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Friday, 16 November 2012

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[PARLIAMENT]

Sandasen Marasinghe, Irangika Range and Disna Mudalige

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa presided when Parliament met at 9.30 a.m. yesterday. After the presentation of papers and oral questions, the House took up the second reading of Appropriation Bill (2013) for debate for the fifth day.

Nimal Siripala de Silva (Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister): The budget 2013 is not just a document. It contains long-term and short-term economic policies with the aim of achieving sustainable economic development in the future. The Sri Lankan economy is in a higher position when compared with economic growth rates of several other countries.

The economic growth rate is 8.3 percent in 2011, which was just six percent in 2008. Countries like the UK has an economic growth rate of 1.8 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, Malaysia and Indonesia have reported only four and five percent economic growth rates. But under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we have been able to maintain a strong economic growth rate.

The State debt rate of the GDP was 106 percent during the UNP regime. We have been able to reduce the government debt of the GDP to 78 percent. It is due to the accurate economic policies followed by the government. Other countries like Japan, Singapore and UK have highest debt rates of the GDP – 236 percent, 90 percent and 88 percent respectively. According to correct fiscal policies, we have been able to reduce the poverty rate from 15 percent to 8 percent. About 90 percent of the population in Sri Lanka enjoy the electricity and drinking water facilities. The country is marching from success to success. We recorded over 700,000 of tourist arrivals last year. New five-star hotels are being constructed creating new employment opportunities. We have also given highest priority to welfare activities. In 2010 Rs. 98,000 million has been allocated while Rs. 82,000 million was allocated in 2009. The foreign direct investments have increased to US$ 1,661 in 2010 which was only US$ 603 in 2007.

R. Sampanthan (TNA): We welcomed certain development proposals introduced by this budget. But it has failed introducing a proper mechanism to alleviate the hardships faced by ordinary people. The government has allocated a large amount of money to maintain the mega Cabinet and Deputy Ministers.

It is necessary to take immediate action to cut off unnecessary expenditure. Unfortunately, no allocation has been made for the welfare and well-being of the people affected by war in the North and East. How can the government create reconciliation without fulfilling and honouring the basic needs of these people.

How can the government win the harts and minds of the war-affected people if it has not paid attention to their problems? Why the government has not come up with any political solution for the ethnic conflict yet as it has promised to the Indian government. How can the government bring communal and religious harmony among the communities without implementing the LLRC recommendations. Deputy Chairman of Committees Murugesu Chandrakumar takes the Chair:

Chandrakumar Murugesu (UPFA): This is a development oriented budget. The budget has been prepared considering the suggestions of ordinary people, intellectuals, experts and stakeholders of all sectors in the economy to cater to the needs of the country and the people. Livestock development and agricultural sector have been addressed properly through this budget. We would be able to see an agricultural revival in the near future with the implementation these budget proposals. It has given prominent place to develop physical and human resources to move this country forwards.

The move to allocate funds for the post-war activities is commendable. It is also welcome the allocation of money for the implementation of LLRC recommendations. We must let the people to feel that this government is impartial. Every stakeholder of this country has a responsibility to build peace and harmony.

Rishard Bathiudeen (Industry and Commerce Minister): The budget has given prominent place to improve the export development as well as local entrepreneurs. Livelihood uplift of rural people and the country’s economic growth had been addressed equally.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sumedha Jayasena:

The country is being developed in every aspect. The maternal and child health are given high attention and our country has been able to maintain very good rates in health indices as that of developed countries.

The Divi Neguma programme is a very commendable move. It strengthens the economy of the villagers. Many facilities have been made for them to start self-employment such as poultry farming and crop cultivation. The budget further strengthens this project.

Kabir Hasheem (UNP):

In a budget we have to consider management of resources, redistribution of income, economic stability and management of public enterprises. We cannot be satisfied over the manner money has been allocated for Ministries. Only a meagre amount is allocated for education, health, childcare and women’s affairs compared to the allocations for the President, Defence etc. The next tax income has gone down to 14 percent. This has happened due to indirect tax policy of the government. There is a black market economy in the country. Income disparity has widened. The rich is living luxurious lives where as the poor is suffering.

Sarath Kumara Gunaratne State Resources and Enterprise Development Deputy Minister:

Under the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’, Sri Lanka model has been promoted. The vision of the Mahinda Chinthana is to develop the village first to build the country. This is what we are doing today. The agriculture has been boosted and poverty is being gradually eliminated. The ‘Divi Neguma’ caters to boost domestic economic units to alleviate poverty.

Today, the fishermen are given necessary facilities. The fishing industry is developing rapidly and livelihoods of people are improving. President Rajapaksa made a cordial invitation to all opposition parties to join in the forward march of the country. A massive operation to win the economic war has been started. The people at village level have embraced the policies of the government. The President is a leader who loves the country. He will become a historic leader.

Indigenous Medicine Minister Salinda Dissanayake:

When there are no constructive criticisms, the Opposition has resorted to malicious and false criticisms. Some claimed this is a neo-liberal economy. However, they are unable to see how the local economy has been given prominence by the government. There is a strong indigenous feature in our budget. This is a local production oriented budget. How does it become a neo-liberal budget when it has given so many concessions to farmers, local researchers and small- scale entrepreneurs and self-employment. The characteristic of neo-liberalism is that the government does not intervene to control the market economy.

But the President as a far-sighted leader has made necessary arrangements for economic prosperity. He has given incentives and facilities to boost local production. This budget shifts the local economy to a new direction based on the Sri Lankan thinking. This promotes a ‘Sri Lankan Model.’

Thalatha Athukorala takes the Chair

Dr. Harsha de Silva (UNP):

We do not see that this budget has given any incentives for the industrial sector. We cannot go forward with export pessimism. Our economy must be export oriented.

The best budget speech made in this House was from Senior Minister DEW Gunasekara. He analysed the budget very carefully. He also raised the problem that the government revenuing is falling. The income tax for the rich is low in Sri Lanka compared to other countries.

A.H.M. Fowzie (Urban Affairs Senior Minister): The President presented a realistic, development-oriented budget. An appreciable factor in the budget is that there is no burden on people. It is the first time that a Rs. 5,000 is paid as a life support to the most elderly people who are in difficulties. Priority has been given to implement the LLRC recommendations.

This budget is empowering the rural sector. The ‘Mahinda Chintana’ is attempting to grant a good living standard to the people.

About 4.1 percent of the GDP is allocated for the education. I wish to applaud the government’s measures do set up 20 technical colleges to educate children to cater to the needs of the international market.

Jagath Pushpakumara (Coconut Development Minister): The President discussed the common people to formulate this budget. He has taken many measures to develop the milk production. When I was the Deputy Minister, a kilo gram of maze was at Rs. 8 but now it is Rs. 35.

Now we are exporting maze. The Lak Sathosa has 1,000 branches and provides commodities at a reasonable price. The measures to improve the Jaggary production in place of sugar is appreciable. It will increase the coconut production. Now the black tea export has been reduced and now the packeted tea export has been increased.

It comes under service exports.

Harsha de Silva spoke of the righteous rule of J.R. Jayeweradene. But the same regime suspended the service of the public servants when they requested a Rs. 10 salary like.

During UNP regime Ranil Wickremesinghe had paid Rs. 2.6 million to one Harsha Silva to get advice to formulate the budget. A large amount had also paid for some foreigners. However the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime collapsed after two years and six months.

Akila Viraj Kariyawasam (UNP): We only produce five percent of sugar requirement here.

Mohan Priyadarshana takes the Chair: This budget has not been able to provide solutions to them. This budget is a total failure. What are the measures taken to increase production through this budget?

This budget has increased the price of small cars but reduced the prices of racing cars. Last year government promised to import 500 cows but only 100 have been imported. How could the milk harvest be increased? The loss increased by Mihin Air was around Rs. 1,966 million and Rs. 17,172 million from the SriLankan Airlines.

Weerakumara Dissanayake (Traditional Industries and Small Entrepreneurs Development Deputy Minister): Many development projects were initiated around the country. In our area in Anuradhapura people got many infrastructure facilities last year. That is the ground reality. We see all them when we go to villages. The people are pleased by them. This budget has taken the same positive process forward.

Weerakumara Dissanayake (Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Deputy Minister):

The major necessity of the country is achieving the economic development. We all should get-together to achieve this target irrespective of party, colour, race and caste differences.

Naveen Dissanayake (Public Management Reforms Minister):

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wish is to maintain an economic growth rate of eight percent. We have already achieved this target despite the negative aspects of the global economic crisis.

It is necessary to take out economic growth benefits to the rural economy. We need to have a proper mechanism to increase the government revenue.

Gayantha Karunathilake (UNP):

The dreams of the people for a prosperous future have been shattered through this budget. People have lost their interests in the budget.

The budget has further placed the burdens on the shoulders of the ordinary people.

Seventeen farmers had already committed suicide as a result of debt burden. Nearly 4,000 people are suffering from chronic kidney disease. Nutrition pack promised for pregnant mothers have not given so far. Consuming of alcohol has been increased. The consumption of alcohol which was 67 million litres in 2008 has increased to 75.2 million litres in 2009.

W.B. Ekanayake (Irrigation and Water Management Resources Deputy Minister):

We welcome the proposal of giving fertiliser subsidy and introducing an insurance scheme for farmers. The farmer community has been protected under the UPFA government. Farmers are the backbone of the economy. Over 1.6 million farmers have been given prominent place through this budget.

The entire road network is being developed. All dilapidated roads across the country are being reconstructed. We see a massive development drive taking place everywhere in the country.

Reginald Cooray (Minor Export Crop Promotion Minister):

No public assets were privatised under the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime. We have taken measures to convert all public institutions into profitable organisations.

The public sector has been strengthened. The number of public servants has been increased to 600,000.

Deputy Chairman of Committees Chandrakumar Murugesu takes the Chair.

D.M. Swaminathan (UNP):

A successful budget is evaluated by three salient features namely accountability, transparency and good governance.

When good governance is considered in the country we find many an issue including no equal treatment to the public etc.

The commotion in prisons recently is due to lack of law and order. The Tamil and Sinhalese live in harmony in society but it is the political parties that change it. There is an erosion in the Judiciary. When the Judiciary is failed in the country the entire fabric of the society is affected.

Dr. Rohana Pushpakumara (UPFA):

We faced a 30-year conflict, natural catastrophies and riots in the past. But, today we are improving our living standard under this government.

This budget proposed not to collect the interest on the loans granted to farmers who were affected by the drought.

Another salient feature of this budget is that it encouraged the use of organic fertilisers. The measure is helpful to reduce the people being victims to cancer and many other serious health hazards.

This budget also proposed to grant Rs. 250,000 to cultivate tea plants.

Baseer Segudawood (UPFA):

The end of the battle is not that all the issues came to an end. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution has to be amended in a positive manner. The 13th Amendment was introduced by the UNP. It was not a success.

The JVP refused the 13th Amendment and protested against it.

Dunesh Gankanda (UNP):

The people expected a lot of relief from the budget 2013. But the reliefs were granted to the richest but not to the poor. Under this government a large number of companies were closed down. In Seethawaka 60 percent of companies ended with the same doom.

Dunesh Gankanda (UNP) continues:

The price paid to farmers per one litre of milk is not enough.

The plight of these farmers is unfortunate. They must be given good prices for their produce. The tea industry is also facing numerous problems. Plantation sector should be paid more attention to boost our export economy.

A.H.M. Azwer takes the Chair.

Thilanga Sumathipala (UPFA):

The Opposition has not analysed the budget before making comments. A budget is the mirror of country’s future.

One TNA MP spoke for about one hour and about 53 minutes, of that hour he spoke about the 13th Amendment. He had no constructive criticizms about the budget. The sports sector is growing fast in the country. The world is spending a large sum on this sector. Sri Lanka has much more capacity in improving this sector. With the tourist attraction the country gains after the war, we have more room to expand sports sector.

If the sports sector was developed we can attract more and more tourists. These sports fans can also be converted into investors. The money allocated for this sector must be improved. Therefore, the core purpose of the proposal to relax taxes on vehicles involved in the sports sector is different from what the Opposition interpreted. This proposal has more in-depth value.

Environment Deputy Minister Abdul Cader:

This is a development oriented budget. It will definitely raise the economic growth and will uplift the lives of the people.

The housing and water supply projects among many other development initiatives of the government are commendable. The President has always been an environment-friendly person. He has made considerable allocations for the conservation of environment.

Sri Lanka is an island nation. Therefore, we are directly facing the impacts of global warming and climate change such as the rising sea levels. We have already formulated a Climate Change Action Plan to check these adverse impacts.

Nimal Wijesinghe (UPFA):

This budget is a far-sighted document and a not a one to put temporary patches for problems. This budget has given many concessions for the poor and rural community.

The economic hardships of the poor in villages have been alleviated from the ‘Divi Neguma’ project. They have been able to cope with life more confidently.

The budget has allocated a large sum of money for the uplift of rural schools and to provide them with up to date facilities as that of in urban schools.

The House was adjourned until 9.30 a.m. today.


Speaker says will guarantee rights of members acting independently

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa yesterday stated that he would guarantee the rights of members who act independently in Parliament.

He made this observation when DNA MP Ajith Kumara yesterday said that he was deprived of his right to speech as he was not given an opportunity to participate in the Appropriation Bill debate by Democratic National Alliance and the Opposition.

Ajith Kumara raising a privilege matter in Parliament made this statement.

The Speaker further said that he would discuss the matter in the Party Leaders' Meeting and take measures to meet justice by the members who act independently in the Opposition.

DNA Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara said that he requested from DNA Leader and the Chief Opposition Whip to grant him opportunity to join the debate on any day from November 12, 13 and 16. However, he was informed by the secretary of Opposition office that a 20 minutes time was allocated to him on November 12.

But in the evening on November 12 his name had been removed from the list and he was deprived of his right to speech as a member. He also added that he decided to act independently in the Opposition since yesterday.

He requested the Speaker to allot a time for him to join the debate on a future date in connection with 2013 budget proposals and also in the committee stage debate, make room for him to intervene in the decisions reached at the Party Leaders' Meeting and to move adjournment motions and entertain other rights of a member.

At this stage Chief Government Whip and Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that though Ajith Kumara maintains a different political view we have to guarantee his democratic rights including right to speech. The debate on budget proposals is very important and the right of a member who decided to act independently should be guaranteed.

At this moment Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga said that they included his name in the list but when DNA leader decided to remove the name of Ajith Kumara from the speakers list we have no control over it.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at this stage said that the three main parties in Opposition UNP, DNA and TNA have been given time to take part in the debate. However, Tiran Alles has created a Guinness Record by not making a single speech in the House. What's the use of a seat when a member does not speak here. We have to give an award to him for not making a speech here.

DNA MP Sunil Handunnetti said that the party had allotted time for Ajith Kumara on November 10 and it was informed to him before hand. However, he did not make that speech.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa said that he would discuss the matter at Party Leaders' Meeting and guarantee his rights.


Ajith Kumara to function independently

Democratic National Alliance Galle District Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara yesterday said that he would act independently in the Opposition of the Parliament. He made this observation raising a privilege matter in Parliament.

Parliamentarian Ajith Kumara said that he was deprived of his right to speech by not allotting time to participate in the budget 2013 debate.


Foreign direct investments increased

Foreign direct investments have increased to US$ 1,061 million in 2011 from the US$ 516 million in 2010, Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister Nimal Siripala said in Parliament yesterday.

This is mainly due to the increased investor confidence on the economic strategies and policies followed by the government. Investor confidence is a key factor in attracting investments. The minister was speaking during the fifth day of the second reading stage of the budget debate. "We have been able to win the investors' confidence", he said. He said that budget has aimed at improving both welfare and development. This policy framework seeking to achieve long-term economic development and well-being instead of being a document for everyday expenses.

In addition, the national investment rate of the GDP has increased by 35 percent. The public debt has also reduced to 78 percent due to correct economic and financial policies of the government.

The budget contains three major sectors to be developed. They are converting Sri Lanka into a poverty free upper middle income country, ensuring food, water and environmental security and creating high standard skilled research technical educational revolution.


At Adjournment

Individual grievances of the low income families who have obtained housing loans and are unable to repay due to economic hardships would be considered by the NHDA Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa said in parliament yesterday. He said such cases would be offered some relief.

He made this observation in response to an adjournment motion moved by UNP MP Buddhika Pathirana. Buddhika Pathirana (UNP): The low-income families have been granted with housing loans by the National Housing Development Authority. The payment of the loans, even after so many years, have been difficult for some low-income families. The loans obtained b y the people who can afford to repay must be obtained. However for the people who are unable to do so there must be some mechanism, to write off the loans or to provide some concussion considering their economic hardships.

UNP MP Joseph Micheal Perera seconded the motion MP Sri Ranga also spoke:

Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawainsa: There can be many angles to a single problem. This housing loans issue is also such a problem. In addition to the loans, the NHDA also provides aids. The NHDA will be under difficult economic conditions if it was deprived of the loans given. The NHDA has been established to provide housing loans and it is one of its main tasks.

However, I also agree that thee is a human angle to this problem too. We are taking account of individual grievances in repaying the loans. But the NHDA cannot write off the loans of the entire group. I request the people who are undergoing economic hardships to inform their grievances we will look in to them and will provide some relief.

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