Basil admits difficult path ahead, promises adjustments required to implement President’s vision

Basil Rajapaksa

The Head of the high-powered Presidential Task Force spearheading economic revival and poverty eradication Basil Rajapaksa on Monday (25) said that the government was exploring ways and means of overcoming a drastic revenue shortfall as a result of unprecedented economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The former Minister and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) strategist Basil Rajapaksa acknowledged that corona had dealt quite a blow to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s agenda though they remained confident of pursuing objectives. Basil Rajapaksa was on ‘Salakuna’ programme on Hiru TV interviewed by a panel of journalists comprising Chamuditha Samarawickrama, Chapa Bandara and Madushan de Silva.

Basil Rajapaksa said that as three main revenue sources-tourism, garment trade and foreign remittances had been badly affected the government had no option but to review its original plans.

Responding to queries, the former SLFP National Organizer explained their decision to prohibit importation of a range of items and subsequent increase in taxes on selected imports should be examined against the backdrop of drying up of revenue sources. The former minister said that Sri Lanka couldn’t ignore new economic realities as the national economy struggled to cope up with sharp drop in government revenue.

At the onset of the live weekly programme, the SLPP chief fixer/strategist was asked the basis on which he received the high profile state sector appointment, in addition to him being the head of the government Task Force responsible for maintaining essential services immediately after coronavirus eruption in March. The Hiru panel also raised the inclusion of SLPP Local Government members in committees that picked recipients of Rs. 5,000 government dole.

Former minister Rajapaksa dismissed accusations made by ex-Galle District UPFA MP Manusha Nanayakkara and JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva that he brazenly exploited the current crisis to the SLPP’s advantage. The JVPer also questioned the former minister Basil Rajapaksa’s right to handle public finance as he no longer held any state sector position.

Denying the outfit he headed at the onset of the corona crisis or the one under him ever handled funds, the ex-lawmaker emphasized that there was nothing sans politics in Sri Lanka. Reminding that his brainchild the SLPP had comfortably won two countrywide elections-Local Government polls in Feb 2018 and presidential polls in Nov 2019, a smiling Basil Rajapaksa said that it was far easy to engage in politics than facing daunting economic challenge.

Declaring that in spite of unsubstantiated allegations directed at the government since the eruption of corona crisis in March, the SLPP strategist said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government was quite successful in curbing the highly contagious disease.

However, there were contentious issues, former lawmaker Basil Rajapaksa said, pointing out that the repatriation of Sri Lankans living in corona afflicted countries remained a major problem. Ex-minister Basil Rajapaksa said that the top health administration strongly opposed rapid repatriation of Lankans abroad due to the large number of recent returnees being afflicted with covid-19.

The former minister said that they faced a tough road ahead as the country struggled to meet some of its requirements locally. The one-time National List MP explained efforts to procure required fabrics locally as well as other items. The former minister said theirs were an effort to save foreign exchange.

Asked whether foreign powers would allow Sri Lanka to pursue strategies that might not be compatible with theirs, the SLPP founder said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t succumb to pressure and would pursue policies beneficial to the public.

Asked whether the SLPP exploited Rs. 5,000 monthly grant to consolidate its position ahead of parliamentary polls, the former minister said that several payments had been made to the needy in April and May. The former MP explained how the government chose several categories which required state assistance-ranging from Samurdhi recipients to kidney patients.

Basil Rajapaksa said that some families had received as much as Rs 23,000 a month though the bankrupt Opposition continued to propagate lies.

Commenting on Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya call for the government to review its decision to grant Rs 5,000 in June depending on the situation, Basil Rajapaksa said that they made arrangements for three months (April-June). Now that the EC Chairman had raised this issue, the government would certainly review its decision, especially because President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was keen to prevent controversies and disputes. The government would abide by directives issued by the EC in that regard, the former minister said.

The Presidential Task Force head said that contrary to reports the government so far received USD 25mn to procure urgently needed medical supplies, improvements to medical facilities et al. The official insisted that there was absolutely no basis for claims that the government received foreign funding following the outbreak of coronavirus.

Responding to queries on current financial status, the Task Force head said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa personally sought foreign assistance in that regard. Acknowledging that the country faced real challenge, former minister Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka had to pay back as much as USD 4.5 bn in interest and loan repayments before end of the year. The former minister said that of that amount USD 573 mn had to be paid before 30th of this month. The Task Force head also made reference to Sri Lanka seeking from India a special USD 1 bn currency swap facility in addition to USD 400 mn requested in terms of the SAARC framework.

The former minister said that there were instances of same foreign grant being referred to by several parties.

The SLPP founder urged the EC to take tangible measures to conduct the delayed parliamentary polls. Basil Rajapaksa also expressed concern over the conduct of a member of the EC though he refrained from naming him.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)

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