By Rathindra Kuruwita
Sri Lanka must be transparent in its dealings with foreign countries, given the geopolitical tensions prevalent in the world today, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP, Eran Wickramaratne, says..Most of our dealings with foreign countries, be it the United States or China, was hidden in secrecy and this unsettles many, Wickraratne said.
“For example, there have been controversies with regard to foreign naval ships coming in. We must be open, and public,when such ships come here. We must also make use of these visits and make money. There are no easy answers, but we must go forth with a multi-aligned foreign policy.”
The SJB MP said that the government presented the medium term fiscal report to Parliament. It only had data up to the second quarter of 2023.
“We found more details, up to June 2023. The gap between expenses and income is close to a trillion rupees. The gap was around 750 billion during the same time last year. So the gap has increased. The income has gone up by 38 percent, but the expenditure has gone up by 47 percent. We have made economic reforms thinking about income, but we have not thought about expenses. It’s a revenue based fiscal consolidation. We must look at expenses; otherwise, we will never fix the problem.”
Wickramaratne said that the government can’t increase taxes and the government might give a tax cut, thinking about the elections in 2024. The SJB MP said former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also gave a tax cut before elections and that had a disastrous impact on the economy.
“We must also look at products that we have not exported before. There are a lot of niches. We must pursue more free trade agreements. We must be more diplomatic.”
The SJB MP said that the government has resorted to emergency purchases to solve the crises in healthcare and power generation.
“We all know there is a shortage in drugs. The government has been making emergency purchases for over a year now. Most of these drugs have turned out to be of low quality. So we are spending more to buy substandard drugs. Emergency purchases are essentially tied to corruption. This is well known to Sri Lankans because we have seen this many times, when it comes to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB.) We know that there are a few months where hydroelectricity production drops, and we know by what percentage. We have about 900 Megawatts of coal. We also know that we can generate a lot of electricity from renewable sources. However, there are no investments or interest,” he said.
Electricity generated through renewable sources is cheaper than most other sources, he added.
Sri Lanka also needs a policy on water use, Wickramaratne said, mentioning that in most countries, water is firstly provided for drinking. It is then allocated for agriculture and then finally to electricity generation.
The SJB will also soon bring in a no-confidence motion against the Minister of Health. The SJB has asked for a three-day discussion, but the government insists it doesn’t have time this month.
“The government said they would give us three days in September. That is why we have delayed the motion.”