By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Our Lobby Correspondent
The government these days wages a losing
battle in parliament in trying to convince
the legislature and the people that the 2009
budget is indeed one aimed at resuscitating
local industries and shunning the begging
bowl. Unconvinced remain the opposition
parties that accuse the government of not
offering relief even where it is possible
while slamming new taxes on the unsuspecting
Throwing a spanner in the works, the
opposition has raised the issue as to why
parliament should debate an Appropriation
Bill the Supreme Court has declared
unconstitutional and required amendment in
order to be duly passed.
"Why do we debate something that is quite
unconstitutional in its present form? We
have not heard the government response,"
prodded UNP legislator Ravi Karunanayake on
Thursday morning, irritating Leader of the
House Nimal Siripala de Silva to waspishly
respond that the draft amendments have been
submitted and would reach the opposition on
November 17, only if they could discipline
themselves to wait as required by
Adhering to ruling
"What's the indecent hurry?" demanded de
Silva claiming that the government was
adhering to the court ruling. But the
government did not carry the day as the
second reading of the budget debate wove on
with the cost of living issue casting a huge
shadow and opposition legislators ridiculing
the government for failing to give relief.
It was UNP frontliner Lakshman Kiriella who
first contested the fact that though the
UPFA claimed granting a VAT reduction of 3%,
in fact through other taxation, the
government was imposing more taxes than
"What is worse, this budget has the same
disastrous flavour of the United Front
government of 1970, that snuffed the life
out of people," noted he.
Aiding this argument on Friday was UNP's
Sagala Ratnayaka who argued that there was a
great deception in progress from the
fertiliser subsidy to fuel price reductions.
"For example, despite a policy of Mathata
Thitha, the number of wine stores in the
sacred city of Anuradhapura alone has
increased from 42 to 46 last year while
holiday homes with foreign liquor permits
increased from 29 to 31. "If that's what
is like, I hate to imagine what others would
He added, there were massive deceptions and
instead of relief, were pick pocketing
people. "The common tax, VAT, is now reduced
but by hammering various others taxes such
as PAL and Nation Building, the government
will make more. In fact, there is a Rs.30
billion increase in revenue through basic
tax increases," he explained.
Sniping openly, he said a war hero who
entered mainstream politics to serve the
nation was allowed to die through sheer
denial of security and despite repeated
requests and a court order, while the
government bent backwards to secure the life
of a former terrorist turned legislator with
a massive security contingent and the road
from Kollupitiya to parliament being closed
daily to facilitate him.
But Sacred Area Development Minister Dinesh
Gunawardena was livid that the government's
efforts to reduce the people's burdens were
belittled by the opposition. He accused the
opposition of derailing the economy and
making it donor dependent and unable to fend
for itself. "This budget looks at a national
economy, one that is proud and self
reliant," he breathed, only to receive
derisive laughter from the JVP rankers.
Speaking during the early stages of the
debate was SLFP defector Mangala Samaraweera
who took on the government for record
breaking bombing of the Wanni, another
aspect that so burdened the country's
Speaking on Monday, Samaraweera derided that
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse has
gone on record stating that 14.4 million
kilogrammes of explosives have been dropped
in the Wanni.
"The Defence Secretary has made a fantastic
story. As for the LTTE's air capabilities,
the Defence Secretary has claimed "they have
come six times, we have bombed them 6,000
times," evoking scoffs and laughter.
The pioneer of White Lotus and Brick And
Book programmes, Samaraweera charged that
the government was "responding to terrorism
with terrorism" and openly scoffed that if
Rajapakse's fantastic claims were true,
"government forces have made more air
strikes than in Vietnam." Importantly, he
noted that for the first time in
contemporary political history, racism has
become government policy and took broad
swipes at Rajapakse.
"This is every Sri Lankan's homeland. There
are no outsiders. When we label people like
that, we can only quarrel and kill," he
Further, he said that following the launch
of Defence Watch, his life has come under
serious threat but pledged to continue his
work to restore democracy.
Showing statistical discrepancies, he said
while the Prime Minister said 155 soldiers
were killed and 983 seriously wounded in
August, Gotabaya Rajapakse's defence.lk
claimed only 15 killings and 308 injured.
Pleading for rational thinking, Samaraweera
warned that when scores are killed in the
north, there was no reason to be happy about
it. "Why should we be pleased with
statistical wars? We are not fighting
another country but within our own. These
are all Sri Lankans."
As for the Rajapakses, Samaraweera alleged
that they have given up their Sri Lankan
citizenship to live in the US, but have now
returned, "to set up a police state in
Declaring war on Samaraweera instantaneously
was Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa
who hailed Army Commander Sarath Fonseka as
one of Asia's top 'warlords.'
Yapa urged MPs not to criticise the
President and those involved in prosecuting
the war against terrorism in the north
claiming it was their effort that was making
the war a winnable one.
"President Rajapakse gives the leadership,
Gotabaya Rajapakse does the coordination,
and Sarath Fonseka, one of the best warlords
in Asia is prosecuting it," noted Yapa.
Emphasising that the government will "never
let an Eelam happen" he recalled how the
incumbent administration had "tried
negotiating with the LTTE" several times.
"Well over 200 soldiers were killed during
the ceasefire. The last three to four years
bear testimony to the fact that our army can
prosecute war without harassing civilians,"
noted he. Not the closest ally of the
government these days, the JVP, nevertheless
sought to fall in line with the government
on the prosecution of the war when
frontliner K.D. Lalkantha spoke.
A man who has fuelled recent speculation
over a crossover, Lalkantha alleged that the
UNP, LTTE, and TNA formed a 'single group,'
claiming that Mangala Samaraweera was also a
member of the same group. The Anuradhapura
MP accused Mangala Samaraweera of wanting to
stop the military activities and create
problems amongst the leadership and the
"Tamil Nadu, the UNP and Samaraweera are all
shouting against military activities," he
said, sniffing the typical conspiracy the
JVP often speaks of.
"The TNA, the UNP and the LTTE are all in
one group, and Samaraweera is also in it."
Moving to his favourite topic - the cost of
living, he alleged the government's
introduction of taxes on the import of
essential items in the 2009 budget proposals
will heap additional burdens on the people.
"This is absurd. While the government was
introducing a tax on sugar imports, it is
selling sugar machines in Kantale for scrap
metal," he sniped.
"When you impose taxes on essential foods,
these essential items get more expensive and
people have to reduce consumption in order
to cope," he claimed. Lalkantha also accused
the government of continually forcing people
to endure greater hardship, whilst the state
has not taken any measures to cut down on
"Instead of wasting Rs.6 billion on the
failed state budget airline Mihin Lanka, the
government should invest that money in the
existing national carrier, SriLankan
Airlines. This government doesn't know its
priorities," he charged.
Doing an about turn and making a brief
departure from the JHU's regular stance of
beating the war drums, Environment Minister
Champika Ranawaka conceded that the country
could not resolve problems through violence
and strongly advocated a dialogue process to
overcome the present difficulties.
Strangely enough, he said his Buddhist
credentials are not "by birth certificate"
but was based on "principles of equality."
"Buddhist philosophy says others' opinions
should be respected and allowed," Ranawaka
"We have seen religious and racist ideas
flowering to be terrorist organisations,"
Ranawaka observed. "We cannot resolve
problems through violence. We have to seek a
Nevertheless, he quickly fell in line with
Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and the arch
defenders of the Rajapakse administration
claiming it was useless to "try to win
battles in parliament" and noted that they
were "directly or indirectly supportive of
Sticking to the regular government rhetoric,
Ranawaka said: "If you do not join us, you
will be remembered in history as betrayers."
"The government is trying to rescue helpless
Tamil people from the clutches of the LTTE,
so we must pass this budget to defeat
terrorism," called he.
Contesting this position on Friday, TNA
Parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan
said there was no question of innocent
Tamils being 'liberated' from the LTTE.
It a historical struggle that was first
peaceful, promoted through sathyagrahas and
debates, only to be crushed through state
violence. It was decades later that the
political struggle assumed the role of a
liberation struggle to which the LTTE
provides leadership through reactionary and
"The Sri Lankan state is committing genocide
by the extermination of Tamil people and the
destruction of the Tamil habitation. The
President promotes a military solution to a
political question, and if anyone wishes to
learn from the past, then it should be
understood that the LTTE is not purely a
terrorist organisation and there exists
justifiable reasons for its emergence."
Sampanthan added that the Sri Lankan state
had strived to break the will of the Tamil
people by unleashing violence only to be
countered by a resilient people, unwilling
to compromise on their political ideals.
The senior politician noted that often
times, the Sri Lankan state was the
offender. There had been no political answer
brought into the equation. "That is so
absent because the Sri Lankan state does not
want to compromise on the Sinhala
supremacy," he noted. He added that the real
reason for the government's military agenda
was not to annihilate the LTTE, as claimed.
"The real objective is to crush the will of
the Tamil people, to subjugate them and
subdue the community. That will never
happen," he breathed.
And so the second reading of the budget,
contested for its validity and its obvious
attempt to slap severe taxes on the already
burden public ended on Saturday, with the
government calling it a people friendly
national budget and the opposition calling
it a burdensome one.