Budget debate rages as MPs asked to look beyond car permits

Tuesday, 1 December 2015 01:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Ashwin Hemmathagama

– Our Lobby Correspondent

The seventh allotted day for the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill 2016 took off yesterday on a high note regarding competitive social market economy.

Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media and Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatileka moving the debate urged opposition lawmakers to widen their scope to cover issues other than car permits and emission tests.

“On 8 January, a historical revolution took place in Sri Lanka. For the first time in history we established a coalition Government. This is not a traditional budget, which is politically aligned. We have allocated largest ever (budget) for education and health. Many other sectors received benefits from this Budget. Take the Mahinda Chinthanaya political manifesto; where are those 25,000 new houses promised for each division? It was only white elephants you were able to provide,” charged Minister Karunatileka.

Minister of Foreign Employment Thalatha Atukorale joining the debate compared the economic development in terms of debt burden stating, “We were a country rejected from the international arena for many reasons. During the last ten months, a serious change has taken place in this country. Now the judiciary is independent. Law and order prevails. This is a budget that gives long-term solutions. The Finance Minister asked us for proposals in preparation of this report. Were you asked by your leader for suggestions when preparing previous budgets? Today the per capita debt has exceeded Rs. 400,000. In 2004 the per capita debt was Rs. 100,000. When your Government took over in 2005, the total debt stood at Rs. 2,222 billion. After nine years, the total debt stands at Rs. 7390 billion.”

However, UPFA MP Keheliya Rambukwella charged Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake for misleading the country with broken promises stating, “Budget is the most important document in the Parliament. But we are not happy about this Budget. In January 2015, the same Finance Minister promised the country to increases public sector salaries. Giving allowances is not what you promised. You also promised to continue the fertiliser subsidy. You have forgotten all these after six months. The Finance Minister has misled the country; let’s take the education sector as example. You have calculated the cost of buildings and have reduced the depreciation value as expenditure. So, this has brought down the total spending on the sector.”

Meanwhile Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva urged lawmakers to bring up a debate on intellectual capacity highlighting the drawbacks of a competitive social market economy. “Towards an innovation driven social market economy is what we have presented you in Budget 2016. I haven’t seen anybody from the opposition produce their own vision to criticise our policy. Some believe the UNP unable to form its own Government went for a coalition. We had the opportunity to form an independent Government, but we have told the public to create a coalition Government for the betterment of the country. Our plan was to formulate national policies for all sectors with the aim of building a competitive social market economy. Third generation reforms are based on evidence based policy making. Japan and Germany are two countries following a competitive social market economy. Both these nations are leading their parts of the world. One is to balance economic freedom, and on the other hand social justice. It seems these are conflicting but the victory lays in our ability to balance these competing forces,” added Dr. de Silva.

According to Deputy Minister of Public Administration and Management Susantha Punchinilame, he was not given a chance to make suggestions to the Budget 2016. “When the Budgets were prepared in the past, we were summoned and many newspaper advertisements were seen in the papers. But this time, no advertisements were seen nor invitations received to take part in those forums. In Trincomalee I found most are not happy about the budget. Especially farmers, school children, and state servants – perhaps they were unable to grasp what was found in the Budget or there was nothing in the budget,” said Minister Punchinilame.

“Immediately after the budget, newspapers carried reliefs offered from this budget. Public expectations were not met in this budget. The budget deficit is widening and the method used to bridge the gap is not acceptable. The only option available for them now is to sell what is remaining of state enterprises and to sell the patent rights to foreigners,” JVP MP Nihal Galappatti charged the Government.

Deputy Minister of Public Enterprise Development joining the debate said: “Preparing a budget is not an easy task. What you have seen here is a practical budget. UNP is not a Government against state service. We have given the promised Rs. 10,000. We have promised to add this when calculating the pension at retirement. This is not an era where state employees are roped to trees. We have allocated twice as before for education and health sectors. We are a responsible Government.”