By Kumar David –
An aged man is but a paltry thing
A tattered coat upon a stick
Unless soul clap its hands and sing
For every tatter in that mortal dress
–WB Yeats (I can’t remember where)
Various folks have weighed in on the FUTA initiated demand, now taken on by the public at large (it’s not FUTA’s business anymore, it’s now we the people’s business), that 6% of GDP be budgeted by the State for education. Yes that’s right 6% of GDP, yes it’s 20% of government expenditure as per the 2011 Estimates. I write this perfectly cognizant of the facts and figures. Aged, past their useful-shelf-life Central Bank bureaucrats and ill informed lesser persons please note that intelligent Lanka is aware of the statistics. As Obama said of Romney, some people shoot their mouths first and take aim later.
This piece will use data provided by Professor Dileepa Witharana at a symposium conducted by FUTA in Colombo on 19 September, but should some figure here or there, or some decimal be imprecise, I stand by my case on the basis of broadly accredited knowledge. The telling comparison is that Lanka is the lousiest among many nations graphed in the accompanying illustration in respect of our (meaning the Rajapakse state’s) commitment to education. Is it surprising then that literacy, which had peaked at 99% before 2005, has now fallen back to 94% and is declining?
Notwithstanding the pleadings of the Uswatte Arachis and such like slayers of education, as a percentage of GDP and state expenditure, we are behind Bangladesh(heaven help!),Nepal,Pakistan and India. So what are these aged types trying to do? Is their purpose to construct a case for further numbing public universities to pave the way for private alternatives with the side benefit that contingent parties can line their pockets? Or in their blindness will they end up breeding another generation of Tigers and 1971-Insurrectionists?
The most telling item in the FUTA data set is comparison of Lankan state expenditure on education with a gamut of countries stratified by income level. The data in tabular form shows Lanka at 2.06% of GDP (2009 data), lower than any country grouping. At 8.08% of budget spending it is again the lowest. By 2011 the first number had fallen to 1.9% of GDP and in 2012 I believe it is even less flattering.
Even in the low to middle income country group, where Lanka belongs, the average expenditure is over 4%. Therefore to redress the sustained damage that has been done by budgetary slashing on education since Mahinda Rajapakse took office, expenditure must be raised to 6% of GDP for five years, though thereafter the capital component can be gradually scaled to reduce the total to 4.5% of GDP.
All governments in South Asia spend more than Lanka as a percentage of GDP:Bangladesh(2.23%), Buhtan (4.63),India(3.09%),Maldives(8.71%),Nepal(4.66%) and Pakistan(2.69%) while Lanka is 1.9%. All of them also spend more than Lanka as a proportion of state expenditure, ranging from a high of 19% in Nepal to a low of 11% India, while poor Lanka limps along at a mere 8%.
The coup de grace to the motley crew of apologists who have raised their heads in recent weeks is the precipitate decline in the Rajapakse years in government spending on universities. Of the miserly 8% it now spends on education as a whole, a mere 1.2% reaches the universities as the graph shows.
Nobody in his right mind will suggest that the university’s share be increased by cutting the miserable allocations made to schools. No the point is this; there has been a precipitate overall decline because of factors I will touch on before closing. I do not know for how long the Rajapakse-SB Dissanayake-IMF combine has been hatching to administer extreme unction to the public university system, degrade it to third rate borstals for the yakko class and open the royal road to private fee levying institutions of higher education. The graph suggests the plot has been brewing since the early years of Rajapakse’s first term.
One final matter and I am done for the day. According to the budget allocations for 2012 the top five ministries in order of funding are Finance and Planning (47%), Defence & Urban Planning (10.5%), Ports & Highways (6.6%), Public Administration (6.3%) and Local Government & Provincial Councils (5.9%). About 40% of the 47% swallowed by the Finance Ministry is for debt servicing. Conditions are worsening as the government is getting deeper into debt by the day; it is into the business of acquiring more debt to service unsustainable existing debt. This is aggravated as the regime runs amok with vast and wasteful white-elephant show case grandiosities.
In the circumstances not only is the government unwilling to improve provision of public goods like health, education, transport and energy, it is also readying to crush dissent since that is the only language dictators know to speak. How to remove dictators is a Herculean task that national opinion is now beginning to ask itself.