The cost of war
Posted on November 14th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Yahapalana leaders declared, in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, that there was no threat of war. They accused the Rajapaksa government of tilting at windmills, years after the conclusion of the war, and suppressing people’s democratic rights in the name of national security. True, the successful end of the country’s war on terror in 2009 figured prominently in the UPFA’s presidential election campaign five years later, but it did not have the desired impact on the electorate.

Interestingly, the yahapalana leaders themselves are now raising the bogey of war to advance their political agenda. They keep saying that unless more power is devolved to the provinces through the proposed constitutional reforms as a solution to the ethnic problem the country will experience war again. Curiously, at the same time, they keep reducing military presence in the North, claiming that the recurrence of war is beyond the bounds of possibility!

Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella reminded Parliament of the ravages of war on Monday. He said he had got the cost of war calculated by the parliament research unit. (It is heartening that at least one MP is making use of library and research facilities available in Parliament!) He said the war which had lasted for nearly three decades had cost the state and the LTTE USD 200 bn each. This works out to USD 6.66 bn per year where the cost borne by the state is concerned.

Supposing the figures, given by Minister Kiriella, are in the ballpark, the conclusion of the war has helped the country save about USD 57 bn during the last eight and a half years. The present government has been able to save about USD 20 bn since the 2015 regime change.

Besides being basically economic, dividends of peace are psychological, social, cultural and political. People can now travel in buses and trains and gather at public events without fearing for their safety. They and their elected representatives can exercise their political rights in all parts of the country. They don’t have to pay protection money to terrorists either here or abroad. Their children go to school without fear of being abducted on the way and turned into cannon fodder.

However, the economic dividends of peace haven’t reached the people. The yahapalana leader kept telling us, while they were in the Opposition, that the big guns of the previous government and their cronies were helping themselves to public funds and, therefore, the conclusion of the war had not benefited the people. If so, why is it that the people haven’t received the dividends of peace under the present dispensation as well? Are the yahapalana bigwigs emulating their predecessors?

Minister Kiriella rightly pointed out in Parliament that immediately after gaining Independence, the country had been able to spend its own funds on development projects and present surplus budgets, but today it had become heavily dependent on foreign loans. His lament has, no doubt, struck a responsive chord with the public. The reason for the country’s predicament is obvious. In days of yore, we were blessed with statesmen who put the country before self. They did not amass ill-gotten wealth at the expense of the public. The country prospered. We have been burdened with a bunch of corrupt, greedy politicians for the last few decades. No wonder progress eludes us!

Government politicians who came to power, promising to adopt austere measures and share people’s suffering, are now living off the fat of the land. They don’t seem to care a damn about the country’s ever worsening debt burden. More than Rs. 2 billion has so far been obtained by way of supplementary estimates for ministers’ super luxury vehicles. Last year as much as Rs. 600 million was spent on two cars for a government leader! Present-day politicians generously give themselves pay hikes and allowances while wasting colossal amounts of foreign exchange on foreign junkets.

Thankfully, the costly armed conflict is a thing of the past, but it looks as if the hapless people had to wage another war of sorts to liberate themselves from the clutches of greedy politicians on both sides of the so-called political divide.

One Response to “The cost of war”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Completely nonsensical figures.

    Overall the war was economically beneficial for Sri Lanka. If absence of war saved $57 billion in the last 8 years, why did our foreign debt burden increase by an unprecedented $40 billion? We only borrowed $18 billion from 1977 to 2009 (over 32 years).

    I calculate the net benefit (total benefit minus total cost) of war to be $2.6 billion a year for Sri Lanka (2017 figures) and $1.3 billion for Sri Lankan Tamils (2017 figures).

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