|Monday, 15 November 2004|
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A people friendly budget
November 18 is the 'D' day when Minister of Finance of the April 2004 UPFA Government will unveil his revenue proposals in Parliament to finance the expenditure of the Government for fiscal year 2005/06, in his maiden Budget.
The Minister has already broken new ground in soliciting the views and proposals of the people, and having received over 900 proposals, they would have received due consideration.
His performance in the first six months from May to October 2004, no doubt augurs well for a people's friendly budget.
A fertilizer subsidy has been granted. The Samurdhi will be augmented. 17,000 jobs for unemployed graduates provided, with another 21,000 jobs in the pipeline, for the G.C.E. 'O' and G.C.E. 'A' qualified. Funds provided for 10,000 Rural Tanks renovation.
A salary increase for the public servants based on Tissa Devendra report is on the offing. The Opposition claims salary increase is a result of their street demonstration.
Then why could not the UNF Govt. grant this salary increase when in power 2002/2004? It is well known no Government has been brought down by the cost of living factor alone.
Enhanced investment in the field of education and health has been pledged. Empowerment of small and medium local industry is promised. The recent increase on import duty on import of vehicle, the reintroduction of 100% tax on purchase of land by foreigners, the removal of the tax amnesty on custom and excise duty (not an income tax) affect only small percentage of the rich.
Hence the direction of the Minister's budget is clear. It would be pro rural, pro small man. He would avoid the pitfalls of 2 previous budgets of the UNF Government of Sri Lanka as well as those B. J. P. Government of India.
His emphasis is on agriculture, rural poor and urban middle class rather than urban upper class. Being a party pledged for Mixed economy, the Minister in a development oriented budget would place emphasis on the private as well as the public sector.
He will no doubt give incentives for the development of agriculture, fisheries, tourism and garments in the private sector to boost up employment.
It has been privately disclosed that public institutions like Railways, C.T.B., Petroleum and CEB with their huge loads of losses/subsidies will be privatized, the management, not the ownership. The removal of subsidies would have an adverse impact on cost of living as well.
Incentives would be given for Exports, and to limit imports of Luxury items and those that could be produced locally. This is to protect the local industry, to bridge the ever widening trade gap (-111,000 Million end June 04) boost up External assets around 320,000 Million (end June 04) and to keep the value of Rupee as against the dollar in place, around Rs. 103. The option of selling Government assets is not on the cards. Borrowing locally will be limited, not to put additional pressure on the interest rates presently at 9% P.A. and on inflation as well. The Government debt is around 1,900 Million (end May 2004). However Commercial borrowing overseas is an attraction in view of the very low interest rates.
The foreign Governments friendly towards the UPFA have already pledged funds to cover up the daily increase in the oil bill, particularly Governments of India and Iran.
The Minister will be unveiling the details of a 3 year development plan as well, to keep the growth rate at 6 to 8% over the next 3 years. Educated, intelligent, articulate and with a track record of a top Civil Servant in the Public Service in the 1970s and 1980s and as an experienced Parliamentarian of the 1990s people's expectation of a good budget, will not be misplaced.
Methsiri Cooray - Colombo 4
Bribery and corruption
Five hundred years before Jesus was born, a Greek Philosopher walked into the Athenian Market at 12.00 noon, with a lighted lantern and when questioned he said that he had come in search of an honest man.
So dishonesty had been in existence from time immemorial, like the oldest profession in the world.
There are various degrees of dishonesty. Of these, the worst is bribery which is rampant in Sri Lanka.
Very recently a very senior Police Officer had been produced in Courts and bailed out on charges of bribery. In the history of Police Service, there had never been an officer of this rank ever caught for bribery.
The matter becomes worse as the officer concerned is a graduate from a recognized University, and had joined the Police at the highest possible level. We have had very honest officers in the Police Department such as Late M/s. S.A. Dissanayake, Elleric Abeygunawardena and Albert to mention a few. They must be wriggling in their graves in utter disgust.
Army too have had very honest officers. The rank and file of the Army still speaks of a retired Lt. General who never used his official car to go to Church for Sunday Mass, but used his private cream coloured Benz. This is in keeping with the highest traditions of Sandhurst Training. The present day high officials of the Bribery Commission are straightforward, honest, and above-board. Hence a good job can be expected of them. The writer knows one of them as he was the Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of Mount-Lavinia Division, and in fact the writer was the Headquarters Inspector of Moratuwa Police who worked under him.
This was as far back as late nineteen-seventies. The presence of the Bribery Commissioner's Department must be felt. Their tentacles should spread everywhere and errant officers should be taken to task starting with sharks and not with sprats.
Also, they must be very sharp in their investigations and if there is a slightest doubt in the detection, the case should be dropped.
Otherwise the blame will come onto the Bribery Commissioner's Department as we know, a long time back a surgeon in the Colombo National Hospital was detected by the officers of the Bribery commission and subsequently charged in Courts.
The surgeon got acquited in this case after trial. Some say it was a frame-up, however a Sinhala film was edited after this.
ANANDA JAYASENA - Boralesgamuwa
Duty free allowance
Up to January this year the expatriate workers have contributed a staggering Rs. 1,500 million in foreign exchange and surpasses the 6 per cent GDP level. And all the Governments have done for them is increasing the Duty Free Allowance on goods to US $ 1,750.
However, the more important concessions has been overlooked - the import of a duty free vehicle, be it a van, car, motorbike etc.
Therefore, it is nothing but fair that the Government in return allocate the duty free import of any vehicle depending on the FOREX remitted by one or more persons in a household.
In formulating such a scheme it is important to set limits based on the amount of foreign exchange remitted and the number of years worked abroad.
In this connection it is pertinent to remember that Ministers and MPs have been allowed duty free cars as also certain categories of Government and Corporation employees. Then again our cricketers were given duty free cars.
They brought only fame to the country. But Sri Lankans working abroad pour in FOREX regularly without which the country would be in dire straits, not to mention partial solving of our unemployment problem. Otherwise re-introduce the official permit system which was available in the seventies and eighties.
There have been numerous letters on this subject from time to time over the years but no Finance Minister has cared to make any official comment.
Now that there is a people-friendly Government, I am confident that the Finance Minister will include a scheme in the coming budget thereby earning the encomiums of the expatriate workers scattered all over the globe.
VERNON DAWSON - Dehiwala
Salary increase to public servants
In your issue of October 19 U.N. Nanayakkara of Gampaha refers to the proposed salary increase of public servants in the budget of 2005.
This is in fulfilment of an election pledge. Quite rightly he states that the Government should bring down the cost of living.
So far no government has succeeded in doing so. It can be called 'Public Enemy No.1'. Market forces created by middlemen is largely responsible. It is acknowledged that Government cannot do business adequately due to red tape created by set procedures.
The general public however does not realize that the remedy lies in increased production which will result in self sufficiency.
Then all categories inhabiting Sri Lanka - the rich, middle class and the poor will benefit. As one American President declared Americans should think of what they can do for the country, not what the country can do for them. This requires patriotism which is sadly lacking in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Nanayakkara also states that each time a salary increase is granted to the public servants the pensioners are given a pittance.
There is no mention of a corresponding increase in pensions in the 2005 budget. This will aggravate the disparity in pensions. Will the pensioners be ignored again?
J. A. ABAYARATNA - Kurunegala
Private Medical College for non-Sri Lankans
It is time to establish a fully-fledged Private Medical College with the State of the art technology for non-Sri Lankan students, which could attract students from SAARC countries as well as African continent.
This deviant idea will help not only the country to earn much needed foreign exchange but also in real terms off set the drained out the millions of dollars remitted by our Sri Lankan students who seek places in foreign medical colleges to fulfil their ambitions. The establishment of PMC for non-Sri Lankans is practical, commercially viable and importantly not controversial.
Let us hope any esteemed establishment come forward to make use of this untapped market, which has potential and the revelation for those concerned.
C. REGINALD - Kotahena
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