The Value Added Tax (VAT) which received public criticism will now come into force, as Parliament passed the legislation with a comfortable majority today.
The Valued Added Tax (Amendment) Bill was taken up for debate in the House after the Supreme Court determined that its provisions were consistent with the Constitution.
After a lengthy debate involving arguments and counter arguments it was put to the vote -- as the Joint Opposition called for a division by name.
It was passed with 112 votes for and 46 against during the second reading. 65 MPs were absent during the vote. As per the procedure, it was referred to the committee stage for the incorporation of amendments.
Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardane moved an amendment calling for the exemption of health services from VAT. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake declined to accept it saying VAT would be imposed only on medical consultation fees and in-house hospital charges. He said he would issue the necessary regulations under the bill later.
During the third reading, a division was called for again. At that time, there were 76 votes for it and 23 against. The rest of the members who had voted during the second reading had left the chamber by that time.
Along with the Joint Opposition, the JVP also voted against the Bill. However, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is the main Opposition party was absent during the vote. The Joint Opposition MPs were seen wearing black bands around their necks or on their arms as a mark of protest against the VAT hike.
Minister Karunanayake said 81 goods and services would be exempt from VAT. He said some opposition members had created a misconception. (Kelum Bandara and Yohan Perera)