Right of reply'
With reference to Factcheck headlined “Minister Sagala Ratnayaka exaggerates budget allocation for health and education” appeared on February 28, Ports and Shipping and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka has sent the following reply with documens. We publish Minister Ratnayaka’s reply and Verité’s reply to it.
“I was utterly disappointed that Verité Research had misrepresented my remarks on allocations for health and education sectors in 2018. The total allocation for the education sector (including higher, skills development and vocational training and provincial council education sectors) stands at 14.65%. (Rs.318, 403 Mn). The total allocation for the health sector stands at 11.26% (Rs. 244, 754 Mn). Therefore total government allocation for the education and health sectors is at 25.91% (Rs. 563, 157 Mn).
I am all for fact-checking and holding government authorities accountable. But the processes the evaluators adopt should be inclusive and methodical. Verité Research seems to have made their calculations in a haphazard manner without attention to detail. Inferences stemming from such flawed processes can be misleading.
I have also attached the verified information that I have obtained from the National Budget Department in this post. I kindly request you to correct the erroneous report, which was republished by Daily Mirror, and publish this clarification with the same prominence”.
FactCheck’s verdict was, and is, that Minister Ratnayaka was incorrect in stating that government had allocated 25% of the total budget for Health and Education in 2018. The allocation was around 19%.
Minister Ratnayaka’s response suggests that the information he has received in contesting the FactCheck is incorrect. The Minister, in a tweet, provides an image of numbers written in unpublished documents, but signed off by officials. There are two deviations in the numbers provided by the officials. One is material, the other is not.
(1) The deviation that is not material is the total expenditure on health and education. Verité used the number 544.6 billion, from the Central Bank (CBSL) Annual Report published in April 2018, Table 6.4 (page 209). The unpublished number provided is 563.2 billion, which is only slightly higher. This small deviation could arise from small adjustments in allocations that could have occurred after the CBSL publication in April 2018 and makes no material difference to the FactCheck assessment.
(2) Where the difference is material, and the unpublished numbers referred to by the Minister are incorrect, is in defining the total expenditure of the government. Verité used the number 2,913 billion (from the same CBSL table), while the Minister cited a much lower number of 2,174 billion. The higher number used by Verité already excluded the repayment of debt – because debt repayment does not impact overall net-worth. The puzzle then is how the officials came to provide the Minister with a lower numberon government expenditure, that is unpublished, and cannot be supported by the financial reporting of the government.
If FactCheck is to speculate, it is possible that the officials excluded not only debt repayment but also interest payments. If this is how the incorrect number was arrived at, it is a serious error. CBSL’s data dissemination standard for Sri Lankais the international standard of the Government Finance Statistics Manual (GFSM) 2014. Section 4.24 of the GFSM (Page 71, 114) makes it clear that interest payments are distinct from debt repayment and is counted as government expenditure while debt repayment is not. It would seem that the Minister has been poorly served by the information that he has been provided.