ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has accused the government of shrinking the economy through its proposal to increase value added tax (VAT) to 18 percent, claiming that it will reduce spending and investments.
Speaking at an event on Friday November 03, Premadasa said Sri Lanka is experiencing a shortage in both dollars and rupees.
“This is a problem. But it can be resolved through economic growth, not through economic shrinkage,” he said.
“This government is shrinking the economy. By increasing VAT, they’re trying to pickpocket the pittance in your hand,” claimed Premadasa.
The increase in VAT, he said, will result in a reduction in spending and investments as people will have less money to spend.
“A country cannot succeed by shrinking the economy. The economy must be grown,” he reiterated, claiming that a future government headed by the main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) will bring about an “era of productivity and exports”.
Earlier in the week, during a discussion with university lecturers on Wednesday November 01, Premadasa claimed that the proposal to increase VAT by 18 percent in 2024 was a distortion of Sri Lanka’s tax formula.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, defended the proposed VAT hike, amid confusion over how Sri Lanka plans to finance a proposed salary increase for state sector workers in the face of an ambitious 2.3-percent primary surplus target.
Speaking at the National Industry Excellence Awards 2023 on Wednesday, Wickremesinghe acknowledged that the decision to increase VAT was a challenging one, driven by the “need to maintain economic stability”.
The public, particularly the working and underprivileged classes, will have to bear the burden of this “regressive” tax hike, he said.
The salary hike for state sector workers is to be proposed in the upcoming budget for 2024, with President Wickremesinghe also promising to request the private sector to increase salaries of employees following an unprecedented rise in commodity prices due to inflation triggered by 2022’s currency crisis.
There is also an ongoing campaign of agitation by state sector unions demanding a 20,000-rupee salary increase. Government spokespersons have not provided specifics on the salary increased that will be proposed in the budget.
Sri Lanka’s deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) includes an agreement to achieve a primary surplus of 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.
It is against this backdrop that President Wickremesinghe’s administration has increased personal income tax and now also plans to hike VAT by a significant margin, despite protests from unions and increased levels of migration. (Colombo/Nov03/2023)