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Govt. Has Gone Back On Their Promises – Pubudu Jagoda

By Camelia Nathaniel

The Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Propaganda Secretary Pubudu Jagoda says that the current good governance regime made a lot of promises to the people during the election campaign but has failed to honour their pledges so far. Speaking to The Sunday Leader he said that this government is using a system that benefits only the rich, where the poor are being burdened further. He criticised the government’s tax policies and said that they have gone back on their promises to the people and have imposed further taxes that will have a huge impact on the lower and middle class. He also charged that the current good governance regime is not at all genuine in their promises to the people and claimed that they are only interested in solidifying their political stand and they have no clear cut policies that will benefit the country and its people.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

 

Q: How do you see the conversion of parliament into a constitutional assembly?

A:  the main issue was on how to structure the administrative framework preserving the democratic rights of the people. The issue of commissions mainly comes up due to allegations that political interference is prevalent in such appointments.

Taking the 1947 Soulbury Constitution, all these commissions were included. Be it the police, judiciary or any other state institution, it was then under the relevant officials. Then there was a huge uproar that the people were under pressure from these officials. For example the police had come under severe criticism that they were abusing their powers and violating the rights of the people. Back then even the government agents abused their power and belittled the general public.

During 1935 when the LSSP included a clause in their manifesto that they would free the people from the Niladhariwadaya. It was a big issue at the time. Then with the intention of resolving the issue of Niladhariwadaya, with the 1972 Constitution what they did was to pave the way for politicians and high ranking officials to interfere with the police and other state institutions like the judiciary, etc.  what they intended was to allow the public representatives such as the elected politicians (people’s representatives) to be able to intervene when the people were being treated unjustly by these high ranking officials of state establishments.

Similarly, after another 30 years or so, they felt this system too was not good enough and that the politicians interfering in state institutions were hampering their independent functioning and the police and these institutions were being politicised. So now once again we are trying to revert back to the original state of Niladhariwadaya. The constitutional assembly and the independent commissions were significantly included in the Soulbury Constitution.

However, what we believe is that it is difficult to protect the rights of the people through both these systems. If the people’s rights are to be protected, we feel that citizens committees should be set up. Currently we don’t think that those in the constitutional assembly are working with the people’s best interest at heart, but for political agendas.

 

Q: There was a great deal of criticism of the Rajapaksa regime and the size of the cabinet. Don’t you think this government is doing the same?

A:  There should be some clear policy or rationale when dividing ministerial portfolios to individuals. However, now the manner in which or the logic behind appointing certain ministries is unclear to those who appointed them, and even those appointed don’t understand the rationale behind their appointments.

I feel that most of these ministerial portfolios are being simply handed out to individuals in a bid to protect and solidify the position of the leader. Those who have been their loyalists get the main ministries and they keep dishing out ministerial positions to others in order to win their support.

Even much larger countries than Sri Lanka have much smaller cabinets, and I feel the main reason for such a mammoth cabinet for our country comes from the fact that these are given out as tokens of appreciation for their loyalty to the leadership of the government.

We initially felt that the mammoth cabinet was a trait of the former president Rajapaksa. However it is evident that this is not limited to the Rajapaksa’s but it is a common trait of the Dakshinansha deshapalanaya. Hence we feel that if a huge pressure is not put on these parties by the people, this situation will only get worse, much to the detriment of the country.

 

Q: Recently the President promised that he will not allow the taxes imposed to be a burden on the people. He said that if that is done he will personally intervene. However, don’t you see a lot of these promises being made by the government have failed to uphold?

A:  The President claimed that the taxes were being increased due to the wrong and misleading advice of certain financial experts. But this is wrong. Almost every government that ruled this country followed the same policies when it came to taxations. Hence the President cannot wash his hands off the blame by saying that he was not aware and it was the advisors that had given the wrong advice that led to the tax increases. These are cabinet decisions and the head is the President. Hence he is the one who is first made aware of these tax reforms before anyone else and he cannot hoodwink the people by claiming to know about it by reading about it in the newspapers.

The announcement was made in parliament by the Prime Minister on March 8 that the government was to increase the VAT to 15%. So they all knew that the VAT was to be increased. Now the President pretending not to know about the increase is nothing more than a political drama.

Currently the direct taxes in Sri Lanka are around 22% and the indirect taxes which is 78% is what is being imposed on goods and services which invariably falls on the people. In other words the rich pay only 22% of the taxes while the poor people pay the bulk.

During the elections this government promised to reduce the indirect taxes to 60% while the rich were to be taxed 40%. However what has happened now through these tax reforms is that this gap has widened even further in favour of the rich. On the 8th of March, what the Prime Minister promised was that both segments would have to pay taxes and not just the average people only. They said that the capital tax would be brought in to tax the rich. But now what has happened is that they have cancelled the capital tax claiming that there was criticism against the imposition of that tax. On the contrary they have increased the VAT to 15%.

The VAT on certain goods were at 8% and some were at 11%, but now all that has been increased to 15%. This spells further agony for the ordinary people as the prices of goods is bound to increase. Now they plan to impose taxes on health, education, wholesale and retail businesses. As a result, from a child’s tuition fees to general purchasing the prices will increase. It’s very wrong for the government to have increased the taxes on the wholesale and retail goods as this will directly impact the consumer.

Further, they have also brought down the tax margin, where those who made profits of over Rs. 25 million per quarter has now been reduced to Rs. 3 million, where even a man making Rs. 1 million profit a month is taxed. This includes even the smallest business, which is very unfair.

 

Q: Sri Lanka has to submit a report to the UNHRC in June. Do you think we have made any progress where Human Rights are concerned?

A: No, in fact we have not made any progress on the Human Rights front. This government too has not taken any measures to remove the suppressive laws. They promised to remove the PTA, but still it is very much in operation. Then some of the suppressive laws have further been strengthened, instead of being abolished as they promised. For example, during the Rajapaksa regime they increased the period that a person can be held in police custody without a court order from 24 hours to 48 hours. However, even after this rule expired in February last year, this government extended this provision for a further two years till 2017.

Then the issue of political prisoners is still unresolved and the PM and the President are of the stand that there are no political prisoners. However, the biggest election slogan was the issue of the political prisoners. Then on the disappeared and killed persons, nothing has been done so far or no credible investigation has been done.

They have also followed the same principle of using force to silence or deter protestors and have their way, although they criticised the previous regime for the use of such force.

Now they are going to amend 17 Labour Acts and this is going to impact heavily on the working class. This government talks a lot but what has been done is very negligible.

 

Q: The government keeps calling back those who had to flee the country during the past. However there are allegations that the government is not sincere in their invitation. What is your take on this?

A: When the new government took over on the 8th of January last year and during the first press briefing that was convened, the spokesman at the time Dr. Rajitha Senaratne made an open call to all those who had fled the country over political reasons to return to the country and that it was now safe for them to return and assured them of their freedom.Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera went to Switzerland. He too invited those who had fled the country to return. Similarly President Maithripala Sirisena during his visit to Germany about a month ago, addressing a press conference in Germany, also made the same statement and told those who had fled the country to return without any fear of persecution.

However, although they have made these calls for those people to return, it seems that this call is only for those who are on their same side or political stand. The others are in fact persecuted when they do arrive believing this government. The same thing happened to Kumar Gunaratnam.Now what the government is saying is that these people are arrested for breaking the immigration laws. However, all those who fled the country during the time they were facing threats, had to break immigration laws as they were fleeing the country to protect their lives. However, although the government is assuring them of their safety and inviting them to come back, they are then arrested upon their arrival on charges of violating the immigration laws.Hence I don’t think this government is genuine in their invitation and this only applies to their people and not the others.

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