Numerical deception and a hidden agenda in the budget – Joseph Stalin
Posted on November 30th, 2015

Joseph Stalin Courtesy Island

The Ceylon Teachers’ Union played a prominent role in bringing the present government into power. Some of the yahapalana pledges made during the last presidential election were specifically aimed at the trade unions that were allied with the cause. In this interview, Joseph Stalin the General Secretary of the CTU speaks to C.A.Chandraprema about the first fully fledged budget of the present government.

Q. What are your first impressions about this budget?

A. Even though it is said that more money has been allocated for education, that is just numerical deception. The burdens placed on parents of school going children have not been reduced an iota through this budget.

Q. The Ceylon Teacher’s Union played a major role in the yahapalana project. What really did you expect in extending your support for a change of government?

A. We were not in any political project to form a UNP government. We only wanted to put a stop to the destructive actions of the Rajapaksa regime. That was as far as our involvement went.

Q. There were many pledges made on the yahapalana platform which were aimed at public servants including teachers, such as the Rs. 10,000 allowance. There is no clarity in the budget about whether this allowance is going to be taken into account in calculating the pensions of retiring public servants. The term used is that the Rs. 10,000 allowance will be ‘considered’ in the calculation of the pensions of retiring public servants – which is rather vague.

A. The Rajapaksa government did not increase the basic salaries of public servants. They gave allowances. If the present government is also giving allowances instead of adding them to the basic salary, that will dash the hopes of public servants. What is even more dangerous is that a pension fund is being proposed for public servants. Just as it has been proposed to form a pension fund for the private sector by amalgamating the EPF and ETF, a similar contributory pension fund is to be set up for public servants who join from next year onwards. This is very similar to a proposal put forward by the UNP government back in 2002.

Q. In the universities system, pensions are paid through a contributory pension fund scheme. They had a provident fund scheme earlier and at one point this was converted to a contributory pension fund scheme. Some opted to remain in the old provident fund scheme and to get a lump sum when they retire. Those joining the university staff as new recruits were mandatorily required to join the contributory pension fund scheme. That system seems to be working quite satisfactorily. At least we have not heard any complaints about it. Since that is the case, you may have to show some very cogent reasons to the government as to why school teachers also should not have a contributory pension fund scheme like the university lecturers.

A. It is a well known fact that the main attraction of the government service is the pension. Converting this into a contributory pension scheme is a case of depriving public servants of a privilege they enjoyed.

Q. For arguments sake, if what is needed is a pension, does it really matter to the recipient whether this pension is paid from a pension fund or through the national budget? 

A. Yes it does. Someone who is not in government service may ask why his tax money has to be used to support retired public servants. This is a privilege given to public servants for serving the state. Public servants are prohibited from engaging in any other occupation or enterprise.

Q. One section of education professionals get pensions through allocations from the national budget. Another section has to make contributions to a fund if they are to get a lump sum or a pension when they retire. So things are not even.

A. We are not against university lecturers also being given a government pension. We see that the politicians have granted themselves and even members of their staff pensions after just five years.

Q. Trade unions in many countries usually take into account practical considerations when making demands. How practical was the demand for a Rs. 10,000 pay hike and the subsequent demand that this increase be added to the basic salary?

A. The Rs. 10,000 allowance is being paid even at present. All we are requesting is that this amount that is already being paid to us, be added to the basic salary.

Q. The Rs. 10,000 allowance is being paid, but obviously with much difficulty. If there are 1.3 million public servants, this Rs. 10,000 allowance alone will add an extra Rs. 156 billion to the annual salary bill. If you look at the weekly reports of the Central Bank you will see the Central Bank holdings of treasury bills going up overnight by massive jumps of Rs. 40, billion, 20, billion 15 billion and so on. The government is printing to money to pay the salaries! This is putting the entire economy in serious jeopardy. The trade unions should not be blind to this situation.

A. Due to the present cost of living, a public servant would need more than Rs. 40,000 to maintain a family. So we don’t see the demand for a salary hike to be unreasonable. It is the duty of the government to pay public servants a living wage. The government should see to it that they generate enough revenue to meet their expenditure.

Q. Your trade union played a prominent role in the yahapalana project. What is your priority now – the continuation of the yahapalana government or the consolidation of the Rs. 10,000 pay hike no matter what? 

A. All we wanted to do was to stop the harm that was being done by the Rajapaksa regime. We have no role to play in protecting governments. We can’t hold a brief for any government. But the government has a duty to pay public servants a living wage and they have to fulfil that duty.

Q. When university academic unions began that agitation in 2012 demanding that expenditure on education be raised to 6% of the GDP, your union also joined the agitation. But if we look at the World Bank figures, we see that that expenditure on education is only 4.9% of the GDP in Australia, 5.8% in Britain and 5.2% in the USA. These are all countries with huge education industries with massive private sector participation. In Australia, education is the third biggest foreign exchange earner. If expenditure on education is not 6% of the GDP even in such countries, how was expenditure going to be raised to 6% in countries like Sri Lanka where there are limitations on private sector participation in education?

A. In the recent past, expenditure on education was around 1.8% of the GDP. Enormous burdens have been placed on the parents of students by the system and the present government has continued the same way. After this new government came into power, circular 15/2015 was issued on 29 January this year. What this circular says in essence is that the cost of the day to day maintenance of the school such as the telephone, electricity and janitorial bills should be divided by the total number of students and the resulting amount charged from the parents of students. The monthly electricity bill of a school with about 2000 students could be about Rs. 60,000. Our request was to allocate more money for education and to reduce the burdens placed on parents. But that has not happened in the budget. Now we see that Rs. 2000 million has been allocated in this budget to provide electricity to schools that do not have electricity. But nothing has been said about who is going to pay the resulting electricity bills in those schools. Then Rs. 4000 million has been allocated to develop toilet facilities in schools. There is already a programme in place to distribute Rs. two million each to 1000 schools to develop toilets. Then how will Rs. 4000 million suffice for the whole country? Then they say that 1,360 schools that had never been developed have been allocated Rs. 30,000 million. The previous government also had allocated money for such schools. Was that work done by the previous government or not? They have mentioned a figure of Rs. 130 billion against another item called ‘capital cost of land and buildings’. What is this? The impression has been conveyed that a massive allocation has been made for education but this is plain deception.

Q. This budget also proposes to implement a radical privatisation programme involving the power, energy, petroleum and even water supply sectors – areas that no previous government dared to touch.

A. The whole philosophy of this government is based on privatisation. Even the proposed University in Malabe is to offer market oriented courses. There are two dangerous provisions in the budget in relation to education. One is proposal 317 which says that unutilised land in schools should be cultivated in conjunction with the private sector and the money used for educational activities. Now if huge amounts of money are being allocated for education why do they need to raise money in this manner? Furthermore, proposal number 320 instructs all schools to consider themselves a cost centre and to prepare a programme for cost accountability in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and the Treasury. There is a hidden agenda in all this. There is also the question of handing out vouchers instead of free cloth for school uniforms. The Minister says the voucher system has been adopted to save Rs. 900 million. If there was any issue concerning the tender or the quality of the material, they should seek to resolve those issues. The UNP government tried to give coupons to buy cloth for school uniforms in 2002 as well and it was a complete fiasco. So they had to revert back to giving cloth. Now we see that they are trying to hand out vouchers instead of coupons.

3 Responses to “Numerical deception and a hidden agenda in the budget – Joseph Stalin”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Who on earth is Joseph Stalin?

    Anyway what he says here makes sense. UNP govt. is hellbent on destroying EDUCATION, FARMING, SOLDIERS, PEACE, etc.

    Never seen such idiots running FINANCE MINISTRY. They don’t know from their rectums to mouths in economics.

  2. Raj Says:

    මේ ලෝරන්සෝ දැන් කියන එක අහන්න. ජනවාරි 8දාට ඉස්සර මේ ෆෝරම් එකේ සහ ෆේස්බුකියෙ මහින්දව විවේචනය කල එකමයි කලේ. මෙයාට සිංහල බැහැ. ටීඑන්ඒ කුක්කෙක් මෙයා.

  3. LANKAPUTHRA Says:

    Lorenzo, Joseph Stalin was killed by BERIYA long time ago. In the 1950 ties. To confuse the general public Russians at that time used these two names. “Stalin and Lenin”. It was created to confuse the Russian people and for the Soviet leaders to be in power for ever. That never happed. BERIYA imitated then US president Roosevelt smoking a long cigarette holder. There is nothing in this article, carefully read it. What this man writes is not what you think he has written! Ask your self this question: How did the budget get passed? MONEY! every member of the parliament who voted for the budget got one million Rupees. Check this out from your contacts. What is the real name of Joseph Stalin. What RANIL punk is doing today is the same what Joseph Stalin did then, confuse the public and blame the ISIS.

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