Speech made by Comrade Anura Dissanayake at the press conference held at the head office of the JVP yesterday (26th).
“We would, while bringing out our opposition regarding the disastrous situation that has been created in the economy of the country and the decisions taken by the government that have made the situation a hardship for the masses, take measures to make the masses aware of the dire situation. As a result of the pandemic, ordinary people’s lives have been severely shattered. People’s sources of income have been cut off and many income sources have been broken down. A large number of irregular and self-employment sources that brought income to meet ends meet no longer exist. In such a situation, people generally are confronted with severe adversity.
Studies have revealed that 25% in the industrial sector would lose employment. If compared with the employed in 2018, this number would be 365,980. It is also said that 25% of the construction sector would lose their jobs. It means about 178,000 in the sector would lose their jobs. According to studies, more than 11,13,000 would lose their jobs within this year. Already, more than 200,000 in the garments industry, office and shops sector have lost their jobs. For example, the employments of many who have worked less than six months have been stopped. Also, those who were employed by ‘manpower’ companies have been discharged. The employment of those who were employed on a contract basis has been terminated. Many places of employment have decided to pay only half the salary. The number of employees has been halved, and decisions have been taken to pay only half the salary. As such, already, a massive impact on the economy of those who have been employed has occurred. The income sources of those who sold vegetables and fruit on the road, maintained a laundry or a saloon had been constricted. The people are confronted with the jeopardy of leading their lives in the future.
What should the government do now? The government should take measures to make available the necessary goods, food and clothing at a reasonable price. However, the government, instead of providing relief, is pressurizing to the masses who are already distressed. This is why the government introduced a new tax policy. We know that the prices of crude oil and refined fuels have come down in the world market. The lowest prices for fuel in the last 25 to 30 years have been recorded now. However, the government does not give the advantage of the low fuel prices to the people. Today, when the price of crude oil in the world market is considered, fuel with government taxes added could be sold for half the existing price. Instead, the government has increased the taxes on fuel and is grabbing the relief that should be given to the masses.
The benefit of decreased fuel prices would spread to all sectors of the economy. For example, it would be a relief to fishermen. The benefit of the low prices of fuel will be an advantage for the farmers who use machinery to prepare their fields. Bringing down the fuel process will bring down the cost of transport, and the general public will be benefited. Also, bring down fuel prices will be an advantage for the institutions that distribute goods and services. People could get benefits. However, the government, without considering the benefits the people get, has made the advantage of low fuel prices in the world market an additional income.
You would remember Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the Nation saying on 17th March that the benefits of reduced prices of fuel in the world market would be transformed to the people by reducing the prices of dhal and salmon. He put forward a strange formula. No one in our country could understand the connection between fuel prices and the prices of dhal and salmon. He said a tin of salmon would be given for Rs. 100 and a kilo of dhal for Rs. 65. However, by 30th April – after 40 days -the control prices of dhal and salmon were withdrawn. Their prices were allowed to be increased freely. As a result, The price of dhal went up to Rs. 130 a kilo while a tin of salmon went up to Rs. 230. Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Mahinda Rajapaksa imposed a tax of Rs. 10 for a kilo of dhal. Instead of providing relief to the people, taxes are imposed on essential goods such as dhal, salmon, garlic, potatoes, sugar etc.
Those who sang hosannas regarding the imposing of these taxes claimed such taxes are imposed to encourage local production. This is not a new gimmick. Every government, after imposing taxes on essential goods, stated that the move was to encourage local production. Does imposing tax on dhal is carried out to encourage local production of dhal? We know that Mysore dhal is not produced in our country. Anyone can argue crops such as green gram and cowpea could be grown here instead of dhal and such cereals could replace dhal. However, what has taken place? In 2018 8.1 million kilos of cowpea were imported. This shows that cowpea too is an imported item. Big onions are taxed when the harvest is gathered in our country. Currently, no big onion is harvested in our country. It is the planting time for big onions. The harvest is gathered in August. If so, why is big onions taxed now? Is it to protect the big onion farmer? In 2018 246,000 metric tons of big onions were imported. Is tax for chili powder imposed to protect the farmer who cultivates chili? We know chili is cultivated in the dry zone during yala season. It is chili cultivation period now. As such, imposing a tax for chili now is certainly not to encourage the local farmer. It is to fatten the government coffers.
By imposing more taxes on commodities such as sugar and big onions what the government aims is to burden the people further with the financial crisis it is confronted with and find a way to earn money. You would remember the attempt made by the government by asking state employees to donate half of their salaries to the government. It is to save money for the Treasury. However, there was no good response from state employees. Hence, the government has decided to collect half of the expenses utilizing taxes.
Also, there is an issue regarding water and electricity bills. The government is also trying to collect money by sending faulty water and electricity bills burdening the people further. This is the second gimmick used by the government to earn money.
There is a third. We know that state employees, especially in the health sector, made immense sacrifices to contain corona in the country. However, you would have seen members of medical staffs in various hospitals carrying out agitations at various places such as Kandy and Walasmulla. Those who worked continuously for 18 hours in a shift and risked their lives to contain the virus took to the streets demanding their just rights. They claim that their allowances concerning the services they have rendered have not been paid to them. The government is attempting to fatten its coffers by slashing the allowances due to the state employees.
The government is burdening the people to fill its empty Treasury. However, it has commenced several large projects to continue earning its commissions and misappropriate public money. Recently it was proposed to construct a cricket stadium spending Rs.8 billion. Also, there was a proposal to bring down 28 vehicles spending Rs. 3 billion. These are cabinet decisions. The same cabinet that imposed taxes on essential goods proposes to construct roads spending Rs. 31.7 billion and allocates Rs. 5 billion for expressways. During these three weeks, the cabinet decides to spend the highest amount of money taken by a cabinet. Large constructions mean colossal commissions and means of earning money illegally. The government has not given up misappropriating public money even amidst such a disastrous calamity.
Comrade Sunil Handunneththi stated that the cabinet had decided to rent vehicles to State Ministers to be used in their election campaigns. A vehicle is given for Rs. 100,000 rent. Firms that rent V 8 jeeps charge a rent of Rs. 3.12 million a month. However, the government’s rent is Rs. 100,000. This means a state minister gets an additional income of more than Rs. 2.1 million. A fuel allowance of nearly Rs. 200,000 is given. The cabinet that imposes taxes for dhal, big onions etc. paves the way for state ministers to get an additional income of Rs. 4 ½ million. The government paves the way for misappropriation of public money. The government policy is deceitful. While the masses are burdened with limitless taxes, various projects are presented and adopted to earn commissions, get privileges and misappropriate public money.
In reality, this is an administration born of lies, maintained with lies and is destined to depart with lies. When the Chairman of Election Commission writes a letter asking the government to refrain from using the Rs. 5000 allowance as a political gimmick, it is interpreted as the Rs. 5000 allowance should not be paid. Where have they told the truth?
Hence, we ask the people in this country to come forward against the economic pressure applied against them. As a political movement, we are prepared to oppose the proposals presented with the intention of earning commissions and misappropriating public money. We are prepared to take measures against such vile moves. We expect all masses who are being burdened by the vile moves of the government to rally with us.”