Mahinda Rajapaksa has slashed the tax that was imposed on sugary drinks in a controversial reversal of an anti-diabetes policy that has attracted immediate criticism.
The Ministry of Finance ordered an immediate 40 percent reduction in the levy as part of a package of tax cuts launched by the disputed government and ‘purported’ Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mahinda Rajapaksa to win over public opinion as the bitter power struggle continues to intensify.
Sirisena’s nominee for prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse has been making populists moves to win support for his government with the lower sugar tax coming on top of reductions in fuel prices and income taxes on agriculture this week.
There was no comment from president Sirisena, who last year warned international beverage makers that he would increase taxes unless they reduced sugar in their products. Sirisena attacked the sweetened beverages manufacture Nestlé last year for increasing the sugar content in popular beverage Milo and asked the then Finance Minister to extend the tax on soft drinks to all forms of sweetened beverages.
President Sirisena who attacked Nestl's Milo brand last year for its high sugar content, is yet to comment on the reduction of the sugar tax.
Meanwhile, health campaigners and former health minister Rajitha Senaratne condemned the move as damaging the fight against obesity and diabetes among young people.
Wickremesinghe’s administration had introduced the sweet tax — 50 cents on every gram of sugar in fizzy and fruit drinks — but the rate was slashed to 30 cents from Saturday.
The Ministry of Health said that 10 percent of the country’s 21 million population is affected by diabetes and another 20 percent were at risk of developing the condition.
Health lobbyist Dhanya Wijesuriya took to twitter to slam the authorities for making sugary drinks cheaper.
“This is insane,” Wijesuriya said of the decision. “How self serving. No vision,” he added.