The Sunday Leader

Policies Of Unity Government In Line With Slfp Policies – W.D.J. Seneviratne

By Camelia Nathaniel

Although they are with the unity government, in instances where decisions are made contradictory to the welfare of the people and the country, the SLFP will stand up for the people assured the Minister of Labour and Trade Union Relations W.D.J. Seneviratne. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that most of the policies of the unity government are in line with the policies of the SLFP. Explaining the need to attract foreign investment the minister said that although the tax on purchasing land by foreign nationals is lifted, it does not mean that any foreigner can come and buy lands locally for personal use exempted from taxes. He said that it will only apply to foreign investors who are willing to invest in the country on business ventures.

Following are excerpts of the interview;

Q: What is your stance on the maiden budget of the good governance regime?

A. This budget contains many good proposals in order to uplift the economy of the country. However there are many negative factors as well. But the fact is that no matter which government comes into power I don’t think they can come up with a perfect budget that will contain only positive measures. In 1990 the tax income was 19% of the GDP. Now this has come down to 2.2%, which means that the income from taxing people has been reduced. When the income from taxations reduces, there will definitely be a shortfall in funds for development, education, health and other areas. Therefore certain decisions will definitely have to be taken in order to strengthen the country’s financial status. Hence through taxation in this budget the government expects to collect at least 15% of the GDP. Hence certain measures had to be taken in order to achieve this objective.

This budget also contains many positive proposals to attract foreign investors, as we need foreign investment in order to salvage the country’s economy.

We joined this unity government in order to assist with the development of the country. Now the infrastructure facilities that is required for the development of the country is being done in a very comprehensive manner. During the last decade there have been many development projects to develop roads, bridges and many other facilities.

Now what is required is to utilise these developments and attract greater investments to the country in order to enhance the economy. The reason we need foreign investors is that local investors alone are not enough. However the reason that the foreign investors did not come to our country to invest in the past was due to the stringent rules and regulations that were imposed on them.

Now this government has lifted the tax that was in operation for foreigners to own lands here, in order to make it easier for them to establish businesses without having to pay huge amounts in taxes. Therefore we hope that this will encourage the foreign investors to come here and invest. However there are certain regulations that must be established through special gazette notifications in order to protect the local interests etc. We need to adjust according to the global trends in order to accommodate these business ventures here.

In order to boost the small and medium scale businesses the budget has also facilitated a loan scheme of up to Rs. 500 million for them to develop their businesses. Instead of borrowing from banks at high interest rates these small and medium scale businesses can obtain funds for their development.

Further the government has also proposed a concessionary loan scheme with the assistance of the Asian development bank for the benefit of the small and medium scale businesses. Even the businesses that employ more than 500 have been exempt from taxes for a period of five years. For those employing more than 800, they will be exempted from taxes for eight years. The government has promoted these measures in order to encourage even the small and medium scale businesses.


Q:  Are these policies of the new government in line with the policies of the SLFP?

A:  Yes this was the policy of the SLFP as well in order to bring in foreign investors. They too came up with the 500 fortune companies’ policy in order to get them to come and invest here. But they did not come as we expected. The previous government did everything to attract foreign investors. However the 100% tax on lands does not allow foreigners to buy lands in places like Colombo fort and use these properties for personal use. Now although we have removed the tax on lands for foreigners, it is only for those who will contribute to the economy of the country and not for those who will come here just to buy lands for their personal use.

We spoke with the government as stake holders in the national government, and commended them for the positive proposals and raised our concerns regarding the proposals that were not so beneficial for the people such as the increase in the emissions testing charges to Rs. 5000. We discussed with the government to reduce it to Rs 2000.  Even the fertiliser subsidy for tea small holders that was given by the previous regime was stopped by this government. We urged them to grant this concession to the tea small holders as they were facing hardships now that the price of tea had also declined.

We also raised the issue of permits given to government servants. During the past year 40 billion was lost to the government due to these permits, but we urged the government to consider this issue. Therefore the PM agreed to grant permits every 10 years that will be beneficial to all.

Even for the education sector Rs. 4000 million has been allocated for the provision of basic facilities such as water toilet facilities etc for schools. A huge amount has also been allocated for the health sector and especially for the establishment of three cancer hospitals and also dialysis centres Island wide to assist the kidney patients. We have allocated funds for the construction of three cancer hospitals in Kandy, Matale and Welimada. There are over 300 people dying each year with kidney disease and we  building a hospital to  deal with this and establish 1000 dialysis centres around the country.


Q. The SLFP had opposed some of the proposals in the budget, did you raise these issues with the government?

A:  No this budget does not clash with our primary policies. However where there were some proposals that were not in line with our policies we spoke with the government and had these proposals amended. For example we were totally against the proposal to shift the fund under the Divinaguma department and its managed by the Samurdhi recipients through a committee. The Samurdhi recipients use this fund to grant loans to farmers for the purchase of farming equipment and paddy etc. This is very useful for the farmers. But the government proposed to put this fund under the National Savings bank. We vehemently opposed this move and asked the government to let it remain with the Divinaguma department . The government has told us that they will consider this request and we are waiting for a response from them. We also asked the government to exempt those who had ordered vehicles before the budget from the taxes that were imposed in the budget.


Q. What is the stability and the stance of the SLFP as of now and how do you plan to face the next election?

A:  Well I would not say that I am happy about the situation that the SLFP is in at this moment. If we are unable to come together as a party then it raises questions as to how we could form a government. Hence as a party we should strive to come together and cast aside personal differences for the greater good of the party and the country.


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