Nothing Beneficial in Budget 2021 – Sunil Handunnetti
By Anuradha Herath
The 2021 Budget has been presented; do you see it as beneficial?
A: There is nothing beneficial to see in it. The actual question is that there are many non-beneficial things that are hidden within the budget. Those are not visible from the outside. Very simply, there is nothing important, which is what I have to say. It is a budget that was presented because, traditionally a budget had to be presented – a budget should be there since as a solution to the problems that exist currently. What is the solution that has been provided through the budget to persons affected by the COVID pandemic? What are the solutions for the problems in the health service? The economy has collapsed. What are the solutions provided for that? Businesses have collapsed. What is the solution for that? Today those who were self-employed are in difficulties. What are the solutions they will get? There is nothing like that in this budget. This is similar to a budget being presented in the traditional manner by the Government ignoring the fact that there is a pandemic prevalent. Therefore, if you ask me whether there is anything that is beneficial in this budget, it would be like looking for kalunika, which is a non-existent mythical plant.
However, the Government sees it from their side as a budget that was brought in to strengthen the local economy and that they submitted a number of suggestions for it. Isn’t that something important at this point in time?
A: Although in words they say they are strengthening the local economy what is actually being strengthened is the black economy. They have brought about an opportunity where stolen, racketeered, undeclared money can be put into businesses or investments. That is what they are depicting as the source of income of the Government. Proposals have been submitted to provide legality to money belonging to black money swindlers. For example, one per cent of the money earned through drug dealing is paid to the Government. To deal in weapons and earn money – one per cent has to be paid to the Government. These are such proposals. The Government is not inquiring into how the money is earned as long as one per cent is paid. What they are saying is: “earn in an illegal manner and give it to the Government”. Therefore, this is a budget that is nourishing a black economy and not a budget that is nourishing the local economy.
On one hand, according to the liberal capitalist philosophy, tax policies have been prepared in order to strengthen a minor group. On the other hand, to find the money to maintain the Government and to turn black money into white money and to ensure legitimacy for racketeers. The people who are being promoted through this are those who steal and make money. Therefore, as we see it, prosperity has been ensured for black racketeers, thieves, plunderers and criminals.
Anyhow, the Government points out that the reason for this crisis is that the burden of debt and loans obtained by the previous Government is being carried on the shoulders of the present Government.
A: There is no difference between this Government and the previous Government. What every Government which ruled this country did was get it into debt and burden the people with it. This Government will not shoulder any of the loans continuously. This Government says it is the debt of the previous Government. The previous Government said it was the debt from the Government before that. That is what happens everyday. They accuse each other. Debt is not a burden to them. They obtain loans in a very light hearted manner. It is the people who have to shoulder the burden of that debt. Today there are debts of 14,000 billion rupees and this Government has proposed obtaining another
Rs 5,000 billion through this 2020/2021 Budget. Now, who will pay back this Rs 19,000 billion debt? It will have to be paid by the 20 million people in this country. If the Governments shouldered the burden of debt, it would not increase yearly. Obtaining loans is not a crime. However, the loans obtained thus should be managed properly and if the benefits were given to the country it would be the best thing to do. But they obtain these loans, waste them and already they have made the country into a debtor. The Prime Minister said in his budget speech that loans obtained during the past have been paid in excess to advisors and that feasibility studies had not been carried out. Who is to be held responsible for that? Siripala Aiya and Gunapala Aiya and others in the village have not signed to obtain these loans. When Mahinda Mahaththaya and others accuse the previous Government of this, what the previous Government does is accuse Mahinda and his Government of the same thing. As a result, we are already stuck in debt traps. No one gives us loans for the love of it. We are subject to conditions and we are brought to a place where we would have to sell our resources and only then are loans granted. Actually, we are now stuck in this up to our necks. We have already fallen down a precipice from which we cannot come out. There is something that other countries of the world could learn from Sri Lanka regarding what happens if there is such enormous debt.
However, during the COVID pandemic with a collapsed economy, isn’t presenting even such a budget effective?
A: No one can be without presenting a budget under whatever the situation may be. This budget has been presented covering up the actual situation. One is that they do not properly show the source of income of the Government. Although proposals have been presented to spend Rs 3,500 billion they have not said where they are going to find money to pay for those. We are in a situation where we cannot obtain loans. About Rs 4,000 billion is required to pay back loans. Therefore, we need at least Rs 7,000 billion. But as the Government claims the income we receive is approximately Rs 2,000 billion. During the first eight months of 2020 we have earned an income of only Rs 906 billion. That is our ability. With a situation where the economy is collapsing further, even though figures are presented, they cannot be transformed into practical reality.
When you consider the situation from the side of the people, this is not a budget. The reason is because it has not provided solutions for the problems of the people. This budget which was presented as a tradition has given rise to various problems. Expenses of 2020 have been put to the year 2019. The budget deficit for 2019 is shown as more and balanced 2020. This is what is apparent from this budget. That problem has to be resolved. What expense proposals show is that they cannot be fulfilled with that money.
Rs 1,000 million has been allocated to build four universities. It is difficult to construct two buildings at a school with Rs 250 million. They are proposing renovating rural roads. It is Rs 400,000 for one kilometre of road. It requires Rs 700,000 to build one bridge. These are not proposals that have been made with the intention of being fulfilled. They have been presented to deceive the people. The actual situation of this country is not reflected through the budget.
If they are prepared to reveal black money which has not been declared up to now, the budget proposes that they can be brought in at a nominal rate of interest of one per cent. Is this a beneficial proposal?
A: Those who earn black money need a legal punishment. The Government is not proposing to confiscate black money and mete out a punishment. What is being done is to ensure legitimacy and legality for black money. They are trying to show that black money dealers are not doing something wrong. What this Government is saying is:“Continue with the rackets”. It was publicised that Madush who was murdered was worth
Rs 10 billion. They said there was no way of bringing it back to Sri Lanka. Now that Madus his no longer alive, an opportunity has been provided for someone who has access to this money to bring it back to Sri Lanka. We all know that black marketeers in Sri Lanka are unable to put that money into their businesses. Now, any crime can be committed and money earned and by paying one per cent as a fine to the Government, they can bring that money into the economy without any punishment. What the Government has done is legalised illegal drugs, madams of brothels and casino businessmen. This means that criminals are being encouraged and is ensuring an increase in crimes in this country. How could that be a beneficial proposal? Sri Lanka is not a place for thieves. Even though it is beneficial for thieves it is not so for us.
At the same time, the Government has presented that it is possible to manage our country’s debt. But the JVP says the country is stuck in a huge debt trap and it is impossible to pay it back. Which statement should we believe?
A: Quite apart from the Government managing the debt is finding it impossible to pay back the debt that is there now. They move the local bank reserves from which they have obtained loans, this way and that way, printing money even though inflation increases, adjusting rates of interest and paying back local loans could be a strategy for the country internally. But there is debt of 6,300 billion Dollars obtained from foreign countries. There should be Dollars to pay them back. How can the Government find Dollars? The Government cannot turn money into foreign assets. There is no such situation available for the Government. The bond market is not secure. There is no one who will buy our treasury bonds. The only thing the Government can do is to subject themselves to the conditions of the International Monetary Fund and obtain loans. When you go there, the relief given to the people have to be cut. They will not be able to give loans for cultivation. The fertiliser subsidies will have to be removed. They will have to halt recruitments to the Government sector and do away with paying pensions. They will have to face a number of such problems. This is the bitter truth. Therefore, if the Government goes home now, the saying “the wife will be destroyed and if it remains on the path they will be destroyed”, becomes true. The Government cannot turn back either. Just because they accuse each other does not mean they will have a solution. It is very clear, especially that the country is sliding down a precipice of debt. They cannot present false figures and cover up the actual situation from the world.
Increasing the daily wage of estate workers to Rs 1,000 is a good thing. This is the result of a huge struggle. What is your opinion about it?
A: Yes, due to the result of a struggle we’ve also engaged in, it has been proposed to increase the daily wage of estate workers to Rs 1,000 from
1 January 2021. It is effective. Good. But, as the Government itself said, they were going to grant this in March 2020. Being unable to grant this that was thus promised even from the month of November in which the budget was presented, simply depicts the inability of the Government. According to the lies the Government has indulged in up to now, we still have a doubt whether this solution was in reply to some magic spell. We see it as something that was done because not doing so was unavoidable. It is not a decision that was made out of love and thought for the estate workers.
Isn’t it true that a Government cannot resolve many problems within a period of just one year?
A: Yes, we never think that a programme that was presented for a period of five years by the Government could be fulfilled in just one year. But it is the Government which has presented in a budget after one-year, proposals that have to be carried out in five or six years. On the other hand, we do not see core or value in those proposals. I mentioned this earlier as well. Even though by word of mouth they have said they are providing fertilizer subsidies to farmers, they do not have fertilizer even to be bought for money. A solution should be provided for this. It is because there is a difference between what the Government says and does there is a problem regarding trust. The success or failure of a Government is determined on the trust the people have regarding what the Government says. When the Government came into power, they said that what they propose will be fulfilled within two or three months. We have no problem. The reason is because we were aware of the fact that this Government could not do all the work they were saying that they would do. We have no trust in what they are saying even now. But it was the people who said that when Gotabaya came in he will do something. It is the same people who are saying now that even Gotabaya cannot do anything.
The President addressing the nation said that the second wave of COVID-19 could be brought under control similar to the first wave. Does the JVP agree?
A: I believe that the people realise the difference between the first wave of the COVID virus and the second wave. At that time there were certain areas. Health sectors of the Government, the Police Defence Forces and people, all intervened to manage things in a way so that the virus did not come out of areas such as Suduwella, Atalugama and Akurana. But today, even while it has spread throughout the entire society, what the Government has had to do is put pots into rivers and provide jokes. Initially they tried to trace close contacts. Now they do not do so. They have given up on that. Since the Government is aware of the fact that it has spread into society, the most serious thing becomes it is discovered only after a person dies that the person was COVID positive. There are reports that people die after coming home from quarantine. It is determined whether the Government is successful or has failed based on the number of persons who contract the virus and the number of deaths. The ability of the Government is quite apparent considering how much they intervened prior to the election in order to obtain an advantage through propaganda and how they act today since there is no election. Through this we can realise whether the Government is on the people’s side and how sensitive the Government is. We knew that, giving out 5,000-rupee allowances and whatever else they did were election strategies. We said even then that when this came during a time when there was no election, we would be able to see the true colours. That is what has been proved today. The pressure and stress due to that is what the people are experiencing.
There is an increase in the number of COVID deaths and the pandemic itself. Doesn’t both the Government and the public have a huge responsibility in controlling it?
A: When you consider responsibility, actually it is the people who are responsible. The reason is because people are scared of dying. That is why they are so patient. Not only that, I believe that the 6.9 million people who voted for the Government are still responsible. Some people are remaining silent due to the shame of having voted for them. The people have fulfilled their responsibilities. It was the Government who behaved sans responsibility, always. It was the Government who held the funeral of Arumugam Thondaman as if COVID did not exist. They went round the country and created a mentality that said there was no COVID. It was not the people who did not engage in social distancing at meetings of the Government and the President. It was the Government who did not create a procedure for that. It was not the people who acted at election functions as if there was no COVID. It was not the people who spent money from the COVID fund. It was not the people who did not import health equipment using these funds. It was not people who handled the Media. It was not the people who issued various statements without any responsibility. It was not the people who changed what was said today, tomorrow. But there is a fact that people have realised.That is since the Government is without any responsibility, one has to see to one’s own protection. However, responsible people cannot remain hungry. They have to get on with their daily lives. If they get COVID they would die and if they stayed hungry, they would die. When the children say they are hungry, the mother and father cannot remain at home. The people have now decided that they will have to live with the pandemic. The reason for this is because people have already realised that the Government is without responsibility.