The Budgets are just yearly affairs, and have very little to do with last year’s and hardly any for the future
National budgets have had very little to do with development throughout post independent history
The pickle budget has no guaranteed shelf life
The budget is packed in Jayewardene’s free and open market economy
Is Budget 2019 about addressing our problems? Are we talking about the Budget in terms of future development? Are we serious about future prosperity and stability with freedom? If that is the direction of this Budget 2019 presented by Finance Minister Samaraweera, why then are we so impatient in selecting a winnable Presidential candidate to head the next Government from 2020?
National budgets have had very little to do with development issues all through post independent history.
With governments that could plan little or nothing for “national development”, budgets became substitutes for development work.
They thus turned out as an yearly affair, this year’s budget has very little to do with last year’s and hardly any for the future.
Finance Minister Samaraweera presented his second budget branding it as Empowering People-Nurturing the Poor.
In November 2017 he presented his first budget as a designer budget calling it a Blue-Green Budget for 2018. He envisaged one million jobs, FDI inflows of five billion US dollars, a first-time achievement of one per cent primary surplus of GDP in six decades and a per capita income of 5,000 US dollars.
His green economy promised to have all State vehicles converted to hybrid or electric vehicles by 2025 among many similar promises.
How many of the vehicles bought for ministries during 2018 were such? Are we told what the status of those 2018 budget proposals is today? Are we told what this 2019 Budget has to do with all that?
This budget, for 2019, by the most Liberal and Secular-minded politician in Parliament, Finance Minister Samaraweera is proposing solar power for all Buddhist temples with an allocation of Rs.300,000 and another Rs.01 million for maintenance of religious places.
That’s for the Sinhala Buddhist vote. This budget also allocates Rs.200 million to set up the office for Reparation and Awareness work, while Rs.6,000 will be doled out to families of missing persons till the OMP takes up their cases.
It is proposed to allocate rupees four billion for one million people to have washrooms.
A Sweet Home for the newlyweds with a bank loan at six per cent interest payable in 25 years.
God knows what this Sukhitha Purawara programme is that is allocated Rs.3,000 million.
Meanwhile, Rs.1,000 million is allocated to beautify the most unplanned, apartment scattered, traffic jammed Colombo city. There are many more like support for the jaggery and toddy bottling industry in North-East, Rs.2.5 million for each student and community society (if any) for environmental sustainability, all military personnel provided an increased allowance of Rs.5,000 as Commando allowance with a 30 per cent increase in housing allowance and State Sector employees with an allowance of Rs.2,500 effective from July.
This pickle of a budget with no guaranteed shelf life is packed in Jayewardene’s legacy, the Free and open market economy.
Forty years out of 70 years with this disjointed, rhetoric packed Budget speeches, what have we inherited?
We’ve inherited ever growing corruption with an ever miserable rule. Nett gain therefore is, the accelerated increase in foreign debt from USD 1,136 million in 1978 to an indigestible USD 53,487.3 million by the second quarter of 2018.
That along with the breakdown of social values and morals, near collapse of all essential services including education, health and public transport, total loss of public faith in law enforcement and the judiciary with all State agencies reaching saturation point in corruption and inefficiency.
We have on our way not only become completely dependent on heavily patronised FDIs for export manufacture that cannot even foot our bill for essential imports, but we have also made Colombo a busy Heroin Hub in South and South-East Asia.
Ushering in this New Year, IGP Jayasundera told his officers the Police had seized 744 kilos of heroin in the year 2018. The street value is estimated at 11.9 billion rupees. In 2017 total heroin seized was 314 kilos. Police Spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekera is on record as saying the Police seized 520 kilos of heroin in the first two months of 2019 and on 23 February seized the biggest haul of heroin in Sri Lanka, a total of 1,475 kilos in five bags worth 3.53 billion rupees.
Where are those 3,053 kilos of heroin seized, now?
Have they all been produced in courts? Answers to those two questions would perhaps explain how deeply involved and corrupt the whole system is, how inefficient too and how complicated the crisis in the State is.
Outside the metropolis, this free market economy roped in rural youth as cheap labour for export manufacture that denies all basic Rights for almost 2.3 million employees. A conscious contradiction maintained with the BOI-SL administratively curbing the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Article 14(1)(d) of the Constitution.
All Governments and the present UNP Government, in particular, talk of economic growth by giving into this ruthless suppression of Labour Rights.
All Governments are also legally committed to safeguard and honour ILO Conventions 87 and 98 having ratified them.
The irony is, this Government with a mighty hurry to throw open the whole economy to FDIs has even allowed cheap “bonded labour” to be brought in from China, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
FDIs are not provided tax concessions, tax holidays and duty waivers at the expense of Sri Lankan citizens to provide employment for foreign bonded labour. For Colombo “democracy” campaigners, “democracy” does not include any of that.
During the past 40 years, we kept dividing the country into two, making the pledge for a Unitary State a new millennial joke.
This free market economy has left the whole rural society on the wayside to establish, grow and expand a consumer market in Colombo and around Colombo. The State is for those in this expanding Big City and not for the villager.
Delivery of State services to them are pitifully inadequate and inefficient. Nor do they have proper access to State services. Even to petition for restoration of Fundamental Rights, they have to come to Colombo with a gunny bag full of money. This Unitary State is not theirs and is not for them.
The growing urban-rural divide can be seen in how corruption lives with a city fixation in all things initiated by this UNF government more aggressively than under all previous governments.
While there are allegations of heavy corruption against Education Minister Kariyawasam over procurement of Tabs for school children, State Minister for Economic Reforms and Public Distribution grins proud the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Boys’ School, one out of over 10,000 Government schools is the “Only school that has a fully integrated Smart Classroom Solution” powered by XOLO Smart Classroom platform.
Is he as State Minister in charge of Public Distribution proud about schools in rural Sri Lanka that have neither toilets nor drinking water? Without necessary teachers and even proper classrooms with roofs? Minister Samaraweera has not counted rural schools without toilets when he counted households without washrooms.
Does any of the 2019 budget proposals have even a remote reference to this mega-crisis and chaos we are faced with?
The basics have gone wrong. Despite Mangala Samaraweera remaining the proud Mr Clean in this forty year old free market economy that has turned political parties into massive dens of corruption that know nothing about democracy, presenting the budget for 2019, he seems like one who is sitting on the Meethotamulla waste dump, unable to answer how the dump keeps growing.
Export manufacture with FDIs have also led to mega corruption and does not address the needs of the country. Prioritised national planning is not possible within free market dynamics. Corruption and fraud have come to stay at every level in this society. The State is no more the national delivery mechanism of the People. Its ability to maintain law and order had exhausted with corruption and crimes committed by its very personnel.
The economy has divided the country into two; a smaller but heavily prosperous urban society within a growing consumer market and a struggling larger community in rural sector that’s unable to secure a decent income for a decent human life with young women leaving for Mid-East as Housemaids. The Constitution remains a bundle of contradictions with Amendments, leaving it not worth the paper it’s printed on.
What is this Budget 2019 thus worth? It is fundamentally a “pre-election” Budget and nothing more. Annual Budgets presented and adopted in Parliament are no more about annual allocations for nationally planned “development programmes” and their capital and recurrent costs. Budgets are all about allocating public funds for Ministers, State and Deputy Ministers and MPs to spend through the year.
The crisis at hand does not, therefore, allow this country to sit back and enjoy academic discussions on budget proposals. Nor does it allow running after “Odd personalities” to select “winnable” presidential candidates. It’s about accepting 40 years of the free market economy on FDIs for export manufacture has ruined the economy, destroyed social values and morals, have destabilised the State, shattered law enforcement, corroded faith in the judiciary and left huge unassailable mountains of corruption and fraud. It’s not what the budget proposes that matters.
It is basics that matter
It is all about getting the basics right; education, health, public transport, rural economy, the Constitution, and an inclusive, secular State. What this budget proposes for the year ahead would be as irrelevant as the 2018 budget proposals were.