By Harsha Gunasena –
The Minister of Finance presented the Appropriation Bill for the fiscal year 2022 to the Parliament. The highest allocation was made to the Ministry of defense, and this was the scenario for some time. At present the expenditure under the Ministry of Defense includes nonmilitary expenses such as the expenses of Multi-purpose Development Task Force as well. However, the direct military allocations comprising of the allocations to Sri Lanka Army, Sri Lanka Navy and Sri Lanka Air Force inclusive of both recurrent and capital expenditure was staggering Rs. 308 billion. This was 12.3% of the total estimated government expenditure of Rs. 2.5 trillion. In the Appropriation Bill of 2021, the direct military allocation was estimated as Rs. 283 billion which was 10.56% of the total estimated expenditure. Therefore, the allocation to direct military expenditure out of the total estimated government expenditure was increased by 1.74% in 2022. This is of course at the expense of various vital sectors of the country.
Sri Lanka is a country which is having high military expenses among the fellow nations. If a comparison is made with few countries across the world representing different levels of development, ideologies, and geographic locations this is visible. For comparison purposes with Sri Lanka the countries of Japan, Sweden, Bangladesh, Germany, China, Australia, UK, India and Israel are considered. As the indicators, military expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), military expenditure as a percentage of total government expenses and military personnel as a percentage of population are considered and the relevant charts are given.
As a percentage of GDP, Sri Lanka spent 1.93% in 2020 on military expenses whereas Israel spent 5.62% which was the highest. Japan, which is having external threats spent only 0.99%. Sri Lanka (10.29%) is second only to Israel (12.08%) in 2020 out of the selected countries in respect of military expenses as a % of government expenditure. The number of military personnel in Sri Lanka in 2018 was 317,000 which was lower than only China and India which countries maintain large armies. 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 current set who have no hesitation to grab the power even through blood.
Despite the end of the civil war in 2009, defense expenditure in the Sri Lankan budget was on the rise. A mentality was created in the minds of the people that defense was the most prioritized expenditure of the budget. Therefore no one including the opposition parliamentarians raised objections to the increasing defense expenditure of the country. Even at this juncture of the history of Sri Lanka where people are forced to undergo severe economic difficulties partly due to the bad economic management of the successive governments and partly due to the arrogant and foolish approach of this government in solving the issue, defense expenses are on the rise.
It is understood that during the war defense should be the topmost expenditure. When it continues after the war, year after year, it is an indicator that the peace is not there. The successive governments after the end of the war have not done enough to bring peace to the country. The blame goes to the previous government as well although it had done a lot in this direction.
The simple formula to bring peace is to sideline the extremist elements in all the sides and implement a moderate solution acceptable to all. This is not a difficult task for a leader with a vision. If so, the defense expenses can be reduced drastically and that can be used to more deserved sectors of the country. Instead, the political leaders of the country intentionally create unrest and fear among the ethnic groups in order to get the votes of the majority Sinhala community. Eventually they increase the allocation to the military expenses to safeguard the country from an unborn enemy.