By R. Sampanthan , MP-
President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Minister of Finance and Planning also, has presented his 10th Budget. In my view, the Budget seeks to ensure that he would present many more Budgets. The Budget seeks to please and placate wide segments of society in an effort to ensure their political support for him at an election to be held very soon. It must not be denied that there are benefits that accrue to the people in the matter of development, in the matter of relief, in the matter of employment and other facilities.
But, the overriding trend and theme of the Budget quite clearly is focused on the forthcoming election. One does not get the impression that these proposals have been prepared after careful study and introspection by different Ministries in charge of different subjects. If that was done, one would have seen a more cohesive, co-ordinated development programme, which could have benefited generally the vast majority of the people. What one sees instead are favours and handouts by the Head of State who happens to be also the Minister of Finance to different segments and sections of society to induce them to extend to him their support to continue to be the Head of State at the forthcoming election. It could be said that this is politics, but when in the guise of politics, democracy is sought 2
to be subverted and values and principles of good governance are sought to be disregarded, that would be traversing a very dangerous trajectory and the country needs to be put on alert.
The Budget, in my view, cannot be viewed in isolation from the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution and all the consequences that we have thereafter encountered in regard to the higher judiciary, the Election Commission and its impotency, the Public Service Commission, the National Police Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption becoming virtually lackeys of the Chief Executive, complete lack of trust in the higher judiciary and other crucial officials whose independence and integrity must be beyond reproach and the Chief Executive, who at the time of his election on two occasions was not merely constitutionally debarred from seeking a further term but he is now seeking a third term and also is entitled to seek office even thereafter, despite the public promise and commitment to the country both in 2005 and 2010 that the Executive Presidency would be abolished. The gravity of the totality of this situation is, in my view, a serious challenge to democracy and can be disregarded by the country only at its own grave peril.
Such developments must inevitably lead to authoritarianism and I consider it my duty to state this explicitly on the Floor of this House at the commencement of my speech. What the eventual effect of all these proposals will be remains to be seen. Similar proposals have come up in previous years. Are the people in this country today contented from the point of view of their basic needs? Sir, there seems to be a misconception that development is the be-all and end-all of everything and that if development is taking place, the Government’s performance is creditable.
There can be no question about it, particularly infrastructure development has taken place and is taking place.
Let us look at the allocations to some Ministries in regard to Capital Expenditure. Defence and Urban Development gets Rs. 60 billion; Economic Development gets 75 billion. This, I do think is an important Ministry though I do also think that most functions performed by this Ministry can be performed more expeditiously and efficiently and in keeping with democratic norms if they are entrusted to the provincial level.
There seems to be a misconception that development must take place only through this Ministry and that too only through one person.
Highways, Ports and Shipping gets Capital Expenditure of Rs. 200 billion; Education gets Rs. 17.1 billion;
Higher Education gets Rs.18.1 billion totalling to Rs. 35.2 billion for Education and Higher education;
Defence and Urban Development gets Rs. 60 billion, Rs. 25 billion more than for Education and Higher Education;
Highways, Ports and Shipping gets Rs. 200 billion, more than five times, almost six times the amount allocated for Education and Higher Education. Resource allocation for Education has been considered to be inadequate over a long period of time.
There is a serious incongruity, a serious lack of appreciation of the importance of education to our younger generation, and a misplaced importance attached to some other activities and Ministries, which also must have been motivated by certain considerations which unfortunately are not transparent. Agriculture has been given Rs. 3.2 billion; Fisheries has been given Rs. 4.5 billion. We are an island surrounded by the sea. A substantial section of our population is dependent on agriculture and fisheries. The Government does not have a planned-out programme to promote the opportunities of our people in the fields of agriculture and fisheries which constitute the bedrock of our rural economy.
The North and the East was devastated and destroyed by a vicious war. From the point of view of infrastructure, due to the efforts of various countries in regard to the North, particularly India and other countries and other organizations, very much has been done but very much more needs to be done. While the Government has pompously participated in the inauguration of projects undertaken and accomplished at the expense of other countries and organizations, the Government’s own contribution has been negligible. After the conclusion of the war my fellow Parliamentarians from the TNA and I visited over 30 villages in the Vanni, met with the people, prepared a report in regard to their needs and we met with the President and several Ministers at a meeting which had been arranged for that purpose. I first told the President that 80 per cent of the houses had been destroyed in the Vanni and that the people should be given houses. The President very frankly told me that the Government had no money to provide houses. I asked that each family be given a bicycle which could help in addressing several needs of the family but not a single bicycle was given to anybody. India came forward to provide 50,000 houses to the people in need.
The biggest problem faced by our people is their inability to get back to their lands, which are yet occupied or have been newly taken over by the armed forces or others. Both in the North and the East, housing and livelihood are the main problems. They need to be addressed early.
I looked at the allocations made to the Ministries manned by my compatriots from the North and the East.
My compatriot from the East, who is the Deputy Minister of Resettlement – a very wide and important subject – gets Rs. 186 million, around one-fifth of a billion. My compatriot from the North, who is the Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development gets Rs. 514 million, around half a billion, whereas the Ministry of Economic Development gets Rs. 75 billion; the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development gets Rs. 60 billion and the Ministry of Highways, Ports and Shipping gets Rs. 200 billion.
Of these two honourable Gentlemen who claim to represent the East and the North, one Gentleman gets just one-fifth of a billion and the other Gentleman gets just half a billion. These are the Gentlemen who claim that by co-operating with the Government, they are serving the people of the North and the East, and that the Tamil National Alliance by advocating the need for an acceptable and reasonable political solution to the national question, a basic demand of the Tamil people, which had been democratically endorsed at every election held in this country at every level, is engaging in confrontational politics. I wish to ask these Gentlemen whether in the context of the manner in which the Government is treating them, as clearly demonstrated by the allocations made for the Ministries which they are in charge of and despite their hanging onto the coattails of the Government, whether they should not be withdrawing from the political scene and cease to be a hindrance to the Tamil National Alliance working out with the Government, a peaceful, honourable and an acceptable resolution of the conflict pertaining to the national question.
Given the destruction and devastation the North-East has gone through over a long period, recognition of that reality and implementation of appropriate programmes, also involving the provincial administration would have greatly helped to bring about national reconciliation. The people in the North-East directly affected by the war, yet need to be put on their feet. They need to stand on their legs. The Government’s insensitivity caused either by the lack of political will or its narrow political agenda is disappointing. Continuing dependence on their present friends can only further alienate the people of the North and the East from the Government.
Sir, one must realize that the North and the East has suffered immense damage. The entire area has been devastated.
But the Government does not seem to be conscious of that. The Government does not seem to realize that the North-East has got to be dealt with on the basis of an area which needs to be reconstructed, rebuilt by virtue of the calamity that has occurred in that area, which should not have occurred, if there was a reasonable resolution to the national question earlier. There would have been no need for a war. Our people are not a violent people, and our people would have been extremely supportive of any peaceful resolution of this conflict, in which event all this devastation and destruction would not have taken place. The Government is largely responsible for that situation of an armed conflict commencing in this country. It is not that I support an armed conflict, but the fact of the matter was that an armed conflict became inevitable in the context of the Government not performing its duty and the Government should therefore realize that there is responsibility on the part of the Government not merely to evolve an acceptable political solution, but also to take steps to ensure that the North-East is rebuilt and reconstructed, and that the people who occupied the North-East are able to live in those area as equal citizens.
-From the speech made by Hon. Sampanthan at the budget debate on 30th October 2014.