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Tuesday February 7th, 2023

JVP stalwart says Sri Lanka local polls a referendum, calls for protests if delayed

JVP former MP K D Lal Kantha – Image credit: facebook.com/LalKanthaKD

ECONOMYNEXT – The ability to change leaders is a fundamental right and if the government delays Sri Lanka’s upcoming local government polls, the people must take to the streets, surround the president’s house and parliament if needed, and demand that the election be held, opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) former legislator K D Lal Kantha said.

Addressing a group of indigenous medical practitioners at an event on Friday January 20, Lal Kantha said that if the people cannot change their leaders through an election, those leaders must be “beaten and kicked out” (gahala pannanna oney).

“The people of Sri Lanka have changed and as a result the leaders are also compelled to change,” he said.

By delaying elections, he said, the leaders are giving the people a different message: “Kick us out.”

The former MP said the message would be that Sri Lankans must kick them out the way they did former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to resign after a wave of popular protests.

“[Former Prime Minister] Mahinda Rajapaksa and the cabinet left. Send us away like that. We won’t hold elections. Isn’t that what they’re saying? Yes, it is,” said Lal Kantha.

“If these people delay the election, if they push back the people’s right to change leaders, all ayurvedic doctors get ready to get on the streets and kick them out,” he said to somewhat muted applause from the audience.

“What else is there to do? The election was postponed by a year, and now they’re trying to delay it again. The people have changed,” he said.

The former MP said the local government election, scheduled to be held in March, has assumed the importance of a national referendum and must be treated as one.

“We have to get the election. Take to the streets if we must. The election must be taken even by surrounding the president’s house, even by surrounding parliament. It is a fundamental right of the people. Or they must be beaten and kicked out. There is no other way,” he said.

“Better yet, they can all just resign. There’s no need to hold elections. There is no money for elections anyway. Let’s ask them to resign,” he added.

The outspoken former MP and trade union leader was in the centre of a controversy recently over a remark he had made to a group of female nurses. In that speech, Lal Kantha had said nurses ought to take care of their physical appearance and go to the gym to maintain their figures. The comment sparked much outrage, with many social media users calling it misogynistic and demanding that the party leadership condemn it.

The party has yet to officially comment on Lal Kantha’s remark and the controversy that ensued, though former JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti said at an event in Japan last week that his colleague’s statement had been taken out of context.

Meanwhile, there is still some uncertainty over the local government elections scheduled for March, though all parties including the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) have been busy making nominations and placing cash deposits for the polls.

Opposition parties including the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) and the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) continue to accuse the government of attempting to delay the election even at the last minute. The opposition insists that the SLPP is facing a humiliating defeat and that President Wickremesinghe is adamant that now is not the time for a local-level election. He is reportedly in favour of a presidential poll to be held after Sri Lanka secures a widely anticipated International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package and after the crisis-hit country makes more progress in its path to recovery. Government MPs also point to Sri Lanka’s dire economic straits as a reason to not hold elections at this juncture.

There had been a notable lull in protests in Colombo over the past few months until student unions and other groups launched a new series of protests last week demanding the release of Convenor of the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF) Wasantha Mudalige who is currently in detention.

Government spokesmen claim that these protests are politically motivated and are not a genuine expression of popular discontent. (Colombo/Jan21/2023)

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Sri Lanka Railways to seek PPPs to boost revenue streams

CURFEW RUSH: Commuters scrambling to get home after curfew was declared in Sri Lanka on March 20, 2020.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Railway department hopes to expand Public Private Partnerships and earn more non-passenger revenues to offset recurring operational costs, an official said.

“For the past 10 years, except the last few years, the Railway operational income only covers around 50 percent of the operational expense of the Department,” the General Manager of the Railway, D.S. Gunasinghe told EconomyNext.

“Our plan is to increase the non-passenger revenue of the Railway department.

“And we cannot expect and do not hope for money from the government.”

Sri Lanka Railways already has agreements with Prima, a food firm, and Insee Cement, which is bringing in additional income, Gunasinghe said.

“We had agreements for material transportation such as sand in the past, however it was canceled but we hope to start it again” he said.

The department will rent out its storage facilities and circuit bungalows for the tourism sector to create additional revenue streams.

Sri Lanka Railways recorded an operating loss of 10.3 billion rupees during 2021, compared to a loss of 10.1 billion rupees in 2020, the Central Bank 2021 annual report showed.

The total revenue of the SLR stood at 2.7 billion rupees, a 41.3 percent drop from a year ago.

(Colombo/ Feb 06/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s doctors distribute anti-tax hike leaflets to train commuters

ECONOMYNEXT – Doctors representing Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) distributed leaflets outside the Colombo Fort railway station against a progressive tax hike, threatening to address the government in a “language it speaks”.

GMOA Secretary Haritha Aluthge told reporters outside the busy Fort railway station Monday February 06 afternoon that all professional associations have collectively agreed to oppose the personal income tax hike.

“The government is taking a lethargic approach. They cannot keep doing this. They have a responsibility towards the citizens, the country and society,” said Aluthge.

The medical officer claimed that the government was acting arbitrarily (අත්තනෝමතික).

“If it cannot understand the language they’ve been speaking, if the government’s plan is to put all professionals out on the street, if it doesn’t present a solution, all professional unions have decided unanimously to address the government in a language it speaks, ,” he said.

Aluthge and other GMOA members were seen distributing leaflets to commuters leaving the railway station. Doctors in Sri Lanka in general are likely to earn higher salaries than the average train commuter, and a vast majority of Sri Lanka’s population, most of whom take public transport, don’t fall into the government’s new tax bracket. Many doctors, though certainly not all, collect substantial sums of money at the end of every month as doctor’s fees in private consultations.

About two miles away from the doctors, the Ceylon Blank Employees’ Union, too, engaged in a similar distribution leaflet campaign on Monday at the Maradana railway station. A spokesman promised “tough trade union” action if there was no solution offered by next week.

Sri Lanka’s cash-strapped government has imposed a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax on all Sri Lankans who earn an income above 100,000 rupees monthly, with the tax rate progressively increasing for higher earners, from 6 percent to 36 percent.

A person who paid a tax of 9,000 rupees on a 400,000 rupee monthly income will now have to pay 70,500 rupees as income tax, the latest data showed. This has triggered a growing wave of anti-government protests mostly organised by public sector trade unions and professional associations.

Even employees of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank recently joined a week-long “black protest” campaign organised by state sector unions against the sharp hike in personal income tax, even as Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said painful measures were needed for the country to recover from its worst currency crisis in decades.

The government, however, defends the tax hike arguing that it is starved for cash as Sri Lanka, still far from a complete recovery, is struggling to make even the most basic payments, to say nothing of the billions needed for public sector salaries.

Economists say Sri Lanka’s bloated public service is a burden for taxpayers in the best of times, and under the present circumstances, it is getting harder and harder to pay salaries and benefits.

Sri Lanka’s new tax regime has both its defenders and detractors. Critics who are opposed to progressive taxation say it serves as a disincentive to industry and capital which can otherwise be invested in growth and employment-generating business ventures. Instead, they call for a flat rate of taxation where everyone is taxed at the same rate, irrespective of income.

Others, however, contend that the new taxes only affect some 10-12 percent of the population and, given the country’s economic situation, is necessary, if not vital, at least for a year or two.

Critics of the protesting workers argue that most of the workers earn high salaries that most ordinary people can only dream of, and, they argue, though there may be some cases where breadwinners could be taxed more equitably, overall, Sri Lanka’s tax rates remain low and are not unfair.  (Colombo/Feb06/2023)

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Sri Lanka bond Yields end steady

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s bond yields closed steady on Monday, dealers said while a guidance peg for interbank transactions remained unchanged.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2025 closed at 32.15/30 percent, steady from Friday’s 32.05/10 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2027 closed at 28.90/29.10, steady from Friday’s 28.90/20.05 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank US dollar transactions appreciated by one cent to 361.96 rupees against the US dollar.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers at 370.35 rupees on Monday, data showed. (Colombo/Feb 06/2023)

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