Skyrocketing cost of living and rising unemployment are part of the Government’s legacy as they complete two years in office, main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) alleged yesterday.
Addressing the media, SJB Parliamentarian and former State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne charged that ill-advised policies of the Government had caused the cost of living to skyrocket, adding to the burden of the public already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He pointed out that the rising cost of living impacts a large segment of Sri Lankans, who are in the low-income category. He explained that the COVID-19 had forced many out of work and highlighted the plight of daily wage earners and small-scale entrepreneurs.
“The pressure is felt at the meal table. The impact is felt in almost every household in the country. The cost of living has skyrocketed over the last two years,” MP Wickramaratne said. He argued that the tax cuts introduced by the Government as it came into power did not have the trickle-down effect on the public.
“For example, the tax we put in place on sugar when we were in Government was mainly due to public health concerns. This Government reduced the tax to 25 cents a kilo. We all know about the scam that happened there. However, is sugar cheaper now than before? The same applied to rice, coconuts and canned fish,” the Opposition MP questioned.
Wickramaratne pointed out that due to the sugar tax change a potential revenue of Rs. 16 billion was lost whilst consumers did not benefit either. “The Government has failed miserably to manage the economy,” he charged.
He also blamed the Government for not passing on savings earned from the significant drop in international oil market prices last year.
“The price of petrol has increased from Rs. 137 to Rs. 157 today. Although the world market crude oil prices have dropped to a minimum, this Government has not given that relief to the people. Diesel and kerosene prices have all been increased,” MP Wickramaratne stressed, adding that the price of medicines is also increasing.
The former Minister also stressed that the SJB will stand against the proposed Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill, stressing that free education funded by taxpayer rupees for civilians must be regulated by the University Grants Commission and be under civilian oversight.
“We are of the view that every Sri Lanka child should be allowed to have higher education. Whichever university they study in, it must be regulated by the UGC. We have no issues with a defence university. Military cadets need to be given the required training. The military can decide their recruitment parameters or if they want to recruit doctors or lawyers and such. For civilian universities, there should be a single recruitment procedure decided and administered by the UGC,” MP Wickramaratne stressed.
A university needs to be an open space for sharing opinions, where students and educators can ask questions. The students must have the freedom to question and criticize. Without those freedoms, a university is just another institution, Wickramaratne opined.
The SJB MP blamed the Government for attempting to railroad the bill through the Parliament without giving adequate room for debate and discussion on the matter, adding that the SJB will oppose it strongly.
(Source: Daily FT – By Asiri Fernando)