Treasury Chief turns down AG’s request for funding

Budget 2022: Cash strapped govt. suspends new constructions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle has turned down Auditor General W. P. C. Wickramaratne’s request for public funds for building an international training centre at Horana for the National Audit Office.

The Communications Department of Parliament quoted Treasury/Finance Secretary Attygalle as having told the Committee on Public Finance chaired by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa that the Cabinet wouldn’t allocate funds from Budget 2022 for new constructions. The Finance Secretary said so when the AG asked whether funds could be allocated for the project.

Acknowledging the requirements of the National Audit Office, MP Yapa, who represents the SLPP, pointed out that there were quite a number of state-owned buildings that weren’t in use currently. The MP expressed the view that perhaps the requirement of the National Audit Office could be met as space was available in the public sector.

The Committee on Public Finance met virtually with the participation of State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dr. Harsha de Silva (SJB), Prof. Ranjith Bandara (SLPP) and several officials. The majority of Committee members however haven’t participated in the proceedings.

The cash-strapped government has decided not to fund new major constructions as part of the overall cost cutting measures taken in the wake of unprecedented drop in state revenue due to Covid-19, waste, corruption and irregularities.

However, at the same meeting MP Yapa’s committee had approved a new special textile production zone of 400 acres in the Eravur area to provide economic and social benefits to the people, the Communication Department said.

The project would be implemented by the Board of Investment (BoI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for local and foreign textile manufacturers under the Strategic Development Act No. 14 of 2008.

Commenting in detail, the Director General of the Board of Investment Pasan Wanigasekara told the Committee that two factories in Eravur had already expressed their willingness to start production of high-quality garments for the foreign market. State Minister Godahewa pointed out that it would be unfair if those factories were given additional benefits compared to the other factories in the country. Prof Ranjith Bandara, too, asserted those operating in Eravur shouldn’t receive benefits not available to other companies engaged in similar projects. The Communication Department quoted the MP as having said that it would be like giving away a blank check so that only the relevant companies would receive unlimited opportunities.

FS Attygalle emphasised that the proposed zone targeted local and foreign textile manufacturers and was not garment factories.

MP Yapa recognised the importance of such investment opportunities in view of the situation facing the country.

Ministerial sources said that the government would have to proceed cautiously as the economy was facing quite a serious challenge amidst a worldwide economic/health crisis. With major revenue sources including tourism seriously affected due to Covid-19 eruption, the government would have to cut down on unnecessary spending.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is on record as having said that the country faced daunting challenges in settling USD 4 bn in loan repayments.

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