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Fertiliser subsidy will accelerate food production - Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva

*Rs. 40 billion for fertiliser subsidy

*Safety net and sufficient amount of food

*Mixed Budget targeting development

*Good track record

The Leader of the House and Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said the Budget was a development Budget, plus a Budget which has fulfilled the aspirations of the people of Sri Lanka, specially the working class, public servants and down trodden masses. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said normally the IMF and economic experts say that the Government should curtail subsidies given to the people. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not accepted that as a path for development. The Government is spending more than Rs. 40 billion on the fertiliser subsidy which would catalyse and accelerate food production in our country.

Sri Lanka has a safety net and sufficient amount of food for consumption. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has targeted all areas. This is a mixed budget which has targeted development while not forgetting the human aspects as well.

The Minister said long-term economic sustainability and development has to be kept in mind when formulating a budget. This government has a very good track record. It has performed well and fulfilled the promises given to the people. The vast amount of development that has taken place throughout the country, can be witnessed by the people.

Commenting on the protest and the interruption made by the UNP to the Budget speech, the Minister said that it was an organised attempt by the UNP to distract mind of the people from the benefits they were going to get from the Budget. When veteran politicians like Dr. N.M. Perera and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva were in the Opposition, they also criticised the Budget in a very pragmatic way, not by holding posters in Parliament, that has nothing to do with the Budget. If the UNP wants to hold a protest they should have gone out of Parliament and held the protest. Parliament is not the place to hold protests. When President in his capacity as Finance Minister comes to Parliament to present the Budget, he must be given a hearing. That is the prerequisite of the democratic process which the Opposition has forgotten today.

Q: As a whole how do you view the Budget presented by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament?

A: The Budget presented by the President is a unique Budget. It is unique in the sense that it targets development. I call it a development Budget plus a Budget which fulfils the aspirations of the people, specially the working class, public servants and the down trodden masses.

It has also increased the benefits given to those suffering from disabilities, Samurdhi recipients and pensioners.

There was a long call that the benefits given to those segments were not sufficient and that they should be given more assistance.

The IMF and economic experts say the Government should curtail subsidies, but the President has not accepted that as path for development. We are spending more than Rs. 40 billion on the fertiliser subsidy which would catalyse and accelerate food production in our country. Now we are self-sufficient in rice.

The Government has also given fertiliser at subsidised rates to the vegetable and tea sectors as well. It has facilitated economic development in Sri Lanka. We have a safety net and have sufficient amount of food because stores have paddy etc. The President in this Budget has targeted all areas. This is a mixed budget which has targeted development while not forgetting human aspects as well.

Q: According to your analysis has the Budget granted adequate relief to the people?

A: Of course. While providing relief measures to the people, the object of a Budget is not short-term. It should essentially target long-term economic development.

If we target short-term things, all the income we get can be disbursed and we can satisfy the people only for a period of one year. But what will happen to the future generation? We are building roads and irrigation schemes. Rs. 36 billion has been allocated to the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Management.

One hundred thousand hectares of land which are not utilised at the moment will be irrigated. That will generate a high income thereby the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and per capita income will go up.

Long-term economic sustainability and development has to be kept in mind in formulating a Budget. I think the President has fulfilled that.

Q: On what basis does the government describe the Budget as a development oriented budget?

A: Earlier the situation was not conducive to embark on development projects. We know what happened to the railway track from Vavuniya to Jaffna.

The LTTE destroyed the track and power supply. We could not implement any major irrigation scheme due to the security situation which prevailed. Peace dividends must be transformed into economic development. Then only the lives of the people will be improved. We have to embark on development.

That is why it is a development Budget. Now the Government is investing a lot of money for infrastructure development, because only with infrastructure in place, we can bring the country together. Anything we produce in the North, East or any other part of the country, if it is to be exported has to be brought to Colombo. A good road network should be there.

To enhance production, we have to empower the people. Because we must have a healthy population. Money should be invested in health and education as those are the supporting pillars for economic development. We should have a literate society.

We have looked into all these aspects of development.

Q: The Opposition allege that the Budget has failed to provide any relief to the people. Your comments?

A: Whatever relief is given to the people, the Opposition will always say it is not enough. Because they have no other constructive argument to put forward. We are dealing with the reasonable people of this country. The people in this country are very reasonable.

When Sarah Fonseka contested the last Presidential Election, he promised to give Rs. 10,000 salary increase to public servants. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he could give only a Rs. 2,500 pay hike. But still the majority of the people and public servants voted for the President and the UPFA Government, this demonstrates that public servants are not misled by false promises.

When a promise is given by a politician, they will see whether this promise could be fulfilled or not. The people voted for us and they have faith and confidence in the President.

The Opposition can relate various fairy tales, but the people know that performing is not easy.

This government has a good track record, we have performed well and have promised certain things to the people. The promises have been fulfilled. People can see the development which has taken place in the country.

At one time, the Opposition was criticising that vegetable and coconut prices were high. Now it has come down. The price of rice has also drastically dropped. If you visit a market, you can see the drop in prices, in real terms the cost of living dropped.

At the same time, income generating avenues have increased. A domestic is paid Rs.1,000 per day now, Rs. 1,200 or Rs. 1,500 is paid for a carpenter or a mason. Income levels of the people have gone up.

If we take the salary of a garment worker, it is about Rs. 20,000 with food and other allowances.

Those days it was about Rs. 5,000 or Rs. 6,000. Income levels have gone up. Coconut cultivation has become a very good investment, prices in the tea smallholding sector have gone up, while cinnamon prices are also very good. People are switching to rubber cultivation as rubber prices are fabulous.

A kilo of pepper is purchased for Rs. 950. Even export crops have a very good market now. A large number of people have purchased three-wheelers and vans. Certainly income levels of people in the villages have also gone up.

Q: Peace has dawned, the Opposition alleges that the Government has failed to circulate the peace dividends to the people. Your comments?

A: As I mentioned earlier, these are the peace dividends that have been given. Now people can go anywhere without any restriction. Hikkaduwa, those days, there were no tourists as a result many hotels and restaurants were closed. Hotels such as Hilton could not market even for 30 US Dollars a day. Now it is over US$ 175. Almost all hotels are full. These are the peace dividends. Now the hotel and travel industries are flourishing.

If we take the Southern Expressway, this is also the transformation of peace dividends into action.

How could we build all these. The fisheries industry has taken a new lease of life, as there is no restriction on fishing. Savings in banks have risen. Farmers are saving a lot of money. Peace dividends have spread far and wide.

Q: Has the Budget made sufficient allocation for irrigation and water management sectors?

A: Yes. the Irrigation and Water Management Ministry has been given Rs. 36 billion. We have identified many new projects to be implemented. Rs. 12,107 million has been allocated for the Uma Oya Diversion Project, Rs. 5,248 million for Moragahakanda and Kaluganga Reservoir Projects, Rs. 1,430 million for Deduru Oya Reservoir, Rs. 400 million for Menik Ganga Reservoir, Rs. 492 million for Rambukkan Oya Reservoir, Rs. 500 million for Yan Oya Project, Rs. 240 million for the Lower Uva Project, Rs. 20 million for Mahagona Wewa project, Rs. 92 million for the Eallapothana Anicut, Rs. 250 million for Gal Oya Navodaya, Rs. 65 million for Wemedilla Reservoir and Rs. 107 million for Gurugal Oya.

Another Rs. 650 million has been allocated for miscellaneous things.

A lot of money has been reserved for new projects such as Rs. 200 million for Morana Reservoir, Rs. 70 million for Ellewewa Reservoir, Rs. 300 million for Digilioya Reservoir, Rs. 100 million on Kalugal Oya Reservoir, Rs. 200 million for Kubukkanoya Reservoir, Rs. 40 million for Napeudawathura Reservoir, Rs. 41 million for Wilakandiya Reservoir, Rs. 40 million for Kaudulla stage two project, Rs. 100 million for Redeemaliyadda Integrated Development, Rs. 100 million for Talpitigala Reservoir, Rs. 25 million on Gonagalathenna Tank and Rs. 100 million for Lower Malwathuoya Multi Sector Development Project.

The Mahaweli Authority has also been given nearly Rs. 5,000 million for their activities. I think this is a very comprehensive budgetary allocation.

We would be able to renovate existing irrigation schemes and embark the development of new irrigation schemes as well.

Q: How do you view the attempts made by UNP to disturb the President's Budget speech. Is this an organised attempt made by the UNP to sabotage proceedings of the House?

A: As I told in Parliament on Tuesday this was an organised attempt by the UNP to distract the minds of the people from the benefits they were going to get from the Budget. Because they knew very well the President would present a good Budget.

To disrupt the President's speech, they brought various posters inside the Chamber and were getting ready to protest. They created a scene and an unpleasant atmosphere prevailed in Parliament. When such an atmosphere is created, people tend to react to that.

This kind of incident has never happened during a Budget debate.

When veteran politicians of the likes of Dr. N.M. Perera and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva were in the Opposition, they also criticised the Budget in a very pragmatic way, not by holding posters that had nothing to do with the Budget. If the UNP wants to hold a protest, they should go out of Parliament and protest. Parliament is not the place to hold protests.

When the President in his capacity as Finance Minister comes to Parliament to present the Budget, he must be given a hearing. That is the prerequisite of the democratic process which the Opposition has forgotten.

Q: Though the Government says it is the UNP that should be held responsible for the unruly behaviour in Parliament, the UNP alleges that some Government MPs assaulted UNP MPs. Is there any truth in this allegation levelled by the UNP?

A: There was no assault as such. What happened was when there is a commotion in the House, MPs try to run away and some try to drag the other MPs. This is not the first time such a commotion has taken place in the House.

There is no calculated attempt to assault or harm anybody.

I saw the Parliamentarians who were involved in this incident talking to each other and embracing each other at the Parliament cafeteria on Tuesday. There was a conspiracy on the part of the Opposition to disrupt the President's Budget speech. But there was no attempt by the Government to disrupt proceedings of the House.

Q: Even Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa informed the House on Tuesday that an impartial inquiry would be held into the incident. How is the Government going to cooperate at the inquiry?

A: As the Leader of the House, I also stated in Parliament on Tuesday that the Government will extend its fullest cooperation to conduct such an inquiry to ensure that this kind of incident will not occur in future.

Q: Despite attempts made by the UNP to interrupt the President's Budget speech, the DNA and TNA MPs did not join the UNP and remained in the Chamber without any interruption. Your comments?

A: I think they set a very good example to the UNP. Because Parliamentarians like TNA Parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan are veteran politicians. They have a perfect understanding about parliamentary democracy much more than some of the UNP members.

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