as the country, as well as the world, had to be locked down in March. He added that they were operating the economy with a least negative effect during a period that the economic recess was expected to be far worse than that rate during World War II.

“Although the new government reduced the taxes as a part of the fiscal stimulus package, the same policy has been proved a failure by dropping the economic growth rate in the first quarter of the year to -1.6% and to -16.2% in the second part of the year, while the growth rate in the first nine months of the year was -5.3%. Did the government reduce the tax rates following a study? What does the government do to correct the situation?” asked MP Ranawaka.

“On the other hand the government says that it would take loans from the local sources to fill the Budget deficit. Would not it aggravate the inflation of the country as the Central Bank, too, contributes to it?” he asked.

Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal, replying on behalf of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, said the Good Governance Government in 2019 expected an tax revenue of Rs.2.2 trillion for 2020, but could collect only Rs.1.8 trillion. Therefore, their policy to collect more tax revenue by increasing the tax rates proved a failure, he added.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa then studied the situation, and it was observed that tax could not be collected by increasing tax rates, but by increasing economic activities and the economy of the country. It was also observed that a fiscal stimulus was required to encourage the industries and the economic activities in the country and hence the tax rates were revised, Cabraal said.

He said that however, due to the COVID-19 situation, the country had to be locked down in March, along with the other countries in the world. The economy, which was deteriorating since 2015, went further below and recorded economic growth rates of -1.6 and -16.2% in the first and second quarters of the year 2020. Sixty-six days out of the 90 days of the second quarter were locked down. Thereafter, when it was lifted the policy was proved correct by recording a 1.5% economic growth rate in the third quarter of same year.

“The economic growth rate last year was -3.9% owing to this situation. However, it was commendable as the global economic growth rate dropped unprecedentedly to -5.4%,” State Minister Cabraal said.

“The government had to take loans from the local sources as the previous government had taken USD 6.9 billion loans within 15 months; from April, 2018 to July, 2019; while the former Mahinda Rajapaksa government had taken only USD 5.5 billion as loans during its nine-year tenure,” he added. Cabraal added if the government took loans from outside sources, the country would fall into a debt trap.


MP Shantha Bandara calls for increasing of three-wheeler speed limit

Despite certain shortcomings and wrongs committed by a few three-wheeler drivers, as a whole, three-wheelers provide a huge service to the country, MP Shantha Bandara said in Parliament, yesterday.

He noted that while a speed limit of 40kmph has been set for three-wheelers, it is a well-known fact that they travel faster than that. As a result, they get charged by the police and face numerous difficulties.

Therefore, he requested the Transport Minister to look into the possibility of changing the speed limit for three-wheelers from 40 to 50 kmph, taking into account the huge service rendered by them to the public.

Minister Gamini Lokuge said he was unable to give a prompt response, but added that he would forward the proposal to the Transport Commission; based on their recommendations he would take appropriate measures to address the issue.


Former Government’s bills should be examined: Namal

Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa said that the bills presented by the Parliamentarians attached to the former UNP government should be inspected properly as they had presented bills valued at USD 18 million that were allegedly from Marriott Hotel in Dubai.

He said so while asking for a copy of a bill presented by Samagi Jana Balawegaya Parliamentarian Thushara Indunil, to study its authenticity.

MP Indunil presented a bill valued at Rs.41.7 million that was paid to the Shangri-La Hotel by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), saying that it was paid for food to officers, drivers, and others during the LPL tournament. He asked if the said USD 1.77 million was received by the SLC.

The Sports Minister said that SLC organised the LPL not at the cost of its own, but at that of the IPG’s.

He said the Sports Ministry provided the regulations only and monitored it and added that it was not fair for political authorities to intervene in an independent body such as SLC.

He said the LPL is profitable, and that it provided experience to youth. Rajapaksa said he would check the truthfulness of the bill.


ITN has been running at a loss since 2016: Keheliya

The Independent Television Network (ITN) has become an institution that incurs losses since 2016, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said in Parliament, yesterday. He said so responding to a question raised by MP Hesha Vithanage during the oral questions round.

“The profit in 2012 was Rs.789 million; and in 2014, it was Rs.847.24 million. Profit was Rs.638 million in 2015, but the loss from 2016, which was Rs.69 million. The loss in 2017 was Rs.287.25 million; in 2018, it was Rs.622 million. The total loss in 2019 was Rs.597 million, and that of 2020 was Rs.320 million,” Rambukwella said.

Minister Rambukwella said 139 employees have been recruited to ITN since 2015, and that a report with their names, addresses, and educational qualifications will be submitted to Parliament. He also said that those who were accused of various malpractices while working for the network would be dealt with legally.

“The Independent Television Network had a turnover of Rs.800 million at the end of 2015, and had a fixed deposit of Rs.2.7 billion. Unfortunately, at present, the loan amount of the network alone is Rs.500 million. It has had to borrow money from the treasury to maintain its operations for the past five years,” he said.

“During that time 13 advisors and seven chairmen have been appointed. However, steps have been taken to create a free media art form for ITN; resource persons will be given the opportunity to participate in various documentaries, debates, and other programmes,” he added.


COVID-19, a result of people’s developments against nature: Ven. Rathana Thera

Today, the world is in turmoil. According to many scholars, the pandemic is the result of mankind’s haphazard development against nature, MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera said in Parliament, yesterday.

“Instead of destroying nature, we should have understood the signal given and moved in harmony with nature. The open economy, the market economy, the new free economy, they all meant that we were becoming pawns of the world powers. We are responsible for the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the election, and the idea of a self-sufficient people’s economy was put forward in the vision of prosperity. Yet, I am doubtful whether the SLPP MPs have grasped the depth of the concept of a self-sufficient people’s economy,” the Ven. Thera said.

“The essence of the President’s policy is not evident in the Budget. The only way we could stand firm is on our agricultural land. We hold around 6 million acres of agricultural land. Yet, the public participation in agriculture stands at a mere 23% and economic contribution is a mere 3%,” he said, adding that the fate of rural farmers in 1965 to 1970 era has still not changed. He said yet, the country spends around Rs.100 billion annually for the importation of chemical fertiliser.

Ven. Rathana Thera said that 60% of the imported fertiliser is urea; he added that Sri Lanka being a country with so much greenery, it was a joke. He said urea could be produced locally, saving billions annually. He added that if the government is unable to do it, he would initiate the project to locally produce urea, himself, within a year. He requested the government to grant him concessionary bank loans for the project.

The Ven. Thera said there are only around 1.5 million milk cows in this country. “Based on foolish advice, they imported milk cows from cold countries; the whole process was a flop. Our dairy farmers are still in poverty. Why can’t the government provide lands for these dairy farmers the same way that they grant lands to large-scale businessmen?”

“Around Rs.50 billion is spent annually to import powdered milk. Instead, if we concentrate on the nutrition of our local milk cows; we could halt the import of powdered milk within the next five years,” he added.

Rathana Thera also warned that while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy is to create one country under one law, if the situation is not managed properly, it would create avenues for terrorism to raise its head again. He said that Islamic extremism should be understood philosophically, and questioned as to how the rule that any Muslim who leaves his religion should be killed, got into the Grade 10 Islam textbook.

“Were the authorities blind until this section was crept into children’s textbooks? These will only assist in creating more religious fundamentalists in this country. This country should have only one education system,” he added.


All communities should resolve differences and move forward in unity: Sabry

It is high time that people of all communities talk to each other, resolve differences, and come out with a Constitution which is inclusive and could be a foundation for a greater Sri Lanka, Justice Minister Ali Sabry PC said in Parliament, yesterday. He said so commencing the second reading debate on the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, Evidence (Amendment) Bill, and Bail (Amendment) Bill.

He said people of different communities are not enemies merely because they speak different languages and observe different religions.

The National Anthem and the Constitution were formulated on the principle of unity in diversity; the right to speech was guaranteed on the same principle.

Sabry added that the government has the task of formulating such a Constitution.

He added that he was confident that a skillful committee has been appointed for the purpose of drafting it. “I hope that in the years to come, we would forget about the past and admit that we had mistakes, so that all communities can move on,” Minister Sabry said.

He said he had appointed three committees to update laws, and that 37 Cabinet papers he presented to update the laws have been approved, while another 10 have been directed to a committee for advice.

He said that the Prime Minister is to lay the foundation for construction of a House of Justice on January 25, which would be constructed at a cost of Rs.16.5 billion at the Hulftsdorp Court Complex. He added that the steps are being taken to digitise courts as well.

Minister Sabry said that terrorists have no race or creed. “They are merely terrorists; they all should be brought to book, irrespective of their positions. The banning of upcoming and innocent JVP in 1983 in the guise of punishing the ‘83 riot culprits led to another riot in 1988/89. The voiceless estate sector Tamils who lost the leadership of Amirthalingam rallied around LTTE leader Prabakaran.

The same situation should not be repeated.”

He also said that he has formulated laws to ban child marriage among Muslims and increase the marriageable age to 18.


Uniform material to be distributed once schools reopen: GL

Minister of Education Professor G.L. Peiris stated in Parliament yesterday that the distribution of school uniform material for this year will take place as soon as the schools reopen.

Professor Peiris said so in reply to a question raised by Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa. The Leader of the Opposition held the Ministry of Education responsible of not providing uniform material to schoolchildren so far. Responding to this allegation, Minister Peiris said that uniform material has already been distributed to several districts.

Professor Peiris pointed out that the distribution programme is being implemented in a systematic manner, and that it is impractical to provide uniforms without reopening schools first.

All textbooks from Grade 1 to Grade 11 have already been posted on the official website of the Ministry of Education, the minister also added.


Updating laws essential for strengthening Judiciary: Susil

Updating laws is the foundation to strengthen the Judiciary, State Minister of Education Reforms Susil Premajayantha said. He said so joining the debate on the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, and the Bail (Amendment) Bill in Parliament, yesterday.

The state minister observed that the second Trial-at-Bar held in Sri Lanka was the case of bombing in Parliament. He pointed out that those who were involved in the case were able to walk free as there were many weak points in the legal system. “Our Penal Code is very old. It includes a number of outdated laws based on the Western legal system. These amendments focus on terminology. ‘Ceylon’ will be replaced with ‘Sri Lanka’, and the ‘Queen’ shall be replaced with the ‘Republic’. If we take the Bail Act, certain charges will change,” he said.

“Today, the primary responsibility of the Minister of Justice is to restore basic law, criminal law, and civil law. That is why amendments like these are being brought one by one. When a new Constitution is being drafted, all these amendments should be completed. Decisions are being made as to which court would take up narcotics cases. The Opium Ordinance does not recognise drugs like methamphetamine. Therefore, these rules need to be updated,” he said.


Intellectual Property Amendment Bill for Visually Impaired to be tabled today

The Intellectual Property Amendment Bill for Visually Impaired or Special Needs Print Media will be tabled in Parliament, today. This Bill was considered by the Ministerial Consultative Council on Trade, under the patronage of Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, yesterday. The Committee was informed that the Intellectual Property Act No. 36 of 2003 is being amended. For those who are visually impaired, audio recordings would be issued. Regulations will be added in the future to ensure that no one can misuse it for commercial purposes, he said.


Parliament debates amending three Bills

The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, and the Bail (Amendment) Bill were debated in Parliament, yesterday. They were presented to the House by Minister of Justice Ali Sabry PC.

There is a theory of criminal law, which is the presumption of innocence. Just because a person is suspected, it does not mean he is guilty. Therefore, it is not appropriate to blame people in vain, Sabry said.

He added that during the previous regime, special courts were established targeting certain individuals; there were no provisions to appeal. “We were not sure if we should appeal to the Supreme Court or Appeal Court; that is the way the previous regime bent the law.”

He said that in less than a month after the President was elected, the IGP was instructed not to detain people unnecessarily, and granting bail was the law. “MP Kiriella accused us of including people of our choice into the intellectual committee. President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva appeared against Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranayake. He is a reputed lawyer,” the minister said.

“We aspire to formulate a Constitution which could be acceptable to all citizens, and not one that would have to be changed in 20 years,” he said, adding that there are over 105 lawyers working in 17 committees appointed by him.


Ratwatte says he reduced prisoner numbers by 10,000

State Minister of Prison Management Lohan Ratwatte said that since he took office, the number of prisoners in the country had dropped from 27,000 to 17,000.

“The Boossa Prison has been converted into a High Security Prison to house dangerous criminals; 110 high-security prison cells have been set up and Special Task Force (STF) officers have been deployed there. Signal jammers have been set up at the Angunakolapelessa, Welikada, and Boossa Prisons,” he added.

State Minister Ratwatte said that four new buildings are being constructed to quarantine prisoners. In addition, prefabricated buildings are being renovated to reduce prison congestion and 589 officers have been recruited to address the shortage of prison officers, he said.

Measures have been taken to recruit 500 officers of the Tri-Forces and to increase the basic salary of prison officers by 40%. Steps have been taken to rehabilitate 8,000 drug addicts; 40,000 more would be rehabilitated within the next few years, he added.