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Budget devalued, prices soar by the gazette - Editorial

24 November 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Daily Mirror in one of its Editorials last week said the Budget had lost a lot of its news value because in the past few years it has been largely a case of “Budget by gazette”. If evidence was needed, last Thursday’s budget- the 9th by President Mahinda Rajapaksa- provided substantial proof that the budget itself has been devalued through a process of double standards or double dealing if not deception.

In the morning of the Budget day the President reportedly obtained Cabinet approval for a 13 page document plus a two-page annexure outlining the main theme or thrust of the Budget speech. Not surprisingly no objections were raised because most ministers do not dare or care to do so. The secret was in the annexures which most ministers apparently did not even read. That means the devalued Cabinet and the devalued Parliament were not aware of the shock treatment that millions of people were to get during the next two days.

The main opposition United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe  - though under heavy pressure if not a siege in his own party-analysed the Budget with terminological brilliance when he said the people had been put on an electric chair.

On Friday and Saturday, as stated in the annexure, several gazette notifications were issued including an increase in the prices of scores of food items, cement and hardware, steal and aluminium products and other items.

We do not know how many gazette notifications are to come but by the weekend millions of people - specially those in the lower middle and poor classes - were in turmoil with the cost of living soaring beyond the Moon and Mars and probably joining the comet that is roaring near the Sun.

In a further devaluation of Parliament and the vital democratic principles of accountability and transparency, the Rajapaksa regime also decided to make major changes in the budget debate. It was able to do this, as it is able to do almost anything, with a patchwork alliance that gives it a three-fourths majority in Parliament, which some coalition partners sometimes making a somewhat apologetic protest but not going beyond that because they lack the moral power to give up the perks and privileges.
Parliament was told on Saturday that the budget debate’s committee stage - where the expenditure of every ministry is closely scrutinised and questioned is to be limited because of the lack of time.  As a result, the expenditure of 26 ministries will be examined by a Parliamentary Select Committee headed by House Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva. The Select Committee will then submit a report to Parliament and the deeds or misdeeds of these 26 ministries will be taken up and possibly pushed through within two days. Opposition critics and independent analysts asked with validity whether the reason for this was really the lack of time, because for 66 years since independence the affairs of every ministry have been closely looked at in Parliament for at least one day. The problem has now arisen because the world-record number of 66 Cabinet Ministers with one more added on Saturday for good or bad measure.

According to Opposition critics and independent economic analysts the Rajapaksa regime had spent at least Rs. 14 billion on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which has justifiably been dubbed as the showgum. The Budget deficit is more than one trillion rupees with more foreign borrowings  likely to be made at commercial interest rates to maintain this unstable economic system. At present all Sri Lankans including babies and even unborn children are each in debt to the tune of a staggering Rs. 380,000. In this sandcastle situation, ministers and ruling party members and supporters  appear to be embroiled in what is known as “Bahubhandavadaya” or getting more and more super luxuries with the latest probably being the CHOGM benz limousines. But for millions of people it is a case of being enslaved in deeper and deeper poverty.  This injustice if not devilry cannot and will not go on for long.
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