Columns - Lobby

What Budget debate! It’s time for that mud-slinging match

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

For months it was the high oil prices in the world market that was the excuse trotted out for the increase in prices of essential goods, which most people had to grin and bear. And now a global recession has set in affecting the most affluent of societies and people here are told that we have to consider ourselves fortunate that the country is not in the same predicament as any of our counterparts, at least not yet, all due to the wise economic policies set in motion by President Mahinda Rajapkasa. In other words, since the President assumed office it has been and will be more of a grin and bear situation, at least till the local production and industry gets going and the people can benefit from them.

These enlightened words came from none other than Government legislators who have been repeating more or less this same theory throughout last week’s debate on the Second Reading of the Budget. They have been crediting the “Mahinda Chintanaya” as the panacea to all the country’s problems, whether they be social, economic or political.

However, on the economic front, there were some who felt the credit should have gone to them and not the Rajapaksa administration, for putting the country on the right economic path – and they were the JVP MPs and those in the Wimal Weerawansa faction.

Weerawansa set the ball rolling the previous week when he said he feels vindicated for advocating a strong national economy when the idea was not popular and since then JVP front benchers such as MPs K.D.Lal Kantha and Vijitha Herath have done the same but they have been less kind towards the President’s policies than Weerawansa has been. Government ministers, who served in the administration of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and had no problem then with privatization of state institutions and other open economic polices, are now quickly distancing themselves from that stance and trying to jump on the “national economy” band wagon. They are even going back to the “neo liberal” polices adopted by the UNP in 1977 and labellling those policies as the big bad wolf that swallowed up the national economy.

The story is not entirely wrong, but since 1994, the SLFP led-Governments’ did little to change what the UNP had set in motion, and now in great haste to strengthen the national economy, the Government has moved to impose taxes on imported goods .But as many JVP and some UNP MPs argued, with no proper plans to increase local production such as sugar, salt or newsprint, in place, imposing taxes would mean people will have to pay more for such items, until feasibility studies, committees, expert panels and all such matters are concluded and finally production gets underway. And knowing the poor track record where such matters are concerned people have no inclination to believe that a booming local economy will be a reality in the near future.

As for the UNP which continues to be castigated by its political foes for its liberal economic policies, the road ahead does not seem easy. All they have been saying is that the Budget does not give enough relief to the people and taken on the Government on issues such as corruption, nepotism, and human rights abuses and media suppression.

But then how many of our Legislators devote the time allocated to them to speak on the Budget and analyze the Government’s economic polices? The answer is a very few, because for most MPs the budget debate is an opportunity to get back at their political rivals sitting across the aisle by harping on some unsavoury incident from the past and throwing it at them.

MP Mangala Samaraweera used his allocated time to hold forth on what he said was the deception being carried out by the Government in the name of liberating the north. He unleashed a barrage of criticism on the Rajapaksa family. Rohitha Abeygunawardena in turn went back to the time that MP Samaraweera was government minister and charged that the minister had no issue about military actions against the LTTE or hiding facts on what was happening then, in the battlefront.

UNP MP Jayalath Jayawardena spoke on the military operations in Kilinochchi and the inability of Catholics to visit the |Madhu church and challenged the Government to place him in custody if they believed he was an|LTTE supporter as has been alleged by some Government members. In response, Minster Susil Premjantha recollected an incident where Dr.Jayawardena went on a trip to Geneva and was shunned by some of his own party men due to his alleged affiliations with the Tigers.

And so the arguments continued for the whole week and all the while thousands of people were left stranded on the roads so that Legislators can travel back and forth from Parliament.

Sadly only a few voices were raised on issues such as the road closures that are inconveniencing thousands. Among those who brought up the issue were UNP MPs Dayasiri Jayasekera and Ravi Karunanayaka but their voices were few and far between compared to the magnitude of the problem.
While there is no argument that elected representatives have to be protected, why are the people of the country being forced to pay such a high price for their security? The people of this country use their vote to elect people and after awhile the masses are relegated to the level of slaves while the masters reign supreme till the next election comes around. MP Sajith Premadasa quoted Abraham Lincon who said "You cannot fool all the people, all the time," but in Sri Lanka's case our politicians have done that pretty well at least for the past 60 years.

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