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GL: ‘Aswesuma’ flawed, fresh scheme needed

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frowns on privileged status to wealthy investors, bid to restore dissolved LG bodies

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top Opposition Spokesman Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (02) demanded that the government cancel, what he called, the deeply flawed ‘Aswesuma’ social security project, to pave the way for a fresh scheme. Addressing the media at the Nawala Office of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, the former External Affairs Minister dealt with the passage of the resolution on the ‘Domestic Debt Optimisation’ (DDO) in Parliament, the previous day, a move to amend three Acts in order to give the subject Minister (Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena) powers to restore dissolved local government authorities and ‘Aswesuma’

that caused countrywide turmoil.

Pointing out that several SLPP members had skipped Saturday’s vote on the resolution on DDO, National List lawmaker emphasized that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government unfairly burdened the Employees Trust Fund (EPF). Having repeatedly assured that the EPF with funds amounting to Rs 3 trillion wouldn’t be undermined in the DDO process, the government had targeted the country’s largest fund, Prof. Peiris said. That was nothing but a cruel attack on those struggling to make ends meet, the academic said.

The resolution received 122 votes while 62 voted against. Forty-two MPs abstained.However, the government conveniently left out wealthy investors who had no hesitation in taking advantage of the country’s predicament, the former minister said.

After Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe declared bankruptcy in April 2022, wealthy financiers had invested in sovereign bonds at extortionate rates of interest. “Their motive was to make use of the perilous state of our economy to make a killing. They sought unconscionable profits in as short a time as possible. While the rates payable to these wealthy investors are left untouched, interest to be earned by the working people who are beneficiaries of the EPF has been reduced by the rate of income tax payable by the EPF being increased from 14 pc to 30 percent if fund declined to participate in the seriously flawed DDO exercise,” Prof. Peiris said.

The people should realise that the EPF’s participation was therefore not voluntary but enforced Prof. Peiris said. Therefore, the government strategy is not consistent with social equity, the dissident SLPPer said.

Prof. Peiris said the DDO process had been placed under the control of Finance Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.Commenting on the raging controversy over the ‘Aswesuma’ programme, Prof. Peiris said that disruption that had been caused by ill-advised government was so much, the project couldn’t be repaired under any circumstances. There couldn’t be any other option than cancelling the announced list of beneficiaries and launching a fresh initiative as soon as possible to identify those who really required government assistance.

Pointing out that there had been well over half a mn public appeals and complaints in this regard, Prof. Peiris asked the government not to shift the blame to officials but to accept responsibility and initiate what he called a scientific examination of the poor with required technical expertise.

Those who planned to replace ‘Samurdhi’ with ‘Aswesuma’ ended up with egg on their face for want of a cohesive plan to identify the needy. The ex-minister dismissed a recent government declaration that remedial measures would be taken once appeals and complaints were received by July 10 as propaganda. “The system is so inconsistent with requirements, it cannot be salvaged by patchwork,” the MP said.

The senior politician said that the SLPP should be ashamed that one of its National List MPs, Jayantha Kategoda proposed to empower the Minister of Local Government to restore dissolved Local Government authorities. Declaring SLPP rebels’ intention to challenge the government move in the Supreme Court, Prof. Peiris said that the ruling SLPP and UNP with just one MP in parliament were trying to skip elections at all levels.

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