Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday said he would make his dissenting views known at today’s Cabinet meeting regarding the proposal to impose a mandatory age limit for three-wheeler drivers, insisting that concerns over safety could be addressed by alternative means but acknowledged a regulatory body for the industry may be needed.
Proposals to regulate three-wheelers that include a limitation to allow only people 35 years and above to drive them have been around before for some time.
However, the Finance Minister has insisted that such a step would deprive youth, who have a higher unemployment rate than the national average, to have access to a viable form of self-employment.
“The fact that we have young people willing to go to the open market and earn a living without depending on the Government for a job is a positive. We should not deprive young people of the chance to be independently employed if that is their wish. I am against this proposal to impose a 35-year age limit, and if there are safety concerns, then it can be handled by law enforcement authorities and other State institutions,” he said.
Samaraweera also pointed out that it was government policy to encourage entrepreneurship, and contended that three-wheeler drivers should be supported by linking them with other industries to provide services.
“The three-wheeler culture cannot be turned back. The image of a three-wheeler is now ubiquitous and deeply connected to the average Sri Lankan image. What we need to do is provide new options for their growth. For example, we have started a program to train them as tour guides and to register them so that they can diversify their businesses. Similar proposals need to be encouraged to imbue them with professionalism, but limiting their age is not a fair policy,” he added. Samaraweera noted that a regulatory body for three-wheelers may be considered to formalise the industry.
Advocates of economic freedom have criticised the age limit and pointed out that three-wheelers have significantly reduced transport costs and increased mobility of middle-income people, especially women, by keeping travel affordable. Reduced regulation has also allowed innovation to flourish in the industry, allowing for the use of apps and other technology to further bring down transport costs and improve price transparency. Increasing the age limit would reduce competition and limit employment options for less educated youth. Experts have also pointed out that if companies are facing worker shortages, they should improve wages and working conditions to attract workers rather than artificially keeping people from moving up the labour value chain.
Responding to questions from reporters, Samaraweera also stated he would stand by his decision to not give a preferential salary increase to railway workers without considering the other public sector grades that would also be eligible.
“Cabinet last week approved the establishment of a salaries commission, which has been tasked with giving recommendations for public sector salary changes in two months. We cannot give special treatment to only the railway staff and as a Government, we have to give due consideration to all public sector workers.”
The Finance Minister also announced that the Government would hold the first ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ exhibition in Monaragala on 29 August with village infrastructure projects being rolled out in the region parallel to the program. The exhibition is expected to travel to Anuradhapura in three months, and from there to Jaffna. The Rs. 32 billion ‘Gamperaliya’ program will be implemented countrywide to build roads, improve hospitals and schools, clean tanks, renovate places of worship and build houses.
“We selected Monaragala because it is one of the poorest regions in the country and many people would benefit from the programs that we will do as well as the loans schemes in ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’. Additional resources for the Gamperaliya program would be allocated in the next Budget,” Samaraweera said.