The main opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday issued a scathing critique on the National Unity Government’s budget for 2017, saying it proposed a “grossly inadequate” allocation for development of the North and East and reconciliation work and neglected spending for priority sectors such as education.

Opening the debate on the second reading of the budget yesterday, TNA Jaffna District Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran told Parliament that the Government had allocated insufficient funds for the North and East in its second annual budget plan unveiled on Thursday (10).

He said that after the Government had allocated Rs 14 billion for the North and East in 2016, it apologised for the inadequacy of the allocation, and promised to hold a donor conference to obtain funds to boost the economies of the

former battle zones. “But the donor conference didn’t happen, and we are left with a small allocation for 2017,” the TNA Legislator observed.

Sumanthiran said that while the budget proposals indicate an allocation of Rs. 180 million for “reconciliation work,” they do not outline for what purposes the monies are allocated. The TNA MP said he had met Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake ahead of the budget presentation, with a detailed proposal for the North and East, with regard to Agriculture, Fisheries and animal husbandry.

“Those three together are the main livelihoods of our people. People have to get back on their feet. I am deeply saddened that those proposals have not been considered,” he added.

Instead, the Finance Ministry had allocated Rs. 1 billion for a “vertical building” with office space and an entertainment area in the North, the TNA lawmaker charged.

“Who wants that? The people didn’t ask for it. They want to get back on their feet. Give them something to boost their economy. Why doesn’t the Minister consult representatives of the people of the North and East when he drafts these proposals?” Sumanthiran demanded.

The Opposition MP said that infrastructure alone will not rebuild the lives of people, and noted that the previous Government had come in for criticism for its predominant focus on infrastructure while neglecting other aspects of uplifting the war ravaged regions.

“We urge the Government to move away from these fancy ideas of putting up towers that are not useful for the people living there  – although it must be for some others – and consult us on allocations that will be meaningful to our people,” he asserted.

In his 30 minute speech, the Opposition MP also recorded his party’s criticism on other aspects of the 2017 budget, saying many of the proposals made would lead to social exclusion and inequality even though the budget was titled Accelerating Growth and Social Inclusion.

Sumanthiran said that the allocation for education was lower than the previous year, while several other sectors had also been neglected in the spending proposals. There were some allocations for agriculture and fisheries, the TNA MP said, but these were insufficient.

“It is clear that the Government’s priorities lie elsewhere. Rs 15 billion has been allocated for digitising the economy. Rs 1 billion has been set aside for marketing campaigns for foreign direct investments. Rs. 1 billion has been allocated for free trade zones. And the allocation for agriculture is only Rs 450 million,” Sumanthiran said.

This was despite the Finance Minister’s claim at the budget presentation on Thursday that Sri Lanka had an agriculture based economy.

“We cannot afford another upheaval as a result of social inequalities,” he warned.

For the first time since 2002, when Sri Lanka was reeling from the economic aftershocks of an attack on the international airport in Katunayake, the 2017 budget expenditure was lower than the previous year.

The opposition parliamentarian also took aim at the Government’s plans to privatize state enterprises, saying the Government’s efforts in this regard were misdirected. “The Government must look for other remedies to deal with inefficiency and lethargy in the state enterprise sectors, it must not sell off assets in this way,” Sumanthiran noted.

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