By C.V. Wigneswaran –
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.