The third Budget of the National Unity Government presented by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera looks much more to the future than any Budget in post-independence Sri Lanka. There was also the tactical gain in the pre-budget Gazette which moved away from the practice of announcing price hikes before the Budget itself is announced in Parliament, and instead told of price reductions in several consumer items having great demand. This was an interesting political strategy that would leave little room for attacks on the main Budget proposals on the issue of the Cost of Living, while leaving room for these prices to be increased later.

The forward looking aspect of the Budget certainly gives much more meaning to acceptance of the advantages of modern technological progress, as well as, giving due consideration to the need to fight environmental pollution through acceptance of scientific developments. This is certainly a move going beyond the often empty claims of fighting environmental pollution told so often by many in government, and a practical approach to the issue. This is more relevant, considering the huge pollution that India is facing in New Delhi and many areas in the North of India just now, with atmospheric pollution levels being dangerously over the WHO recommended PM 2.5 for particle pollution.

With an Economic Development target of 5%, inflation to be kept under 6%, and the Budget Deficit to be 4.5% of GDP, the Finance Minister has certainly moved to a tough position, which will require continued assessment of, and possible curtailing of government expenditure that is considered wasteful. The progress in this would certainly require more than Finance Ministry activity, but a much larger participation of the Government, in all its sectors, in seeking to achieve these goals.

With the goal of a Green Environment there is an interesting goal of all State vehicles to be hybrid or electric by 2025, which goes with the important proposal to target the end the use of all fossil fuel cars by 2040. There is also the reduction of import tax on electric vehicles by Rs. 1 million, and also the increase in the import tax on luxury vehicles by around Rs. 2.5 million. An interesting question is how this increased duty would impact of “Duty Free” luxury vehicles for MPs.

There are interesting proposals on handling the three-wheeler situation, which will also benefit by the stress on electric driven vehicles. The support of locally assembled vehicles is encouraging, while the proposal to give assistance to three-wheel owners to export vehicles to Bangladesh is looking at a new direction in dealing with the growing issues of three-wheel owners. Another useful proposal, with a good look at future needs, is the decision to introduce electric buses to the SLTB, for public transport, at an initial cost of Rs. 500 million.

Another aspect of the futuristic approach of this Budget is the proposal to introduce a Carbon Tax, and expanding island-wide facilities for the charging of electric vehicles.

Fuel crisis and after

The Budget proposals that look at unfolding realities on the availability and supply of power, was in sharp contrast the situation that prevailed for three days, even till after the Minister of Finance rose to make his speech. The drop in fuel supply leading to large crowds at petrol stations, sometimes confrontation and even violence, drew attraction to the very bad planning in the storage and supply of petroleum in the country. The attempts to put the blame on the Indian Company IOC, due to one of its stocks being rejected by the CPC, was certainly a cheap and crooked move, as much as the attempts by the JO and some trade unions to not blame the failure of the Petroleum Corporation on the task of proper and adequate stock and storage facilities. One cannot understand how a major institution that is engaged in the supply of fuel to the country could not think of a possible and unexpected shortfall of fuel stock for at least two weeks.

While the ministerial committee appointed to look into this will have to give its report soon, it is hoped the Ministry of Petroleum and its institutions look at better ways of ensuring adequate stocks in the country. Apologizing to the country by the Minister and even those higher in government, is hardly of any benefit. The increase of storage facilities would certainly be necessary, and for this purpose, there must be a more practical, and not political outlook on the handling and improvement of the Trincomalee Oil Talk Farm, that came to us from the British. It would be useful to look at how Sri Lanka could cooperate with India, our next door neighbour that has modern technology in these areas of activity, for the necessary progress, instead of being moved by the politics of tactical suspicion that is of little benefit to the country.

Looking at this crisis in the context of the Budget proposals for more use of electricity in transport, it is evident that we must look at moving from fossil fuels, with great speed. While Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) would certainly help against any further increase of coal power, Sri Lanka must certainly look at how it can best benefit from Solar Power and also Wind Power, making good studies of how these are fast expanding, and providing more power to many countries in the world.

It will also be useful to look at the possibility of China helping us with technology in this regard, in view of the large strides that Beijing is taking in expanding Solar Power in that country. Of course there are suspicions that China is moving faster on renewable energy sources within the country, but heaping coal power on African countries. But, Sri Lanka must be a in a position to have better dealings with China in this regard, considering he investments that China is expected to make in the near future. The abundance of sunshine in the country must be made use of through of modern technology to make a major leap forward in fuel for future growth, which calls for both political and economic activity that is truly national in concept and interest, and not wholly capitalist investment.

Sobhitha Thera remembered

The remembrance of the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera on the second anniversary of his passing away did raise important issues on the policies and practices of the Government. This was due to Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s key role in the thinking and political strategy to elect the Common Candidate in January 2015, and defeat the Rajapaksa Regime.

President Maithripala Sirisena, speaking at the memorial gathering at ‘Ape Gama’ Battaramulla, repeated his commitment to the policies of the Ven. Sobhitha Thera, emphasizing his interest in fighting corruption, very high in the late Thera’s agenda. He stressed interest in seeing those involved in the Treasury Bond Scam brought to justice; the goal of the Presidential Commission appointed by him. He underscored the necessity to bring about the cleaning up of government. It was not to target anyone in government, or an MP or Minister. It was a response to a huge outcry by the people.

Moving to the broader area of criticism leveled at him on every issue, which he saw as unfair, as he believed in the sharing of government duties, he reminded the need to be dedicated to social justice, rule of law and good government.

He said, “I am not a person who is greedy for positions. I will go back as I came. I am not a person who came to this position to stay…but a man who came to go. But I need the support of all to do my job properly”, a very significant comment in the context of rising criticism, which he saw directed at him.

The other important observations here came from Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya, Chair of the National Movement for a Just Society, the former position of Ven. Sobhitha Thera. He said today’s need is to correct the political culture distorted by the Rajapaksa Regime, and it was important to reflect on why the country decided to defeat the Rajapaksa Regime. He emphasized it was the responsibility of government to build the world as Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera saw it.

The need was for the Rule of Law, and there was still time for the government’s leaders to fulfill this aim.

He said it was not easy to voice these wishes the same way it was done earlier, but it still needed to be done, with a dedication to realize the political restructuring Ven. Sobhitha Thera wished for.

He said: “Our struggle against the political culture as created by the Rajapaksas should not be misread as an attempt to rebel against the present government, but to reach the cherished goals – which included having a new Constitution and abolishing the Executive Presidency, and power devolution with true reconciliation among the communities of Sri Lanka. 



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