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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Govt’s CHOGM bill at Rs 15.8 B

VVIP vehicles line up awaiting the foreign dignitaries
at the Nelum Pokuna theatre. Pic by Hasitha Kulasekera (ST)

The government has spent a whopping Rs 15.8 billion on the recently concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), opposition charged in Parliament yesterday. Spending money of this magnitude for a meeting of this nature should have some sense of proportion where 54 Mercedes Benzes were imported for the 54 Heads of
Governments, but only 21 arrived, Colombo District United National Party (UNP) MP, Ravi Karunanayake, speaking during the budget debate said.

“This is the amount the government has spent and we want them to come clean about these expenses, which include Rs 5 billion for the limousines and the other expenses include the roads and other infrastructure developments, the payment of hotel bills and all other related expenses,” Karunanayake told Ceylon Today on the sidelines of the budget debate.

He also said hosting an international meeting such as CHOGM and the Commonwealth Business Forum was good, but, effectively the businessmen who arrived were not the businessmen from the Commonwealth, but from China!

He also blamed the government for getting commercial loans at high interest rates of 6% and 7%, which were also associated with the NDB Bank’s Dollar Bond issue and others, whereas the concessionary loans that the UNP got during its short-lived government of 2001 was only at 0.5% interest.

“It is indeed sad that the government was spending 41% of its revenue on repaying loans and now it has risen to 43%,” he alleged.

Karunanayake also said President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s budget speech did not outline the strategies to explain the revenue proposals, but the document which was placed before Parliament yesterday was only about government expenses. “It is now the services sector which is bringing in 62% of the revenue, but the President did not spell out the strategies to bridge the Rs 11 billion budget deficit. It was the bad management of the economy which has led to the higher call rates for mobile phones, higher prices for petrol and also the higher interest on bank loans.

“The government has claimed there is a Rs 20 billion decrease in the expenses of the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, but the actual statistics show something different.

“The government’s Rs 1 billion proposal for a Farmers’ Pension scheme can cater to only 69,000 farmers, but there are 6.9 million farmers in the country, which means the government should have provided Rs 6 billion for the farmers’ pension funds.

“Though the government has claimed the public servants have been assured of additional allowances, the increment does not match the inflation rate. “The government has allocated
Rs 6,700 million for education, which was a mere 1.3% of the budget, but a UNP government would have increased to around 4% of the budget.”

Karunanayake also debunked the government’s claim of Rs 3,100 per capita income, which he said, would have shown that each employee should have received Rs 31,000. But, the reality is that there are employees who are barely drawing Rs 20,000 per month, he pointed out.

“It is absurd for the government to pay the expatriates a mere 2.5% interest on Non Resident Foreign Currency Accounts when the government was paying 9-10% on foreign loans,” he charged.

Commenting on the Hambantota Port, Karunanayake said the government’s revenue was only Rs 200 million from the 140 ships that docked there to date, but the annual loan and the interest component was Rs 6.8 billion.
 By Ravi Ladduwahetty


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