Tongue-in cheek Budget
Posted on November 21st, 2016

By  I.P.C. Mendis Courtesy: Island

“The mountain laboured and brought forth a mouse ” goes the famous saying. Finance Minister Ravi Karunayakes’s pre-budget inspiratory  assurance of a budget that would jolt the people with “Holman” (Ghosts), proved to be a damp squib and much before the people realised it, some Members of Parliament were seen non-plussed, yawning, otherwise pre-occupied or simply dozing ! Such an incoherent budget, the country had not seen. Much of it would have been relevant for a Throne Speech and not a Budget Speech which is normally expected to detail the state of the economy and how best it is proposed to tackle problems, how to bridge the deficit between revenue and expenditure and what the future holds. Gone are the days when Budget Speeches were excellent material for students. The rot set in when President Premadasa found no use of such time-consuming thesis and wanted the speech restricted to 45 minutes. The debate itself was fixed for the following day leaving practically no time for front-liners in the Opposition to study. Minister Karunanayake seems to have realised the importance of the budget speech as of old but failed miserably in its art and substance. The Finance Minister needs to realise that in a situation where some 31 of his proposals in Budget Speech 2016 have not seen the light of day, he must necessarily be circumspect in his euphoria for 2017. He appears very thick-skinned to risk another set, most of which have the potential of suffering the same fate. A Finance Minister who had assured senior citizens last year that an additional Rs.500,000 would be available for investment at 15% interest (in addition to the one million already authorised)  must be very bold  to repeat it without so much as an apology. A Minister who had already taxed Ceylon Tobacco at 90% and crowed about it  must be shameless to make a “request” of the company to fork out Rs. 500 mn.  to the President’s Fund in the bid to fight cancer. Quite apart from the ethics of it and the cynicism to get the company to virtually fasttrack its own demise what prospective investors both local and foreign will make of it is another matter.

Nor does it appear that sufficient attention has been paid to making it prohibitive for illicit hooch manufacture and the possibility of it being controlled through heavy taxes on some raw material used in its manufacture. Make no mistake – the “request” to CTC is not an innocent one. The CTC is faced with a “Hobson’s Choice”. It looks more in retaliation for what is said to have happened in the past which  has now been made common knowledge through TV coverage. This comes from a government which pledged to eradicate inter alia, thuggery, intimidation and corruption. The Finance Minister (by implication the government)  has in desperation done a Marie Antoinette by proposing to replace three-wheelers with electric cars gradually! As a first step the import duty has been increased. An encouragement for organized transport of another hue to benefit people with capital, edging out the poor man.

The Icing on the Cake

The icing on the cake comes from the Finance Minister himself in blaming the media

for allegedly mis-interpreting the proposal to impose a minimum fine of Rs.2500/- for traffic offences. The day before he issued a statement refusing to retract. Never did he mention then about a mis-interpretation. Gemunu Wijeratne the private bus boss when asked by the media what the correct interpretation was, sarcastically replied that the question needs to be answered by the Minister. The Minister’s recourse to the Cabinet on this issue, per se, is sufficient evidence that there was no such mis-interpretation.

Some comments on selected

proposals are as follows –

Para 144 – Paying wards in state hospitals to be run together with private sector. Also, private medical testing laboratories to be permitted in state hospitals. – Indeed, a step to legitimize the already prevalent practice of getting patients to patronize private laboratories. While specialist doctors are entitled to private practice only outside working hours, they will henceforth be quite happy utilizing duty time also using state facilities – the non-paying category being the poorer by their studied absence in wards. The malady is bound to spread among all doctors and will lead to unrest among other categories working in non-paying wards. It seems a first step to privatise para medical services.

Para 177 – Five-year multiple visas to be issued to foreign investors and their skilled expatriate labour. This comes ill from a government which heavily criticised the employment of skilled expatriate labour, particularly related to Chinese and Korean contracts. It forebodes an opening into the provisions of the ETCA Agreement proposed despite protestations to the contrary. It is also significant that the budget speech is strangely silent on the prospects of the ETCA Agreement which it is hell-bent on signing.

Paras 204 to 207 – Proposal to set up a Maritime Authority. Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Faced with great odds from international big business, including the all- powerful Conference Lines, the 1970 government of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike succeeded in establishing two vital legal entities, namely, the Ceylon Shipping Corporation and the Ceylon Freight Bureau. The government did not fund the purchase of vessels and the CSC resorted to commercial loans guaranteed by government. The Freight Bureau ensured the equitable allocation of cargo and it was such a success that certain other countries interested themselves in the institutional framework – Came the 1977 government, and they were both deliberately run down. With all its good intentions the present government needs to get its priorities correct. National interests cannot be ensured with untrammeled “laissez faire” . The dockyard was part of the then Colombo Port Commission and the 1970 government carved it out from an Advance Account facility to a government/private sector (S.P. Tao of Singapore) company and this bold decision has made Colombo Dockyard to stand on its own and be proud of its achievements.

Para 245 – The Minister places emphasis on the importance of expressways and takes pride on reducing costs by 22%. He does not comment on the alleged reduction of lanes from six to four which will contribute to congestion in the future as already experienced during some seasons, even in the Southern and Katunayake expressways. He also does not compare the comparative costs between the already constructed ones and new tenders entered into by the present government.

Para 485 – Fee on filing a court case. This is most unjust and unfair. It erodes the freedom of the individual to seek justice. The citizen is not to blame for the inefficiency and mishandling by the State. The laws delays were consciously and deliberately enhanced by the actions of the UNP government of 1977 by, inter alia, restoring testamentary proceedings held by the Public Trustee back to District Courts and upsetting other arrangements introduced by the UF government of 1970 which benefited litigants and reduced delays. Delays are also due to most lawyers living on dates. It is up to government to strengthen the judicial set-up by revising some of the archaic legislation and procedures without squeezing the public dry.

The stoic silence on the effects on the economy on the stoppage of work on the Port City and some other important projects and the causes for exchange rate fluctuations is deafening !

(The author was a former Addl. Director (Budget) in the General Treasury and a former Deputy Director, Merchant Shipping in the Ministry of Ship[ping & Tourism)

2 Responses to “Tongue-in cheek Budget”

  1. plumblossom Says:

    The proposed federal or Eelam constitution should be rejected totally by all patriotic Sri Lankans. We should do all we can to reject the proposed federal or Eelam constitution in total.

    However treacherous Ranil and the treacherous UNP government will try to create some kind of rift or conflict between the Sinhala Buddhists and the Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers etc. in order to create problems so that it will then be easy to pass this treacherous federal or Eelam constitution without much problems. This is what the treacherous Ranil, the treacherous UNP, CBK, Mangala etc. did before 8th January 2015 so that the 40-50% moderate Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers etc. vote was reduced and Mahinda Rajapakshe did not win as a result. Please do not fall for this cheap trick again and again is my plea to Sinhala people. My plea to Sinhala people is please use your brains at least once and not fall for such cheap tricks like this. Small problems can be resolved and is a million times less dangerous than a treacherous Ranil/Sirisena SLFP/JVP/Pacha Ranawaka/TNA government which will now bring on a federal or Eelam constitution.

    This is what the US,EU,UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden, India has told treacherous Ranil, CBK, Sirisena and Mangala to do i.e. create some kind of rift between the Sinhala Buddhists and the Sinhala Catholics, Malays, Muslims, Indian Tamils, Burghers etc. so that they can then pass the federal or Eelam constitution with ease. So my plea is do not fall for this cheap trick again and again if Sinhala people have an ounce of sense.

    We should reject the federal or Eelam constitution in total and work with all patriotic Sri Lankans whoever they are and who are to reject the federal or Eelam constitution in total and work for a unitary state with only limited powers to provincial councils.

  2. plumblossom Says:

    This is what the treacherous Ranil/Sirisena/CBK and Mangala are planning to do as forced upon them by the US,UK,EU,Canada,Norway,Sweden, TNA and all other separatist terrorists. Please reject this in total if you have even an ounce of sense. Not even huge countries such as India and Pakistan which has federal systems have abolished their concurrent lists! Not even South Africa a huge country which is unitary has abolished its concurrent list! However tiny, little Sri Lanka is going to abolish its concurrent list.

    Constitutional Assembly’s Center-Provincial Relations Sub-committee Recommends Reduction of Governors Powers and Granting Police and Land Powers for Provinces

    22 November 2016, 2:46 am

    By PK Balachandran

    The Sri Lankan Constitutional Assembly’s sub-committee on Center-Provincial relations has recommended that the provinces be granted powers over land and police; that the powers of the provincial Governor be drastically pruned, and that there be a fair allocation of financial resources to the provinces along with powers to decide how to spend the money.

    As a matter of fact, the 13 th.Amendment of the constitution carried out in 1987 following the India-Sri Lanka Accord, had devolved powers over land and police to the provinces. But this was not implemented.

    The constitution sub-committee under the chairmanship of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, D.Siddharthan, has now recommended that all State Land (or government lands) in a province should come under the purview of the provincial administration though the Central government may requisition land for the propose of executing projects on matters under the Central List.

    Likewise, the police in a province should come under the Provincial Administration and they should be regulated by a Provincial Police Commission (again as stipulated under the unimplemented 13 th Amendment).

    The sub-committee said that the Concurrent List should be abolished and that there should only be a Provincial List and a Reserved (Central) List to avoid confusion and arrogation of powers by the Center.
    The panel wants the provincial Governor to go entirely by the advice of the Chief Minister and his Board of Ministers and not be an agent of the Center which, he or she is, now. The power to control the provincial officers and determine what statutes should be passed by the Provincial Council should be taken away from the Governor.

    Since only one of the nine provinces of Sri Lanka (namely the Western Province) is financially sound, the Center should not only give adequate funds to the provinces but also leave it to the provinces to decide how the funds should be spent. At present, the Center not only allocates the funds, but also specifies in detail how they should be spent. Though there is a Finance Commission to determine allocations to the provinces, the President often over-rules its recommendations. The panel has sought an independent Finance Commission with representatives of the provinces in it.

    At present there is a stipulation that provincial schemes should conform to the relevant National Policy. The sub-committee has recommended that the provinces should be given the right to participate in the formulation of a National Policy.

    The sub-committee has skirted the controversial issue as to whether Center-Provincial relations should be based on the federal or the unitary model. While the minority Tamils have been agitating for a federal constitution, the majority Sinhalese want the present unitary system to continue. The sub-committee’s recommendations envisage devolution of power but without labeling the overall scheme as either federal or unitary

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