By Chandani Kirinde
The Government yesterday abandoned a move in Parliament to amend the Vote on Account (VOA) to obtain an additional sum of Rs. 367 billion for Government expenses, as well as increase the limit of borrowing, after the UNP-led opposition refused to support the move.
Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told the House that the Government would not move the relevant regulation as the Opposition was attempting to sabotage the move to obtain additional funds. The ruling UPFA has only 96 seats in the 225 legislature, and hence would have needed support from the Opposition to have the resolution passed. But the UNP opposed the move to increase the limit on borrowings to Rs. 1088 billion from Rs. 721 billion, saying this would put additional burden on the public and economy.
When sittings began last morning, Gunawardena requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to call for a Party Leaders meeting as he had information that some of the agreements that had been arrived at with the Opposition in regard to passing the VoA had changed, and needed to be discussed before the resolution was moved in the House. Sittings were suspended for Party Leaders to meet, and during the meeting, which was also attended by Secretary to the Ministry of Finance S.R. Attygalle, Government representatives explained that it was essential to increase the limit on borrowing as the additional funds had to be obtained through loans, but that they could not reach a consensus.
“We discussed this move at length and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa gave a lengthy explanation to the House. We need this money to buy essential medicine, for fertiliser, to pay contractors and suppliers and settle loans taken from banks,” Gunawardena told the House after sittings recommenced.
He said the Opposition had raised objections, initially saying the move to amend the VoA which had been presented by former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera last October, was illegal. “We consulted the Attorney General and his opinion was that that if we bring the relevant resolution to the House and have it approved, it was legal,” he said.
“The Opposition is standing in the way of relief measures that the Government is trying to grant to the people of this county. It is preventing us from proceeding in a legal manner to obtain additional funds. The Opposition was rejected by the people and they elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President, but they are obstructing us,” Gunawardena charged, adding that the Government has decided against presenting the resolution.
Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa said they are not opposed to approving the Rs. 367 billion needed to relief and development measures, but were opposed to raising the limit on borrowing. “The Prime Minister went to India and asked for a moratorium of three years on repayment on loans and is now seeking to obtain more loans,” he said.
Through the resolution, the Government sought to obtain additional funds from the Consolidated Fund and by Supplementary Estimates and increase in the limit on borrowing up to Rs. 1,088 billion, enabling the Government to raise loans in or outside Sri Lanka.
Government members told reporters at a press briefing, after the decision to abandon the move to get additional funds before the country heads to a General Election in April, that the Opposition Leader had shown his immaturity in dealing with an important national need.
“This move by Sajith Premadasa shows he is a political novice and no amount of trying to explain the need for this measure was of any use,” Minister Bandula Gunawardena said.
He said that the failure to have the resolution approved would not lead to any financial crisis in the country but arrears of those who had to be paid for projects they completed last year, and other such outstanding payments would be delayed.
Meanwhile former Finance Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake also held a joint press briefing where they defended the Opposition’s decision to oppose the Government, alleging that this was an attempt to obtain additional funds to give hand-outs during the upcoming elections.
“There is no fiscal responsibility in the Government and the economy is already in a big mess. If we approve this resolution, the economy will collapse completely,” Samaraweera said.