The Sunday Leader

Budget Keeps Good Governance In The Saddle

The presentation of the annual budget within three months of taking office was a tremendous challenge to the Yahapalanaya - Good Governance – government for many reasons.

For the first time in the post-Independence history of the country, the two main opposing parties of the country came together to form a government. There were no agreed basic principles of governance other than the broad framework in which a democracy functions such as commitment to law and order, agreement on basic human rights, equality and justice for all. To forge a budget to be presented to a people with great expectations but with no agreement on political principles, economics, norms and conventions would boggle the imagination of anyone who attempts such a task. Yet, the key figures of the Yahapalanaya government: President Maithripala Sirisena, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake pulled it through.

Despite the euphoria of having ended a ten year authoritative regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, there were grave doubts not only of whether the shaky coalition of Yahapalanaya would be able to pull through but also grave doubts on how long it would last.

Although President Sirisena is the leader of UPFA (comprising mainly of the SLFP, left parties and other extremist parties) the rump of this section was kicking hard attempting to dislodge its leader. They made the headlines often with the sensation seeking media and projected a picture of a much destabilized government.

But the agitators received a stunning shock when the budget was presented. The price hikes of essential consumer items, which they eagerly awaited for their ‘revolution’, did not come and instead prices were reduced leaving the vociferous agitators speechless. Comrades schooled in the Soviet Revolution where women waiting for days in bread queues in Petrograd (St Petersburg) sparked off the mighty revolution would have been bitterly disappointed. The budget proposals being approved in the Second Reading by a thumping majority (159 votes for, against 52) was a great disappointment.

This confident victory conferred hope and stability on the new government. It would certainly have a tremendous impact on potential investors. The dire predictions made by eccentrics and rebels in search of causes can no longer influence the public against the government. Their political impotence indicated their strength within their own ranks.

The budget is a part projection of the socio economic vision of Ranil Wickremesinghe which he spelled out recently. It calls for drastic reforms particularly in the system of administration and the economy but the government has taken care not to disturb the status quo violently. For example the decision to end the pension scheme for new recruits to the public service and instead have a provident fund appears to be viewed with consternation as an indication of the desire to curtail the public service. These moves are resented particularly by the adherents of the old left and their acolytes of extremist minor parties. The signs are already out with a strike or two being launched and many more threatened.

No doubt there are some flaws in the budget that has been put together in a short time by politicians who hold disparate views on many matters. Typical is the reduction of the tax on beer of less than 5 per cent in alcoholic content had been cancelled reportedly by moral policemen who had argued that it would lead to ‘ladies’ taking to guzzling of beer. There has been strong protest over the withdrawal of import tax permits for vehicles from government officials like doctors.

That resulted in them resorting to a token strike on Monday. There has been rethinking by the government on the issue and now it has been announced that these professionals would be issued a duty free permit once in ten years.

A car, though it is not considered a luxury in most affluent countries, is certainly a luxury to at least 75 per cent Sri Lankans. A humble tiller of the land would not imagine a vehicle in possession of a family member for many generations to come.

But those in possession of such luxury items consider it their right to have it forever and ever and that’s the challenge of the people’s representatives to decide on.

The yahapalanaya government is on a much more stable footing after the budget than in the pre-budget times. But there are challenges ahead not only in terms of wages, commodities and services but politics as well.

Under the cover of all these demands a ‘Come Back Kid’ is determined to make a comeback. The passing of the Second Reading of the budget has temporarily knocked down the ‘Come Back Kid’ off his saddle but all signs indicate him trying to mount the crest of a strike wave to make a comeback.

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