he 2016 Budget was one of those passed in parliament with the most number of amendments since independence. It also created unprecedented public protests countrywide resulting in several of the proposals either being amended or withdrawn. This no doubt was likely to have caused the government a loss of credibility. Did the Finance Ministry craftsmen, who prepared the budget fail to give serious thought to the possible consequences of such a budget? Did they fail to realize of politically motivated protests against the budget proposals?
There were several demonstrations by farmers, teachers, doctors, nurses, private bus owners, administrators, lower grade employees claiming that the proposals were unjust and hence they should be re-considered.
Senior professionals, such as doctors and others holding executive positions in public sector institutions, previously entitled to tax-free vehicle permits came out vociferously demanding that the status quo be restored. Dozens of them have gone to courts seeking redress.
The Prime Minister during the Committee stage debate asked whether the agitation against some of the budget proposals was a political or a trade union struggle for personal gain? He informed the House that steps had been taken to reduce the prices of kerosene, milk powder, gas, sugar, diesel, petrol and several other essential items for the benefit of the people. The Prime Minister said steps had been taken to increase the Mahapola bursary by 1,000 and had written off loans taken by farmers and several concessions to the people to bring the cost of living down.
The farmers in their loin-cloth demanded the restoration of the fertilizer subsidy instead of payment in cash. Civil society activists said chronic kidney disease was spreading fast because of the heavy use of artificial fertilizer and urged the government to encourage the farmers to use organic manure.
The time is ripe for all Sri Lankans to think of the country. We need to stop protests and agitations if they are not for the benefit of the people at large. Let us understand why and how countries had failed owing to bad governance. Almost all the governments in the past have deceived the people. They destroyed this country for personal gain or glory. We have heard so much about widespread corruption, nepotism, theft of public property, misuse, bribery, inefficiency, lethargy and maladministration.
"Senior professionals, in public sector urged that the status quo be restored"
It seems that something is radically wrong with the system in our country. All concerned, whether politicians or public servants do not observe the rule, “To avoid doing what is detrimental to the people.’’ They have been selfishly doing the opposite with the people being at the receiving end. Corruption flourished. The responsibility on the part of the state to maximize the well-being and personal prosperity of the people has been conspicuously absent. The politicians and public servants reaped all the benefits. Opportunists also spin, concoct, distort and influence the vast majority of the rural population causing subversive influence to foment internal discord because their target audience perhaps is ill-educated, ill-informed, unthinking and apathetic.
If so, what are the most reprehensible acts that should not be tolerated by us in our country: Protecting incompetence of politicians and public servants; bribery, corruption, theft, misuse, abuse of power and nepotism; conflict of interest (including accepting commissions, financial transactions for personal benefit; lowering standards and regulating trade practices etc. to give preferential treatment to relatives, friends and well-wishers. It must not be forgotten that giving appointments to family members (personal staff eg. private secretary etc,) have been banned in a circular issued by the former President too. Why don’t they enforce these circulars? Most of our politicians did not fulfil their promises and had let down the masses.
As citizens of the country, which was once called the ‘resplendent island, we could no doubt be happy if steps could be taken to take the country forward for the benefit of the people. It is necessary that there has to be political will strengthened by unity and the desire to take the country forward with a vision. The President backed by the Prime Minister in the House confirmed that if we do not make use of this opportunity this time, we will never be able to take the country forward. And this is the truth. Let us therefore work together to achieve the goals of good governance. President Mugabe in Zimbabwe dragged the country from strength to the precipice of failure. What did he do? As a corrupt ruler, he high-handedly bled the resources of the country into his own pockets. Similarly, oil-rich Angola failed owing to three decades of war. President Stevens decapitated Sierra Leone in order to strengthen his own pockets and power amid growing chaos. The Somali state has been gutted willfully and thereafter fell into total failure. In all these countries, the rulers and their henchmen ultimately failed when they could not deliver the political goods to their fellowmen.
State failure therefore is always man made and it is no way accidental. It is very often leadership errors that have destroyed countries. Institutional fragilities and other structural flaws always contribute to failures in numerous countries.
It is in fact men and women and their deficiencies that lead to these failures in different countries including my beloved motherland.
It is unfortunate if we cannot understand the fact that we have now come to a crucial juncture. I have no doubt time has come for everybody to leave aside party lines and think of the greater benefit of the country and the people.
The two major parties (SLFP and UNP) together with the opposition seem to be treading a difficult path. The budget was passed with a majority of 160 votes. This is an indication that Sri Lanka is on the right track. It is also believed that America (as in our case) has always been at the mercy of two powerful political parties. In America too, if a strong candidate needs to get elected to office, one usually needs some affiliation with smaller parties. This is the same case in Sri Lanka too. And now that the MS-RW coalition has been elected, their path ahead is not a bed of roses. We need to act wisely.