Sri Lanka‘s Parliament on Tuesday approved the 2023 budget, with 121 lawmakers voting for and 84 opposing it in the 225-member House.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the finance minister, had presented the budget on November 14 featuring tax reforms to raise government revenue.
On Tuesday, second reading of the budget was approved by a majority of 37 votes in Parliament with 121 members voting in favour while 84 voted against.
Some 18 members were absent at the time of voting.
The voting came after a debate which was held over a week since President Wickremesinghe presented the budget, which is seen as an International Monetary Fund (IMF) friendly budget.
The budget aims to raise tax revenue by over 65 per cent which the opposition said was appeasing the IMF.
“Poverty has increased three fold. I agree that reforms are needed but we have to acknowledge people are suffering in poverty,” Harsha de Silva, the main opposition economic spokesman, told the House during the debate.
“This is not the time we could afford sugar coated pills, we have to turn this country next year so that we can start paying our debts,” Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said.
Sri Lanka in September agreed with the IMF to obtain a USD 2.9 billion facility over four years. The progress has been slowed down due to the IMF condition that agreeing with the island’s creditors were required before the disbursement.
Wickremesinghe proposed to privatize some of the loss-making state enterprises such as Srilankan Airlines. He said the proceeds would be used to boost the foreign reserves.
The opposition leaders accused the government of failing to provide any economic relief to the public who have been hit by high inflation.
Their criticism was centered on attempts to privatize even the profit making entities such as Sri Lanka Telecom.
Wickremesinghe stressed that hard hitting reforms were needed to turn the economy around.
The opposition blamed him for penalizing the public through high taxes when those responsible for plunging the country into an economic crisis have been sent free.
The budget approval in parliament came despite opposition jointly voting against it while the main Tamil party TNA decided not to attend the voting session. Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, plunged into financial and political turmoil earlier this year as it faced a shortage of foreign currencies. It declared bankruptcy in mid-April and has suspended repaying its USD 51 billion foreign debt, of which it must repay USD 28 billion by 2027.