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Govt mishandling funds that could provide relief to people: JVP

ECONOMYNEXT – The government of Sri Lanka has acted in bad faith and failed to provide the people the relief owed to them in the COVID-19 pandemic and its debilitating economic repercussions, the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said.

Speaking to the media today, JVP former MP Sunil Handunettti said a fuel price stabilisation fund set up by the government  to raise up to Rs 200 billion within six months could’ve been utilised to provide much needed relief to the people.

According to the Central Bank’s annual report for the year 2019, the fund was set up to benefit  from the “significantly low petroleum prices in the international markets.”

This, said Handunnetti, is in sharp contrast to a promise previously made by the government to have prices of essential commodities reflect falling oil prices in the global market.

Recalling pronouncements made by government spokespeople at various points during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, Handunnetti said the government refused to reduce fuel prices in Sri Lanka and instead offered to introduce price controls to dhal (lentils) and canned fish as a relief measure to the people.

Though initially successful, the prices have now returned to their pre-COVID levels, though global oil prices continue to stagnate, said the former MP.

“We would like to ask the government under what logic the price of dhal and canned fish were raised again given that global oil prices remain low, since it was their own argument that the prices of essential items will reflect oil prices,” he said.

The money saved from falling oil prices that could’ve been of great use in these challenging times, the ex-MP said, was being channelled to this stabilisation fund, some of which, he said, is being sent to the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC).

“We urge the government to not stop providing relief to the people at this difficult time. We don’t know what they plan to do with these funds later, but right now, it belongs to the people. It can be used to provide relief to daily wage earners like barbers and threewheeler drivers and many more,” said Handunetti, adding that it’s possible the money may be used for the upcoming election too.

The former MP also requested the government to not politicise the Rs 5,000 allowance being paid to daily wage earners.

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“The government is trying to make the 5,000 look like 50,000, trying to paint it as a real challenge to the government. The narrative being shaped right now is that the government has no cash, that not even a dollar is coming in. The truth is that they’ve allowed even state ministers to use their official residences and vehicles for election campaigns,” he said.

Pointing to a communique signed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa dated March 6 and a cabinet paper subsequently approved on March 26, Handunetti said the government has effectively allowed state ministers to use their official vehicles subject to some conditions. (Conditions include paying the relevant ministry Rs 100,000).

This is in clear violation of election laws, the JVP member said, referring to a clarification made by Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Desharpiya recently that only cabinet ministers may use their residences and vehicles for election campaigns – a privilege not afforded to state ministers.

Even the Rs 100,000 paid to the ministry by a state minister, Handunetti claimed, would be out of a Rs 240,000 allowance.

“If the government decides to stop this allowance, from a single official vehicle, they can Rs 5,000 to 48 families. About 40 state ministers are doing this illegally. If their total fuel allowance is stopped, Rs 5,000 can be paid to 4,900 families,” he said.

“The government is making it sound like they’re making a huge sacrifice. That no money is coming in and their relief work cannot be done without the intervention of the president and the prime minister. No, they have not made any sacrifice. Even state ministers are using what they have no right to,” he added. (Colombo/May6/2020)

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