CoLOMBO : Parliamentarian Ali Zahir Mowlana made a comprehensive contribution to the budget debate on Saturday Nov.18
full text of the speech is appended
” Honourable Speaker, I rise today as a Member representing the Batticaloa District to respond to the Hon. President’s budget proposals for the year 2024, through the perspective and lens of the people of Batticaloa and our nation overall.
I speak today from a unique perspective. When our economy failed, our citizens descended to the streets and our country went into unprecedented turmoil last year – many speculated that we were a failed nation. At that time, having only being declared elected to this House just last month, at that time I was not a Member of Parliament but was in fact part of these protests – against successive failed leadership and present elected representatives. I bring with me – that pain, that thirst for system change and that yearning by our well-intended youth to build a better country for all of us, from Batticaloa across to Colombo, from Jaffna down to Matara.
Let me begin by saying this: the President in his Budget speech, as he rightfully should, is quick to recognize the fact that it was since his ascension to the Office of the President has managed to revive our economy from its collapse last year. We no longer have fuel queues or quotas, power cuts, food crisis etc. We are back to being to what is at least at the face of it, the semblance of an economy that is slowly being revived. To give credit where credit is due, the President and his team have succeeded at this.
But now, we look ahead. How do we repair and resurrect our economy and our nation, and how do we do so without making the same mistakes that had been made in the past?
Just because this President has steadied our ship for now, we are still in troubled waters, and by no means does it mean that we can allow him to blindly steer us out of it, especially when with this budget shows that he is slowly starting to rock the boat again. We are a democratic nation, and we must steer our ship together as one nation, out of troubled waters and onto the horizon, to calm seas.
Sir, where we stand today is unprecedented in our nation’s history. As a nation we have undergone tremendous obstacles and hardships that are too many to list since our independence 75 years ago, but all of which converges to one singular common denominator: that it is the successive decisions that have been made by the occupants of this hallowed chamber and those have occupied the highest offices in our land that have led us here. As such, it is not just economic policy, percentiles and statistics that should change, it is our political culture.
The notion of an “honest politician” who works diligently towards bettering the lives of his constituents and country is unfounded – it is merely an oxymoron in the Sri Lankan context. Just last week, in a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court ruled that two of our former Presidents and our former Finance Minister – all 3 being from the same family, and Treasruy and Central Bank officials were responsible for the desecration of our economy. We know billions of our rupees and assets have been intentionally stolen from us, and what are we doing to recover them? Where is the accountability, the responsibility and what are we doing to change things, or make things better?
We have to be accountable to our past – that is the only way we can responsibly work towards stabilizing the present and building a better future – an actual better, brighter, sustainable future.
Because our nation and the people who sent us here demand it – and moreover, they deserve it. And that responsibility lies solely with us, the Members of this Parliament. It is with this grave and integral responsibility in mind that I wish to comment on this proposed budget.
At the outset now more than ever, our fiscal responsibility needs to move away from prioritizing politics, handouts and elections over sustainable long term economic growth. This has been, beyond a reasonable doubt, the singular reason behind our economic failure and why we were on the brink of being a failed state.
Never in our history have we accomplished this nor have we at least as one Parliament, come to the consensus that we should focus on separating our collective fiscal responsibility and sustainably better the lives of our fellow citizens, instead of doling out handouts, tax cuts and subsidies for the sake of getting re-elected.
When looking at this budget – I still doubt that it was crafted with the intention of doing just that.
The first point I make on this is that, outside of obvious lessons we have learnt from the past, is the fact that there is zero transparency with the public on the budgeting process. This budget was prepared by a group of so called experts headed by a group of unelected individuals, emphasis on “unelected” who have received no mandate from the people – starting with our President who was not elected by the people, the Treasury secretary, the Central Bank Governor and so on. Are we to trust and allow this group of people to put together a sound plan that will accurately and effectively reflect the burning needs and priorities of our citizens? We need to ensure that the budget proposals are transparent and shared with the public. Citizen participation in government budgeting processes can make a difference and ensure that the budget reflects the priorities of the citizens.
Secondly, this government is already struggling to meet its revenue targets set by the IMF for this year, projecting a 15% shortfall. The proposed revenue targets in this budget for the next year are ambitious, and there are significant inherent risks with this. We have a record of fiscal slippage, and revenue collection has been a persistent challenge. Will these ambitious proposals actually reflect reality, based off the indisputable facts from the past?
Thirdly, the budget sets a deficit target of 2.85 trillion rupees, which is a colossal 9.1% of our GDP. Where then is the sustainability? We have to focus more on reducing this deficit and our debt to address our long term sustainable measures.
Fourthly, this budget is seen as a means to meet IMF targets and maintain its $2.9 billion dollar bailout – this is irrefutable. While we look to appease the IMF, are we in fact appeasing the needs of the general population? A balance must be definitely struck, but not just by merely raising wages of public sector employees – it needs to go deeper than that. The people are in need of an economic stimulus, not an economic handout!
My final point is exactly what I was saying from the beginning – this budget is not a budget for long term economic reforms for Sri Lanka, nor for Sri Lankans nor for the next generations of Sri Lanka.
This budget is solely to please the IMF and to elect Ranil Wickremesinghe as President of Sri Lanka once again.
There is nothing in here that addresses the burning needs of the people at all, but all it does is raise our taxes, our cost of living, ad hoc raise of allowances to state employees and pensioners, provision of lands for political mileage and to thereby kick start the election campaign for Ranil Wickremesinghe.
That is all, and I urge us members to please start thinking of this constructively with the mindset of building our country instead of our own political establishments. As such, I wish to oppose this Budget and to campaign against using the people’s money in a manner that will drive us further into an abyss as opposed to the opposite. “
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