State sector employees would suffer from consequences of the continuing drop in state income: D. E. W. Gunasekera

Communist Party of Sri Lanka General Secretary and Senior Ministerfunds yesterday urged state sector trade unions to push for far reaching financial reforms or face the consequences.

In fact, the CP Leader said the state sector employees would be the first to suffer from the catastrophic consequences of the continuing drop in state income as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

National List MP Gunasekera called for an urgent dialogue among state and private sector trade unions on the state of the national economy. The outspoken politician lashed out at the trade unions for remaining mum and being only interested in their rights heedless of the looming crisis.

Asked whether he was ready to facilitate a dialogue among trade unions, Minister Gunasekera pointed out that trade unions affiliated to both the UNP as well as the JVP had joined hands to pressure the government to do away with the new electricity pricing formula altogether. Of course, they had swiftly turned the electricity issues to a rallying point against the government, he said, admitting the Opposition project seemed quite successful.

Now that the UNP and the JVP had already reached an agreement on a joint trade union campaign and declared a one–day token strike on May 21, they should expand collaboration, the minister said. Instead of seeking short-term political advantage over the electricity tariff hike, the Opposition should address the larger issue, the minister said, stressing that flexing muscles wouldn’t help the country at the present juncture.

The Communist Party leader said that unlike the golden era of trade union activity, today trade unions at present fought for only benefits and privileges. Those affiliated to the main political parties as well as non-political Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) ought to come up with some tangible proposals to boost the state income, the minister said.

Minister Gunasekera challenged the Opposition to reveal its revenue proposals as early as possible in the run-up to the forthcoming Budget. The minister said that the Treasury should come up with budget proposals to increase the tax revenue to at least 20 per cent of the GDP from the present 12 per cent.

Asked whether he could play any role in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to pressure the government to take remedial action, Minister Gunasekera said that he was seriously contemplating calling for a confab to discuss the issues.

Minister Gunasekera said that he had got the opportunity to brief an IMF delegation on the state of the economy. He said he hoped that the IMF would take up the issue with relevant authorities and guide the government on the right path.

Responding to Minister Gunasekera, UNP National List MP and economist Dr. Harsha de Silva told The Island the UNP had continuously pushed for remedial measures. Minister Gunasekera seemed to have realised that the fiscal irresponsibility of the SLFP-led UPFA government had driven the country to a point from where they were unable to move forward without major reform.

“We have been pushing for reforms in Parliament and outside for the last two and a half years. We challenge the government to table in parliament the Prof. W. D. Lakshman tax commission reportm which was handed over to the President in 2010. Why has it been kept hidden while state tax revenue as a percentage of GDP continues to fall rapidly to hit a sorry 11.1 percent at the end of 2012? I am glad that at least minister Gunasekera is asking these questions.”

Minister Gunasekera urged MP de Silva to create awareness among UNP lawmakers as well as trade union leaders as regards the present state of the economy. “Let MP de Silva explain to them that there could be unprecedented economic fallout unless corrective measures are taken urgently. An influential section in the Opposition apparently does not want the government to resolve economic issues and is waiting for the economy to collapse so they could cash in on the situation.” (The Island)

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