After an era of fiscal medleys; it is a budget for survival
Whether Budget 2016 was presented by the ‘Good Governance’ government, would bear the fruits of prosperity or take the country’s economy down the drain is yet to be seen. However speaking to the Daily Mirror , a few individuals including trade unionists who represented both the public and private sector expressed their views about the Budget and how it would affect the lives of Sri Lankans. Excerpts of the comments are given below.
“If this Budget is not revised in favour of the public sector we would be forced to take up trade union action” Assistant Secretary and Media Spokesman of the Government Medical Officer’s Association
Dr. Naveen de Soysa
“As a whole, the budget with regard to the public sector is utterly disappointing and discouraging. President Maithripala Sirisena requested all Sri Lankan professionals and intellectuals working abroad to return to the country and serve in the public sector. This is something that is never going to happen. The Budget encourages only foreign employment and severely weakens the public sector. For instance the benefits for employees in the public sector are poor since all benefits to them have been stopped.
The Budget does not focus on a basic salary revision in accordance with the National Wage Policy but gives more priority to the private sector echoing the government’s lack of concern over the quality of products and services provided through the private sector. This long-term backward progress in the Sri Lankan economy and the public sector would be reflected by 2020.
"Duty free vehicles and duty concessions have been made available only for ministers and parliamentarians"
The 2016 Budget is against the manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena and is not environment friendly. When it comes to automobiles, we should encourage electric cars as a means of safeguarding the environment. Unfortunately they have imposed a hundred per cent import tax on electric vehicles which is discouraging. Duty free vehicles and duty concessions have been made available only for ministers and parliamentarians. If the excuse given for this is that they have to carry out their official duties in an efficient manner, then the same applies to other employees engaged in the public sector such as doctors, engineers, lawyers etc. If the budget takes a fair stance on this matter, the Government Medical Officer’s Association wouldn’t have demanded duty free vehicle permits. The permit which was to be given as an incentive to public sector servants also has been abolished now.
The public sector has been discouraged in many ways through abolishing the pension scheme, the lack of a salary increment or concessions to public sector employees. For example, a government doctor’s basic salary is Rs. 26, 000 whereas the basic salary of a medical specialist is Rs. 42, 000. The ordinary people will have to bear the brunt of this Budget it is not revised in favour of the public sector. If not we would be forced to take up trade union actions against the proposed budget.”
“The Budget introduces five working days with 10 working hours allocated for each day.” - Joint-Secretary of Sri Lanka’s Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees’ Union
“Quite a number of unusual proposals have been made in this Budget. Labour Law reforms have been introduced through it. The irony is that no such reforms can be introduced unless they are first brought to the notice of the National Labour Advisory Council through which necessary amendments and legislation are later introduced to Labour Law reforms.
" This Budget is snatching away the opportunities for job security by lengthening the period of 180 days to one year"
The Budget also introduces five working days with 10 working hours allocated for each day. This is unacceptable since an employee will have to work ten hours with one hour for meals, but paid only for eight hours a day. This budget is attempting to amend Labour Laws in the country. During the previous regime, similar attempts were made by the government. However trade unionists refused to bow to their wishes and they weren’t introduced after consulting the National Labour Advisory Council. They are trying to extend the [qualifying] period of 180 days to one year before recruiting employees to the permanent staff. An individual who joins the permanent staff after a period of 180 days cannot be terminated except on disciplinary grounds; a method employed to ensure job security. This Budget is snatching away the opportunities for job security by lengthening the period of 180 days to one year. The government is trying to promote part- time jobs and full- time jobs through manpower agencies. Eventually, there will be more manpower agencies with employees working on a contract basis who will not be guaranteed permanent jobs. The long-term plan of this Budget is to eliminate trade unions through labour reforms. Currently, there are twelve free trade zones in the country governed by the BOI which is a government body. They are aiming at privatising this institution and commencing privatised free trade zones.
We have already sent a letter to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe requesting him to take a fair stance on these matters and we firmly believe that labour reforms should be introduced only after consulting the National Labour Advisory Council. Unless we receive a positive response to the withdrawal of such proposals from the Budget, we would be compelled to carry out a trade union action on December 19.”
“This budget aims at crushing the working classes” - Convener for Voice Against Corruption
“The aim of the budget is to handover the administration of free trade zones to the private sector. The government is trying to privatise the BOI including fifty other government institutions. Instead of a revival what we witness in this Budget is nothing but failure. As trade unionists, we have brought these issues to the notice of the President and the PM.
"This Budget is against the manifesto of President Sirisena. We do not endorse the government’s decision to boycott the pension scheme of public sector employees"
This Budget is totally against the manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena. We do not endorse the government’s decision to boycott the pension scheme of public sector employees and its deliberate attempts to introduce Labour Law reforms through the Budget.
The government has deceived the private sector employees once stating that they would give the Rs. 2, 500 salary increments. they have promised to do so even in this Budget. However, we have serious doubts if these promises would come true. The proposal to change the eight-hour working roster can be never approved. These plans are brought forward with the intention of crushing the working class and burdening the public with more headaches”.
“Nothing that has been included for teachers”- Joseph Stalin, Secretary of the All Ceylon Teachers’ Union
The Education Ministry is lying. The funds proposed for education includes higher education, skills and vocational training, science and technology and research. Therefore it can’t be called a vote that is exclusively for education. The cost of buildings has also been added to it. Why? There is also a budget to meet school electricity bills but who is to pay them? Furthermore fifteen billion has been allocated for the ‘Thousand Schools Project’. However 825 schools have already been completed.
"The govt. is telling us that 1525 schools and 3775 primary schools have been constructed. Where is the government getting these numbers from? "
The government is telling us that 1525 schools and 3775 primary schools have been constructed. Where is the government getting these numbers from? Where are these schools that have been constructed? There is also nothing that has been included in the budget for the almost 2,000,000 teachers in the country. Their training hasn’t been looked into nor is anything being done about their development. In addition the process of using vouchers is dangerous. Land not being used by schools have been given to the private sector for development. The government should utilise these lands instead. The Budget needs to look into human resources and not just numbers and statistics.
The biggest failure of this Budget is that it hasn’t made any plans to deal with the fiscal deficit. These deficits are the main reason we are facing an economic crisis. It needs to be contained first.
There is also a pressing need for the government to start reducing the ever- increasing defence budget”
Dr. Nimal Sanderatne, past Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon in 1987
The objective of reducing the deficit to 3.5% by 2020 is doubtful with inadequate revenues and mounting expenses. There is also a pressing need for the government to start reducing the ever increasing defence budget.
An issue with the Budget is the fee of Rs 5000 charged for the ‘Green Test’ for vehicles
Thivanka Attygalle, Age 23 Law College Student
An issue with the Budget is the fee of Rs 5000 charged for the ‘Green Test’ for all vehicles excepting three-wheelers and bikes. This is hard on the people especially those owning more than one vehicle. When you add this to the revenue licence it is is a huge amount.
The prices of thirteen essential items have been reduced together with the gas prices which is a plus point.
The government first wanted to increase the rates for electricity, water and telephone from everybody, but then said that it would not and that the same amount would be taken from someplace else. This too is a relief for everyone.
While the import duty on vehicles is favourable for the traffic situation, it is difficult on the person who uses hard earned money to buy a vehicle. What’s confusing is that concessions haven’t been given to hybrids on the import duty. What the government should do is give concessions for these vehicles to help with the environment.
The budget deficit/ GDP % has reduced form -6% to -5.9%; this is good for the country.
Janith Wijekoon, Age 23-LLB graduate
The budget has both good and bad aspects. Under taxation the fee of a person to enter a casino and the annual levy have been reduced. This government however was against the previous government introducing casinos. Therefore isn’t it hypocritical that they themselves are now reducing the expenses incurred by these very establishments?
Exports have also reduced compared to the previous year and the Budget hasn’t taken any steps about it. Movement of trade has reduced from 60% to41%, imports have increased and 27% of the GDP is for imports. As a plus even though the Budget deficit has increased from -675 billion to -740 billion, the budget deficit/ GDP % has reduced from -6% to -5.9% which means that there is growth of the GDP which is in turn good for the country.
Between the years 2005-2015 VAT which is main source of the government revenue has decreased. The present government has recognised this and has proposed reforms to strengthen the VAT collection system. For expenditure there is a plan to introduce the concept of zero budgeting which means that the spending agencies will have to justify items in budget before requesting for money. These are all good features of the budget.
“I am happy with the salary I get and have no problem with the [car] permit being taken away
--Member of the public medical sector who wishes to remain unnamed
Most doctors are unhappy. The protest by the GMOA was after our concessions were reduced and the MPs got their permits. The trade union strike however was not how it was reported in the media since many hospitals were operational. The end result of this strike was that those asking for concessions got what they had before but to a lesser extent. But,what is worse is that the public opinion of the medical sector hit an all-time low.
I am personally happy with the salary I get and I also have no problem with the [car] permit being taken away. There was a huge issue of doctors selling their permits illegally. I am therefore part of a extreme minority.
The Daily Mirror’s attempts to get statements from Deputy Minister of State Enterprise Development, Eran Wickramaratne and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Harsha de Silva on the subject of the Budget failed.