Clean, lean, green, no-frills Man­gala Bud­get

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - BUDGET NEWS/LOBBY - By Chan­dani Kirinde- Lobby Correspondent

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera stuck to his prom­ise to keep his maiden Bud­get clean, lean and green by pre­sent­ing a no-frills Bud­get, at the heart of which is an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment strat­egy.

The Bud­get came at a time when the coun­try was reel­ing un­der a petrol short­age, en­abling law­mak­ers of the Joint op­po­si­tion (JO) Group to add some colour to Bud­get Day, by cy­cling to the Leg­is­la­ture. With for­mer Pres­i­dent, now Ku­rune­gala District MP Mahinda Ra­japaksa in the lead, the JO MPs' bi­cy­cle ride at­tracted a great deal of at­ten­tion and added an ex­tra dash of ex­cite­ment to Bud­get Day.

Dur­ing the course of his Bud­get speech, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter con­grat­u­lated the JO MPs for tak­ing a cue from his "Blue-Green Bud­get", by dis­card­ing their lux­ury ve­hi­cles, at least for a few min­utes, and tak­ing a bi­cy­cle ride to the House. “The only hitch is, their big cars were right be­hind the bi­cy­cles, and those rid- ing the bi­cy­cles back were their se­cu­rity personnel,” he added.

Min­is­ter Sa­ma­raweera had less than 6 months to put to­gether a Bud­get, since tak­ing up the Fi­nance Min­istry in May this year, fol­low­ing his pre­de­ces­sor Ravi Karunanayaka’s res­ig­na­tion, which laid em­pha­sis on pro­mot­ing the econ­omy in a man­ner that pro­tected the en­vi­ron­ment and nat­u­ral re­sources.

He laid the ground for a ve­hi­cle pol­icy which, over the years, the Min­is­ter said has nei­ther been clean nor green. How­ever, this would change, he said, set­ting the chal­leng­ing task to make all ve­hi­cles in the coun­try to be pow­ered by non-fos­sil fuel sources by 2040. "For a start, all Govt ve­hi­cles will be ei­ther hy­brid or elec­tric ve­hi­cles by 2025," he added.

Along with this, he also an­nounced sev­eral in­cen­tive struc­tures such as tax cuts on elec­tric cars, buses and three-wheel­ers

While most Govt mem­bers hailed the pro­pos­als put for­ward by the Min­is­ter, Op­po­si­tion MPs were scep­ti­cal about the abil­ity to de­liver on the prom­ises made in the Bud­get. JVP MP Su­nil Han­dun­netti open­ing the Sec­ond Read­ing de­bate on the Bud­get, said that the gap be­tween the rich and poor con­tin­ues to grow in the coun­try and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions too, will have to pay off the debts in­curred by suc­ces­sive Govts. He also said that, even though some pro­pos­als looked good on pa­per, they usu­ally re­mained con­fined to the book.

“There was a pro­posal in the pre­vi­ous year’s Bud­get to give tabs to all un­der­grad­u­ates, but one year on that has not been done. Sim­i­larly, this Bud­get too has many fancy pro­pos­als, but it is likely to re­main just that,” he said.

The Bud­get was praised by many of the SLFP Min­is­ters in the Govt of na­tional unity, in­clud­ing Labour Min­is­ter John Senevi­ratne.

“Many were ex­pect­ing the Min­is­ter to present a Bud­get of hand­outs to the peo­ple, as a pre-elec­tion ploy, with Lo­cal Govt elec­tions due soon. How­ever, the Min­is­ter did not stoop to this and pre­sented a Bud­get which has bal­anced all sec­tors,” he said.

While sev­eral mem­bers of both the Govt and the Op­po­si­tion par­tic­i­pated in the first two days of de­bate on the Sec­ond Read­ing of the Bud­get, the level of cri­ticism lev­eled at it so far has been far less than for the Bud­get pre­sented by his pre­de­ces­sor in Novem­ber last year.

The de­bate will con­tinue till Fri­day ( 17), fol­low­ing which, the vote on the Sec­ond Read­ing will be taken, while the Com­mit­tee stage de­bate of the Bud­get will con­tinue till De­cem­ber 9.

Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera pre­sent­ing the Bud­get. Pic by Indika Han­duwala

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