A Business Times email poll this week clearly shows that the Sri Lankan public, irrespective of what government politicians say, demands that a full budget must be presented and details provided on revenue measures.
Asked whether the government should present a full budget for 2010 and its revenue measures, more than 84 percent of 400 respondents said YES. The second question in the poll as to whether there is a need for the government to make a clear public pronouncement – instead of haphazard explainations – on the budget, received a resounding
98 % YES vote.
The budget for 2010 is still unclear at present as to whether it would be a half-year budget, a full budget or a budget at all. The President has directed Treasury officials to draw Rs 440 billion from the Consolidated Account for April 22-to-July 22, 2010 spending.
Deputy Economic Development Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya announced in parliament that the budget would be presented in June but didn’t give details. Including the Vote on Account for January-March/April 2010 of Rs 362 billion, Sri Lanka’s 7-month (2010) spending cost is Rs 800 billion, almost similar to the full year in 2007 when expenditure was Rs.834.8 billion. Spending in 2008 was Rs 996 billion and 2009 - Rs 1,197 billion.
Bradman Weerakoon, a retired civil servant, responding to the poll, said that one of the built-in safeguards (of the Constitution) is that public officials cannot spend money on public services unless the 'vote' has been approved by Parliament. “In my view any expenditure of public funds without Parliamentary approval of some kind would be ultra vires the Constitution,” he said.
Mr Weerakoon said there have been occasions in the past when a Vote-on-Account has been presented and this was usually in a situation where Parliament has been dissolved and the new Parliament has not yet convened before the commencement of the Financial Year. “The government's Financial Year in past times has been from April to March. Now it is the same as the Calendar Year. Parliamentary approval and control of the Budget is a fundamental part of a Parliamentary democracy. The popular cry of 'No taxation without Representation', one of the triggers of the American war of Independence, is symbolic of this basic premise. It is a central tenet of our Constitution,” he added.