One of the compelling reasons for ending the three decade old civil war between the LTTE and the Government was the enormous drain on the country’s resources as a result the armed conflict. At one point the annual amount of resources spent on the war was equal to the annual remittances sent by the migrant [...]


Reducing the health budget in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic is difficult to comprehend


One of the compelling reasons for ending the three decade old civil war between the LTTE and the Government was the enormous drain on the country’s resources as a result the armed conflict. At one point the annual amount of resources spent on the war was equal to the annual remittances sent by the migrant workers. In other words the civil war was being financed by the migrant workers who were sweating it out away from their homes and loved ones out of sheer economic necessity.

Of course the even more compelling reason was the human cost of the senseless war which took a toll on all communities – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. What compounded matters was that many of those who suffered through loss of life, limb and properties were innocent people who played no direct part in the conflict.

It was this same argument that was adduced in support of a negotiated settlement to end the war instead of what was often described as a ‘military solution.’ The argument in support of a negotiated settlement was that by doing so even if one life was saved it was worth the effort. Unfortunately because of the intransigent nature of the LTTE, they overreached themselves resulting in their defeat.

The ‘military solution’ was reached in May 2009 but the causes of the conflict remain unresolved to date. The three decade war polarised the country, but the fallout of the May 2009 debacle has contributed to dividing the country even further.

Today the country is fighting a war with an unseen enemy in the form of the COVID-19 virus as part of a pandemic. Sri Lanka and indeed the world is struggling to face the challenge posed by the virus. Most health experts predict that the world would have to live with the virus for the next two to three years notwithstanding the discovery of several vaccines which may help to contain COVID-19.

It is therefore somewhat puzzling to find that the Government’s Budget allocations have witnessed a reduction for health and an increased allocation for defence.

According to available figures the average allocation for defence for the period between 1983 and 1987 was 421 Million US Dollars. In 2009 when the war ended the allocation for defence was Rs. 214 billion which increased to Rs 306 billion by 2019. In 2020 it was Rs. 312 billion while for the coming year it is Rs. 355 billion. The allocation for defence for the year 2021 compared to 2019 shows an increase of 16 percent or Rs. 49 billion.

In contrast to the increase in the allocation for defence in the 2021 Budget, the allocation for health has been reduced by 29 billion for the ensuing year to make it Rs. 159 billion. This reduction is even more mystifying as the Government claims that it spends around Rs. 60 million a day on COVID-19 related expenditure.

With the second wave of COVID-19 showing increased numbers of those affected by the virus including more deaths and health experts predicting a third wave in January, one would have expected the Government to allocate increased resources to fight the pandemic.

What is more alarming is the statement made in Parliament by Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara that there was no need to place an order for the COVID-19 vaccines now and the Government would do so when necessary. He said the country did not need this vaccine now. He was responding to a statement by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa questioning whether the Government had taken any initiative to get the vaccines down.

The Opposition Leader also urged the Government to initiate discussions with the Canadian Government to obtain excess vaccines the Canadian Government had ordered. The Minister during his speech said the Government had done well in handling the COVID-19 crisis and that they would be guided by the health authorities on when to order the vaccines. He went on to say the Government would find the necessary resources when it decided to place an order for the vaccines.

From the Minister’s statement it is clear the 2021 Budget had not provided allocations for ordering the vaccines and the Government would look for funds only when they decide to order the vaccines.

The increased allocation for defence is probably a reflection of the Government’s emphasis on national security and its intention to ensure that it was achieved through conventional means.

One of the best ways of ensuring national security is to ensure that the citizens are content and do not bear a sense of grievance resulting from injustice. However difficult their lives are, people will bear them with equanimity so long as they do not feel injustice in the system. It is only when injustice prevails that mischief makers are able to utilise the environment to achieve their objectives.

National reconciliation and giving dignity to the people will greatly enhance national security as the people will feel respected and cared for. Unfortunately the Government does not seem to favour such an approach as evidenced by the fact that there is no Ministry for national integration or reconciliation in the current Cabinet.

The previous Government for the first time created a National Integration Ministry with President Maithripala Sirisena himself holding the portfolio giving a clear message that national reconciliation was top priority for the Government.

The Easter Sunday attacks did not happen because of the emphasis on national reconciliation but because of the general ineptitude of the Government and its security apparatus. The fact that the country held together and did not implode after the Easter Sunday attack except for orchestrated efforts by purveyors of hate was a testimony to the reconciliation efforts of the Government at that time.

Faced with a public health crisis compounded by economic regression, it behooves the Government to unite the country with concrete steps to reach out to all communities and seek their participation in nation building.



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