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Monday April 15th, 2024

Thousands of Sri Lankans protest against tax hike

ECONOMYNEXT – Thousands of Sri Lanka’s highly paid state workers protested against tax hikes, citing it as ‘unfair’ with most of them have been caught into the tax brackets for the first time.

The tax hike protest also saw hundreds of private sector workers also gathered in Colombo Fort, demanding a downward revision of the newly implemented taxes.

The protesters later went to a central Colombo Hyde Park to continue their agitation after a court order issued them to clear the area.

Under a theme of ‘Repeal Oppressive Tax Refers’, workers representing 40 trade unions including all private and public sector banks, university lecturers, Port Authority, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Government Medical Officers of Health participated in the protest.

“We don’t mind paying taxes, we know we have to contribute to government revenue,” K L Chandana, representing CEB Engineer’s Union told EconomyNext.

“Moving from one tax bracket to a higher tax bracket is unrealistic, especially with the inflation and global factors. Earlier we were in the green to pay taxes because the country wasn’t in hyperinflation and we had a better quality of life, but our income don’t match with inflation. So there’s no way we can squeeze another expense.”

The ongoing economic crisis has forced President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government to impose high PAYE and personal income taxes up to maximum 36 percent depending on their income.

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.

The government took a step back to exempt some allowances partially including for fuel, driver, and vehicle, a government document showed.

“We don’t mind paying fair taxes, we paid them earlier,” Udaya Ekanayake, an Administrative officer from Anuradhapura told Economynext.

“We are opposed to taxation because it is not in line with the economic crisis, inflation is exceeding 50 percent and we are being taxed by 32 percent.”

Meanwhile, the Government Medical Officers Association Media Spokesman, Chamil Wijesinghe said, the protest was the first warning and that if the government fails to respond, the unions will bring the country to a standstill.

“If the government still can’t understand, we are ready to take further actions and we will make the country come to a standstill,” Wijesinghe said.

A renowned actor and a new member of the Ceylon Mercantile Industrial Union Peter d’ Almeida told EconomyNext that the government should bring in higher corporate taxes and taxes on the super-rich reducing the burden on the general public.

“These people had enough of the burden which has been placed on people, with the so-called tax reforms and increased price in utilities, and the general increase in the cost of living,” Almeida told EconomyNext.

“And the sad part is people who ruined this country are still in power and it is people who have nothing to do with this facing the burden of rebuilding the country.
That is unacceptable.”

“A very high cooperate tax and taxes on super rich including wealth and capital gains should be in order.”  (Colombo/ Feb 08/2023)

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Iran President to visit Sr Lanka on April 24 anid rising tension, inaugurate Omaoya power project

ECONOMYNEXT – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will arrive in Sri Lanka on April 24 on a one-day official visit to inaugurate Tehran-assisted $529 million worth Uma Oya multipurpose development project with 120MW hydro power generation capacity, official sources said.

The announcement on President Raisi’s visit comes two days after Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a retaliatory strike that raised the threat of a wider regional conflict.

“The President is visiting to inaugurate the Omaoya project. He will be on a one-day visit,” an official at Iran embassy in Colombo told EconomyNext.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official confirmed the move.

This is the first time an Iranian President coming to Sri Lanka Iranian after then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit in April 2008.

The Omaoya project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but had been delayed several times due to unexpected issued faced during the project cycle and funding issue after the United States imposed economic sanctions on Iran and economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

The project was started in 2010 and the funding was to be received as loan grant from the Iranian government. However, Iran was able to provide $50 million before the sanctions. Sri Lanka has to bear the cost after the sanctions.

The project includes storing water in two reservoirs with dams before being brought through a 23 km tunnel to two turbines located underground and generating hydro power with a capacity of 120 megawatts and added to the national grid.

After power generation, the water is expected to be brought to three reservoirs while supplying water to 20,000 acres of old and new paddy fields in both the Yala and Maha cultivating seasons.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the construction was signed between the two countries in 2007 while Sri Lanka’s Cabinet approved the execution of the contract agreement between the Executing Agency, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management (MOIWM) of the GOSL and Iran’s FARAB Energy and Water Projects (FC).

When commencing the project on March 15, 2010, the scheduled date of completion of the project was on March 15, 2015. But the schedule completion date was extended to December 31, 2020 due to the unexpected water ingress into the head race tunnel and followed by social impacts.

The trade between the both countries suffered after the US sanctions. However, Sri Lanka inked a deal in December 2021 with Iran to set off export of tea to Iran against a legacy oil credit owed by state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation to the National Iranian Oil Company.

Sri Lanka owes $251 million for crude imported before the US imposed sanctions on Iran. (Colombo/April 15/2024)

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Sri Lanka to discuss two contentious points with bondholders: report

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and sovereign bondholders are to discuss two matters in the near future which the two sides failed to reach agreement at March talks in London, a media report quoting a top aide to President Wickremesinghe as saying.

Sri Lanka and bondholders had discussed four matters on restructuring international sovereign bonds in late March and agreement had been reached on two, President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake was quoted as saying on state-run ITN television.

A restructuring proposal by bondholders was not in line with IMF requirements, and Sri Lanka had sent a counter proposal, he said.

The matters will be discussed at round of talks in the near future.

Sri Lanka was optimistic of reaching an agreement with the bondholders before June, officials have said.

According to matters already in the public domain, sovereign bond holders are keen to get a bond tied to dollar gross domestic product, as they feel IMF growth projections are too low.

In past re-structuring so-called value recovery instruments, a type of warrant, gave their owners extra payments if a country did better than expected and were tied to items like oil prices.

Bondholders had initially proposed bond which would have a lower hair cut initially, and it will have additional hair cuts if growth is low (about 3.1 percent) as projected in an IMF debt sustainability analysis. (Colombo/Apr15/2024)

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BIMSTEC Secretary General visits Sri Lanka, discusses regional cooperation

ECONOMYNEXT – The Secretary General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), discussed measures to enhance regional cooperation, during his visit to the island last week.

Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Secretary General of BIMSTEC visited Sri Lanka from 07 – 12 April 2024, following his assumption of office as Secretary General of BIMSTEC in January this year.

The Secretary General “met with senior officials of relevant Ministries/Agencies to discuss measures to enhance regional cooperation under various BIMSTEC initiatives,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Several BIMSTEC countries have bilateral trade agreements, such as Sri Lanka and India, Thailand and Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, but no collective regional agreement to enable intra-regional leverage.

During the visit, Secretary General Pandey held discussions with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and paid courtesy calls on the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary General Pandey participated at an event on “Regional Cooperation through BIMSTEC” organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) on 9 April. (Colombo/April15/2024)

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