Vote on Second Reading of Budget today: Rebel MPs ratchet up pressure on SLPP

Dissident SLPP MPs yesterday (20) asked the ruling party whether it would back what it called President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s deplorable revenue proposals when Parliament vote on the Second Reading of the Budget is held today (21).

The rebel group said that the move to privatise even the profit-making enterprises, such as Sri Lanka Insurance and SLT and the increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 15% to 18 with effect from January 01, 2024 would worsen the economic crisis, rebel spokesperson and former minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said.

Referring to parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa’s criticism of the Budget presented by President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Finance Minister on Nov 13, the top rebel spokesperson urged key SLPPers not to skip the vote. The former External Affairs Minister said that the SLPP’s stand today would help the public to ascertain the situation on the ground.

At the onset of the briefing, the former top law academic said that the approval for the Budget would entirely depend on the SLPP, the largest single political party in the current Parliament.

The debate on the Second Reading of the Budget that commenced on Nov 14 would be concluded today and the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget held at 6 pm, Prof. Peiris said.

The Committee Stage debate, or the Third Reading debate on the Budget, is scheduled to begin tomorrow (23) and will continue until December 13. The vote on the Third Reading of the 2024 Budget is scheduled to be held on December 13 at 6 pm.

Prof. Peiris insisted that the SLPP couldn’t under any circumstances vote for Wickremesinghe’s Budget as the key proposals were contrary to its policies.

The SLPP voted for Wickremesinghe’s interim Budget for 2023 presented on Sept. 2, 2022, a day after IMF announced it would provide a loan of USD 2.9 bn to be released over a period of four years. Sri Lanka received the first tranche of the loan in Sept 2023. Since then the facility has been suspended.

Of 225 MPs, 115 voted for Wickremesinghe’s interim Budget and two MPs of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) voted against, whereas the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and other political parties, including the JVP, abstained.

Political sources said that though there had been differences between President Wickremesinghe and the SLPP over the non-appointment of more of its members to the Cabinet, the party would definitely back the Budget. Sources pointed out that both State Ministers of Finance were SLPPers, Shehan Semasinghe and Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and there was no question over those serving the Cabinet and the party voting for the Budget. The group included three member MEP parliamentary group consisting of Premier Dinesh Gunawardena, State Minister Sisira Jayakody and National List MP Yadamini Gunawardena.

Sources said that the government was confident of a comfortable victory though attempts were being made to cause turmoil.

SLPP lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa yesterday told The Island that the country is in such a desperate situation political parties have to sensibly ascertain the situation. “We’ll decide tomorrow of our stand,” the former minister said. Yapa’s group consists of MPs John Seneviratne, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Priyankara Jayaratne.