The Sunday Leader

This Is A One Sided Budget – Sajith Premadasa, UNP MP

By Camelia Nathaniel

Opposition MP Sajith Premadasa opines that the budget has failed to meet the needs of the poor and argues that it is therefore a failed budget.
The following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: With regard to the budget what are your views on the benefits or disadvantages to the people?
A. I personally think that this budget does not achieve the aspirations and expectations of the vast majority of the people. I think this is a budget catered to cushion and support the rich and the haves while marginalising and castigating the poor and the have-nots. Basically both from a macroeconomic point of view and from a microeconomic point of view I would classify this budget as a failed budget. If I may use a quote from the former British PM David Lloyd George, the world is becoming like a lunatic asylum run by lunatics.  This is a one sided budget that divides the country rather than unites the country. This is a budget geared to making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Q: Do you see an imbalance between the government infrastructure development allocations and the cost of living?
A: I think the government has failed to strategise and formulate a budget based on sound macroeconomic principles. The government is very quick to illustrate and exemplify the economic growth rate. But the hidden truth behind the accelerated growth rate is that the richest 20% have a 54% of national income whereas the poorest 20% have only a 4.5% share. This exemplifies the societal division that has taken place under this administration. Furthermore this government is very quick to talk about a growing middle class. But if you compare the purchasing power parity of Sri Lanka’s middle class, it’s very very low compared to the East Asian South East Asian and International averages. As far as economic growth rates are concerned if we look at the three main sections that contribute to economic growth, that is agriculture, industry and services, we see a huge decrease in employment in the agriculture sector, and somewhat average rise in the industrial sector as far as employment is concerned. As far as the three sectors contribution to growth, there again the agriculture sector has come down from 12.3 to 10.7%  during the period 2006 to 2013. The industrial sector has gone up marginally from 28.2 to 30.2. The services sector has remained stagnant from 59.5 to 59.1.

Let’s take the issue of poverty, where the government claims that the poverty level has come down during the period 2006 to 2013. In fact it has come down from 15.2% to 6.4%, or so the government claims which is a 57% drop in poverty. But if we look at household expenditure during this period, household expenditure has risen by 17%. A family of four needed Rs. 22,954.00 in 2006-2007 period in terms of food and household expenditure. The same family of four would need Rs. 40,000.00 in 2012 -2013 for food and non food expenditure. That’s a 78% rise. But if you look at the rise in net income, between 2006-07 and 2012-13 it has risen by only 4.8%.

So net expenditure has risen by 78% and net income has risen by just 4.8% and the government claims that poverty has come down by 57%. I think the person who did the mathematical calculations to conjure these fraudulent and falsified figures has to be awarded an international prize for doing so. On the issue of poverty, the government claims that the poverty level is at 6.4% and the country’s population is 20.2 million. That is roughly 4.8 million family households. Out of this, 4.8 million households, around 1.5 million are given Samurdhi support and that is a 32.2% coverage, and the Samurdhi program is a poverty alleviation program. So how can one claim a 6.4% poverty level and give Samurdhi benefits to 32.2% of the population?

Elaborating further the Institute of Policy Studies, which is a government funded think tank that does a lot of research on economics and publish reports, in their 2013 report states that international standards of poverty is based on a person earning less than $ 2 a day. This report says that in Sri Lanka that 23% of the population live on less than $ 2 a day. If you look at various reports published by the Department of Census and Statistics, in 2009-10 among rural folk 80.1% cannot afford Rs. 40,000.00. Among urban folk 56.6% cannot afford Rs. 40,000.00 per month, among the estate sector 93.5% can’t afford Rs. 40,000.00. So when such large amounts of the population cannot afford to fend for themselves in terms of food and expenditure, how can the government claim that the poverty has come down 57% from 15.2% to 6.4%? This is absolutely ludicrous.

In a very basic understanding between 2005 and 2013 a litre of diesel has gone up by 142%, Petrol by 102%, sugar by 138%, sprats 172% per kilo, milk powder (400g) by 108%, soap by 105%, Dhal by 97%, loaf of bread by 275%, LP gas by 183%, litre of Kerosene by 216%, wheat flour by 227%, so with these huge escalation of prices I cannot understand any rational way on how the government can justify these rosy figures as far as poverty is concerned.

It is clear that the government has manipulated the figures to justify their course of action. The government is living on borrowed time and on cloud cuckoo land.

Q. What is your position on the fielding of a common candidate by the opposition at the next presidential election?
A. As far as the presidential candidate is concerned it is something that has to be discussed by the working committee and it has to be ratified at a convention. So we will have to wait and see what the wishes and expectations of the party cadres and members are and we can see when the time is right who the candidate is. However I assure you that I will always stand by the party and I will make sure that our party is victorious. I have always maintained that I will support the party candidate. As far as the issue of the common candidate is concerned I don’t want to look at that issue right now as it is not yet being discussed within the party decision making circle.

Q. There are allegations that you work hand in glove with the government and is manipulated by the government. How would you respond to these allegations?
A. Is that why I have remained in the Hambantota district, the bastion of the Rajapaksa’s and fighting for the UNP? In 2010 the general election results, it was only in the Hambantota district that we maintained the same level of MPs that we had in the whole of the country including the Colombo district where you find the so called political giants, the UNP could not retain the same number of MPs that they had. So people can say a lot of things but I and the whole country knows what I stand for but you do get one or two difference in opinion and people who do not have much ability and they are unable to have ways to express themselves.

Their rhetorical skills are very limited and there are huge restrains as far as abilities are concerned and it is they who conjure up various stories and try to create an opinion based on falsehood. But I have no issue as my foundation is not based on quicksand but on solid people power and popularity. I have never failed to be among the people and I will die among the people. I am a pro people, pro poor, pro Sri Lankan politician and I believe I have a unique blend of people power and the ability to achieve and make a difference in the lives of the people.

My future will be determined by the people, and the facts show that I have fought for the UNP and the malpractices and mis-governance in the country but I have also given praise where credit was due, which in my opinion is a hallmark of a modern politician. I don’t intend to remain a politician of the stone age. So my politics is determined by reality, practicality and competence and achievement.

Q. With regard to the statement made by the British Prime Minister David Cameron regarding Sri Lanka’s Human Rights, what is your take?
A. Taking Sri Lanka as a country we are in a precarious situation and highly vulnerable. I think this is primarily based on the incompetent foreign policy that the government has had. The government after the war victory had tried to be arrogant and complacent about international thinking. They have neglected our obligations to the international community and the government’s obligation to its own people. Having said that, it is up to the opposition to ensure that the various anti Sri Lanka actions perpetrated by the government are stopped and objected to and neutralised. This is however not the function of international actors. The opposition cannot be substituted by the various international actors coming here and poking their fingers into our internal affairs.

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