A budget with a difference? | Daily News

A budget with a difference?

Today's budget, no doubt, will be vastly different to all other budgets presented by the Yahapalanaya Government, for various reasons. Firstly, it will be the maiden budget that will be presented following the UNF's divorce from its Yahapalanaya partner. We say ‘Yahapalanaya Government’ because Budget 2019 was on the verge of being presented last November had the Yahapalanaya Government continued uninterrupted. But the events of October 26 that saw the discontinuation of the Yahapalanaya Government prevented the budget being presented at the due time and instead what the country witnessed was political turmoil for 51 days that paralyzed the entire state apparatus. Saner counsel eventually has prevailed and Budget 2019 is back on track presented by a UNF Government after having parted company with its Yahapalanaya ally.

Another reason this budget will be different from all preceding Yahapalanaya budgets is, it is being presented in an election year. Naturally, the Government will want to please all segments in the form of wage hikes, tax reliefs, welfare measures, and the reduction in the prices of consumer items. In short, one could expect the budget to have something in it for all, including the farmers, fisher-folk, teachers, professionals and, notably, the working class, which forms the bulk of the electorate. Of course, all Governments prepare budgets to attract votes during an election year, and this budget will certainly be no exception. Caution though should be exercised to ensure there would be no overall damage caused to the economy in the long run by adoption of detrimental fiscal policies. The Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy has already warned against adopting measures that could send the economy on a downward spiral such as through the offering of freebies and handouts.

Be that as it may, the public at large who have had to endure much hardship in the recent past, especially as a result of steep rise in the cost of living, no doubt will welcome whatever relief measures that will be forthcoming in this budget. For them the adoption of harmful economic policies won’t matter so long as the strain on the purse is eased. Being an election year, they, no doubt, would naturally feel that a windfall is in store in this budget in the form of a reduction in the cost of living burden and added welfare measures.

At least, Mahinda Rajapaksa is anticipating the budget to be one that will shower relief on the public. Speaking at a political event in Anuradhapura on Saturday, the former President said the farmers would be given fertilizer free of charge under a new Government. This is the same individual who promised a Rs.50,000 allowance to every newly married couple in the run up to the 2015 general election. Rajapaksa did not amplify on how he will raise the funds for this venture on that occasion. He has not explained how the farmer community will be given free fertilizer either.

A national budget, in the past, was a much looked forward to event among the public. There was also a rush by unscrupulous traders to stockpile, anticipating price fluctuations. But budgets today have lost that sense of anticipation witnessed in the past. For one thing, there are mini-budgets that follow the original budget, with a plethora of Supplementary Estimates presented time and again. There are also price increases resorted by the midnight gazette.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, no doubt, will be in the spotlight today to pull a rabbit out of the hat in order to restore the fortunes of his Government. He has claimed that the Government will not deviate from the liberal open economic policies it was pursuing. According to him the theme of the budget would be “Enterprise Sri Lanka. It will empower and nurture the poor he said, though no freebies or handouts would be given out. “We will be helping people to help themselves”, he told the media.

No doubt, the Government's rural development showpiece ‘Gamperaliya’ will figure prominently as a major recipient of funding through Budget 2019. There were accusations by some UNP backbenchers that the October 26 coup that was staged by the President was occasioned by the success of the ‘Gamperaliya’ project that helped mobilize the rural populace towards the Government. Whether or not there is any truth in this, the Government, at least, can now go ahead uninterrupted in implementing this ambitious project.

Imbibers have become the first casualty at every budget, undoubtedly due to the immense revenue potential from excise duties. Minister Samaraweera, though, has right along been sympathetic with this segment and in fact has regularly spoken in favour of reducing the price of the commonly consumed ‘gal’ arrack (he has already reduced the price of soft liquors such as beer). It is left to be seen if the minister will live to his promise and reduce the price of this brand of hard liquor or at least maintain the present price level, even if it is bound to incur for him the wrath of the Buddhist clergy which the Government could ill afford during this election year. 


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