By Shamindra Ferdinando
Dissident SLPP MP Gevindu Cumaratunga has strongly opposed the government move to place the debt-restructuring programme under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s control as the latter does not represent Parliament.
Addressing Parliament on Saturday (01), the leader of civil society group ‘Yuthukama’ pointed out that the Resolution on the Domestic Debt Optimisation (DDO) was meant to bring the whole process under Finance Minister Wickremesinghe’s power. How could Parliament grant such authority to a person not among elected or appointed members of the current Parliament? MP Cumaratunga asked, while stressing public finance was their (Parliament) responsibility
The dissident SLPP MP was among 62 members who voted against the resolution.
MP Cumaratunga reminded Parliament that a massive Rs. 3.5 bn VAT scam took place in 2003 when Wickremesinghe served as the Premier. Recalling the 2015 and 2016 Treasury bond scams, MP Cumaratunga questioned how those who campaigned against Wickremesinghe throughout that period now voted for DDO that was meant to give him unprecedented powers. One hundred and twenty-two MPs voted for the resolution.
Comparing the government debt with the Gross Domestic Product in the recent past during the Yahapalana and Rajapaksha administrations, MP Cumaratunga stressed that President Wickremesinghe couldn’t be entrusted with the DDO process. Finally, the government shamelessly burdened the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) with massive debt, the MP said while attacking the government over its failure to collect taxes amounting to Rs 6 bn from liquor manufacturers.
MP Cumaratunga told The Island that he couldn’t address some issues as he got only five minutes to address parliament. The outspoken MO said that Sri Lanka secured as much as USD 12.5 bn at higher rates from the international money market during the Yahapalana administration. Now, they advised the country how to proceed in DDO operation, MP Cumaratunga said, questioning how Central Bank and Treasury employees were given a staggering 29 percent interest whereas other EPF recipients received just 9 percent interest.
The government owed an explanation as to how a selected group of people received a higher interest rate at a time the economy was under tremendous pressure.
Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office, former SJB MP and mayoral candidate at the elections for CMC, Mujibur Rahuman said that, in short, the resolution on DDO has effectively transferred the powers relating to public finance from parliament to Finance Minister Wickremesinghe.
Rahuman said that President Wickremesinghe disclosed the move to take up resolution on DDO on Saturday during his recently concluded visit to Paris.The former lawmaker said that the President and the SLPP had been in an indecent hurry to empower President Wickrejemsinghe at the expense of parliament, the parliament was summoned on Saturday regardless of scheduled sittings tomorrow (04).
Rahuman said that the issue should be discussed also taking into consideration a day’s sitting cost the taxpayer as much as Rs 10 mn. Pointing out that parliament staff consisted of nearly 2,000, Rahuman said that workers had to be paid extra payment on that day. Why on earth you squandered money at a time of bankruptcy.
Rahuman said that the executive had now secured powers of the legislation thereby negating parliament. “We are rapidly moving towards a dictatorship,” Rahuman said, warning of further deterioration. The situation has been aggravated by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena openly siding with the ruling party, the ex-MP said. One-time UNP MP lambasted the Speaker for blatantly working for the government since the day he received that appointment. Having agreed to continue the debate till 9.30 pm, the Speaker terminated the proceedings at 7.30 pm and called the vote, Rahuman said.
Both MP Cumaratunga and ex-MP Rahuman alleged that the government didn’t really explain how it was going to address the issues at hand. Instead the executive has been granted unprecedented powers that threatened the very basics of democracy here, they alleged.Rahuman said that the absence of the Rajapaksas at the time of voting should be carefully examined.
Courtesy Sunday Times
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