Business Times

Add 1% for North / East development in 2011 budget: Business leader

The November budget should include a "consumption tax" of 1% added to VAT with the entirety of the amount collected going to a common fund used to address priority needs as determined by conflict affected communities, recommends top business leader Chandra Jayaratne. He however also notes the fund must be overseen by an independent board of trustees to maintain due transparency and accountability.

He also suggests "a Parliamentary Standing Committee be empowered to validate that all future public spends (both of a revenue and capital nature) in excess of Rs. 500 million per each item of spend, including all single line item spends proposed in the udget and in any supplementary estimates to be disbursed by the central government directly or through provincial and / or other local government authority or public corporation or state owned enterprise, are equitably allocated and are devoid of any regional, ethnic, religious, caste, status linked bias and are supportive of poverty alleviation, achievement of millennium development goals, social infrastructure and public services/utilities linked investments, livelihood/ life style oriented economic enhancements and environmental sustainability". This being a measure to limit inequity in national resource allocation leading to public "discontent and disillusionment".

Further advocated are timely state reforms to improve "capability, productivity and quality/timeliness of public services to consistently deliver publicly committed to minimum service standards". In addition, these systems must be supplemented with a "'Right to Information Act' that empowers stakeholders to receive credible information within a defined framework of accountability". Also noted was an "unfulfilled" need to support internally displaced persons and others such as entrepreneurs, small businesses and the self employed with short and long term capital, venture capital and financial and insurance services.
Bridging this gap was indicated to "go a long way towards enhancing life and livelihood needs of the communities".

Mr. Jayaratne's comments were made as a part of a written submission to the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission, which also highlighted issues relating to women and children, youth, NGO's, language and needs of affected communities. Primarily those falling under the area of either making more resources available to conflict affected parties or removing barriers to effective implementation of existing, worthwhile programmes that were currently being stymied in some way.

Also highlighted; "IDP’s being denied access to their former places of residence"; "Challenging the right to title of the properties traditionally owned and /or occupied persons living in conflict affected areas"; "Large tracts of previously occupied lands being demarcated as high security zones"; "Unjustified land acquisitions on security considerations but allocated for non security related purposes"; "The publicly announced resettlement benefits to internally displaced persons not being distributed equitably and in line with the announced scheme"; "Lack of basic amenities like water, sanitation, power and proper housing for the newly resettled families"; "Preventing willing and capable NGO’s/INGO’s, international community and Diaspora from helping people in need at their most vulnerable moment of need".

Additionally; "Building of new permanent military cantonments with residential facilities for military personnel and their families”; “Plans to settle majority community families in order to change the traditional area demography otherwise than by natural development oriented migration"; "Arbitrary arrests and detention in the post war period as well"; "Continuing disappearances of civilians"; "List of persons in custody, camps and detention centres not being made public"; "Failure to assist families in tracing missing persons"; "Unease of single women headed families fearing for their safety in the presence of large number of armed personnel of the forces"; "Savings of the region being channelled to other areas whilst unmet needs of area community remain"; "Decision making in the hands of the military or officials from the Central Government"; etc.

The document also referenced a recent World Bank study titled “Sri Lanka; Reshaping Economic Geography Connecting People to Prosperity'" and opined that "nearly all youth of conflict affected areas desire to migrate overseas in seeking their life and livelihood goals".

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