In September 2015, the two major parties the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came together for the first time to form a National Unity Government to work for the common good of the country. Whatever the disputes or drawbacks -- which were not unexpected -- the National Unity Government has made progress, though most analysts say there is a long way to go before the vision is reached by 2025.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe -- now playing an equal role in socio-political and economic issues -- have expressed confidence their memorandum of understanding would be renewed before the end of December this year and continue. Of course they intend to contest separately when local council and Provincial Council election are held late this year or next year. But both leaders are apparently hopeful their parties will agree to work together towards the vision of building a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society.
The first two years went largely towards restoring the rule of law and democratic institutions while to some extent curbing large-scale corruption or the plunder of public money, though most people complain that big-time VIP plunderers have still not been brought to justice. Government leaders say that from this month emphasis will be on a sustainable eco-friendly and all-inclusive economic strategy. This vision 2025 strategy was outlined yesterday by President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe underlining again their wish that the two major parties and others should work together for the common good of the country. Obviously there will be debates, disputes or deadlocks but if a spirit of peaceful conflict-resolution is maintained, some accommodation could be found on the middle path.
For instance, the SLFP has been more committed to the state sector and has nationalized many important ventures, often leading to inefficiency or corruption and resultant losses in public funds. On the other hand, the UNP has traditionally given a bigger place to the private sector though the party is now talking more about public-private partnerships in big and small enterprises including the controversial Hambantota port deal. UNP frontliners describe this as a socialist market economy. Whatever the words, what matters is the result—there must be a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth and resources and the development strategy needs to be all-inclusive. That means the restoration of the human dignity of millions of oppressed people caught in the poverty trap. These people also need to be given an equal voice in the decision-making process, though this does not often happen now in the political, social or even religious institutions.
The vision 2025 programme envisages the vital aspect of providing about one million job opportunities for the youth, especially in the rural areas. Hopefully, in this hi-tech era, these creative and innovative jobs will give our youth the opportunity to play an important and enterprising role in the development process. It is the next generation youth who would be worst affected if the crucial issues of poverty alleviation and climate change are not effectively tackled. Therefore instead of mere slogans like “a tomorrow for the youth” the enterprising young men and women need to be pro-actively involved and adequately rewarded for the their role in spearheading the strategic development process.
Practical details of the vision 2025 programme are expected to be outlined in the 2018 budget proposals to be presented by the new Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera on November 10. Some of these have already been outlined in the new Inland Revenue Bill where there will be changes in the tax structure while providing a safety net for the oppressed people. At present more than 80 percent of the taxes are obtained through indirect taxation—that means from the lower-middle class and poor people. Only 20 percent of the wealthy people and companies directly pay taxes. The new Finance Minister says that in his “designer budget” he hopes to gradually change the structure to make it 60 percent indirect taxation and 40 percent direct.
Vision 2025 development plans and the “designer budget” may be impressive on paper. But the practical benefits need to reach the hands and pockets of millions of struggling people. Then only would we be able to achieve the vision of making Sri Lanka a model upper income country with people of all religions and races co-operating in this sustainable mission.