Harsha de Silva

Vote on IMF facility likened to death certificate for a buried man

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that their decision to skip the vote on the ‘Resolution’ for the implementation of the arrangement under the EFF (Extended Fund Facility) of the International Monetary Fund for Sri Lanka shouldn’t be construed as a rejection of the agreement with the IMF.

The chief of SJB’s economic management team said so when The Island sought his explanation for failing to back the agreement with the IMF, having repeatedly urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to seek IMF intervention.

Of the 80 lawmakers who skipped Friday’s vote, the majority belonged to the SJB, the main Opposition party.

Pressed to explain what some called the SJB’s dubious stand, the former UNPer and State Minister said his party strongly opposed certain clauses in the IMF agreement, regardless of the appreciation of Washington headquartered lending agency’s intervention. Asked to explain, Dr. de Silva said that on behalf of the SJB, he had told IMF representatives that a future SJB-led administration would definitely seek to alter those disputable sections.

The resolution received the backing of 120 MPs, whereas 25 voted against it. Three Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) MPs and rebel SLPP MPs voted against the resolution. Three SLPP MPs, who have distanced from the government parliamentary group, namely John Seneviratne, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, threw their weight behind the agreement, whereas the TNA and the SLFP, too, skipped the vote.

The vote was taken electronically, on 28 April, on the third and final date of the debate.

Dr. de Silva stressed that the agreement with the IMF did not require parliamentary approval at all. Alleging that President Ranil Wickremesinghe sought to exploit the situation to the advantage of his government, Dr. de Silva likened the parliamentary approval for the IMF agreement to obtaining a death certificate for a buried man.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka, over a period of time, sought IMF interventions, on 16 occasions, Dr. de Silva said that no previous government did make a song and dance about seeking such assistance.

Emphasizing the vital importance in securing IMF assistance, amounting to USD 2.9 bn, over a period of four years, the Colombo District MP said that the SJB never wanted to sabotage the process. The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government could have sought a consensus with the Opposition before finalizing the Staff Level agreement with the IMF, on 01 September, last year. Unfortunately, even after that the government quite conveniently kept the Opposition out of the process and the situation remained the same till the IMF Executive Board approved the loan on 20 March, 2023, Dr. De Silva said.

Why on earth a three-day debate is held to discuss a finalized agreement, lawmaker de Silva asked, pointing out that Sri Lanka has received the first tranche immediately after the IMF Executive Board’s approval.

Responding to further questions, the economist said that the IMF agreement, now in operation, essentially focused on stabilizing the economy. However, Sri Lanka needs economic stability, plus growth, the former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) said.

Lawmaker de Silva said that 36% tax rate on personal income and corporate profit tax of 30% on exporters weren’t acceptable. “We’ll certainly initiate negotiations with the IMF in this regard,” the one-time Wickremesinghe’s deputy, during the Yahapalana, administration said.

The MP expressed the belief that the government could have secured much better agreement if Sri Lanka’s proposals were presented, after having reached an understanding with major political parties represented in Parliament.