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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Budget 2015 stuns the Opposition

President Mahinda Rajapaksa presented another people-friendly and development-oriented Budget in Parliament on Friday afternoon. President Rajapaksa presented his 10th consecutive budget in his capacity as the Finance and Planning Minister.

Presenting the budget, he said that this budget will lay the foundation to enable our people to reach a per capita income of US dollars 7,500 by 2020.

Budget 2015 unveiled proposals that brought relief to all folk, the highlight of which was a wage increase ranging from Rs. 3,500 to Rs. 15,000 making the lowest ranked employee in the public service receive a minimum monthly income of Rs. 30,000. The minimum basic salary of a public servant will be raised to Rs.15,000.

The maximum PAYE Tax rate has been fixed at 16 percent to ease the burden of wage earning employees and professionals and to reduce the Value Added Tax to 11 percent.

The President also proposed to place pensioners’ emoluments based not on the 2006 salary as was requested, but on the proposed 2015 salary structure to permanently correct the inherent anomalies affecting pensioners when salaries of public servants are revised. All pension payments will be adjusted in accordance with the 2015 new salary structure. The government will also reduce domestic water bills by 10 percent.

The budget also proposed to introduce a pension scheme for apparel sector employees and Sri Lankans employed abroad and a pension scheme and an insurance scheme for three-wheeler drivers.

In short, the Budget 2015 had something for everybody and the Opposition was stunned and were short of words to describe it. Having concluded the Budget speech, President Rajapaksa turned to the Opposition and asked how he fared as a villager from a far flung area. Kohomada game baiyyage weda? he asked in Sinhala but none of the parliamentarians attempted to give any reply.

Even during his near three-hour Budget speech, the President took a few breaks to give replies to some of the questions raised by Opposition parliamentarians.

The Budget also proposed to extend the insurance scheme introduced in 2013 to compensate loss to human life and property and to cover crop damage from elephants as well, from 2015.

When the President, speaking under the topic of wildlife protection, declared that relied would be granted to the victims of wild elephant attacks and cultivations destroyed, Puttalam District UNP parliamentarian asked whether such grants would be given to “elephants who damage the government”.

Bandara was making an indirect reference to the UNP parliamentarians who criticise the Government. “I can’t see any elephant capable of challenging or damaging the Government,” the President replied. “The elephants must be behind,” Range Bandara said. But the President said he could see both the front and behind equally well. “If not I would not have been able to remain this long,” the President said.

There wasn’t much response when the President announced that a special bank interest of 12 percent would be granted to pensioners. “Why don’t you clap and commend the relief granted to pensioners?” the President asked the Opposition.

Ranil runs away

When the President declared that every citizen would be offered a free medical checkup, an Opposition parliamentarian wanted to know whether that would be applied to them as well. “We don’t have political differences, everybody would get that opportunity,” the President responded.

After the President declared that the Rs. 1,000 special allowance granted to elders would be increased to Rs. 2,000, another Opposition MP queried whether that would be applied to them as well. “You have still not turned 60 years,” a smiling President said.

When the President announced relief to widows, a UNP parliamentarian shouted the name of his fellow MP Vijayakala Madeshwari, wife of late UNP MP T. Maheshwaran. “Maheshwari, Do you also need this?” the President asked.

The President proposed to increase the Mahapola Scholarship for undergraduates from Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 4,000 by January next year.

It is also proposed to increase the Samurdhi allowance to Rs. 3,000 for a four-member family and Rs. 2,000 for a three-member family.

Most Opposition parliamentarians were stunned as the President kept on announcing relief to every social strata and people of all walks of life.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe ran away from a barrage of questions by the media on the relief granted by the President. Instead of answering the questions posed by the media, Ranil ran away from television cameras, pleading media personalities to clear his path.

UNP members could not believe their eyes that the President has been able to grant such a huge volume of relief to the working class and massive fund allocations to important sectors such as education, health and development.

They were shocked by the relied measures granted to all and boycotted the traditional tea party hosted by the Speaker.

But the UNP’s boycott was unnoticed as several other Opposition MPs, including the TNA, participated in the tea party.

President Rajapaksa was seen talking to former TNA leader and Member of Parliament R. Sampanthan. During his Budget speech, the President requested the TNA to join hands with government programs to serve all the people of this country alike.

Alternate budget by dejected UNP

The UNP, shocked by the people’s-friendly Budget presented by the President, is now making desperate attempts to present an alternate budget. Assistant Leader of the UNP Ravi Karunanayake said last week that the party would prepare and present its own budget to be implemented by a future UNP Government.

However, political observers said that the UNP could include any unrealistic pledges as the party would continue to remain in the Opposition. “It is easy to make promises and include impossible and unrealistic promises. This is what the UNP is doing today, knowing only too well that they have many years left in the Opposition,” a political observer pointed out.

However, the UNP Assistant leader told a media briefing that the UNP would present its proposals soon. Ravi said a future UNP Government would increase the salaries of public servants by Rs.10,000.

The UNP also offered Rs.2,500 increment for pensioners, reduction on the price of petrol by Rs.50 a litre and diesel by Rs.15 a litre so as to bring down transport fares by 20 per cent.

“The UNP will give farmers a guaranteed price of Rs.50 a kilo for paddy, Rs.80 a kilo for potatoes and onions and allocate six per cent of the GDP for higher education and 4.5 per cent for general education,” he said.

Ravi said a future UNP government would bring down interest rates by 2 per cent. “Our policy is to come up with realistic concessions,” he said.

Wimal warns of another Western conspiracy

Minister Wimal Weerawansa said last week that the Western ‘creationists’ were trying to rob Sri Lanka of crucial data related to extra-terrestrial life to further their agenda and undermine Buddhist teachings on the universe.

The Minister, speaking at a religious event at a temple in Hanwella on Thursday, charged that a team of ‘white gentlemen’ from an international space research institute had tried to seize raw material and data related to meteor fragments that had fallen into a paddy field in Anuradhapura.

At the time local scientists were still probing the meteor fragments and had discovered unicellular organisms embedded in the alien rock, which supports the idea that alien life exists.

“The team attempted to take hold of this valuable evidence almost immediately after local scientists had made this vital discovery.

Why did they do this? It’s because they don’t want the world to know that creationism is a blatant lie. When it is proved that life outside planet earth exists, creationism would turn into a lie.

This was a fact that was initially declared and proven by the Buddha and his teachings on the universe,” he said.

UNP MPs noticed to appear in Courts

Four UNP parliamentarians - Ravi Karunanayake, R. Yogarajan, Ajith P. Perera and Nalin Bandara Jayamaha were noticed to appear in court tomorrow for allegedly trespassing into Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya premises in Colombo 2.

The complaint was lodged by the NSS after a group of UNP Parliamentarians went on a fact finding mission at the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) premises on October 21.

Colombo Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage issued the order sequel to a B Report filed by the Slave Island Police on Thursday.

Opposition discovers its political nudity

The JVP, through an internal survey done by its infamous university undergraduates union better known as Anthare, has discovered that the party would fare miserably if it fields it own candidate at the next presidential election.

Hence, it is making every endeavour either to discourage holding an early election or to skip the next presidential election giving lame excuses.

The JVP last week called upon the Elections Commissioner not to declare a snap presidential election because it was illegal and unconstitutional to do so. “According to the 18th Amendment, which has not been amended, the President has to complete his six-year term before calling for any election and it is illegal to declare a presidential election after four years in office. We wrote to the Elections Commissioner not to hold a presidential election in a hurry,” JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva told the media soon after meeting the Commissioner at his office. He said the Commissioner assured them that he would look into the matter.

Several UNP MPs including Karu Jayasuriya and Ravi Karunanayake also held discussions with the Elections Commissioner and requested him to take action to prevent the recurrence of election law violations, through the misuse of state property, the State media and State officials for the government’s election campaign.

At a time the Government is giving ample chances for the Opposition by holding regular elections, the UNP and the JVP seem to be making wild allegations to evade elections, knowing that their political bankruptcy would be further exposed.

GL clears Kshenuka

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, in a statement last week, cleared Foreign Secretary Kshenuka Seneviratne of allegations levelled against her regarding the awarding of a contract to repair the official residence of the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva.

GL, in his statement, said that extensive publicity has been given during the last few days to a series of allegations that the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, has been guilty of impropriety in connection with the award of a contract for the renovation of the official residence of the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka in Geneva in 2009.

The Minister said the attempt has also been made to heighten the gravity of the allegation by the assertion that the contract was awarded to a company, the owner of which was arrested by the Swiss Police for LTTE-connected activities.

“While wrongdoing should certainly not go unpunished, it is important to ensure that officials performing their public duty in good faith are accorded legitimate protection.

This is so, especially because they have limited opportunity to defend themselves. Unfounded and reckless allegations are bound to have an adverse effect on morale.

The clearest example of this is the reference, in connection with the award of the contract, to a personality involved in activities of the LTIE,” the statement said.

“As for the alleged role of Mrs. Seneviratne in this matter, the sequence of events, ascertained from documents in the possession of this Ministry, is conclusive.

The Procurement Committee approved the award of the contract on 5th November 2009. Mrs. Seneviratne, however, arrived in Geneva and assumed duties only on 15th November. All matters pertaining to the contract had been finalised prior to her arrival in Geneva, and it is absolutely clear that she had no involvement in the matter at all,” the statement added.

UNP jumps the gun

Many people are aware what Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had done during his short visit to London which included a secret discussion at a gathering with a couple of representatives of the Global Tamil Forum, a front organisation of the now defunct LTTE.

Unconfirmed reports said that some UNP agents have done some spy work to tarnish the image of the country in the eyes of the international community to woo support of the LTTE rump for next presidential election.

But the UNP has rejected the allegation that there was an invisible connection between the European Union General Court’s ruling to lift sanctions on the LTTE and Ranil’s recent tour to London.

The EU General Court lifted the sanctions on the LTTE on October 16.

The LTTE had been named a terrorist organisation by the EU in 2006. UNP MP Eran Wickremaratne said the party had nothing to hide regarding the UNP leader’s tour of London and that the rumours were baseless.

“All the reports and rumours were being centred on photographs circulated through the media which show our leader with several other Sri Lankans in London.

They are the representatives of UNP London branch. We are willing to identify each and every person in those photographs if necessary,” he told a news conference in Sirikotha last week.

He said the people in the photographs were hard working Sri Lankans who had left the country to work abroad in order to provide a better life for their families back home.

Ranil daydreams again

A future UNP government would grant Rs. 10,000 salary increment to public servants and a Rs. 2,000 increment for pensioners until anomalies were resolved, UNP leader told a party meeting at UNP headquarters Sirikotha in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte last week.

Ranil said a future UNP government would come out with a bonanza for the people. He said a future UNP government would purchase Samba paddy at Rs. 50 a kilogramme and Nadu paddy at Rs. 45 a kilogramme. He also said that a litre of petrol would be reduced by Rs. 50 while diesel would be reduced by Rs. 15.

Meanwhile, UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella blamed the Government for not engaging itself in the 2011 case filed in the General Court of the European Union by the LTTE against its proscription. He urged the Government to take steps to appeal against the ruling to lift the ban on the LTTE and assured the UNP’s full support for this matter.

“When we study the case and the verdict, it is very clear that no one was present to argue the case on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government. It is doubtful whether the External Affairs Ministry and the Attorney General’s Department were even aware of the existence of such a case. It is important for the Government to engage in such matters,” Kiriella said. Surprisingly, Kiriella did not utter a word on his UNP leader’s recent visit to London and participating at a meeting with the LTTE rump.

President condemns shooting

President Rajapaksa condemned last week's shooting incident in Canada and said all should unite to fight this menace.

“It is very disturbing to see increasing terrorist acts in many countries, now even Canada. We must unite as equal partners to fight this menace,” the President twittered.

A Canadian soldier standing guard at a war memorial in the capital Ottawa was shot dead on Wednesday. Gunfire also erupted inside Parliament and authorities say at least one gunman was killed.

However, the Canadian Government said that there is no evidence so far that a gunman who attacked Canada's parliament had links to Middle Eastern Islamist extremists.

Foreign Minister John Baird told the BBC gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was “certainly radicalised”, but was not on a list of high-risk people.

Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at Ottawa's war memorial before being shot dead in the nearby parliament building. Police have released video showing how the gunman stormed parliament.

It has also emerged that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hid in a cupboard in parliament for about 15 minutes during Wednesday's attack as MPs sharpened flagpoles to use as spears against the gunman.

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