Published on: January 26, 2024

President vows to facilitate meeting with the IMF for clarification of doubts or alternative proposals

  • Political parties must formulate comprehensive plans for nation-building when gearing up for elections.
  • President extends appreciation to the Customs Department for the customs revenue collected in 2023.
  • To enhance the anticipated government revenue, the customs service needs to operate more efficiently.
  • Modernization measures for state revenue-generating institutions, including customs, in the near future.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe extended an invitation to all political party leaders in the Parliament to engage in discussions with the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the implementation of the agreement with the IMF.

Emphasizing the importance of unity in leading the country to success, he highlighted that withdrawing from the agreement would jeopardize the trust in Sri Lanka’s economy.

The President stressed that the nation’s economy suffered due to the politics of promises, emphasizing the need for all political parties to formulate comprehensive plans for the country’s development when gearing up for an election.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe made these remarks during the International Customs Day celebrations at the Colombo Customs Headquarters this morning (26).

The President expressed gratitude to all members of the Customs Department for their contributions to the customs revenue in 2023. Highlighting customs tax, VAT and income tax as the three primary sources of income globally, the President stressed the importance of enhancing the efficiency of the customs service to boost the country’s revenue. He further noted that upcoming government legislation and modernization initiatives will overhaul all public revenue-generating institutions.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe delivered six Certificates of Merit to customs officials for rendering exceptional services to the International Customs. The Director General of Sri Lanka Customs, Mr. Sarath Nonis, presented the Strategic Plan for 2024 to President Wickremesinghe and State Minister for Finance, Mr. Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

Additionally, a memento was presented to the President by the Director General of Sri Lanka Customs.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, offering additional remarks, stated:

“The Customs Department holds a significant historical position, being considered one of the oldest government departments in Sri Lanka. Historical records indicate that customs taxes were collected around 2000 years ago at the ancient port of Manthai. From the Anuradhapura era, through the Kotte era and into the Kandy era, customs revenue has played a pivotal role in the nation’s existence.

I express my gratitude to the Customs Department for their contribution in helping us overcome the economic crisis faced in 2022. Customs duties, VAT and income taxes stand as the three primary sources of income for nations globally. In the contemporary landscape of international trade agreements, regional trade agreements and free trade agreements, our focus should be on enhancing income. To achieve this, the current customs services need to operate with efficiency.

While we are unable to allocate additional staff to your department, your commendable performance highlights the potential for substantial revenue improvement. There is a considerable journey ahead, and the government is firmly committed to the comprehensive modernization of customs and other revenue departments, which includes the imminent introduction of new legislation.

This initiative is a crucial component of the measures undertaken to steer the country out of the economic crisis. The decisions made in 2023 have paved the way for recovery from the economic downturn of 2022, although the journey is on-going. By the end of this year, our aim is to elevate the country’s income to 12% of the GDP. By 2026, we target a further increase to 15%.

To achieve this, income must be generated from the existing economy, necessitating economic development. The pressing question today is how to facilitate this economic growth. The out-dated economic system is incapable of propelling the country forward. The reliance on daily loans led to the collapse of the country’s economy. It is imperative to overhaul this economic system for sustainable progress.

We are still grappling with challenging times. In 2021, we faced shortages of essential goods, including medicine, fertilizer and fuel. Today, these necessities are available, with associated costs. The Cost of living is still felt by everyone. Economic development is crucial to alleviating these issues. While it is a wish that the economic damage of 2022 could be swiftly undone, the reality is that we need to transition to a new economy.

To stimulate economic growth, we must focus on a competitive market, bolster exports, and increase foreign exchange reserves. An agreement with Thailand is set to be signed on February 3rd, marking an opportunity for collaboration. While Thailand shares a Theravada Buddhist heritage with Sri Lanka, our respective economic paths have diverged, leading to discernible differences today.

Our actions today shape the future economy of our country. It necessitates thoughtful consideration and discussion. Political parties should engage in meaningful dialogue, especially when preparing for elections, understanding the intricacies of addressing the country’s challenges.

It is imperative to carefully consider the future trajectory of our nation’s economy through open discussions. Political parties should engage in thorough deliberations, articulating strategic steps to address the challenges facing our country. Achieving solutions demands thoughtful discourse and a united commitment to charting a realistic economic path forward. Our emphasis should be on comprehensive discussions, steering away from impractical endeavours—symbolized by the metaphorical notion of bringing rice from the moon. Continuous evaluation and, when needed, adaptation of existing programs should be integral to our on-going conversation and collective dedication to progress.

Our country has recently entered into an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, a pact signed by numerous countries, including 15-20 others. It is an agreement we cannot simply walk away from, necessitating collective discussion and consideration. However, the unfortunate reality is that our political landscape often resembles the fleeting nature of “papadam” —put in the pan, enjoyed when it blooms, and soon forgotten. The cycle repeats, with new issues emerging, gaining momentary attention, and eventually fading into oblivion.

We raised concerns on social media, vehemently opposing certain drafts, only to witness them become law despite public outcry. The Anti-Terrorism Act is now looming on the horizon, met with similar protests, yet risks being consigned to collective amnesia. Similarly, the introduction of the TRC Act sparked fears about the demise of free education, but these worries, too, eventually dissipated. This cyclical nature of political discourse has contributed to the challenges our country currently faces, a reality we must not lose sight of.

We must have the strength to transcend our current predicament, recognizing that this decision impacts not only our own future but also that of our children. Hence, I urge all political party leaders in parliament to engage in discussions regarding our stance on the agreement with the IMF and whether any amendments are deemed necessary.

Following these discussions, I am willing to extend an invitation to the Managing Director of the IMF to participate in a collective dialogue here. Let us collaboratively explore different perspectives and propose modifications if deemed beneficial. While the amendment process is open for consideration, it is imperative to acknowledge the existing agreement and work towards its implementation.

In attendance at this important juncture were State Minister for Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policy Mr. Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Presidential Senior Adviser on National Security and Chief of Presidential Staff Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka, Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Mr. Mahinda Siriwardena, Director General of Customs Mr. Sarath Nonis, Senior Deputy Director of Customs Mr.R. D. Perera, Assistant Director of Customs Mr. Sudatta Silva, and other esteemed officials from the Customs Department.

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