It has been a tradition in many countries to launch austerity drives for government politicians when the country’s growth rate hits a record low. That is one important means of taking collective responsibility for the down turn. The measures usually include curtailing foreign travel and if at all travelling economy class, with the objective of reducing the burden the politicians load on the country’s taxpayers who are already reeling under the resultant inflation.
With Central Bank announcing that Sri Lanka has reported a 16-year low of 3.1% growth rate last year, one may say it’s high time that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe considered a similar drive for the ever increasing number of Cabinet ministers, State ministers and the deputies who have become quite a liability on the taxpayer. Besides it would also be prudent for the President and the Prime Minister too, if they can set an example to their respective party members and supporters by downsizing their entourage every time they travel overseas and also consider cutting down on trips that are non-essential. Neighbouring India and Malaysia are known for such drives every time their economies hit a low.
It is true that not all ministers or State ministers or deputy ministers have been extravagant and over-indulgent. Quite a few ministers lead austere lifestyles even without compulsion. On the other hand there are also the ones like Minister Duminda Dissanayake, who has been paying a monthly rental of Rs.21 million for an unoccupied office building since April 2016. It was only a few months ago that he finally occupied the building. This reckless waste by the SLFP General Secretary cum Minister of Agriculture still remains unaccounted for and unexplained. If that money was spent on the country’s poor and suffering farmers instead of on a fancy building at least by now we would have reaped a better harvest.
It should be noted that Sri Lanka’s record low 3.1% growth rate came at a time when its poverty-stricken, war-ravaged, disaster-hit big neighbour India recorded a 6.5% growth during the same period.
Still the Modi government was worried as it was supposed to be a four-year low for the country. The IMF however has predicted a 7.4% growth rate for India this year while other analysts too have projected a bullish 7 to 7.5%.
As for Sri Lanka’s fate, sadly it’s not something that any politician seems to bother about right now. The drama that unfolded with the post-Local Government polls continues to create tempests and typhoons. Politicians from both sides of the divide are preoccupied with the daily political developments to bother about the economy.
With a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister already tabled in Parliament, government members are busy contemplating how he or she would respond at voting time. On the other hand the joint opposition which is riding high after the February 10 election victory is determined to make the government bleed paying scant regard to how their mischief to destabilize the State would affect the people while the JVP, which has long lost its plot is meanwhile, fast becoming redundant.
As such it seems that the masses have no one to turn to, when it comes to saving them from the grave repercussions of the worsening economic crisis. Right now the economy is showing no hope of any resurgence with inter and intra-party rivalry within the government partners making matters worse. The friction between the camps of the President and the Prime Minister is even known to the villager in the remotest areas of the country.
None of these however are excuses to neglect the country’s economy. After all the war is a thing of the past and with a per capita income of some US$4,000, Sri Lanka was already a middle income country by the time the yahapalana government took over the mantle of office. An austerity drive for government politicians will at least show that the government is genuinely keen on improving the country’s growth after its mistakes, at least by making some meaningful sacrifices.