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Without upped tax revenue, country can revert to era of queues

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The Government is ready to implement prudent economic management after successful debt restructuring, emphasized President Ranil Wickremesinghe, when he delivered a special statement on tax policy today (19).

President Wickremesinghe further noted that it was not possible to strengthen the economy without increasing the revenue of the country, which will compel him to reluctantly make tough decisions in order to rebuild the nation.

The full statement by President Ranil Wickremesinghe is as follows;

An important step in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring program took place last week. A team under the Minister of State for Finance participated in the Annual (October 07) meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In that instance, a meeting was convened by the IMF, with the lending and international private institutions to Sri Lanka.

Over 75 persons participated both in person and  through zoom technology. The main objective of this meeting was for the three main countries that have granted loans to Sri Lanka, namely Japan, China and India, to come together on a common platform to discuss the future steps in the formulation of concessions.

During this meeting, the IMF and Sri Lanka pointed out the need for a common platform. India and China have informed that they will examine the issues further and respond accordingly.  These two countries have also informed the possible need for bilateral discussions in this regard.

Many other countries also participated in this meeting, including the attendance of an Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury. All this was possible due to the implementation of the decisions taken in consultation with the IMF.

There is an aspect about the income of the Government of Sri Lanka which need to be noted. In 2015, during a visit to Sri Lanka the IMF representatives  underlined the need or a surplus in the primary budget. Therefore, it was provided for in 2017-2018. However, it was reduced in 2019 due to the Easter Sunday bombings. However, there were no serious repercussions. The IMF was  optimistic that Sri Lanka would be able to increase its revenue, since there was a surplus in the primary budget.

At that juncture, Sri Lanka’s income was between 14.5% – 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, it was agreed that Sri Lanka could gradually increase this to 17%-18%.
However, in November 2019, the country’s taxes were drastically reduced, with the Government revenue decreasing to 8.5%. In this context, the IMF set aside the agreements and declared that it was unable to provide the agreed assistance. 

That year the Government lost approximately Rs. 600-700 billion as revenue.  Simultaneously, the country  had to face the Covid-19 pandemic. These issues are the main factors that led to the collapse of Sri Lanka’s economy.

The IMF advised the need for  a surplus in Sri Lanka’s  primary budget. It was agreed to, since the country needs the support of the IMF.

It was also decided to increase the country’s income from 8.5% to 14.5% of the GDP. However, it is a difficult task to accomplish immediately, it is envisaged to achieve this  by 2026.

Initially, a decision had to be taken on the manner in which the income is to be increased. Money was printed due to the decrease in income. During the past two years, Rs. 2300 billion has been printed, resulting in inflation rising to 70% – 75% and even more in respect of food inflation.

These increases need to be controlled, while securing income. Therefore, during the discussions with the IMF a new tax system has been proposed. The IMF informed that even the export industries would be required to pay taxes.

The IMF pointed out that in countries with an export economy, the related industries were liable for tax. The IMF also upheld that Sri Lanka’s primary export economy is based on the plantation industry. During British rule, taxes were charged from every plantation sector, including tea, coconut and rubber. Therefore, if the country has to move towards that goal, taxes will have to be paid. The export sector has now questioned this aspect and the related concerns are to be submitted to the IMF.

The second issue regarding the personal tax structure.  The majority of tax revenue is through indirect taxation. The majority of the country’s citizens, even those below the poverty line, had no choice but to pay indirect taxes.  The direct tax revenue is 20% and 80% has been derived from indirect taxes.

The IMF that particularly had reservations in this regard were of the view that the amount of tax obtained through direct taxes should exceed 20%. The IMF noted that otherwise this would not be successful and ordinary citizens would need to pay taxes.

Therefore, according to this framework, and also to achieve the goals of 2026, the Treasury and the IMF discussed the possibility of limiting the taxation from those who have an income of Rs. 200,000, which however, did not materialize.  Eventually, this has resulted in the decision to levy income tax on people earning over 100,000. Today, this has become a vital concern amongst the citizens.

Against this backdrop, without this tax system, the desired goal will not be achieved. The agreed goal is to achieve 14.5% – 15% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) revenue by 2026.

 If Sri Lanka withdraws from this program, IMF assistance will not be received. Without IMF certification, the support of these international financial institutions such as the World Bank,  Asian Development Bank, and the countries that have supported financially will not be forthcoming. If that happens, the country will be  back to the era of queues.

Tougher times ahead will have to be faced. Therefore, these loans need to be obtained and embark on a debt-restructuring program. These decisions are not being taken wilfully, but are being done  reluctantly. However, these decisions will be reconsidered periodically.

In the same manner of conducting the debt restructuring program successfully, if a bountiful Maha season is achieved as expected, it will help in reducing economic pressure. Measures  to increase the country’s foreign reserves has also been discussed and once all these steps have been implemented the country can move forward.

The country at this juncture is facing a difficult period. Expectedly tough decisions have to be taken during these difficult times. I undertook this challenge when no one else was willing to come forward. Therefore, it is my responsibility to explain the background of the related issues and the Government is also ready to discuss this further if required.

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“14.3% Surge in new HIV infections in 2023, reveals national program”

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The National Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS Prevention Program states that the reporting of new HIV infections has increased by 14.3 percent.

This is higher in 2023 compared to 2022, director, Dr. Janaki Vidanapathirana, community medicine specialist said.
She said that last year, 694 new HIV infected people were identified, most of them were men, and the number is 611, which as percentage is 88%. Last year, 81 HIV infected women were reported, which is 11.7 percent as a percentage. It is also
reported that there are 4100 infected people in society.

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Sri Lanka to Host Digital Economy Summit in July

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The State Minister for Technology, Mr. Kanaka Herath, announced that the anticipated National Cyber Security Act will be introduced this year, followed by the establishment of the Cyber Security Authority.

Additionally, the State Minister underscored the preparations made for the Digital Economy Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka by the end of July. The summit serves as a platform for fostering innovation, collaboration, and investment in digital technologies, thus propelling the country towards a more resilient and prosperous digital economy.

Speaking at a press briefing titled “Collective Path to a Stable Country” held at the President Media Centre (PMC) today (29),

State Minister Herath further said;

The digital economy, which previously stood at 4.73%, has now surpassed the 5% mark, indicating significant growth.

This expansion has notably bolstered the country’s overall economic resilience. To further enhance this momentum, preparations are underway for the Digital Economy Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka at the end of July. The summit aims to attract both local and foreign investors, with collaborative efforts from foreign embassies, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Investment Promotion facilitating this initiative.

Furthermore, a sum of Rs. 50 million derived from the profits of Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) was allocated to the treasury in the previous year. In line with President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposal, a new initiative has been launched to uplift small and medium-sized industrialists, who constitute 52% of the country’s economy. This endeavour seeks to empower such enterprises technologically, offering them Good manufacturing practice (GMP) and SLSI certifications. Additionally, plans are underway to facilitate access to low-interest loans through the Asian Development Bank (ADB), with the ultimate goal of guiding these small and medium-sized industrialists into the market.

(dailynews.lk)

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SC quashes Cabinet decision granting Paget Road residence to Maithripala

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The Supreme Court on Thursday (29 Feb.) quashed the Cabinet decision allowing former President Maithripala Sirisena to occupy his official residence at Paget Road in Colombo 07 even after he left office.

Accordingly, the court stated that an order will be issued invalidating the Cabinet decision taken on 15 October 2019 in this regard.

The relevant court order was issued by Supreme Court Justice Priyantha Jayawardena, with the concurrence of Justices Gamini Amarasekera and Kumudini Wickremasinghe, upon consideration of a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition filed by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

The petition further sought a court order stating that former President Sirisena had violated several fundamental rights of the public by taking decisions pertaining to his own privileges and rights during his tenure as the President, thereby making him the head of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Announcing the verdict, Supreme Court Justice Priyantha Jayawardena highlighted that the relevant Cabinet decision made by Sirisena was, in fact, unlawful, given that he was both, the President and the head of the Cabinet of Ministers at the time the decision in question was taken.

In their petition, the CPA and Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu claimed that the residence in question is of great financial value to the country, and thereby stated that such an allocation for a former President was irrational, illegal and arbitrary, and also violated several fundamental rights of the country’s citizens including that of the right to equality.

(adaderana.lk)

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