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Tuesday February 7th, 2023

Sri Lanka’s parliament will have to be dissolved after local govt polls: G L Peiris

Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s upcoming local government polls will definitely be held on March 09 despite alleged government machinations to delay it and parliament, too, will have to be dissolved to reflect the new mandate, MP G L Peiris said.

Prof Peiris, a legal scholar, claimed without citing any polling data that the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) commands only about 15 percent of popular support at present and therefore a defeat at the upcoming local government election is all but guaranteed.

“This is a government that the people are sick of, a government whose popularity has disappeared. The government knows this well,” he said.

The MP, who was a prominent member of the SLPP government under former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and has since the latter’s forced resignation joined an alliance of splinter groups of the once-invincible Pohottuwa (Lotus Bud) behemoth, said the present parliament should not continue after March 09’s election result.

“That parliament will be a distorted (vikurthi) one. It won’t be a parliament that represents the people’s will even at a minimal level,” said Peiris.

Analysts say this argument is on the assumption that local government polls serve as a referendum. Historically, Sri Lanka’s political establishment has indeed treated local elections as an expensive opinion poll, or a litmus test for the popularity or lack thereof of parties in power or in the opposition.

The opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramunat openly called on voters to consider the March 09 poll a referendum.


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

Prof Peiris said there will be nationwide demand for parliament to be dissolved once the local government election results are announced – something the president is empowered to do from March.

The government is keenly aware that the public will demand a dissolution of parliament and that is why it keeps resorting to various tactics to delay the local polls, week after week, , the academic-turned-politician claimed.

“All of those attempts will be thwarted. This election will definitely be held on March 09. The election commission has the power and the obligation to do it,” he said.

“There is nothing the government can do. There is no doubt about that whatsoever,” he added.

Peiris also dismissed claims that the government lacks the funds for the local government election, which is estimated to cost 10 billion rupees. He called on Finance Ministry Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena to read the constitution.

Siriwardena has reportedly filed an affidavit in connection with a petition filed by a retired military officer to the effect that the Treasury is struggling to find funds for the election.

According to the constitution, said Peiris, the timely conduct of elections is a fundamental precept of the sovereignty of the people.

“It is a fundamental right of the people.”

Sri Lanka’s national election commission has announced that the local government polls will be held as scheduled on March 09 for 340 municipal councils, urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas, though accepting nominations for the Kalmunai Municipal Council has been suspended following an interim injunction issued by the Supreme Court.

However, it is still uncertain whether the local government election will be held in March.

The United National Party (UNP), led by President Wickremesinghe, maintains that now is not the time.

Citing Sri Lanka’s ongoing recovery process, party spokesmen have repeatedly set that debt restructuring and economic reforms should take precedence over elections which they point out can be disruptive to the recovery process.


Sri Lanka local govt polls: president’s party adamant time is not right for elections

Both the UNP and sections of the SLPP, which have teamed up to contest some of the local bodies, continue to insist that the elections should be postponed, despite both parties submitting nominations and placing deposits for the polls.

President Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, is reportedly keen on holding a presidential election to seek a fresh mandate for his presidency once Sri Lanka has secured a widely anticipated International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout. (Colombo/Jan23/2023)

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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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