SJB-led Opposition, a bankrupt political alliance – Johnston | Sunday Observer

SJB-led Opposition, a bankrupt political alliance – Johnston

15 November, 2020

Presenting the Appropriation Bill 2020 in Parliament on Thursday, November 12, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said the Government has already spent around Rs. 70,000 million on the identification of patients, quarantine activities, random testing and related welfare activities under the anti-Covid drive.

He said the Government hopes to meet its economic targets during the next few years despite the enormous costs and challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Prime Minister said the Government has taken many measures to achieve its goals. He said that due to the poor fiscal and debt management of the previous Government, foreign debt servicing amounted to approximately US$ 4,200 million from this year which the Opposition members forecast that Government would be in default as it is caught in a “debt trap”.

However, the Premier said, “We have settled all debt obligations including foreign currency debt dues for this year. “We were able to maintain this unblemished record of ours, only because we took immediate action, once President Gotabaya Rajapaksa secured victory with an overwhelming majority obtaining 6.9 million votes and the General election with 149 seats to reduce unwanted foreign borrowings and made a substantial effort to manage imports at an acceptable level. We had a clear understanding that the debt phobia is being propagated simply as a strategy to justify the sale of assets of the country and the neo-liberal policies of the last Government.”

“Our accomplishments in 2020 even amid many challenges are considerable. One of the key achievements is solving the unemployment issue of over 60,000 graduates which had prevailed for years. By now, jobs have been provided to nearly 40,000 people under the program to provide jobs targeting 100,000 people from the poorest of the poor families. Our aim is to complete the 100,000 target before the end of this year,” he said.

Budget 2021

Budget 2021 will be presented to Parliament on November 17. It was decided to allocate 21 days for the Budget debate, at the Party Leaders meeting held in the parliamentary complex on Wednesday, November 11.

The Third Reading vote on the Budget will take place on December 10. This time journalists will not be allowed to enter the Parliament complex to cover the Budget debate due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation in the country. The Party Leaders also agreed to telecast the Budget debate live via television. The traditional tea party following the Budget speech has also been restricted to a limited number of guests strictly adhering to health guidelines.

No SLPP without Basil

A letter signed by 19 SLPP Parliamentarians has stated that it is paramount for SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa to enter Parliament as soon as possible to uplift the country’s economy and to support the SLPP’s active contribution to the country.

The letter was directed to Rajapaksa on Thursday, November 12. They have pointed out that it was Basil Rajapaksa who created the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) which clinched victory at Provincial Council, Presidential and Parliamentary elections in only four years.

These MPs state that it is impossible to think of a SLPP without Basil Rajapaksa. State Minister Prasanna Ranaweera also strongly believes Basil Rajapaksa should enter Parliament. He said that it was Basil who created a political party that put forward the Presidential candidate. Ranaweera said Basil should be given a ministerial portfolio so that he can be further involved in the development drive. He said the Opposition is criticising such a move as they fear his abilities.

No Confidence Motion

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) National Organiser Tissa Attanayake has told the media that the party will table a No Confidence Motion against Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi.

However, Chief Government Whip and Minister of Highways, Johnston Fernando said that if the SJB-led Opposition were to submit a No-Confidence Motion against Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, the Government will defeat it with a sizeable majority in Parliament.

The Minister said at a time when the Government was striving hard to save lives and protect the people from falling victim to the scourge of Covid-19, the Opposition was doing its utmost to scuttle those efforts.

Minister Fernando remarked that though the Opposition had claimed that they would back efforts made by the Government to control the spread of the pandemic, in reality that was not the case. He charged that the ulterior motive of the SJB was to destabilise the measures that were being launched by the Government to curb the spread of the fatal disease.

He alleged that the SJB-led Opposition has proved itself to be nothing but a bankrupt political alliance and warned that any no faith motion that is tabled in the House by the Opposition against any Government Minister, State Minister or Parliamentarian, would be defeated by an overwhelming majority.

People’s support necessary

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the health sector is capable of controlling the Covid- 19 pandemic and what is needed is the support of the people. At the daily discussion with members of the Task Force on Covid Prevention at the Presidential Secretariat, the President said Covid pandemic is a “health” issue.

The responsibility of protecting people against the virus and steering the country forward lies with the health sector and the Government. The President said that he strongly believes that Sri Lankan doctors and the health sector, one of the best in the world, can easily achieve the target. He said, “We have three options in the face of the spread of the pandemic. The first is to lock down the entire country by imposing a curfew.

The second is not to do anything. Carrying our normal activities while controlling the disease is the third option and we opted for that.” President Rajapaksa said, “Following the successful containment of the virus, the media and the people have forgotten everything and shirked responsibility. The result is the current situation. The country cannot be kept closed until the pandemic is wiped out from the world. We have to understand the ground reality and act accordingly. Infected persons are reported daily even from areas that have been closed for nearly 40 days. This shows that the pandemic cannot be controlled by lockdown alone.”

All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Leader and SJB Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen who was arrested by the CID on October 19 was further remanded by the Colombo Fort Magistrate on Friday, November 13. He will be in remand custody until November 25. Bathiudeen is accused of misusing 222 buses belonging to the state-owned Sri Lanka Transport Board to transport internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Puttalam to polling stations in Silavathurai, Mannar during the 2019 Presidential Election.

President congratulates Biden

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa were among the stream of world leaders to congratulate US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their victory in the 2020 US Presidential election.

President Rajapaksa while congratulating the US President elect and his running mate, said that he hoped to work closely with Joe Biden. The President in a tweet said that he looked forward to working closely with the new US President to strengthen bilateral relations. “We look forward to working together towards an even more robust mutually rewarding partnership,” President Rajapaksa tweeted.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaska also congratulated the US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their crucial victory in the US Presidential election. The Premier also tweeted that he is also looking forward to further enhancing the bilateral relations to benefit people of both countries.

Development path

Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the Government will present a successful Budget targeting to improve the living standards of the people and develop the country despite the enormous difficulties it had to face in the face of an unprecedented pandemic.

While noting that the Government has to present the most challenging budget in recent years, the Minister said whatever the difficulties, the Government will not disappoint the people. He told the media at the inauguration of a number of road development projects in the Kundasale electorate recently, that the Government had to look at various new issues when presenting the budget proposals due to the prevailing extraordinary situation.

He said that the Government which won the war against terrorism and took the country on the path of development at a time when 98 per cent of the GDP had to be set aside to pay loan installments, is now taking the country towards the Vision of Prosperity envisaged by the President and the Prime Minister. The Minister also said that the Government will not resort to selling any State assets to foreign countries.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Kabir Hashim alleged that the Government has failed to run the country up to the expectation of the public. Participating in the debate on the 2020 Appropriation Bill in Parliament on Thursday, November 12, MP Hashim said that for the first time in the post-independence era, Sri Lanka is witnessing two Appropriation Bills being presented to the House in one year, for 2020 and 2021. “This is history in the making. It has never happened in our country before.”

He said in November last year, the new President was elected and he appointed a Cabinet as well. Even with that power, the Government failed to present a Budget. During the most trying times such as the war against terrorism and the JVP rebellion, the budget was presented on time. Three hundred days have gone by, what has this Government done? Now the people are saying that the President has failed contrary to earlier claims that he was a hero. MP Hashim said the reasons why people say so are very obvious.

“We know the inadequate methods followed by the Government in the first quarter of 2020. No one can allow the Government to borrow except this House and the Prime Minister is responsible for all Government spending. Who borrowed in the middle four months without an account, and how much? We did not approve it. Who approved the borrowing?” the MP asked.

False figures

Participating in the debate on the 2020 Appropriation Bill in Parliament, State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal dismissed the figures presented by SJB MP Kabir Hashim as being inaccurate and false and questioned the source of his information.

MP Hashim said that it was a clear indication of the failure of the Government where the pawning advances obtained by the people had increased to staggering Rs. 643 billion. Cabraal said the loans granted by the Central Bank to all banks for pawning advances stood at Rs. 210 billion at the end of September 2020.

At the end of December 2019, it had increased by Rs. 27 billion to Rs. 237 billion, according to reliable information that the Central Bank received.

State Minister Cabraal said that by the end of December 2019, credit card payments stood at Rs. 131 billion but had dropped by Rs. 25 billion to Rs. 126 billion. “Therefore, I urge MP Kabir Hashim to get his facts right and perhaps get some expert advice on such matters by someone like MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, who knows this subject.”

He said the Government had to face many challenges during the first three quarters of this year apart from the Covid pandemic because of the mismanagement and misdeeds of the previous Yahapalana Government over the past five years.

UNP heavyweights meet

A group of UNP heavyweights met at UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Fifth Lane residence recently to discuss the party’s restructuring program.

UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene, Palitha Range Bandara, Sagala Ratnayake and Sandith Samarasinghe had participated in the discussion. They had extensively discussed as to how the party should be restructured and future strategies. The party seniors had also decided to hold the UNP Working Committee meeting on Thursday, November 12.

SJB National List MP Diana Gamage told the media that she was accused by many Opposition politicians of supporting the Government to pass the 20th Amendment in Parliament and action has to be taken against them. She told the media at a public gathering at Kurunegala recently, that she extended her support to the 20th Amendment to rectify the blunders made by the previous Government.

She said, “Now they insulted me in the media telling me that I am a political prostitute. Those seven Opposition MPs who voted for the 20th Amendment are not criticised or insulted in this way by the Opposition because they are men.”

“The country has more women than men. I will use my political power to save women from male domination, social and political harassment,” she said.

On Friday, November 13, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella called upon Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to arrange seats for the eight Opposition MPs in the Government side of the Chamber who supported the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Responding to Kiriella, the Speaker said that he would look into the matter immediately. Eight Opposition MPs of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and its coalition parties supported the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which was passed in Parliament on October 22.