JO, govt. see eye to eye on one budget proposal

Public sector PAYE:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Key Joint Opposition member and former minister Bandula Gunawardena yesterday said that in addition to members of parliament, several other sectors, including doctors, public sector executives, Provincial Council members as well as members of local government bodies, too, received duty free permits to import vehicles.

MP Gunawardena was responding to Hiru correspondent who sought the JO’s response to the government seeking a staggering Rs 791 mn rupees to provide brand news vehicles to 28 ministers, deputy ministers, state ministers and the Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampanthan atop the issuance of duty free car permits to all members of parliament.

Gunawardena said members of parliament had enjoyed that privilege since President JRJ’s time. The former Minister, while strongly defending members’ right to receive duty free vehicle permits regardless of them receiving official vehicles, recollected the sacrifices made by him over the years.

Gunawardena said MPs always received foreign currency from parliament for their overseas visits. However, he had returned unspent money on his return, MP Gunawardena said, adding that he didn’t accommodate his own brother’s request to be appointed a Sathosa dealer.

The SLFPer admitted that he was among the JO members as well as members of the UNP, UPFA/SLFP and TNA who had received duty free car permits. While the majority, including MP Gunawardena had received tax exemption amounting to Rs 34 mn each, TNA MP Dharmalingam Siddarthan was given a staggering Rs 44 mn tax exemption. Some top UNP members have obtained Rs 30 mn tax exemption.

MP Gunawardena said that even if he didn’t taken the tax exemption it wouldn’t make a difference as there were 225 members in parliament.

Responding to another query by The Island, Gunawardena admitted that the duty free concessions received by members of parliament couldn’t be compared with those given to other sectors, including doctors.

"Members of parliaments in other countries are paid much better than their Sri Lanka counterparts," he maintained.

Asked by The Island whether JO backed Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s proposal to impose PAYE (Pay As You Earn) tax on the public sector as well as in accordance with a budget 2017 proposal, MP Gunawardena answered in the affirmative. The MP said that both private and public sectors should be taxed alike.

Alleging that the Central Bank bond scam had seriously dented the confidence of local and foreign investors, MP Gunawardena claimed that nearly $ 2 bn had been withdrawn so far. He admitted that increase in US interest rates, too, had contributed to the situation. The MP pointed out that funds amounting to $ 1.5 bn pledged by the IMF to Sri Lanka should be examined against the backdrop of turmoil caused by sharp decrease in the country’s foreign reserves.

The JO bigwig alleged foreign reserves had been sharply depleted due to the government’s short-sighted policy of trying to prop up the rupee. Billions of dollars had been released and sold in abortive bid to save rupee, he said.

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