Clean, lean, green, no-frills Mangala Budget
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