Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the country has had to face adverse repercussions due to the short sighted popular decisions taken in the past and unpopular decisions have had to be taken for the future prospects of the country.
Wickremesinghe made this observation Thursday taking part in the third reading debate of the budget proposal for the financial year 2023. Wickremesinghe said further that a Parliamentary Select Committee will be established on a resolution by the Parliament to look into those who led the economy to bankruptcy with their incorrect fiscal policies.
The statement made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe is as follows:
Some members discussed of the Mahaweli lands. The lands of the state were under the Land Commissioner until 1977. Due to the rapid development, some of the urban and rural lands were brought under the Urban Development Authority, Mahaweli Authority, and several other corporations.
But now, no one knows as to where those lands are or what they are doing with them. Hence the government is concerned to find out as to where the government lands are, and to whom they have been given. Although this is done through Divisional Secretary, he cannot issue lands as he wishes and a committee will be appointed in this connection. The government hopes to cancel all those grants of lands. Some spoke against taking over Mahaweli lands but they were all under the Land Commissioner earlier.
By now people have been settled in most of the lands under those institutions. But the rest have not been handed over to the Land Ministry by the Agriculture Ministry. Some institutions are still in the process of settling the people in those lands. We don’t have any issue with them. They can continue to develop them and settle people in them. However the government owned lands in Mahaweli B, C and H zones and lands in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa should be identified and make them available for the public to use. Despite the agriculture is developed by both Mahaweli Authority and Agriculture Ministry, so far we have not been able exceed the harvest above 6 Mt of paddy per hectare. That is the government’s concern and nobody needs to worry of this government’s move.
In addition, in accordance with the Education Minister’s request, we agreed to establish nongovernmental universities. Hence when we meet on 12 and 13, let’s discuss this matter with the former education ministers and other MPs and let’s reach a decision by next January. Thereafter we can establish those universities.
I would like to request the Speaker, as if we discussed earlier to appoint five youth to each Ministerial Consultative Committee, we can soon finalise the criteria of selecting them without delay. If we delayed it, the youth would inquire as to what has happened to it.
The Energy Minister said that electricity tariffs were increased last August. However the increase is not ample as it is estimated that the loss would be Rs. 151 billion. The total loss since 2013 is Rs. 300 billion. If drought prevails next year, we need Rs. 420 billion for next year’s electricity. If it rained, we need Rs. 352 billion while Rs. 295 is required if rained so much to have floods.
How are we going to find this money? We would have to print money, but Rupee would depreciate. We would have to increase VAT but it would increase the price of all commodities or to charge it direct.
However the parents requested not to cut power due to GCE (A/L) examinations of their children. Nobody including the politicians is willing to increase the prices. What is the option we have other than that?
After the discussions with China, we can go to the next step if we handle the economy somehow or other now with difficulty. If we can’t show the profits at such a situation we also suffer losses, nobody outside would aid us. The Prime Minister and I discussed this matter and we have to take decisions which are not popular for the sake of the country. The other countries at a time took those decisions not popular but were beneficial to their countries. We have not increased the electricity bills since 2013 and all of us are responsible for the loss. Now what are we going to do? If you have a deficit of Rs. 400 billion, what are you going to do? There are only 03 options: print money, put on VAT or charge directly.
I was the one who initiated to draft the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) Act. There the powers are vested on Minister and the Cabinet. There is a letter from the Attorney General which says it is evident from the afore mentioned provisions in the Sri Lanka Electricity Act general policy guidelines of pricing could be issued by the Minister and that such policy may be framed in the form of a tariff structure formula or by any other method. In terms of section 30 sub section 2 and 3 of that the aforesaid the PUCSL could be statutory obliged to give effect to such policy. It is observed that neither the Sri Lanka Electricity Act nor the PUCSL Act No 35/2002 contain any provision to empowers the PUSL to vary or act in variants of such policy guidelines.
I know it well, as I was the one who drafted the PUCSL Act and it comes within the ambit of my ministry. I don’t know as to why this Chairman misleads the people. I’ve got to meet this Chairman as I have received several complaints against him and his statements. He says that he does not allow increasing the electricity tariffs. He has not been vested with any power in that connection. How could the country run the economy, if we can’t increase the electricity tariff?
The said chairman is the Chairman of the Trilliam Group too. He is the one who buys highest amount of electricity. Building diversified portfolio on luxury real estate. Trillium: As a developer we aim to create the most luxuriant living spaces, offices and hotels at sought after locations where our design and architecture are obtained through exceptional levels of expertise. How much electricity is consumed by luxurious apartments?
He has Trillium Residencies, Trillium Havelock Residencies, Trillium Residencies Colombo 07, Trillium Hotels Colombo 07, Trillium Residencies Negombo, Trillium Villas. So when the electricity prices increases his expenditure increases. As the Chairman of the PUCSL he has conflict of interest with that decision, so he had to disassociate himself from that meeting. He didn’t do that. They want me to have an inquiry. But under the law, the power of inquiry lies with the Parliament.
So I will leave for the members of the Parliament to decide what has to be done. I don’t think this type of things can go on. You are chairman of a public corporation; you must know how you should behave. You are not a monkey who dances into organ.
If I had something such, even I would not be pleased with the electricity tariffs going up. I don’t like electricity bills going up at my home, but as I have none, it’s no problem to me. I saw that the Engineering Association viewed that the electricity bills did not need to be increased. I know the issue there. I’ve got the letter sent by State Minister Dilum Amunugama on those power plant projects none of which have yet been approved. They are 100mw off shore wind power plant in Norochchole at USD 321million, 500mw off shore wind power plant in Hambantota at USD 1.4 billion, 100mw solar power plant in Buffalo Island, Batticaloa at USD 68 million, 250mw wind power plant in Dutch Bay, Puttalam at USD 204 million. I would ask them first to pass these and then pass their resolution against the increase of electricity tariff.
We have to import coal for six months for Norochchole coal power plant as for six months we cannot import coal due to the condition of the sea there. In 2001, I stopped the project of the construction of this Norochcole power plant due to this six months issue. But when we were defeated, they convinced the successor government, that this was the suitable place to construct the coal power plant. Those persons who instructed the government now have retired. In 2002, when we got World Bank aids, we were given a report on electricity on unbundling. We did not implement it and we were later defeated in 2004.
Then, these officers requested the government to bring the Act in 2007. Thereafter not a single electricity power plant could be set up. Following dialogues with India and Japan, the UNP government could come to agreements to get two LNG power plants. After we were defeated the successor government, without cancelling those agreements granted it to New Fortress company in USA. Thereafter, as they did not like New Fortress, they gave it back to Pakistan and China. So within the same premises, there were China, Pakistan, India, USA, Japan and only Russia was not there. It was wonderful that a world war did not ignited there as there were five main powers in the world. Now there is no LNG or anything here and now they ask me to solve this issue. If the Japanese and the Indians were allowed, the LNG could have been a reality. So I asked you members here not to query about it again.
Another matter is the Banks’ issue. If the people do not settle loans, the banks will have to auction their property. But the issue is that the people too have no money to by such property. Therefore, we are discussing with the IMF to solve these issues. I think we all have to get together and think how this financial sector is to be lifted. We can blame each other. I can say I am not responsible. But the fact is that we can’t have the banks collapsing. So we have to come back to banking. That’s why; I want the Banking Oversight Committee.
Responding to a query made by parliamentarians as to who drove the country to such a bankruptcy and what is the punishment for them, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that a Parliamentary Select Committee will be established on a resolution by the Parliament to look into it.