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People are hard hit by COVID-19 pandemic, they deserve relief … Kiriella tells the government

lakshman Kiriella

Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District Parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella has stated that the government should not forget that people had been hard hit by the pandemic and they deserved relief.

He made this observation speaking during the second reading stage debate on budget 2021 proposals in Parliament. Kiriella said:

“People are hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to an economic crisis. They do not expect the government to consider roads and bridges as its first priority in the budget proposals. What the masses look forward to is relief measures to regain their livelihoods.

People in all strata of life have common expectations from any budget – that’s relief and pay hikes. They do not wait till the budget comes to see how many roads or bridges the government is planning to build. Their hope is to see what the government would do to help them solve their day-to-day problems.

The government cannot say that it is not possible to give relief to the people. Soon after it came to power, it granted Rs. 600 billion in tax concessions to its friendly businessmen. By doing so, such a colossal amount was lost as government revenue. Now, what are those companies saying in return? They have taken up the position that due to the pandemic crisis this year, they will not be able to pay taxes next year as well. If the government could help the rich in that manner, why can’t it help the poor to survive?. If the government had not given Rs 600 billion relief to the big companies, they could have used the money to help the people. What do you intend to tell the people when you go to villages? Around 200,000 persons have lost their jobs during the past several months. Every public institution has lost around 40 percent of their revenue.

Just like every government in the world talking about the indigenous economy when they have lost everything, this government too now talks of promoting the indigenous economy. We remember that the United Front Government also talked about the indigenous economy during 1970-77. The government starts talking of indigenous medicine when it does not have foreign exchange.

The government lost a huge sum of money by helping its friends. Now it does not have money to do business with the international community. The day would not be far when we see long queues lining up in front of shops because there is bound to be shortage of goods. Cooperatives are already empty. I heard that the Bokkawela cooperative shop in Kandy was closed because there were no goods. This is the reality in the country.

The government should not forget that people have been hard hit by the pandemic and they deserve relief. Since the first budget after we came to power, we offered immense relief to the people. We brought down the prices of sugar, milk powder, Sustagen, bread, sprats, canned fish, Maldive fish, rice and chillies. We increased Samurdhi payments. We increased the Mahapola bursary. We gave a seven perch plot of land to estate workers. We increased the salaries of public servants. We reduced the price of gas. There is nothing of that sort in this budget.

We increased the salaries of each public servant by Rs. 10,000. What are you going to give? You are proposing them to do another job after their regular work. From 9 am to 4 pm they work in their offices and could people have the energy to do another job? Who would be at home then? When will these people have time to rest? We call on the government not to play with the lives of people”.

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