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02 December, 2015 09:27 AM Source: Financial Times - Sri Lanka
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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday staunchly defended his Government’s maiden budget, urging Parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle to think out of the box and put aside traditional political rivalries to back the appropriation bill for 2016.
The Budget for 2016 presented by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake late last month has come in for both bouquets and brickbats, giving rise to a strong debate over the Government’s fiscal proposals in the country. The Budget has been criticised for the cancellation of vehicle permit entitlements for both parliamentarians and public servants, revising fertiliser subsidies and school uniforms distribution, increasing emission test charges, and providing foreigners easy access to hold local lands.
But Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who addressed Parliament yesterday, said the criticisms were lacking in substance, and in most cases were not valid.
“Some said there was no taste at all in this budget. Others held the budget would destroy the economy and sell the country to foreigners. Certain members were unhappy to be in the Cabinet and decided to criticise the budget. All these are traditional political slogans that have been used for years and years. You are standing against this budget for no good reason. Maybe it is to raise objection or to fulfil a political party’s requirements. I urge you to shun politics as usual and take a more positive view of things,” urged PM Wickeremesinghe.
The Premier specifically raised issues pertaining to budget proposals regarding the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and the Employees Trust Funds (ETF). He assured Parliament that both funds would no longer be at the mercy of political parties or arbitrary decision making by policy makers.
“Both funds were subjected to theft during Rajapakse regime. Those who stood against those policies and publicly demonstrated got shot. That how Roshen Chanaka died in the Free Trade Zone protests,” Wickremesinghe recalled. 
He said that the trade unions were justified in their fears that the funds would be gambled with and lost. “I have met the trade union leaders and labour leaders. We are trying to fortify the funds in many ways. One plan is to bring in new regulations limiting the options to reinvest the moneys of the funds,” he explained.
The Prime Minister recalled that during the previous Government the directors of the funds had been appointed to meet Government agendas for the pension funds.
“If you take the Malaysian EPF Act, the Directors are the trustees of their fund and there are rules and regulations to follow. We are looking at restructuring both funds at the time of restructuring the Central Bank. The Monetary Board will have authority to intervene in the decisions of these Directors and the Parliament is above the Monetary Board,” he explained. 

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