blows for UNP
By Santhush Fernando
The maiden Budget of the UPFA Government was much
looked forward to by a public reeling under the burden of the rising
cost of living and was much dreaded by the business community, which
was gripped by uncertainty. But when the B-day came and went, there
was a sense of relief and reassurance.
Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama was privileged to present the
UPFA's first budget, he had worked hard to tinker with what some
analysts called the pro-people budget.
Parliamentary proceedings began on a happy note with Speaker W.J.M.
Lokubandara wishing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse a happy birthday.
But all eyes were not on the birthday boy but on the man in dark
brown Indian-style suit.
Dr. Amunugama began his speech, he struck to the usual tirade, like
all Finance Ministers in the past, attacking the previous government's
reminded the house that the UPFA's election victory was a public
endorsement of its "Rata Perata" (Country Forward) programme
and a rejection of the UNF's neo-liberal economic policies. Describing
the 2005 Budget as "pro-growth" and "pro-poor",
the Finance Minister said the proposals in it were the outcome of
a wide consultative process, which attracted views of almost all
stakeholders. Outlining a three-year economic framework, the Minister
said the UPFA's budget aimed at eliminating hidden subsidies that
benefited the rich and redirecting them to the poor - a policy,
which some analysts say would make those in the middle class the
worst hit segment of society.
relief and tax increases, the budget day was dramatized when Minister
Amunugama stopped the speech midway to announce that Kurunegala
District UNP parliamentarian Rohitha Bogollagama had crossed over
to the Government and was sworn in as Minister of Advanced Technology
and National Enterprise Development.
UNF members though annoyed appeared unruffled. An unusual start
was given to Friday's Budget debate, with Mr. Bogollagama urging
the UNP to extend its support to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
by the crossover, the UNF had been pushed to a delicate position
or tasked with the arduous exercise of attacking the budget without
criticizing its pro-poor measures.
task fell on the UNF's two most colourful speakers – Rajitha
Seneratne and Hema Kumara Nanayakkara. Mr. Nanayakkara accorded
a "revolutionary salutation" to JVP "comrades"
in the government but in the same breath blasted them by saying
they had betrayed the working class by extending the eight-hour
shift by one hour in return for a paltry salary hike.
the offensive, the Galle Parliamentarian scoffed at the claim the
UPFA's budget was a homegrown one. He said the budget was drafted
by Gus F. Paponic, an 80-year-old former US soldier who was the
economic "guru" of Finance Secretary P.B. Jayasundara.
the budget as a Saradiel - local Robin Hood - budget, Mr. Nanayakkara
accused the Government of "robbing Peter to pay Paul".
His comments drew a response from Minister Mangala Samaraweera who,
raising a point-of-order, said the Galle MP was trying to mislead
the House and stressed that the budget was not made according to
the whims and fancies of any foreigner.
Samaraweera was backed by JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa
who said the Budget would help salvage the country from the clutches
said the objective of the budget was to promote the real stakeholders
of the private sector - the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).
Responding, UNP's Kalutara District parliamentarian Rajitha Seneratne
said although the budget contained "a thousand and one"
proposals, projects and ideas, none of them appeared to be feasible
and capable of attracting the assistance of the international donor
said the government would be violating international labour treaties
if it went ahead with the proposal to extend the eight-hour shift
and vowed to defeat the proposal. Mervyn Silva, the former deputy
minister who quit his portfolio after a night club attack, warned
the UNP, saying more UNPers were to cross over to the government
Tamil National Alliance however, saw the budget in a different light.
The TNA's Batticaloa district parliamentarian Packiaselvam Ariyanethiran,
began his speech by wishing long life to LTTE leader Velupillai
Prabhakaran who will celebrate his birthday on November 26. He accused
the government of not presenting any viable plan for the development
of any of the eight districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
demanded that the government increase the decentralized budget from
five to ten million rupees for the North and East MPs. The MP made
use of the opportunity to deliver a warning that the LTTE was well
prepared for war and to show his resentment to the proposed Indo-Lanka
Defence Pact, while claiming that the era belonged to Prabhakaran
and not to Chandrika.
inflammatory remarks prompted Deputy Minister Chandrasiri Gajadheera
to say that it was the era of neither Prabhakaran nor Chandrika
but an "era of peacemaking".