Main opposition MP Eran Wickremaratne says corruption remains a critical issue for Sri Lanka, and with the appropriation bill seeking to increase state expenditure by Rs. 300 billion,
it appears the government is yet to get serious about reducing costs.
The SJB parliamentarian says the opposition supports moves to reduce other expenditure to enhance spend on education and health. But the government seeks to increase defence spending despite being the largest spender on defence in the Asian region in terms of GDP, he said.
Wickremaratne added that citing the Civil Aviation Amendment Act, the minister speaks of infusing private investment into catering and ground handling of the national airline, which are profitable entities. There was no mention of airline operations, which is over $ 1 billion in the red.
Remarking he is keen to promote competition in the industry, the SJB MP noted that notwithstanding that any possible attempts to maintain the grossly loss-making airline could well be to hide avenues of corruption.
“If you are keeping the airline for political reasons, you need to consider private participation to turn it around. Through this act, if the government is looking to dispose the two performing entities and not solve the airline issue that’s not a good way forward. You cannot develop an economy without the rule of law and that must apply similarly to everyone,” he said.
Addressing a media briefing in Colombo yesterday (11), Wickremaratne noted the IMF too said aspects such as special commodity levies must be approved in parliament as per due process, without leaving it in the hands of one person.
The SJB MP said he had presented a private member’s bill in this regard, and leaving such decisions in the hands of one is seen as dictatorial and leave room for malpractice as witnessed with the sugar tax scam.
Wickremaratne also touched on the draft Online Safety Bill, which he termed draconian and aimed at stifling freedom of expression. He noted the government is looking to rush this legislature through without adequate discourse with civil society, and that aspects of the bill could extend to mainstream media as well which now has a heavy online presence.
He added the purported independent commission to administer the proposed law is not appointed by the constitutional council, but by the President and thereby questioned its independence.
“This is a move to stifle civil society. A society has diverse views and people must have opportunity to express different views and opinions in a democratic society. It adds that any posts that lead to unrest can lead to five years in jail and a fine. People should be able to protest peacefully like they did last year. People stood against an oppressive regime. They did it peacefully and this is part of democracy,” he said.
Wickremaratne added there are other provisions available to protect vulnerable segments from online activity.