The President’s Dilemma: A response to Welfare Crisis and Public debt (?) under the Current Regime.
Posted on August 23rd, 2014

Dr D.Chandraratn Perth.

 Recently in a National daily there was criticism of the President’s apparent trimming of the welfare budget and the increase in the public debt resulting from massive infrastructure projects undertaken, allegedly detrimental to public good aimed singularly at election victories. Obviously associated with these (or any other matter) two infamous issues were also mentioned and they are directly from Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe’s book; Family lordship and swindling public monies from mega projects. Since I have no concrete evidence of the latter even from the people who ought to know better to raise it under privilege in Parliament I shall not venture into that aspect. Worth mentioning here that some of the mega projects may have been constructed ahead of time but I am no soothsayer. I will only dwell with the reduction of the percentage GDP on welfare in the Central bank figures.

These are in percentages, as per the commentary of Dr Uswatte arachchi but in absolute terms the allocations in 2014 are manifold than in 1974, as the GDP has grown quite measurably. Prof Gerald Peiris has critiqued the Dr Uswattearachchi standpoint and demonstrated that the rural folk are many times better off now than in the dark old days of Mrs Bandaranayake where only Colombo folk had dinner on time while the lower classes were languishing in queues after work for the essential commodities. Even those who had climbed the ladder to intermingle in the Colombo cocktail circuit were oblivious to the plight of many who out of sheer desperation voted JRJ to power. The lower classes had tightened the belts to the wisp of a waist. CBK being in Sorbonne at the time would not have experienced hunger pangs anyway.

 Neither the economic policies nor the social legislations of post independence era has much relevance to the current times for we are living in a post welfare state just like many other countries in the world where the utility of the welfare state is questioned. The time in which the moral integrity of welfare was beyond the normal rhetoric of both the left and the right is no longer an issue. Dr Uswattearchchi argues from a 1970 vantage point when the metaphors and intellectual tools justifying the social obligations to its citizenry were thought immutable and beyond the debates of election manifestoes. In the modern world it is a fact that governments are driven by economic imperatives of survival. Current social policies have to be experiments to be tried out incrementally rather than mere enactments for social obligations. Social welfare has to be rethought but unbridled expectations of welfare and an entitlement as a right has had its day.

 The 1977 JRJ regime championed the neo conservative position of social legislation but yet did not advocate a total rejection of the social ideals enshrined in the Sri Lankan political and social structure. It reduced the entitlements to public sector based upon the traditional ties of community ties and social obligation. Mr Premadasa’s Samurdhi experiment clearly refutes the polarised ideological positions taken in Western countries but as far as Sri Lanka is concerned no ruling party totally disavowed the welfare provisions of the public sector. Since independence we never had a fruitful debate about what degrees of redistributive justice is possible in our developing economy to justify a certain degree of entitlement from the public sector.

It is true that the current President as the finance minister is placed in a difficult position in demonstrating infrastructure development for the longer term, which is an absolute necessity, and at the same time acceding to the plethora of demands with regard to the needs and wants of the deserving. Dr Uswatthearachchi as with the Friday forum group cannot also be unaware of the inefficiency of the public welfare system, (health, welfare and education) and the bureaucracy in general for the waste and mismanagement. Allocating more resources to the public sector without overhauling the inefficient bureaucracy is a further drain of the national resources.

 I cannot enter into a long debate on the crisis of the welfare state (which I do not think is the case) but the changing character of social need in Sri Lanka has to be addressed as a precautionary measure. The definition of social need which is an intrinsic part of resource allocation by the state for the welfare system which is now undertaken by pressure groups identified by ethnicity. For example Tamils and Muslims now claim vulnerability related to ethnicity and by forming into pressure groups the relationship to the state is claimed on the basis of rights. The whole of the Jaffna Peninsula, which aided and abetted terror groups, is passed on as the burden of the welfare state.

In Sri Lanka it is a vexed question to separate needs from desires, wants and aspirations from actual needs. The UNHRC investigation now has latched onto Tamil wants as grievances whereas all ethnic groups feel almost the same being poor but Sri Lankan welfare state finds it almost impossible to give into all these demands. The TNA that was complicit in the destruction of the Tamil Community is now the champion of the vulnerability in the Tamil population. It is demanding the wants and desires also as entitlements at the expense of the nation. Compare this with India which has completely avoided vulnerability as a right and while millions are in utter poverty unabashedly calls itself a flourishing economy and a regional power.

 The other point that has to be mentioned to those who want the 1970’s welfare state expanded is that universal welfare has the tendency to create an infantile class of poor who become attuned to dependency and contribute to generational poverty. Sri Lanka suffered this intractable problem till JRJ gradually started the weaning off process. We have still not totally eradicated dependency on the public sector, now extended to public official and in recent times left at the feet of the politician. Political cynicism or scientific argument might lead us to the conclusion that we need to rethink the role of welfare in the light of how responsibly vulnerabilities can be recognised and responded selectively within the ‘art of the possible’ in our economy.

 It is to the credit of the current President that the space is open to reignite the debate about the role of the state and human costs in the reduction of the welfare state, which was virtually foreclosed in the JRJ time. I believe that the neoconservative imperative for privatized welfare makes no more sense than the former pattern of public sector dominance in social policy which virtually decapitated the socialist economy along with its proponents of the left. The JVP managed to do the summary execution with no holds barred.

 Dr D.Chandraratna

8 Responses to “The President’s Dilemma: A response to Welfare Crisis and Public debt (?) under the Current Regime.”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    As I said before bloody Endians are at it again. Interfering in SL internal affairs.

    We are totally AGAINST a UNITED SL. We want a UNITARY SL. Only Tamil aspirations? What bull is that? How about aspirations of non-Tamils?

    ” India today reiterated its stance that Sri Lankans need a political solution to the ethnic Tamil issue within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.

    India stressed that a political solution to the ethnic issue need to substantially address the aspirations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka when a six-member delegation of Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance, met with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi Friday.

    TNA delegation led by MP R. Sampanthan has made a detailed presentation to the Indian Minister on what they perceived as the current situation in Sri Lanka in terms of political environment and their engagement in the Sri Lankan government, India Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said at the media briefing today.

    He said the meeting held between the TNA delegation and the Indian Minister was part of “our effort to engage with all, the government of Sri Lanka as well as all political parties of Sri Lanka with the ongoing efforts towards reconciliation.”

    Akbaruddin said the Minister Swaraj stressed the “need for a political solution that addresses substantially the aspirations of the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka for equality, dignity, justice and self-respect within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.” ”

    – colombopage

  2. Christie Says:

    I thought Dr living in Perth is writing about the public debt and welfare in Australia.

  3. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Sri Lanka needs to create profit making industries such as the an weapons industry. Google it and learn. it is one of the most profit making industries in the world and not open to the weaknesses inherent in a tourist based economy that then is effected if some social crisis happens.

    Other money making industries include the polishing and processing of world diamonds. here again Sri Lanka has the presence of highly skilled talent from her gem industry. They could be utilized to in the diamond processing industry as well it does not take too much investment for Sri Lanka to enter this field.

    Bring in outside manufacturers of heavy items such as cars, train coaches (as China is embarking on trans continental railways in a big way she would need a large number of train coaches of every kind), to those who manufacture air planes, Agricultural equipment including tractors etc. The technology from this is equally applicable to the military.

    Investigate how Singapore transformed herself to be a financial hub of the world and pass the legislation to set up the ground work to transform Sri Lanka along those lines.

    Develop Sri Lanka’s space industry including the Cryogenic engine so Sri Lanka and her unique Strategic location would be ideal to launch the satellites of other nations as India is doing. Again the dual use of this technology can be used in the military as in missiles.

    As I have mentioned before Sri Lanka’s ecosystem is one of 25 biodiversity hot spots of the world. that means Sri Lanka has enough of biological wealth as any oil rich nation. This must be harvested to create new 21st century industries as the rubber plant created the Rubber industry. the biological wealth from Sri Lanka’s forests to her ancient medical scripts can transform her pharmaceutical industry

  4. aloy Says:

    “Prof Gerald Peiris has critiqued the Dr Uswattearachchi standpoint and demonstrated that the rural folk are many times better off now than in the dark old days of Mrs Bandaranayake where only Colombo folk had dinner on time while the lower classes were languishing in queues after work for the essential commodities.”

    It appears that during Mrs. B’s time there was a general food scarcity even in the western world. A friend of mine told me that during this period sugar was scarce even in London. And the people in Germany had to wilt in ques to get their loaf of bread. If this is true we cannot put the whole blame on Mrs.B. However she did not get loans from china unlike today. The projects funded by China are always over valued; more than even doubled. There will be a time Sri lankans will have to wait again in the ques to pay back the loans which are on the pipe line even without the concurrence of the line minister according to a report in Sunday Times today.
    We have to tell the visiting Chinese president that none of those overvalued project loans will be repaid by a future SL government.

  5. aloy Says:

    Sorry, typo “…..the people in Germany had to wait in ques to get their loaf of bread”

  6. aloy Says:

    If I may guess correctly Shizo Abe will come to sign agreements for two mega projects, a suspension bridge our country does not need and another white elephant called ‘Mono Rail Project’ for which land already demarcated.

  7. Nanda Says:

    Suspension bridge ?
    What ? to India ?

  8. aloy Says:

    An expensive bridge across Kalani ganga with new technology costing a whopping US$450m funded by a Japanese loan, according to news papers a couple of months ago, hence my guess- a suspension bridge. River Kalani at its widest should not be over 300 meters and not over 5-7m deep, not navigated by ships. What is the need for new technology?.

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