Budget for next year presented under COVID siege
* Special Tax Appeals Court to resolve tax issues expeditiously
* Rs 500,000 start-up capital loan with 5-year grace period for entrepreneurs
* A sports economy worth USD 1,000 Mn from 2021-2024
* New city universities in each district
* Rs 8 Bn for technology enhancement
* Rs. 250 mn to develop temples in villages
* Extra Rs. 2 per dollar sent by Lankans employed overseas
* Two LNG plants, one coal plant to produce 1,000MW
* Sustainable and renewable energy supply by 2023
* Rs.15 billion for expanding mobile, fixed broadband
* An additional provision of Rs. 20,000 mn for the tri-forces
* Allocation of Rs 750 mn for activities of Rana Viru Seva Authority
* 5.5% economic growth rate for 2021 expected
* 4% budget deficit goal to be achieved by 2025
By Saman Indrajith
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Minister of Finance presented the 75th budget of the country, spelling out measures and proposals to achieve poverty alleviation and economic revival.
The budget proposals aimed to support the two year medium term programme of poverty alleviation and economic revival outlined for 2021-2023 in the “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, the Prime Minister said.
“The expected economic growth rate for 2021 is 5.5 percent. I emphasise that it is our medium term vision to reduce the budget gap through increasing the economic growth up to 6% and increasing the government revenue from its current level of 9.7% to 14.1%. By 2025, the budget deficit is expected to be 4% of the GDP due to growth in tax revenue through the expansion of the economy and the trust placed on the management of public expenditure and public enterprises.”
Prime MinisterRajapaksa commenced delivering the budget speech around 1.44 pm. It continued till 4.54 pm including a half-an-hour tea break between 2.43 to 3.24.
Income tax exemptions have been proposed for agriculture, livestock, and fisheries sectors for five years. In addition, a 50% income tax exemption has been proposed for local companies if get listed in the Stock Market before December 31, 2021.
He proposed to establish a special Tax Appeals Court to facilitate the resolution of tax appeals without delays, Prime Minister Rajapaksa said.
“I propose to simplify the Taxes on Capital Gains, where such taxes will be calculated based on the sale price of a property or the assessed value of a property whichever is higher. I propose to exempt the tax on dividends of foreign companies for three years if such dividends are reinvested on expansion of their businesses or in the money or stock market or in Sri Lanka International sovereign bonds.”
The PM also noted that the government intended to bring necessary changes to the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) in order to increase the self-compliance of taxpayers and to strengthen tax audits as well as to increase tax revenues.
The Premier went to propose enforcing necessary legal provisions that enabled the cancellation of private tax consulting services that aid and abet issuance of forged tax reports.
A loan of Rs 500,000 as start-up capital with a grace period of five years would be introduced for entrepreneurs. A commitment fee of 0.25 per cent proposed to be levied from loan applicants to ensure that the funds are managed and utilized accordingly.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed to allocate additional funds of Rs. 3,000 million to initiate a scholarship programme to provide Rs. 4,000 monthly allowance each to students receiving vocational education based on their active participation.
Technical colleges of which the annual intake is presently at 100,000 would be increased to 200,000 students per year, he said. A five-year-grace period for tax levied from Vocational Training Centres, which were able to double their annual intake of students, was proposed. Rs. 10,000 million would be allocated from the budget next year for new technical colleges to be established in Colombo, Kalutara, Kandy, Anuradhapura and Batticaloa. New city universities would be established in each district to cater to students pursuing popular subjects.
The PM proposed to create a sports economy worth USD 1,000 million during the period 2021-2024. For that purpose Rs 1000 million was proposed to be allocated from the budget. He proposed measures to increase female participation in national sports.
It was proposed to increase production of milk to meet local demand and a Rs. 500,000 loan will be provided for purchasing cows and meeting other dairy farm requirements. The Premier said that $300 million in foreign exchange was annually needed for milk imports and proposed to reduce that by $55 million by encouraging local milk production.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed to allocate Rs. 750 million for the welfare of disabled armed forces personnel.
He proposed to allocate additional funds of Rs. 250 million to develop basic infrastructure of temples in rural areas.
The Budget proposes to allocate Rs. 8 billion for technology enhancement next year. In addition, allocation of Rs.15 billion for expanding mobile, fixed broadband under the “Gamata Saniwedanaya’ scheme was proposed. State land would be given to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission for the proposal, the PM said.
The Prime Minister said that low-income women migrated for work and their remittances had strengthened the national economy. In a bid to increase annual remittances from migrant workers to over US$ 7 billion, he proposed to pay extra two rupees for every dollar sent by Lankans employed overseas. That was in addition to prevailing exchange rates; he said, assuring to implement a contributory pension scheme for Lankan foreign employees.
It was proposed to expedite the construction of the national expressway network and extend the Marine Drive to Moratuwa. Prime Minister Rajapaksa said a three-year programme to develop road infrastructure in the 25 districts would be introduced. Rs 1,300 million proposed to be allocated to improve the railway network including the extending of Colombo and Kelani Valley track.
Electricity consumers were assured of a sustainable and renewable energy supply by 2023.
The PM said that 70 per cent of the country’s energy supply would be obtained from renewable energy sources by 2023. The Lakvijaya and Kerawalapitiya Power Plants would be strengthened to guarantee interruption-free power supply through years 2021-2022. One coal-fired power plant of 300 MW and two LNG plants would set up. The Kerawalapitiya plant would be transformed into an LNG plant, the PM said, proposing to provide solar panels of 5 kilo watts each to 100,000 houses of low income families under an Asian Development Bank and Indian loan scheme. Loan of 4% interest rate would be provided to low income families for this purpose, he said.
Reforms were proposed for the Foreign Service and under the new reforms bilateral agreements would be reviewed to ensure national security and Sri Lanka’s non-aligned stance, the Prime Minister said, adding that under those reforms a new mechanism would be introduced to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of diplomats and foreign service officers.
“With the aim of ensuring national security, a medium term plan to enhance the professional skills of the heroes of our tri-forces, providing them with modern technological facilities is currently being prepared. In the context of resource constraints and identified priorities in the country, further strengthening of the Sri Lanka Navy has been given priority. We must combat the drug menace and must eliminate it to prevent our country becoming a hub for international illicit drug trade. The government expects to ensure that the investments will facilitate to control smuggling of goods, providing the required protection for the fishery resources and fishery communities and establishing a safe environment for carrying out tasks in the Indian Ocean.”
The PM proposed to allocate Rs. 20,000 million as an additional provision for the tri-forces to fulfill the basic requirements identified in the medium-term and long-term planning frameworks in accordance with their basic requirements.
He also proposed to allocate Rs.750 million for the activities implemented by the RanaViru Seva Authority, including the provision of medical aid, support for development enterprises, conducting of educational and vocational development programmes, housing loans and provision of supporting equipment for the disabled war heroes targeting, the retired and disabled war heroes of the tri forces, police and the civil defense force and the dependents of the families of those heroes have laid down their lives.
The Premier proposed an additional allocation of Rs. 2,500 million, to address special programmes aimed at strengthening public security. “The government has given special attention to strengthening the police so as to assure public security. We must consolidate the environment for all citizens to live freely without any fear. Resources will be allocated to support the control of the drug menace, to regulate vehicles and traffic rules, strengthening Tourist police, special training and provide the necessary facilities to prevent crimes and robberies. It is also proposed to expand the police patrols to ensure public safety by deploying special police vehicles.”
Prime Minister Rajapaksa proposed the implementation of a special loan scheme for public servants to obtain solar powered electricity. “When appointing or transferring public servants, it is proposed to ensure that such postings are made giving preference to the districts of residence. Permission will be granted for non-executive office employees of the public service to engage in other jobs or employment after office hours and those who seek foreign employment will be granted leave for two years. I propose to reduce the maximum interest charged on housing and property loans of public servants granted by banks under housing loans and advances up to a maximum of 7 per cent.”
The PM said: “The estimated Government Revenue for 2021 is Rs. 1,961 billion. The total Government expenditure is Rs. 3,525 billion and as such the difference between the revenue and the expenditure is Rs. 1,564 billion. It is planned to maintain the budget gap at 9 percent of the GDP since the private investments which amounted to 32.3 percent of the GDP in 2014 has decreased up to 27.6 percent in 2019 and since it is required to provide a robust start by the government to revive the economic growth which had stagnated recently.”
The second reading debate of the budget is scheduled to commence today (18) and continue till Nov 21. The vote on the second reading will take place at 5 pm on Nov 21. Parliament sittings will be held from the 18th to the 20th from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm. The debate of the Committee Stage will commence on Nov 23 and is scheduled to conclude on Dec 10. The final vote on the budget is scheduled to be taken at 5.00 pm on Dec 10.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.