On Tuesday, November 17, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as Minister of Finance presented to Parliament the Government’s Budget proposals for 2021 mainly targeting people-centric development, economic development and welfare of the people. The proposals included solid measures to ensure fiscal consolidation to reduce the deficit, simplified tax policy and relief and give a firm push to revive the economy.
The Premier arrived at the Parliament complex to present his 11th Budget amidst the cheers of the Government Parliamentary group. The Budget speech commenced at 1.45 p.m. and the Prime Minister took almost two-and-a-half hours to present Budget proposals.
Budget 2021 presented by the Prime Minister is considered to be the 75th Budget in the country’s history. The record for presenting the highest number of Budgets in Parliament’s history is held by former Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel who presented 12.
Premier Rajapaksa has presented the second highest number of budgets while former President and Finance Minister J.R. Jayewardene has presented the third highest number, nine.
The Prime Minister said, “This is a development Budget presented to elevate an economy that has been shattered. It covers all sectors under a macroeconomic vision aimed at fulfilling the “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” program.
This is a budget that will open numerous special investment opportunities to our business community for production of local goods and services under the competitive setting of the global economy. Producers of all scales should strive during the next three years to allow the local economy to competitively enter the global economy. The public sector should provide support in this regard.”
SJB parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva expressing views on Budget 2021 said the Government’s Budget proposals are unrealistic. “The numbers-gimmick they have played in the Budget is very misleading. Dr. Silva said this proposal does not increase the credibility of the country’s economic plan and it actually diminishes it. The Government presented a weak and uninspiring Budget with totally unrealistic revenue figures.
“It also seems as if the Budget was prepared from a parallel universe as there is absolutely no plan to overcome the biggest challenge facing the nation right now; the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that it has not provided a solid plan to save the country from its major debt crisis and added this is a Budget that is disheartening in every possible aspect. Dissanayake said, “Our country is presently facing a major economic crisis. This Budget does not provide solutions for this crisis.”
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa while stressing that a new strain of rapidly transmitting Covid-19 virus is the cause for the present surge, said this situation can be effectively contained in the future.
A proud nation
Addressing the Nation on Wednesday, November 18, the first anniversary of his ascension to the Presidency, President Rajapaksa said the Government has made all efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country based on a viable plan and has succeeded. President Rajapaksa said that his Government succeeded in ending an era of betraying war heroes, selling national assets and willingness to accept any deal for short-term gains which allowed foreign forces to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.
He said, “We have again shown the world our position as a proud, sovereign country, ready to maintain friendly relations with all nations, non-aligned and non-partisan in conflicts between powerful nations. This is the reason today why we receive due respect from regional powers as well as global powers.”
President Rajapaksa said, “In a very short period we have been able to bring about many attitudinal changes in the traditional political culture. We initiated this trend with the Presidential Election.
“We introduced to the country an exemplary election campaign based on principles and free from plastic, polythene and posters, free from insults and slander. The subsequent Parliamentary Election too can be termed as one of the most exemplary election campaigns in recent history.
“I was elected in November last year. The Parliamentary Election was held nine months later in August this year. People gave us a two-thirds majority because they approved the way we functioned during this period. The best yardstick of my success or failure is public opinion and not the organised propaganda spread by political opponents on social media platforms.
“I do not want to please anyone only for the purpose of securing votes. As I have pledged, my determination is to build a prosperous nation. I will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary according to my conscience to achieve this target.”
Parliament gallery closed
The Parliament gallery was closed to the public and media on Tuesday, November 17 when Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa presented the Government’s Budget proposals for 2021, and will remain closed during the 21 days of the Budget debate. The public gallery and the press gallery have been closed due to the coronavirus guidelines. It was evident that only the diplomatic community was present when the Premier was presenting the Budget proposals.
Other than that the public gallery and press gallery were quite empty. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in Parliament to witness the ongoing debate of the Second Reading of the 2021 Budget on Thursday, November 19. This was the first occasion President Rajapaksa visited Parliament after the ceremonial inauguration of the first Session of the Ninth Parliament.
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in a letter addressed to SJB National List MP Diana Gamage stated the SJB has decided to suspend her party membership. In a letter it is stated that she had failed to comply with the unanimous decision taken by the SJB to vote against the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Highlighting that this is a serious violation of party discipline, the Opposition Leader stated that he decided to suspend her party membership to protect the reputation of the party. Eight SJB MPs including Diana Gamage voted for the 20 th Amendment.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa turned 75 on Wednesday, November 18. He assumed office as the Prime Minister, exactly two months after passing the significant milestone of completing 50 years in Parliament.
The people of Kurunegala gave him a massive endorsement with 527,364 preferential votes at the last General Election which no other candidate has ever received. Having first entered the August Assembly on June 7, 1970, following the General Elections of May 27, 1970, Premier Rajapaksa is among a handful of politicians who have completed the milestone of 50 years in politics in Sri Lanka. A special Bodhi pooja ceremony was held at the parliamentary complex on Wednesday (November 18) to invoke blessings on the Prime Minister.
Speaking during the debate of the Second Reading of the Budget, SJB parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said the Government has not made any allocations in the Budget for the vaccine for Covid-19 which is due to be released shortly by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
He said the United States has already made arrangements to use the vaccine in the USA as and when it is available.
“The USA has appointed a team headed by an Army General to prepare for the situation to administer the vaccine. They have even assigned helicopters and institutions to distribute the vaccine. The USA has allocated US$ 26 billion for the process. We also need to allocate at least US Dollars one billion for the process. However, we have allocated only Rs.16 billion in the budget for combating the Corona epidemic. It means that we have totally ignored this issue,” Fonseka said.
He said the Government is attempting to hoodwink the people by showing inaccurate statistics in the Budget.
National List slot
Former UNP Parliamentarian Palith Range Bandara told the media that a member of the UNP who has thorough knowledge on parliamentary traditions, Standing Orders and affairs of the country and the world will be nominated to fill the UNP National List slot in January, next year.
Speaking at a recent press conference, Range Bandara said the UNP will begin strengthening the party at grassroots level. He said his Government allocated Rs.187 billion for the health sector in 2019 and the present Government has reduced the allocation to Rs.159 billion in the face of a raging pandemic. The allocation made to the health sector has been deducted by Rs.28 billion.
However, he said that the allocation for road development activities has been increased from Rs.176 billion in 2019 to Rs. 330 billion for the next financial year. The UNP senior said the allocation for the road sector through the budgetary proposals implies the intention of the Government. “They don’t want to ensure the health security of the people but their objective is to get commissions,” he said.
Tree planting program
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday, November 20 launched the Husma Dena Thuru National Tree Planting program to plant two million saplings. The new afforestation project planned by the Ministry of Environment expects to plant two million saplings across the country and increase the country’s forest-cover by 30 percent as set out in the President’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour National Policy Framework.
President Rajapaksa planted a white sandalwood sapling near the entrance to the Defense Headquarters in front of the Central Environmental Authority at Battaramulla as the first sapling.
Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Chief of Army Staff and Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva also joined the program. The President symbolically gave a stock of saplings to a representative group of school students whose schools are at the forefront of the green environment project.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told the Parliament on Friday, November 20 that the Government should make preparations to distribute the vaccine to cure Covid-19 free when available, to the public.
Premadasa said that the Government should discuss with foreign countries that are experimenting on a vaccine to cure Covid-19 virus so that when the time comes, it can import it.
He said, “We must first examine the extent to which these Government policies are in line with the promises made in the Presidential and General Elections.
When you look at the Budget, there is not a single positive feature reflected in the Policy Statement. Therefore, this Budget and the Policy Statement have become nonsense before the People’s Court.”
Premadasa said a situation has been created where the people cannot breathe due to the oppressive situation in the country. The Covid-19 infected patients do not have the ventilator beds they need today.
“We ask the Government where the strategic tools to curb Covid-19 pandemic are. What is the solution to the shortage of ventilators? What is the solution to the shortage of beds in the Intensive Care Units? What is the solution to the shortage of PCR machines?”
Second wave under control
Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa told Parliament that the Government will take all measures to import a World Health Organisation (WHO) approved vaccine against the new Covid-19 Coronavirus when it is made available.
Minister Rajapaksa said this in reply to concerns raised by the Opposition, including Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa as to why the Government is not taking steps to import a vaccine which has proven to be 95 percent successful in curing the new Coronavirus.
Joining the Budget debate 2021, Minister Rajapaksa said, “When the whole world could not control this Covid-19 virus, we managed to control the pandemic with our medical divisions, public servants, the three Armed Forces and the Police very successfully.
According to the decisions taken by the Government led by the President and the Prime Minister, we are successfully controlling the second wave of the pandemic as well.
“There were concerns raised as to a possible vaccination to cure this virus has not been ordered yet. The WHO has not yet approved this vaccine.
No country has tested this either. So we do not want our people to be guinea pigs for a vaccine that has not yet been approved by the WHO.
When the WHO gives the approval, we shall get the vaccine for our people.”