27 January, 2023


Budget 2023: Defence Expenditure & The Tamils Of Sri Lanka

By C.V. Wigneswaran

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran MP

I thank the Chair for giving me this opportunity to air my views on the Defense aspect of the Budget. All inclusive Defence Expenditure for 2023 has increased to Rupees 539 billion. Why? Are we taxing our people so that the Government could spend so much money on the Military? Is that what the people want? Or are we wanting to keep the Tamils under the Military Boot of the State and that is why so much of money is spent? When are we going to decrease our defence expenditure and move on with our economic regeneration? 

Is it not a fact that the root structural causes of the crisis included financing the war to deny the right of self-determination of the Tamils of Sri Lanka?  

Not recognising the over 3000 years’ continued existence of the Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka, in order to repress the Tamils, higher spending on the Military started in 1960. Sri Lanka’s Military spending in 1960 was 0.02 Billion Dollars constituting 1.18% of the GDP then. 

In 1985 it increased to 0.19 Billion Dollars constituting 3.16% of our GDP. In 2007 the spending was 1.05 Billion Dollars constituting 3.26 of our GDP. At the end of the war in 2009 it was 1.52 Billion Dollars constituting 3.16 of the GDP. 

At the end of the war anyone would have thought the expenses on the Military would decrease. But it did not. On an average 2% of the GDP has been spent on Defense annually from 2009 upto date.

There have been thus an increase in expenditure after the war than decrease of our Military expenditure.

All together we have spent from 2009 until 2020 18.84 Billion US Dollars after the war. In 2020 we spent 295 Billion in Sri Lankan currency. In 2021, 331 Billion, in 2022, 376 Billion and we are expecting to spend in 2023 an all round high of Rupees 539 Billion. All these years the Education, Health, Agriculture and other very important Ministries received much less every year. The salaries paid to the Military every year almost equals the salary paid to the public servants as a whole.                                                                                                

As a percentage of GDP, Sri Lanka spent 1.93 % in 2020 on Military expenses whereas Japan which is having external threats spent only 0.99%.

Our Army is the 14th largest Army in the World but we do not face any external threat. Yet our Military personnel   are said to be 331000. As a percentage of population in 2018 Sri Lanka (1.46%) was second only to Israel (2%).

The Sri Lankan problem, if any, is not similar to that of Israel. It could be solved very easily if not for the mindsets of the political leaders especially the recent set who have had no hesitation in grabbing power even through blood. In fact we could have saved so much of money and avoided so much of human suffering if our politicians had not thought so parochially and in an ethnocentric manner and had solved this problem in the 1950s or 60s. Even after the end of the war a mentality has been created in the minds of the people that defense should be the most prioritized expenditure of the budget. Therefore no one including the Opposition Parliamentarians raised objections so far to the increasing defense expenditure of the country. 

This state of affairs exists even today though some of our majority community Parliamentarians have started questioning such expenditure after the aragalaya. Even at this juncture of the history of Sri Lanka where people are forced to undergo severe economic difficulties defense expenses are on the rise. 

It was maintainable during the war, to assert that defense should have been our topmost expenditure. But when such expenditure continues after the war, year after year, it is an indicator that peace has not arrived. It is an indicator that the powers that be have doubts in their minds with regard to their safety despite the vanquishing of all the top leaders of the protaganists.

The simple formula to bring peace is to sideline the extremist elements within us and implement a moderate solution acceptable to all, realizing that the Tamils have lived continuously in this Country from pre historic times upon a determinable land mass with their own language, culture and civilization intact. Bringing peace into this Country is not a difficult task for a leader with a vision. If the ethnic problems could be solved the defense expenses can then be reduced drastically and that can be used profitably on more deserved sectors of the Country’s economy. Instead, we are trying to safeguard the country from an enemy still unborn and unseen. To face an unborn enemy over a hundred thousand Military have been stationed in the North and East.

Speaking of the North where I was Chief Minister for five years after the war, the Military has taken over several Farms of the people and are cultivating them and pocketting the income leaving the owners of such lands on the lurch, plundered out of their livelihoods.

The Army has misappropriated agricultural farms in Vattakachchi (394 acres), Jeyapuram (120 acres), Thiruvaiaru (circa 500 acres), Mulankavil (circa 400 acres) Malayalapuram (798 acres), Muththiankattu (circa 100 acres),Mukkuppam (100 acres of Coconut land) all  in the Kilinochchi District, then Vattuvahal (672 acres ). Mullikulam (circa 600 acres), Viswamadu (150 acres), Pulumachinatha Kulam (circa 300  acres ) and Theravil (1200 acres) in the Mullaitivu District. 

In Kokkuththoduwai in the Mullaitivu District 25 acres for each family was distributed for cultivation of cadju. All those lands have been appropriated by the Army. Over 25000 acres of land in the Mullaitivu District is in the hands of the Military.

Then circa 500 acres of agricultural lands in Vellankulam in the Mannar District and private lands in the Chettikulam areas in the Vavuniya District have been taken over by the Army.

From the agricultural lands in the Mullaitivu District the Army receives on an average Fifteen Million profit every year..

From the Farms in the Kilinochchi District the Army gets around Thirteen Million profit annually.

Lots of precious agricultural lands which could bring in substantial income for our People are today languishing in the hands of the Forces.

In the Vanni while appropriating People’s lands  and making profits therefrom the Military have concocted various security concerns to justify their aggression and day light robbery. They have made it out that unless our People work in their Farms they have no prospects of a decent livelihood. On one side the Government prevented large-scale, profitable agricultural Projects being run by the Provincial Council and on the other hand the Military has made the People believe today that they are their only salvation.

If only we close up these Army Camps and hand over these Farms to local Agricultural Cooperative Organisations our Farmers could feed  not only the Vanni but  the farmers in the Northern Province  would be able to contribute substantially to the Agricultural needs of the entire Country. In fact they have done so earlier.

In the Jaffna District over 3000 acres of land are in the possession of the Military. In an area of 3262 acres, there are 43 Army Camps and 98 Army Check Points. There are 41 Military Camps in the Kilinochchi District.

In addition the Military is bent on permanently taking over People’s lands in 68 places. Some of the soldiers have complained that they were recruited for war training but now are forced to do menial jobs.

In Vattuvahal in the Mullaitivu District already an Army Camp exists on 672 acres of land. In Keppapilavu the Air Force has appropriated 3000 acres. In Mannar Sannar area 100 acres have been taken over by the Army and Camp has been established. In Mullikulam 600 acres have been taken over by the Army.

In Puliamkulam in the Vavuniya District, the STF has taken over private lands and established Camps. So too at the Maruthodai Junction in Vavuniya.     

In Ottisuddan in the Mullaitivu District on 15 acres of Private lands the Army has built their Camp. Including the Cemetry area at the Ottisuddan Junction 50 acres have been seized and an Army Camp has been built. 

According to 2019 statistics 679 acres of Private lands and 3178 acres of State lands have been taken over by the Military.But these are Government Statistics. In reality very much more lands are in the hands of the Forces.

For example  opposite the Murukandy Temple on the A9 Road on the other side of where the Temple stands, 1702 acres of land is held by the Military.This is the Land about which Honourable Sambandan spoke in Parliament sometime ago pointing out that permanent buildings for the residences of the Soldiers were coming up. No private persons are allowed to enter these lands. 

In 2017 our Research Organizations in the North concluded that over 30000 acres of land have been expropriated by the Forces in the 

Mullaitivu area alone. All these are areas where Tamils lived for centuries.Our economy is imprisoned in these lands now.

There are many modern and useful changes that could be introduced to strengthen our Agricultural sector in these areas. If we could use modern methods to save water, to control floods, to manage underground water, to increase yields, to enhance physical resources in these areas our Farmers would benefit and consequently the Country would benefit. 

Instead we are allowing the Army to hold on to People’s lands in a dog in the manger fashion.

We could use some of these Farms for inland seed production, Training programs and enhancement of Agricultural technical knowhows.

We could at the same time advise and educate our Farmers in the making of organic manure and related matters.

Honourable Members would have by now realised why such large amounts of moneys are allocated to the Forces. Inter alia it is to keep the Tamil People under the Military Boot and to prevent the Northern and Eastern Tamil speaking people from economically regenerating. The Government prevents diaspora investments in the North and East and continue to spend such large sums of money on their Armed Forces. Government might consent to allow diaspora investments under an Unitary Constitution. But that is of no use to us. The Central Government alone will decide what we should do with such investments. Going by the past their decisions would prejudice the wellbeing of the Tamils of the North and East.

We need to have a needs’ assessment done to the North and East and identify our priorities according to the needs of our People not to feed the Central Government’s ethnocentric whims  and fancies. To do that we need to jettison the present Unitary Constitution and devolve powerssubstantially to the periphery. It is our view that only a confederal constitution could give the Tamil people freedom and elbow space to prosper. 

Hence I would appeal to the Government to reduce their Military spending, decrease their Military numbers and use the money saved thereon, on relieving the economic burdens of the People. Thank you

*2023 Budget debate; On 24th November, Speech by Justice C.V. Wigneswaran M.P.

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Dear Viggy
    As long as the citizens of our country do not see the truth about the real nature of our society, we will continue to be cheated and punished by those in power.
    Society is like a fabric, the fibers in a good fabric are closely knit in a matrix. All the members of the matrix are connected to their closest neighbors in a uniform manner. No one tries to stand out, and if they do that portion is trimmed.
    But this is far from the case in Sri Lanka and to a large extent in south Asia. We the citizens have no love or cohesion for one another.
    It is validated by our practice of ancient outdated religions, where the caste system is a fundamental phenomenon. We Asians are stuck in the past. It may interest you to know that even the Sinhalese Buddhists are actually using Hindu precepts at heart. The Hindu religion doesn’t give a damn about society, it is all about worshipping different gods for selfish gains.
    As long as there is no sincere concern for each other as a fundamental aspect of existence, we shall continue to be trampled upon like dirt.

  • 3

    Ranil is destroying the country. He only wants to stay in power. He is proposing to sell income generating institutions.and earn dollers to keep the kitchen functioning. But with that Lanka hospital will go for free. He wil earn 3 billion dollars which he will spend in 4 months. What will we get loss of income which will necessitate printing money. With increase income obtained will be sent out as dollars.we will be loosin our assets and double loss in monetary terms.who is going to stop this mad fellow inflation. And the inc

  • 1

    The petty minded Northern and Easten Tamil Politicians’ mindset need to change. They are not the only representatives of Tamils living in SL. There are other Tamils living in the rest of the country, especially in upcountry. Today upcountry Tamils contribute more to SL economy than these petty minded piticians’ area Tamils. Although these petty minded Tamil politicians are educated they are more racists than the majority. If they have any negotiations with the Govt then they should endure that all Tamil political parties are present and not have a kitchen cabinet meeting with the Govt!

  • 3

    Answer to the question why so much money is spent to maintain a large armed forces, lies in the book written by N.Q. Dias in 1961. From our younger days we had been told that Tamils will be kept under control with a ring of army camps and this view is articulated in that book. Tamil MPs making fiery speeches in parliament is not going to bring any result to the suffering of Tamils. Tamil MPs must take the example of opposition rhetoric in parliament which RW is not concerned about. In contrast he is worried about Aragalaya which is on the streets and causing a headache to the government. RW has started his onslaught on Kumar Gunaratnam, just because he is a Tamil and trying to drive a wedge in Aragalaya. RW will never solve any problem but will mess them up.

    • 2

      Dr. Ghana
      You claim to be a doctor and yet you don’t seem to get the jist of what is going on.
      Racist mindset will not let you see. I don’t blame you. You maybe a Professor but if you don’t have the right perspective there is nothing much I can do I’m for you.
      First and foremost, presently the Tamil population is not the main concern of the government. It is the Sinhalese masses. Government want to control by increasing the expenditure on military spending, because they are scared of the Sinhalese people, due to the numbers.
      They will definitely increase military spending and hope to checkmate any likely uprising from the most probable source.
      Nothing we can do about that. We have seen this twice in the past in 1971 and 1987. There is no mercy based on race or language when they want to act.
      Only true and honest unity between all citizens can save us.
      But as long as people like you make every issue a racial one, we will always be on the receiving end.

      • 2

        Why do you attribute high thinking to mere careers and paper qualifications.
        He was no professor really I think, but even that is irrelevant.
        If someone is honest, rational and fair minded, take the person seriously.
        The subjective mind churns out nonsense:
        “RW has started his onslaught on Kumar Gunaratnam, just because he is a Tamil “
        Kumar Gunaratnam has a Tamil surname, but his identity is more Sinhala. RW resents KG’s politics, something that the writer of the comment equally resents.
        I would have ignored this nonsense had you not brought it up.

        • 1

          Dear Sir,
          “If someone is honest, rational and fair minded, take the person seriously”.
          I agree with you 100%.
          1. My point exactly, most of our people tend to hide behind big titles, etc but have no common sense. We have no place in our society for rational thinkers.
          2. This issue is further complicated by our caste and class system, where people are trying to hang on to their past glory by all means by oppressing the weak.
          3. This brings me to my third point, we Sri Lankans use our primal or animal instincts to get on with our lives instead of using human intelligence or human qualities.
          4. Thus “Thanha” is the most pivotal quality that guides us as human beings in everything, rather than Karuna, Muditha, Upeksha, Maithree, and the rest.
          South Asia is full of people with so much “adika thanha”/ extreme greed that by default we are not ready to let go not even a notion in our heads (That is obviously wrong or outdated), yet we hang on to it because of our greed.
          This is our biggest obstacle. It gives rise to all our other faults.

          • 1

            Point 4, please change “that guides as human beings” to that guide as south asian people…

    • 2

      Dr GS,
      Gunaratnam may have a Tamil surname, but is not considered Tamil among the Sinhalese community. or anywhere. So, you have your information completely wrong.
      Students overstaying their term in universities will be revealed in the coming days. Their connections with hidden forces will also be open to the public. Students who misuse taxpayers’ money will soon face the music once they get into universities. I would like to appreciate the steps taken by the present government considering that there are many innocent boys and girls who are losing their chance to complete their degrees due to violent students extending their time and blocking hostel accommodation.

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