By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
With the preferential votes being announced, two candidates who are widely perceived as qualified in running the country’s Finance Ministry have emerged victorious in the Colombo District for the upcoming United National Party (UNP)-led regime.
Former Policy Planning and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, who was the organiser for the Kotte electorate, and former Investment Promotions and Highways Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne, who was the organiser for the Moratuwa electorate, won with 114,148 and 82,738 preferential votes, respectively.
In the run up to the election, it was evident that professionals and businessmen particularly were favouring both candidates.
They had both entered Parliament in 2010 through the UNP National List as professionals and had conducted affairs without receiving any allegations.
Dr. de Silva is a trained economist, who plied his trade at DFCC Bank prior to founding the country’s largest research agency, while Wickramaratne was a leading banker, who had been the CEO of NDB Bank and had been the Sri Lankan head for the global banking giant, the Citi group.
However, both were snubbed from the coveted post post-January, possibly due to their lack of political experience--which they have now proved to have—and Management Accountant Ravi Karunanayake was appointed as the Finance Minister.
The talk in the political circles even prior to the election was that Karunanayake may not continue as the Finance Minister, with the post being given to party Chairman Malik Samarawickrama, who will be coming to Parliament through the UNP National List.
Dr. de Silva had had the biggest hand in forming the UNP’s five-year economic plan, which is centred on a highly competitive, knowledge-based and social market economy.
However, implementation of the plan would fall on the country’s Finance Minister.
Both Dr. de Silva and Wickramaratne had been critical of political appointments to both private banks and other privately held enterprises through shareholdings of government bodies such as state banks and the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and had also called on for the EPF to be segregated from the Central Bank.
The biggest hurdle for the Finance Minister post-elections would be to decide on whether the revenue measures in the form of one-off and recurring taxes outlined in the interim budget in January would be passed in the new Parliament, as the past minority government was not able to do.
The state is currently cash-strapped having had to honour the budgetary expenditure in the October 2014 budget and the January 2015 interim budget and having to honour the election goodies outlined in the UNP economic manifesto in the near future.
Further, revenue will have to be secured to spend on the economic development zones, education, health and other social welfare programmes outlined in the manifesto.
However, increased receipts from the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise Departments were recorded during the seven-months of UNP rule, with Customs revenue increasing 50 percent and Excise revenue increasing 300 percent.
The Finance Minister would also be left with the challenge of further broadbasing direct taxation, while reducing the tax percentage and removing the complicated tax regime caused through various tax exemptions and para-tariffs.
The post would also entail the formation of a coherent, economically proven budget unlike the past budgets which were formed based on ill-conceived, ad-hoc decisions and feel-good giveaways, as well as removing protectionist import tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
Since the UNP economic manifesto has now received a mandate and the Executive is positively disposed towards the regime, the UNP may not have to fear a repeat of the 2004 situation while implementing economic development policies.