By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Let me first thank the Chair for giving me this opportunity to speak at this 2022 Budget Debate.
Even though our Budget Debates for each day centres around the Ministries and their subject matters with the relevant officials being present on these days, discussion of matters important would entail not only subjects pertaining to the respective Ministries, such as Ministries of Agriculture and Irrigation today, but many other matters intricately interwoven with the Budget, its purposes. its possible effect on the Country, its peoples and on our foreign relations with the International Community.
Therefore let me refer to certain matters pertaining to Agriculture, Irrigation and allied matters and stray over to other matters later in this short speech.
I am told that there was a Presidential Communique released recently. It said that Government subsidies and allied reliefs would hereafter be available only to users of Organic fertilizers. That seems to have meant that anyone could import inorganic fertilizers or chemical fertilizers. But those who would use them would not receive any governmental subsidies or benefits. Instead of saying the Government has changed its mind on account of the Peoples protests, specially the Farmers’ protest and therefore had allowed import of inorganic fertilizers, it has used this ruse to circumvent the politically embarrassing situation!
Now the law seems to be anyone can import inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides and so on, but the Government will not give any benefits to those who use them. This means that the subsidies and other benefits given so far to the Agriculture Sector would be discontinued. All in the name of sustainable organic Agriculture!
But this could have been done right at the beginning instead of getting the masses to get agitated and demonstrate against the Government.
We are an agrarian society and place farmers as an important part of our society not a demeaning one where we can play with their livelihoods. Thaipongal festival as all of you know celebrates and thanks farmers’ contribution to the world at large. Farmers who have been penalised due to the inconsistent and wrongful approach on fertilisers, should be compensated for the loss of efficiency and yield suffered due to the arbitrary policies pursued by the Government with regard to fertilizers. I would suggest that on the upcoming Thaipongal day all farmers in the country would get compensated accordingly.
The Government today on its part has started using the Army more and more in order to control its dissatisfied people, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or others. The Country now seems to be dependent entirely on its Armed Forces and its retired fraternity to run its government!
The highest allocation in this Budget has been made to the Ministry of Defense. Direct Military allocation to all the Armed Forces is a staggering Rs.308 billion. This is 12.3% of the total estimated government expenditure of Rs. 2.5 trillion. This is an increase of 1.74% from the 2021 allocation.
Use of the Army seems to be given preference in recent times more and more. The Minister of Finance, Hon’ Basil Rajapaksa said in his Budget speech the other day that the government employees have turned out to be a big financial burden on the Country. But that is not so. Even after the war, continuing to keep an Armed Force far in excess of the Country’s needs, paying their salaries and other infrastructural dues, bringing back officers of the Armed Forces after their retirement, employing them in high governmental posts and in the Foreign Service, has become a huge drain on the Country’s finances. It is not the Government Employees who are a drain on the Country’s finances. May be there is lack of fraternal communication between the President and the Minister of Finance on these matters!
The huge sum now paid to the Armed Forces if reduced could be used to pay off part of our Foreign Debts. Despite the end of the war in 2009 the defense expenditure has been rising every year. There is an unfortunate slant given to the People by successive Sinhala majority governments that defense should be the most prioritized expenditure in the Budget. Defense from whom is an unanswered question. This only shows that there is no real peace in this Country. There is only the absence of war. But it is high time we realized that our so called enemies are not Indians nor Maldivians but our own people whom we want to repress through our Armed Forces!
The Budget as a whole has been prepared not for the long-term benefits of the Country but to gain short-term political benefits. It lacks the blueprint of plans and schemes prepared for the long-term amelioration of the people. If it did there would have been the mention of production economy, long term proposals for the ultimate reduction of our Foreign Debts, ways and means to save the people from impending famine and pestilence, schemes for the reduction of unemployment and so on.
I like to point out that poverty is significantly higher in the Mullaitivu, Mannar, Batticaloa and Moneragala Districts. It is high time that separate urgent budgets e prepared to allocate their needs based on actual poverty rates found in the Districts. In addition poverty base line calculation needs to be updated as per World Bank guidelines since we have, I am told, the 2002 baseline still which is outdated.
There is reference to the increase of Foreign Tourists in the coming months. But the Hon’ Minister of Finance has forgotten that unless a solution is found to the burning unresolved ethnic question it would be futile to expect a sizable increase in the coming of the Foreign Tourists.
The Government acts as if there is no political question to be solved. The desire for a new Constitution is based on the anxiety of the Government to get rid of the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment to the present Constitution through the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987. Even if a new chapter with the provisions of the present Thirteenth Amendment enshrined in it were to be passed, it would effectively deter India interfering!
This Budget has not provided any reliefs for the people of the North and East who were the main victims of the war. There is no reference to those widows who lost their husbands to the war, to those seriously disabled by the war and to those who lost all their worldly belongings to the war. Even after 12 years since the end of the war these victims of war continue to be ignored. No government has formulated policies in this regard.
Of course as Chief Minister of the Northern Province, I had started talks with the Former Prime Minister Hon’ Ranil Wickremesinghe to prepare a Needs Assessment for the North and East. But little was allowed to be done in that regard. We have not been able to prepare even until now. A Needs’ Assessment for the war affected areas like done in the year 2003. That needs to be done comprehensively. Only then could we find out the needs of the war affected families and individuals and provide them relief.
Still a large section of our people who had lost their living residences to the war remain to be compensated. It is a criminal waste of finances to continue with the building of war memorials and the like twelve years after the end of the war. These are political gimmicks which will not help the Country in the long run. Instead the people will feel the pinch of the financial drains on such ethnically and religiously designed war memorial projects and their resistance and antipathy will increase. The government would be forced to depend on its Armed Forces more and more.
The ‘One country One law’ project would not unify the Country. Instead it would polarize the different communities further. This Country cannot be one Country except due to its insular location. There are more than one Nation within its boundaries. Only if we recognize the right of self-determination these Nations have within their determinable boundaries and give equal rights and opportunities to all communities would we be able to bring this Country back on the road to peace and progress. Thus only a Federal type of government which would recognize the right of self -determination of determinable categories of people living for centuries in defined areas within the Country would bring reconciliation, peace and prosperity to this Country.
Before concluding I would like to remind Honourable Members that today is a special day to the Tamils of the North East during a special week the Maveerar Week since they remember the martyrs who were killed during the War during this week. I would like to quote what the non- violent Mahatma Gandhi said of Subash Chandra Bose who took to arms against the British- “Netaji’“ patriotism is second to none. His bravery shines through all his actions. He aimed high and failed. But who has not failed.” On another occasion Gandhi said, “Netaji will remain immortal for all time to come for his service to India.”
As a votary of non-violence may I commit those words vis a vis the North and East of Sri Lanka in remembrance of the Brave Tamil whose birthday it is today? Thank you.
*Committee Stage Program of the Budget 2022 – On 26.11.2021 Friday after 1 p.m, Speech in Parliament by Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, M.P