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We have resurrected the economy - Ravi

Finance Minister Ravi Karunananake has welcomed last Thursday's vote in Parliament on the 'No-Confidence Motion' against him as an overwhelming vote of confidence in him and his Ministry. Reacting to the defeat of the motion tabled by the UPFA rebel faction in Parliament against him, the Finance Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said, the government has successfully turned around the economic downturn. The Minister sees no reason for the 'no confidence motion' initiated by the UPFA rebel group, and says his government has been able to broadbase the economy, giving it purpose to take it forward. Following are the excerpts of the interview:

Q: One of the main allegations levelled by the Joint Opposition (JO) is that the country's economy has collapsed and our foreign direct investments have also declined. What is your response?

A: I think it is the other way round. The government inherited an economy that was in shreds. We joined together and made the economy acceptable to the world. Today, everybody wishes us well since we have embraced pro-growth ways and means, and a corruption- free and all inclusive growth. Therefore, I don't understand their logic. This is not an economy built for one family. We have built an economy for all the families in the country, unlike what we inherited from the Rajapaksas. We have basically broadbased the economy and given purposefulness to take it forward.

Q: Do you think this No Confidence Motion (NCM) was a blessing in disguise for the Government to show its strength in Parliament?

A: I think so, and we could clearly show it in Parliament on Thursday.

Q: The JVP also played a leading role to bring President Maithripala Sirisena to power and extended support to make many democratic reforms. What do you think led the JVP this time to vote in favour of the NCM?

A: I don't think it has any effect on us. They don't vote for the Government on issues because they think they have a vote bank of a different nature. It is their political strategy and they are not in the Government. So we don't expect much from them.

Q: Critics allege that you are always citing the Rajapaksa debt burden to cover up your economic mismanagement. Your comments?

A: If they have even an iota of common sense, they will definitely concede that we are right. We are just 16 months in government. We have defused the economy which was virtually in a precarious position. It was like a grenade where the pin was removed. Japan, China, the EU, USA, India, Korea and Singapore are providing us adequate financial aid, because they have observed that we have integrated with the world. They see that we are working for the country and its people and not for one family alone. That is the difference. Today, Face Book and the social media are available to post anything or read anything. But, the most important thing is we are putting the economy on the right track and the people have realized it. The people expect more because they had been suppressed for a long time, and would like to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We will certainly fulfil that.

Q: VAT has hit the people hard and you have said some of the taxes are only temporary. Do you have a timeframe when you would reduce, if not eliminate these taxes?

A: We will consider reducing it as soon as possible, but I don't want to fix a timeframe.

Q: There is still no sign of the swindled money which you said would be recovered and put to development efforts. What is the progress with regard to these investigations?

A: The investigations are going on, but we are going to work within a democratic framework. It can work faster than we hope, but it has also to be fair. Just because the previous regime harassed us on unreasonable grounds, we are not prepared to do the same. We are moving cautiously and intelligently.

Q: Aren't there any measures available to the Government other than increasing taxes to address the debt burden?

A: Yes. What we are looking at right now is to reduce the cost and increase revenue without putting more pressure on the people, and also increase trade activities. At present, more investments are flowing into the country. We are looking at the developed countries so that benefits could ultimately be passed on to the people even though we are a late starter.

Q: You have also come under pressure for increasing taxes on cars. What was the rationale for the move?

A: The increase of taxes on cars is logical. There are so many cars on the road and a lot of valuable foreign exchange is going out of the country. So this is how we propose to rectify the situation. We have discouraged imports until our infrastructure is developed. Now we have started the construction work on the Rajagiriya road and we need to get it moving.

Q: What are the immediate challenges the Government is facing?

A: The immediate challenge I see, is the distortion campaign engineered by certain unscrupulous elements trying to bring extremism to the system. It is something the people should realize. We must ensure that those who have robbed the nation will be brought to book soon, which is one of our main concerns.

Q: As certain sections of the Government assert, do you see any deliberate attempt by the JO to sabotage the forward march of the Government?

A: Actually, there is no Joint Opposition. They are a disenchanted and disunited small fraction who oppose President Maithripala Sirisena. This disunited small splinter group is the one that is basically trying to create mayhem, and it will be defeated immediately.

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