The Government, in the presentation of the 2019 Budget, does not appear to have abandoned its liberal economic policies, but has been cautious enough not to burden people too much in the realisation of its ideals. To cushion the current hardships, it announced a few concessions too.
The allowance of Rs.2500 to public servants, the introduction of specially designed housing loan schemes for newly wedded couples and Sri Lankan expatriate workers, the proposal for the upward revision of pension for public servants are among the budgetary highlights that are attractive.
One thing is very clear. The Government has worked out the Budget bearing the Presidential Elections in mind. The Presidential Elections have to be concluded before December 7, this year. Ahead of such vital elections, the Government led by the United National Party (UNP) has attempted, in this Budget, to extend its much hyped ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ programme’ that would enable its MPs and electoral organisers to have enough money at their disposal for infrastructure development in their constituencies prior to the elections.
Ostensibly, the Government is investing in such development works such as road building, renovation of irrigation tanks and canals in a move to recapture the erosion of its vote base in rural parts of the country.
Normally, in every Budget under every Government, there are attractive budgetary proposals. However, what matters most is the ability of the party in power to realise them at the end of the year under review. In most cases, the allocations announced in the Budget are not utilized by the year’s end, and the budgetary proposals concerned remains mere rhetoric only.
The UNP backbenchers applauded of Bandara’s views. In addition, his views were openly asserted by Polonnaruwa district MP Sydney Jayaratne and Badulla district MP Chaminda Wijesiri. However, the UNP, as a party, did not take a policy decision regarding this issue. So, these could be lone voices
So, it will be possible for people to know in a few months’ time whether the budgetary targets announced for the current year are practical, or are mere election charades.
Range Bandara opposed to the vote of President in the budget
After Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera delivered his speech outlining the Budget proposals, the UNP had a meeting, followed by dinner, at Temple Trees. Finance Ministry Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga briefed the Government legislators on the Budget. Then, the individual members aired their views on the Budget, and expressed general support to the overall Budget.
However, Puttalam district MP Palitha Range Bandara had some resentment on the Budget. At this meeting, he said that he was opposed to the head of expenditure for the Office of the President. In this respect, he charged that the President had deliberately violated the Constitution, and the Supreme Court had ruled against him.
“The President vowed to take action against fraudsters. He goes on slandering the UNP at every meeting for not taking action against corruption and fraud. However, he has taken control of the institutions entrusted to him. During the committee stage of the debate, I want to take a stand against the vote of the President,” Mr. Bandara said.
Sydney, Chaminda Wijesiri back Range Bandara
The UNP backbenchers applauded Bandara’s views. In addition, his views were openly asserted by Polonnaruwa district MP Sydney Jayaratne and Badulla district MP Chaminda Wijesiri. However, the UNP, as a party, did not take a policy decision regarding this issue. So, these could be lone voices.
Obviously, the UNP is at loggerheads with the President. The party’s resentment runs high, but it will not confront the President openly. Instead, it would assign its backbenchers to take on the President.
The Government has worked out the Budget bearing the Presidential Elections in mind. The Presidential Elections have to be concluded before December 7, this year. Ahead of such vital elections, the Government led by the United National Party (UNP) has attempted, in this Budget, to extend its much hyped ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ programme’
At the end, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked whether there was anyone opposed to the overall Budget. None was opposed it to.
Some MPs were displeased that proposals submitted by them had not been included in the budget. Alongside, there were others who were happy. One among them was Non Cabinet Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Dr. Harsha de Silva. He managed to secure an allocation of Rs.200 million to set up base stations for the ambulance service called ‘Suwaseriya’.
It has been the passion project of Dr. de Silva launched with the financial assistance of India. India donated ambulances for the purposes, and financial assistance to cover the operation cost for one year.
Mangala realises his 2006 dream
In the meantime, one of Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s long standing dreams has also crept into the Budget; that is to establish a government fund to grant scholarships for bright students who excel at the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination to study at the world’s leading universities such as Cambridge and Yale. He announced it first to the public way back in 2006. That was when he formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s Mahajana Wing in 2006 after defecting from the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. He launched a policy manifesto including this proposal among others. Today, Samaraweera, as the Finance Minister, has been able realise his dream after 13 years.
TNA happy over Palmyrah fund
In the formulation of the Budget, the UNP has acceded to the demands of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) whose support is vital for its passage through Parliament.
For the development of the war ravaged areas, the Government has allocated Rs.5 billion for the setting up of the Palmyrah Fund.
The Palmyrah tree is the cultural symbol of people in the north. In literature, it is used as an allegory to refer to the Tamil culture.
In the overall context, the Government seeks to continue with an economic model with a liberal outlook. But, at the same time, it is not intending to burden the people this year apparently due to vital up coming elections. It is obvious that the Government has made a great effort to reconcile its commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the local public interests in order to position itself to face elections at the end of the year.
In the overall context, the Government seeks to continue with an economic model with a liberal outlook. But, at the same time, it is not intending to burden the people this year apparently due to vital up coming elections
President mulls making reference to Supreme Court
President Maithripala Sirisena has mulled the possibility of remaining as the ceremonial President by seeking approval of the people by referendum after the abolition of the Executive Presidency without going for a presidential election. According to sources close to the President, for this purpose, he contemplated that he should make a reference to the Supreme Court seeking its opinion.
However, it is learned that his confidantes advised him against such a move. They pointed out to the President that he suffered a setback when such a reference was made to the Supreme Court regarding the number of years in his term. On that occasion, the court said that the President could serve only for five years, not six.
Against such a backdrop, the President was asked not to seek the court’s opinion as any determination against his wish would deal yet another political blow. Accordingly, the President is having second thoughts on this matter. Also, he has not totally abandoned the idea.