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President pledges bank loan concessions for SMEs from Budget 2024

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized the importance of making the right decisions for the country’s economic development and during his address at the National Industry Excellence Awards 2023, which took place yesterday (01) at the Nelum Pokuna Theater in Colombo. 

He acknowledged that the decision to increase VAT by 18% was a challenging one, driven by the need to maintain economic stability. President Wickremesinghe highlighted that true leadership involves being honest with the people and making decisions that benefit the nation.

He expressed confidence in the youth leadership within the government and the group of young ministers dedicated to working for the country. President Wickremesinghe pledged to collaborate with them to improve the country’s economic situation by 2024.

Additionally, President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced his intention to address bank loan concessions for small and medium-scale industrialists in the upcoming budget, aiming to strengthen Sri Lanka’s export-oriented manufacturing economy. The National Industry Excellence Awards 2023, jointly organized by the Ministry of Industry and the Ceylon Industrial Development Board, is a step towards achieving this goal.

In this context, 300 successful entrepreneurs were recognized and awarded in various categories, including platinum, gold, silver and bronze awards, out of a pool of over 4,000 industrial entrepreneurs who had applied to compete in 21 major industrial sectors and 61 sub-industrial sectors.

Expressing his views further President Ranil Wickremesinghe said;

As I observed the award recipients today, it brought back memories of the challenges we faced last year. At that time, there were numerous uncertainties about the sustainability of our industries. The absence of electricity and the difficulty in obtaining bank loans had led to the closure of thousands of businesses.

Today, it’s truly remarkable to see a substantial number of individuals reinvigorating their industries and achieving success. Small and medium-scale industries have made a swift comeback in a relatively short period. However, some issues remain unresolved, particularly concerning bank loans and market access. Our foremost priority is to address these concerns.

In the upcoming budget, we aim to introduce measures that provide bank loan concessions to support small and medium-scale industries. This program is progressing steadily. We have devised comprehensive strategies to revitalize our nation’s economy, engaging in discussions with both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and our creditors.

Our primary focus always revolves around our capacity to repay the loans we’ve taken. To achieve this, we must consistently increase our income year after year. Gaining the trust of private creditors and multilateral creditors is imperative to reassure them of our commitment to loan repayment. This commitment must be ingrained in our actions.

A substantial portion of next year’s budget will be allocated to debt repayment and interest. Failure to meet these obligations could push us back into the old, precarious situation. Therefore, safeguarding our currency and fulfilling our loan obligations is of paramount importance.

In the past, when there was a budget shortfall, the solution was to instruct the central bank to print more money. However, this approach is no longer legally permissible and obtaining loans from banks has also become a challenge. These restrictions stem from the informal financial practices of the past.

To ensure our financial stability in the coming year, we must significantly boost our income. We have set specific revenue targets that we must work diligently to achieve. It’s crucial for the country’s progress and to prevent bankruptcy in the near future.

As a result of these financial constraints, we had to make the difficult decision to raise the VAT to 18%. This step aligns us with the practices of countries like India and Pakistan. Such decisions are never easy for any government. However, failing to take these measures would cast a shadow on everyone’s future. Therefore, making the right choices becomes imperative.

These decisions are necessary for the well-being of the country, even if they draw criticism from the public. Both my cabinet and I have willingly shouldered the responsibility of rebuilding our nation, which had faced economic collapse.

We made a deliberate choice not to revert to a state of dependency. Instead, we are committed to moving forward with our own strengths. Regrettably, during a cabinet meeting held last Sunday evening, we had to make this tough decision. While some may point fingers, failing to act would risk returning to the dire circumstances of the previous year. At the start of this year, our economic growth rate was a negative 0.7%. Today, it has improved to 0.5%, with further progress expected next year. This leaves us with a fundamental choice of whether to advance or regress.

This is the essence of leadership – the willingness to make difficult decisions and transparently convey the true state of affairs to the people. Through this decision, we can generate much-needed revenue to support small and medium-scale industries by repaying loans to banks. Without this step, these industries would face collapse, which puts industrialists in a challenging position. Thus, these difficult decisions must be made for the betterment of the country, even if they invite criticism. Our focus should remain on the nation’s well-being.

Regardless, let us embark on this journey with the resolute decision to rebuild our nation. This program offers us the opportunity to transform our country into a prosperous one, no longer dependent on external support. I hold strong belief in the promising future of this nation. We are in negotiations with international financial institutions, including the World Bank and while the path may be challenging today, I am confident that we will reap positive results in the next two or three years.

Looking ahead to 2024, I extend my best wishes to all, expressing our shared aspiration to bolster the nation’s economy further.

The event also featured addresses from Minister of Industry and Health, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, as well as Ministers of State, Prasanna Ranaweera and Chamara Sampath Dasanayake. Notable figures in attendance included Secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Ms Thilaka Jayasundara, Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Anura Dissanayake, Chairman of the Ceylon Industrial Development Board, Dr. Saranga Alahapperuma, and various Ministerial Secretaries, heads of government institutions, prominent industrial entrepreneurs and distinguished guests.

(President’s Media Division)

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Retired Major and Agent Arrested for Recruiting Sri Lankan Mercenaries for Russian Army

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The Human Trafficking, Human Smuggling and Maritime Crime Investigation Division (CID) arrested a retired major and an employment agent, identified as leaders of an organized scheme that recruited retired military personnel as mercenaries for the Russian army.

These two suspects were remanded till May 2 upon being produced before Negombo Magistate’s Court yesterday evening.

Investigations have revealed that the agency was promoted by young women, including popular actresses currently featured in well-known television dramas.

It is alleged that they deceived these individuals, promising them employment in Europe with work visas, ultimately defrauding them of significant sums of money.

The arrests occurred at the residences of the suspects in Wariyapola and Digana, respectively.

The arrested Major, previously a member of the Army Special Forces, is identified as Wijebandara and the agent is named Bandula.

According to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), these arrests are part of a broader operation, with additional suspects expected to be detained.

The CID has also uncovered that Chathuranga, who operated a large-scale agency on Katugastota Road in Kandy, is a key figure in this racket. He has reportedly fled to Russia and is currently in hiding.

Further revelations indicate that the recruited ex-military personnel were sent to Russia under the guise of performing maintenance work at military camps, but were instead employed as frontline mercenaries. A retired corporal, who managed to escape from the Russian mercenary force, disclosed that around 500 Sri Lankans are engaged in military activities within the Russian forces. This information led to the arrests of Wijebandara and Bandula.

The investigation has also highlighted that many of those recruited into the Russian mercenary forces from Sri Lanka, particularly from commando and special forces backgrounds, were ostensibly hired for non-combatant roles but were ultimately used in active military operations. According to the escaped corporal, those attempting to flee were either shot or captured and imprisoned.

This same corporal disclosed that his deployment was orchestrated by the retired Major from Wariyapola and that the logistics for his travel to Russia was arranged by Bandula and Chathuranga. The group of 37, including the corporal, departed for Russia from Katunayake International Airport on February 24. They have all retired from military service. The return of the corporal to Sri Lanka on March 1 was facilitated by the Red Cross and the Russian Embassy. He also revealed that two of his companions, who fled with him, have been captured by Russian forces and are currently detained in a military facility.

It has been reported that two Sri Lankans were killed in a drone attack by the Russian army in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on March 8 of the previous year, following the deaths of two others in Russia from an attack by Ukraine.

(Except for the headline, this story, originally published by dailynews.lk has not been edited by SLM staff)

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Man arrested over selling overpriced Vadai to tourist

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The Tourist Police in Moragolla has arrested a man over selling an overpriced Vadai and tea to a foreign  tourist in Kalutara.

Footage of the incident had sparked public ire after going viral online.

It has been revealed that the suspect is a 60 year old residing in Kalutara and is usually seen loitering near the eatery.

Police say that investigtations have revealed that he had duped foreigners visiting the eatery many times.

He is to be produced before the Kalutara Magistrate Court tomorrow (April 19).

It is also reported that officials of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) and the Moragolla Tourist police have also arrived at the eatery, and sternly advised the owner after questioning him.

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NPP’s 7-point statement on Easter attacks, presented to the Cardinal

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The National People’s Power (NPP) today (April 18) presented to Archbishop of Colombo – Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, their 7-point statement pledging to mete out justice to the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks.

The statement included key points such as implementing law against those responsible for the attacks so as to mete out justice to those who lost lives in the attacks and family members of the victims and to take action against those who were directly or indirectly involved in the attacks.

NPP members Professor Krishantha Abeysinghe, Attorney-at-Law Sunil Watagala, President’s Counsel Upul Kumarapperuma, Rohan Fernando and Aruna Shantha Nonis participated in the occasion.

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