9th November 1997

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Prudent spending

Fly by might

Prudent spending

In this reflection on the PA’s fourth Budget, we do not intend going on the predictable route complaining that there is little or no relief in the cost of living sector.

To expect to fight a multi-billion rupee war and reduce the cost of living must surely be an impossibility. If we swallowed these fairy tales spun from the political platforms we have only ourselves to blame.

The Budget is not merely a statement of how the govt. proposes to find the money it wants to spend, by juggling taxes on consumer goods. Rather, the focus should be to create jobs in productive sectors, to give the people purchasing power. But the govt. should not leave everything to the mercy of the markets. It should intervene to speed up market processes with targeted incentives like those in this year’s Budget.

All too often capital spending on infrastructure has been the first victim of spending cuts, because it is easier to delay a project than to deny Pajeros to M.P’s.

In this context protesting labour unions should realize that the Colombo port for instance is used by well to do commercial entities. Scarce cheap foreign aid should not be spent on ports when hospitals and universities need to be built.

To our mind the criticism by the former veteran Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel, the Budget cannot be judged by fine words but by implementation. The fact is that we are very short on implementation. Either our bureaucracy is hopelessly politicized or too afraid to take a decision for fear of later reprisals. Others are simply lazy or incompetent.

The key factors are political stability and investor confidence.

The incentives given seem to be good for development, but unless they are accepted in spirit by the govt. as a whole, without contradictory signals, and with a sense of urgency, we are back to base.

Fly by might

The theatricalism witnessed last week over The Sunday Times revelations of the findings of the Presidential Committee on the Air Force only underscored the cavalier attitude to a matter which was obviously of grave concern. Needless to say, this prompted President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Commander- in-Chief to appoint a probe team. It also equally reflects the nonchalance to public accountability.

This entire matter is rife with contradictions. There are serious strictures in the report. The Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Air Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe, not only denies any knowledge but makes grave allegations against The Sunday Times suggesting anti national (security) motives for having published this exposure, which was of public interest.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Defence nor indeed Air Marshal Ranasinghe, seem to have initiated any action against this newspaper on the serious allegations imputed by the latter.

The stoical silence by the Ministry faced with the embarrassment of this whole episode and its implications is in the circumstances understandable though questionable in the context of public answerability.

The military leadership is bestowed with the highest honour of a country could confer, as indeed are its corps of officers, the honour of leading their men in combat at the risk of their lives. This calls for leadership based on the highest ethics of responsibility, commitment and dedication. Anything less is to the detriment of that sacred charge.

The Committee’s findings should not be brushed aside too lightly. To do so would be to diminish the integrity expected from the military leadership.

To do so at a time when the youth of this country are risking life and limb in the cause of the nation is a betrayal of their trust as well as that of the trust of the people. This would open a credibility gap making the defence establishment vulnerable to charges of cronyism and safeguarding of parochial interests.

This war is not a preserve of any one political party, nor a matter for political rostering. It is a national issue demanding a national approach. Therefore it is in the nation’s interest that all measures to improve efficiency in the conduct of the war should be implemented, and done so as quickly as possible, without regard to personalities or any parochial considerations.

This is necessary not only in concern of expenditure and national well being, but more importantly as it is also a matter of life and death.

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