A future-oriented Budget | Daily News

A future-oriented Budget

Our Governments and politicians have a reputation for usually not looking beyond the next year, nay, the next election. But this Government has departed from this trend with the presentation of Budget 2018 by Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera. The Budget 2018 is certainly one of the most future-oriented ones presented in living memory, with a clear and comprehensive programme that stretches all the way to 2040. It might seem a long time away, but 22 years is not a very long period of time and many other countries have made plans that even go beyond 2040.

It has been said that exemplary Governments and leaders think of the next generation, while others think of the next election. Minister Samaraweera’s maiden Budget clearly belongs to the former category, with its broad range of proposals that aim to revitalize the economy in line with the Government’s Vision 2025 Concept and even beyond. Among the future-oriented highlights of the Budget are: Projected US$ 5,000 Per Capita Income; Economic Growth Rate of 6 per cent by 2020; Budget Deficit at 3.5 per cent of GDP by 2020; one million new jobs; target of US$ 20 billion exports and FDI inflows of US$ 5 billion per year.

Whilst not forgetting Cost of Living and social welfare – the prices of around 15 items were reduced on the eve of the Budget – the real focus of the Budget is medium and long term development and economic rejuvenation. Significantly, the Budget has addressed the vital issue of environmental conservation in a big way, instead of just paying lip service. To cite just one example, Budget 2018 decrees that all vehicles on our roads by 2040 should be powered by electricity, solar or hydrogen, a move that has already been announced by UK, France, China and India. This is a move in the right direction that brings Sri Lanka on par with the environmental aims of many advanced economies.

We often hear the refrain that “youth are the future” but when it comes to Government policies, they are often left behind. This Budget has changed that scenario with a firm commitment to children and youth, who will be the leaders by 2040. Having already politically empowered women and youth through a mandatory quota for the next Local Government and Provincial Council Elections, the Budget has aimed to empower them financially as well. The youth, especially young women, will be at the centre of the envisaged “Enterprise Sri Lanka” programme which expects to develop the SME, vocational training and employment sectors. The proposed expansion of universities and vocational training institutions will also benefit the youth.

A youth and future-oriented economy cannot afford to be constrained by archaic laws and systems introduced more than a century ago which are now clearly outdated. As Minister Samaraweera pointed out, reforming and restructuring revenue collecting institutions such as Customs, Excise and Inland Revenue Departments is vital to strengthen the economy. After all, it is the revenue collected through these institutions that is channelled for everything from education to health. Reinvigorating these organisations will spur the economy to reach greater heights.

The economy is naturally the focus of any Budget. In Sri Lanka’s case, the biggest challenge to the economy is debt repayment, which in 2018 will amount to Rs.1970 billion. To its credit, the Government has not compromised on development and welfare measures despite the huge debt repayment commitment. As an island nation very much entrenched in the world economic order, we cannot escape the occasional shocks that rattle the world economy. This is why the Government has aimed to build a more resilient economy through Budget 2018.

The Budget has not forgotten the other priority of the Government – peace and reconciliation. A number of proposals have been included in Budget 2018 to foster reconciliation including the construction of 50,000 houses in the North and the East and the introduction of low interest loans and provision of stable livelihoods for 12,600 ex-combatants. These and other reconciliation moves announced in the Budget will benefit every community and religious group.

No Budget can be perfect and this one too is not. But on the whole, it has addressed a gamut of burning issues confronting the country and offered viable solutions. It offers a positive outlook for the economy despite the severity of certain fiscal challenges. People’s representatives will debate its pros and cons over the next month or so and give their verdict. In the meantime, the public too has a chance to go through the proposals and form their own opinions.

A Budget is not just a balance sheet as some people assume it to be. It does address the important issue of revenue and expenditure, but one cannot assess the impact of a transformative Budget document in monetary terms alone. A Budget should lay a course for a brighter future for all segments of society and for every aspect of the economy. This Budget triumphs on both counts and firmly lays the groundwork for a prosperous future based on a Blue-Green economy in more ways than one. 


 

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