Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa to Present 2021 Budget Amid Strict Covid-19 Protocols

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Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will present the 2021 budget in the Parliament on Tuesday with unprecedented Covid-19 health protocols in place, including the assembly seats being arranged outside the chamber, officials said. The members will enter the chamber only when they actively take part in the debate. The Parliament had agreed to ignore the quorum of minimum 20 members required during the budget debate which runs until mid-December, parliamentary officials said.

For the first time in the assembly's history, seats are arranged for the 225 members of the Parliament outside the chamber in the lobby. Rajapaksa, who is also the Finance Minister, will present the budget amid unprecedented health measures as the island nation since early October is witnessing a massive spike in COVID-19 infections with the number of deaths from the pandemic increasing four fold, health officials said.

Sri Lanka has recorded over 17,600 COVID-19 cases and 61 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University data. Sri Lanka's economy, especially the tourism sector, has been hit hard since last year initially by the Easter Sunday attacks, which killed over 250 people and later by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021 budget presentation comes amid weak state revenues from a 2019 tax cut, and the pandemic. Sri Lanka has also suffered serious downgrading of its credit rating by international rating agencies.

Sri Lanka's credit was downgraded to 'B-' by Fitch and Standard and Poor's in 2020 as the rupee fell largely due to money printing in March and April this year. Moody's in late September downgraded the credit to Caa1 (CCC+), which is just above default level.

The 2021 budget seeks parliamentary approval to spend 2,687 billion rupees. The government also seeks to raise 2,900 billion rupees of debt. The budget proposals will be debated from November 18 to 21 when the vote on the second reading will be taken. The committee-stage debate will begin on November 23 and will end on December 10 with the vote on the third reading.