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‘Approval of Bills will provide concessions to economic sectors’

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa presided when Parliament met at 9.30 a.m.

After presentation of papers and oral questions, the House took up the six bills, including the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill – Second Reading, Inland Revenue (Amendment) Bill – Second Reading, Nation Building Tax (Amendment) Bill, Second Reading, Ports and Airports Development Levy (Amendment) Bill - Second reading, Economic Service Charge (Amendment) Bill - Second Reading and Finance Bill – Second Reading for debate.

International Monetary Co-operation Senior Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama: We are submitting these six Bills for the approval of Parliament today. These amendments will provide several concessions to a number of key economic sectors in the country. These amendments were proposed by Budget 2012.

Today the economy is developing at a rate due to the correct economic policies adopted by the government. Our main objective is increasing the export earnings. According to the statistics in 2010, the export earnings have increased by 17.3 percent. This is a significant achievement. There is a prime need of increasing national productivity. We have to look for more potentials in the export market for gems and jewellery products and apperal and garment products. Production of these items should be increased while promoting tourism, which is one of the most important revenue earners for Sri Lanka.

We have granted several tax concessions for selected sectors in keeping with our economic policies. This move would provide more benefits in the long time. A number of tax concessions have been introduced with the view of encouraging large scale local and foreign investors.

Already 3,500 investors have pledged their willingness to commence large scale projects.

Ravi Karunanayake (UNP): A large number of tax concessions have been granted to large scale companies through last year’s budget. But both middle and small scale companies who contribute immesley for the national economy, have not been granted any relief. You must provide relief to the innocent people of this country. They face severe hardships today as a result of the high cost of living.

Today, the government misuses and misappropriates public funds. The Hambantota Harbour which was constructed at a massive cost from public funds has been unsuccessful. Only six vessels had arrived at the Hambantota Harbour for the last 16 months. The ordinary people of the country have to ultimately bear up all these burdens.

External Affairs Minister G L Peiris: We must make the public aware of the reality and the true facts with regard to the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka.

Both the Government and the Opposition have agreed to hold a two-day long debate with regard to this matter. Accordingly, dates have been fixed for this Parliamentary debate on April 3 and 4. I would make a detailed clarification in this regard, during that debate.

UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella has made several statements during the past days. The Sri Lankan government from the beginning, had been in a clear and steady position in regard to the resolution that we would not accept it under any reason. We declined proposals from the US and several other countries to support the resolution after amending and changing of words. Sri Lanka maintained the position that we have whatsoever no connection with the resolution. If we were to have been involved in this process, it could have posed long-term negative effects upon our country.

The UNHRC had been established to replace the Human Rights Commission of the UNO, which had been criticized as politicized. When we consider the present situation, out of the 47 members of the Council, 11 of them belonged to the EU.

The decisions of foreign relations of these 11 countries had been taken up in Brussels and none of these countries could act on their independent decisions. Some of the representatives of European countries with whom we had discussions, privately observed that the resolution was not timely and should not have been presented during that session. They said that they could not act independently, but had to support a collective decision.

Uditha Lokubandara takes the Chair.

Prof G L Peiris (continues): An ambassador of a European country told me that he had to work in accordance with the orders he receives from the country’s capital, even though it was against his conscious.

Lakshman Kiriella (UNP): I would like to inquire the government’s policy on the exports of the country. About 65 percent of our exports are bought by the US and European countries. However, this government criticizes the conduct of the US and European countries. The government itself was making the situation worse. In 2009, we were would have been able to defeat the resolution, but in 2012, we were unable to do so. The members who supported Sri Lanka, expressed their hope that the government would implement the LLRC recommendations in the future. We are dealing with Western countries in the wrong manner. The closing down of the Embassies is not the answer to this.

Culture and Arts Minister T B Ekanayake: We regret that the UNP did not take the amendments to the Value Added Tax in the right spirit. There are so many positive and useful proposals in these amendments. Recently, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during a visit to Jaffna, had stated that no development had taken place in the region.

It seems that he had also forgotten the road he took to reach Jaffna. Those roads are now carpeted. The government has been injecting a large sum of money for development activities in the North and East. A large number of roads and bridges are now being reconstructed.

There is rapid development in the tourism industry and all the rooms in hotels and guest houses have been full up.

The government and the President are constantly monitoring the development process of the country.

The UNP has its own internal problems to deal with. They have been unable to come to a conclusion concerning the party’s May Day rally. How can they provide leadership to the country?

Dayasiri Jayasekera (UNP): There are internal clashes even within the government. Our party crises may symbolize that we are going to win. Minister Ekanayake said that the Opposition Leader went to Jaffna and commented that no progressive work had been done. Had all this taken place because of his statement?

If so, one may say that the entire international community is with the Opposition Leader. The statements made by government ministers are contradictory to each other. Those are confusing and we are unable to figure out what the government’s stance is.

Ports and Highways Deputy Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena: MP Dayasiri Jayasekera has forgotten that he had been a coordinating secretary to Minister Prof G L Peiris in the past. He has no gratitude. That is why they are treating the party leadership in this manner.

The government had held elections time and again, over the past years and on every occasion, the public had given a clear franchise to the government. They had reiterated their support for the present regime.

Dr Harsha de Silva (UNP): There is no real purpose in introducing these amendments now. This is a wrong step taken by the government. These laws will not be for the betterment of the economy. The income of the country had actually been reduced. Then how can we say that the living standard of the people have gone up?

Now the share market is in a crisis

Sunil Handunnetti (DNA): Today, the share market is in a crisis. Financial institutions have collapsed. The entire economy had been ruined due to the financial mismanagement of the government. If you want to streamline the operations of the share market, you must take measures to increase the national productivity.

Social Services Minister Felix Perera: We spend a large sums of money to export many items which are not produced in Sri Lanka. Massive funds of around US $ 400 million spent per year for the import of drugs. We must find possibilities for producing these items within the country. Then only can we save a huge amount of foreign exchange flowing out from the country.

We have already taken measures with the aim of converting Sri Lanka to an independent country.

A number of key economic sectors in Sri Lanka have shown a significant growth during the past five years. The country’s poverty line had decreased to 3.6 percent from 16.2 percent.

Achala Jagoda (UPFA): The UNP members have not learnt lessons from their past experiences. Some members who are working according to the agenda of Western influences, are trying to grab power by making the government to resort to criticisms against the West.

The government is involved in a massive economic drive in the country. The policies of the present regime had ushered prosperity to the country.

Harin Fernando (UNP): The government is attempting to sell patriotism to the villages. Behind the curtain, it also opens doors for foreign companies by passing these amendments Bills.

The government says that Sri Lanka lost the resolution in Geneva with only one vote. If calculated according to the government’s theory, even President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not win the election, since the number of voters who voted for the Opposition and who abstained from voting was more than the votes obtained by President Rajapaksa.

Human Resources Senior Minister DEW Gunasekera: The amendments presented to the House today, had been proposed by the Budget 2011. We have approved them from the Budget and have debated extensively during the Budget debate. These amendments are presented with the aim of bringing economic prosperity to the country. Provisioning of these amendments would help for a better economic management.

The government revenue should be improved. The decrease in government revenue directly affects ordinary people. It is from the government revenue, the welfare activities and subsidies are being continued.

This is a matter which we should look into. According to a report of the Central Bank, the government’s revenue should represent 20 percent in the GDP when considering the economic growth rate in Sri Lanka. The economic growth rate in Sri Lanka had not resulted in the increase of government revenue. There is a problem somewhere.

The gap between the poor and the rich had widened. This should be understood and rectified.

A Vinayagamoorthy (TNA): We have to take measures to prevent more strict resolution than this being presented to the UNHRC. A government member has observed that the government could not implement all the recommendations in the LLRC. The resolution wanted the implementation of the resolution. If the government does not do so, it would have to face more serious resolution in the future.

We are still telling the government, that we are still ready and prepared for negotiations, to come to a conclusion with regard to these issues.

Shantha Bandara (UPFA): These Bills are presented to the House today to provide necessary encouragement and concessions to the needy sectors as proposed in the Budget 2011, by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

However, Opposition members misguiding the public, said that these amendments put more burden on the people. I doubt whether they are aware of the contents in these Bills?

Certain goods are exempted from the value added tax under the amendments presented today. It will be a huge relief for the people.

A H M Azwer takes the Chair.

Kabir Hashim (UNP): There had been several wonders in Sri Lanka during the past few years. In 2010, the Colombo share market achieved the second best place among other share markets in the world. However, within just one year, it became the second worst share market in the world. It is a wonder in South Asia.

Then the National Museum in Colombo was robbed and recently Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that a family consisting of three persons, could live with ease with a monthly income of Rs 7,500. These were the real wonders.

Health Deputy Minister Lalith Dissanayake: Tax amendments made in these Bills are very important for the boost of the local economy. Our trade would expand with these amendments. Local businessmen have been provided with relief from these amendments.

A greater percentage of the government revenue has been spent on paying wages of the public servants. A considerable percentage is also spent on paying pensions and welfare of tri forces personnel.

There is a steady growth in the tourism industry. The number of tourists to the country has been rising sharply and nobody can deny this fact.

Tax concessions granted

Janaka Vakkumbura (UPFA): A number of tax concessions had been granted to the investors from last year’s budget. It is essential to provide tax concessions to attract more and more investors. This move will certainly help solve unemployment problems as well.

Eran Wickramaratne (UNP): The government should take measures to simplify the tax system. There are tax defaulters and it is essential to bring about meaningful methods and means to collect outstanding revenue. The cost of living in the country seems to be further increased.

The CoL increases not due to depreciation of the rupee or due to the world economic crisis, there are several internal issues for this increase. The most important issue is the failure of collecting direct and indirect taxes by the government.

Amendments made to provide certain fields in the economy

Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya: All these amendments had been made in order to provide tax concessions to certain fields in the economy. Tax holidays that had been granted previously, will be further extended to certain sectors through these amendments, in order to encourage investors. We have not imposed any new taxes through these amendments.

We have formulated economic policies that is favourable for the country’s development and the betterment of the people. We have been able to maintain the inflation rate as a single digit, due to these correct economic policies.

Hunais Farook (UPFA): Under the Divi Neguma programme, cottage industries have been introduced to a large number of family units. The development in agriculture is clearly visible. The yield from the Maha season, has been high in our area.

There was a population census in the North and East recently. However, some of the people now settled in the Puttalam district have originally come from the North. This fact should be considered by the government.

Finance and Planning Deputy Minister Geethanjana Gunawardena: These six Bills were presented to facilitate the proposals mentioned in the previous Budget. There had been extensive debate on them today in the House and I thank both the government and the Opposition members who contributed to the debate. I also thank Treasury Secretary P B Jayasundera and his staff for their dedicated service to make these amendments within the first quarter of the year.

Some of the Opposition members attempted to draw a misleading picture on these amendments.

These proposals had been approved by the House during the Budget and therefore, I believe those should not be brought once again.

The amendments will provide incentives for small and medium scale industrialists within the country and will encourage their exportation. Local industrialists will be strengthened with the aid of these amendments. These will pave way for a better economy in the country.

The Bills were passed with amendments.

At adjournment

The need for alternative systems

Health Deputy Minister Lalith Dissanayake said yesterday in Parliament that a mechanism to legally recognize alternative systems of treatment presented by people such as Dr. Eliyantha White, should be developed. He said that proposals in this regard have been passed in Provincial Councils and have come to national levels. He observed that steps should be taken to recognize alternative systems of treatment for the people.

He made these observations, replying to an adjournment motion moved by UNP MP Palitha Range Bandara.

Palitha Range Bandara (UNP): There are about 4,000 doctors involved in alternative systems of treatment. Those alternative systems have been popular among our people and there are people who are completely cured through these methods. Therefore I request that necessary legal recognition be given to those alternative systems of treatment. Chinese acupuncture and homeopathy methods have gained popularity in the country.

UNP-MP Champika Premadasa seconded the motion

Chief Government Whip and Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: UPFA MP Shantha Bandara had presented a similar proposal in an adjournment motion. However, he could not present it that day since the House adjourned early. Opposition MPs spoke about Doctor Eliyantha White. I must say that the President and the government have given necessary facilities to him to carry out his social service. We have given necessary recognition to him and alternative systems of treatments.

Indigenous Medicine Minister Salinda Dissanayake: There are so many doctors who use alternative systems of treatment including Eliyantha White, in our country. There is a long history to these systems and there is an accumulated medicinal knowledge in them to be accepted legally, a medicinal practice should be scientifically proved.

DNA MP, Sunil Handunnetti, UPFA MP Wasantha Senanayake, UNP MP Palitha Thevarapperuma, UNP MP Anoma Gamage, UNP MP John Amratunga, State Resources and Enterprises Minister Dayasritha Thisera, UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake, UPFA MP A.H.M. Azwer, UNP MP Dilip Wedaarachchi and DNA MP Jayanta Ketagoda also participated in the debate.

The House adjourned until 1 pm on April 3.


Age limit raised for SLAS Grade III

Parliament yesterday approved a proposal to grant three months’ leave for Plantation Industries Minister and Presidential Special Envoy on Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe from January 21.

The proposal was presented to the House by Chief Government Whip and Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena before the commencement of Orders of the day.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa accepted the proposal with the consent of the House.

The government has decided to increase the maximum age limit for application for the Sri Lanka Accountants’ Service Grade III upto 30 years, International Monetary Co-operation Senior Minister Dr Sarath Amunugama said in Parliament yesterday.

He said the Gazette Notification in this regard would be issued within the first two weeks of April.

The Senior Minister said this decision was taken to allow more candidates to sit the open examination to recruit graduates for Grade III Sri Lanka Accountants’ Service.

The Senior Minister made these observations in response to a question raised by DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, under Standing Orders 23 (2).

MP Anura Dissanayake requested the government to increase the maximum age limit to apply for the Sri Lanka Accountants’ Service upto 32 observing that applications for this service have been called this year since 2006.

The Senior Minister stated the government had attended to this matter in a fair manner and had decided to raise the maximum age limit from 28 to 30 years.


‘SAITM will award degrees’

Higher Education Minister S B Dissanayake, yesterday told Parliament that there were some professors who teach in the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine in Malabe while also serving in state universities. Making his reply speech to a special statement made by DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake on March 20 in Parliament, demanding the amalgamation of SAITM, known as Malabe Private Medical College, the minister said there was no legal barrier to register an educational institute under the Companies Act. The University Grants Commission has recognized SAITM as a degree awarding institute. It could offer BSc and MBBS degrees.

There are 29 degree offering non-state institutes in the country and all of them were registered under the provisions of the Companies Act, the minister said. There was nothing wrong or illegal about it. There were some institutes which charged hundreds of thousands of rupees from students and finally did not offer degrees as promised at the registration.

Therefore the need has arisen to regulate these degree offering bodies, the minister said. SAITM charges only Rs 6.5 million from a student for five years. A most sophisticated teaching hospital with 1000 beds is coming up in Malabe to facilitate SAITM.

The minister said Sri Lankan universities have now advanced both in academic and extra-curricular activities and are on par with international universities. The University of Colombo was the eighth best university in South Asia.

SAITM has 18 senior professors in Medicine at present, he said. Of them, three are from Russia and the rest from local universities, including Colombo, Peradeniya, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya and Ruhuna. As these professors are on seven years’ sabbatical leave, some other professors work on a visiting basis, while serving in government universities, he said.

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