Harming or Healing a Nation
Yahapalana 2016 budget introduced by the Finance Minister managed to upset the hornets’ nest among the majority of the public although it was passed amidst a lot of hurly-burley and turbulences inside the House of Parliament. General public’s annoyance was marked by disruptions and various protests posing threats of imminent strikes by various trade unions; some of them took to the streets openly and came on television as well to make a significant display to amplify their anxieties, apprehensions and concerns about the new Budget. One aspect that everyone complained about was about the increase in duties on motor vehicles, including the most popular hybrid vehicles, electric cars, and the excessive increase on emission tests for vehicles.
This was regarded as a most idiotic decision taken by any Finance Minister in the history of presenting a budget in Sri Lanka. If the government’s intentions were to restrict the importation of used cars, they were surely barking up the wrong tree because the present chaos on our roads is mainly due to the absence of a systematic public transport system where commuters cannot travel comfortably, instead they having to travel in sardined packed ‘tin boxes’ on chock-a block roads with traffic. In addition to the amount of private vehicles that come on to main roads these days, motor cycles contribute towards a major part of traffic.
The lane discipline law introduced by traffic police recently with heavy fines seems to work although at snail’s pace in the absence of adequate traffic police on duty on all the roads. One area that the traffic police needs to be totally strict would be to bring to book all those motor cyclists who blatantly violate the lane discipline and keep on creeping in and out like cockroaches between vehicles and lanes; particularly by crossing the middle white line and ride against the on coming traffic.
Yo - Yo Fashion.
This was the first time in the history of Sri Lanka where a budget proposal has been altered and changed so much. At first it was when the Finance Minister reduced the tax on beer and President Sirisena immediately commanded to put the price up! Then the tax on the electric vehicles had to come down on Presidential directives, so was the emission test charges, vehicle revenue licence fee. The government again changed its stance by deciding not to subject vehicles imported on Letters of Credit opened prior to the presentation of the 2016 Budget, on a Presidential decision which even the Minister of Higher Education, and Prime Minister agreed to. In other words the 2016 Budget proposals appeared to be a game played by two senior government players pulling and pushing their counters on a State draft or a chess board while the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet of Ministers transforming into just observers!
During such a melodrama there were hilarious scenes on the television too where the Minister of Finance coming firmly to maintain his decisions on taxes, while the Prime Minister during parliamentary sessions completely issued contradictory statements
Allowing foreigners to lease land ‘for tourism purposes’ is another area that has come under heavy criticism. Cynics say the existed original policy of such leases up to 25 years which the new government has proposed to extend up to 99 years is akin to handing over ‘official deeds and the country to ‘foreigners for life’ under the table, because at the end of such a long period of lease an entire generation would be dead and gone leaving the next generation to struggle and prizefight with already established foreign establishments. In all probability, they maintain , by that time foreigners would have taken over the whole country, obliterated the country’s name and made it into a ‘ foreign colony’!
It is apparent that the ‘ Yahapalana administration’ is beginning to show some hairline cracks at the completion of one year where the President is seen more on television on a daily basis contrary to what he preached before the elections! The public who voted them could now be thrown into bewilderment with so many issues cropping up on a day to day basis where ministers belonging to two political parties under a ‘good governance’ are seen to be at logger head, citicising and blaming each other with the word ‘corruption’ beginning to raise its ugly head in heavy doses within the Yahapalanaya too.
One whole year has lapsed but people haven’t seen much of a difference except TV shows of many prominent figures of the previous government walking to and fro from the FCID interviews and interrogations with nothing significant taking place. President Sirisena and his Cabinet of Ministers may have to pull their socks quickly before the public opinion gets completely swayed away due to frustration, hopelessness and getting immensely fed up with the decision people took in August last year and on 8 January 2015.
Being sensitive to public opinion President Sirisena’s ‘quickening pulse rate’ seems to have hastened a cabinet reshuffle at the end January 2016, according to news sources, where the Finance Ministry portfolio is tipped to go to Kabir Hashim, the present Minister of Public Enterprises Development, which the public thought should have been in the first instance to avoid all the tittle tattle that brought somewhat disrepute to the Yahapalanaya process. It is also in the air that ten more ministers will also see a change at the re-shuffle where some believe even Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa might lose his post as the Minister of Justice!
At the end of the day, what the general public expects out of a Yahapalana would be to see justice prevailing, as promised, by a moral government.