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Rs. 10 bn. allocated for future elections  – Siyambalapitiya

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State Minister for Plantations, Enterprise Reforms and Finance, Mr. Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, has announced that a dedicated allocation of Rs. 10 billion has been reserved for potential future elections. This provision, while not explicitly outlined in the budget proposals, has been included in the estimates.

Furthermore, the State Minister has conveyed that the Executive Committee of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is scheduled to deliberate on the release of the second instalment of the extended credit facility to Sri Lanka on December 6th.

State Minister for Plantations, Enterprise Reforms and Finance, Mr. Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, made these remarks during his participation in a press briefing held at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) today (21), under the theme ‘One Way to a Stable Country’.

Speaking further, State Minister Siyambalapitiya highlighted the challenges faced in formulating this year’s budget. He underscored that in 2023, the government’s revenue experienced a 16% decline from the targeted amount, a circumstance attributable to the prevailing negative economic conditions. Addressing the inherent limitations faced during the budget preparation, he acknowledged the constraints in pursuing objectives such as maintaining a robust primary account.

Moreover, in addressing the budget deficit, when expenditures surpassed income, resorting to borrowing became necessary. However, the forthcoming year presents a constrained borrowing environment, with limited space available. Previously, local borrowing was facilitated through various accessible means, but with the implementation of the new Central Bank Act, borrowing has been subject to restrictions. The government now has the authority to borrow only in response to sudden announcements by the Central Bank.

Despite accusations labelling this year’s budget as an election-oriented one, it is crucial to recognize the imperative of responding to the challenges faced by a society under considerable strain. In such a context, it becomes obligatory to address the needs of those significantly impacted by economic adversity.

We have allocated Rs. 10 billion for upcoming elections, although this provision was not formally presented in the budget proposals but has been factored into the estimates.

Furthermore, it is essential to recognize that no nation has advanced without a sustainable stream of tax and government revenues. When we assumed these responsibilities, the tax structure was predominantly comprised of 80% indirect taxes and 20% direct taxes. Over time, we have strategically reduced the indirect tax rate, bringing the direct tax rate closer to 30%.

Additionally, the State Financial Management Responsibilities Act No. 03 of 2003 mandates maintaining the budget deficit at 5%, a target that, in practice, has proven challenging. Over the last two decades, this target was achieved only in 2016 and 2017. Sustaining this requires a rigorous approach involving substantial expenditure reductions and revenue generation. Notably, public welfare expenditure, which stood at 65 billion, is projected to rise to 209 billion this year. Efforts are underway to implement practical reforms, including amendments to certain laws, to align legislation with operational realities. Activating dormant tax revenues is also a priority in our pursuit of fiscal sustainability.

Moreover, there is a potential to elevate the state income ratio from its current 8.3% to 10.1% by the end of this year, and following the implementation of the 2024 budget, this ratio could further rise to 12.3% by the close of that year. Regardless of the political party in power, sustaining a nation necessitates the continual growth of state revenue.

In a remarkably short period, we successfully alleviated the frustrations associated with the historical instability of the state. Concurrently, efforts are underway to enforce the Anti-Corruption Act, aligning with the commitments made under the agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

Furthermore, plans are in place to conclude the electronic tax information gathering program and the Revenue Administration Management Information System 2.0 (RAMIS 2.0) project by the year’s end. The upcoming weeks are deemed pivotal for Sri Lanka’s economic trajectory. On December 6, the Executive Committee of the International Monetary Fund is set to convene and deliberate on the release of the second instalment of the extended credit facility. Furthermore, discussions and finalization of the proposal for the restructuring of bilateral debt are scheduled.

(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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