Budget 2021 aims at a steady economy – State Minister, Prof. Channa Jayasumana | Sunday Observer

Budget 2021 aims at a steady economy – State Minister, Prof. Channa Jayasumana

22 November, 2020
State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana said the main aim of Budget 2021 is to maintain a steady economy in the next year as all income avenues are almost blocked due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a reasonable and strategically enhanced Budget. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the State Minister said the second wave of Covid-19 is not confined to Sri Lanka but a common phenomenon the world over.

Therefore, we cannot escape this common scenario. It is observed that the majority of the infected people are from the Western Province. However, we have a good control in the other eight provinces, while we are doing our best to control the pandemic in the Western Province.

Q: Would it be correct to say that this time the Government has introduced a Budget for the reconstruction of the economy, now in the doldrums?

A: Yes to a certain extent, but the main objective is to place the economy in front of the pandemic. The economies of all countries have fallen. The aim of the Budget is to maintain a steady economy in the next year as all income avenues are almost blocked now. However, this is not confined to Sri Lanka and is a common issue for all countries. Hence, this is a reasonable and strategically enhanced Budget.

Q: The Sri Lankan Government has to pay US$ 4.5 billion annually as foreign debt instalments. Will this not be a burden to the Government’s development drive?

A: It is a burden, and has been faced by almost all Governments over the last 30-40 years. The rupee depreciated more than we expected due to the poor economic management of the former Yahapalana Government. The economy had almost collapsed. The debt trap is something we have to face in the next few years, but we are managing.

Q: The appointment of State Ministers to revive the vital areas of the economy and monitor progress by the Presidential Secretariat is seen as a step in the right direction. Your comments?

A: The introduction of State Ministers for every Cabinet Ministry is to expedite the activities and make use of the intellectuals.

For example, Ajith Nivard Cabraal is a well-known academic and former Central Bank Governor. He knows to tackle a crisis situation as we had faced such a situation during the last stage of the battle against terrorism. The appointment of State Minister Cabraal is a good example.

Q: Could you elaborate on the Government’s foreign policy of not alignment with any superpower bloc in the context of the current geopolitics?

A: All nationalistic governments that came to power in Sri Lanka have followed the nonaligned policy. It was evident in the Governments of the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike. We are following on the same lines as during the 1970s.

During that time we had an aggressive cold war but we were able to manage the situation. Now the polarisation is quite different from the 1970s. We have the western countries and western politics on one hand and China and Russia on the other.

Our strategy is to adhere to a nonaligned policy. We have no enemies, and consider all super powers as our friends. Over the last two millennia the Indian subcontinent experienced several polarised power brawls during the chola, chera, pandayan and pallawa eras and we managed that.

Therefore, we have an experience extending over two millennia on maintaining a non-aligned policy. We are doing that today.

Q: Despite the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, overall the Government has restricted its spread to the Colombo city and suburbs. Is there any truth in the Opposition’s allegation that the Government has failed to contain the pandemic?

A: This is the second wave of the pandemic. It is not confined to Sri Lanka, but a common phenomenon in all countries. We cannot escape this common scenario.

However, the majority of those infected are from the Western province. We have control in the other eight provinces. It is true there is an issue in the Western Province but we are doing the best to control the pandemic.

The decisions are not taken by politicians alone. We are considering the opinions of different parties such as professionals, academics and the Security Forces at the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. We are implementing their scientific, rationale and pragmatic solutions.

Q: Don’t you think the Opposition should make political statements with a sense of responsibility at this critical juncture?

A: They have to. We have observed how irresponsible the Leader of the Opposition is. Initially, he tried to introduce a drug which was in its experimental stage.

By using the trade name of the same drug, he tried to create an impression that the Government is not considering the options available for the patients. We categorically denied it and showed that it is the same drug in a different name.

Recently I noticed that the Opposition Leader tried to point out a vaccine produced by a US company and asked why we are not importing it. Still it is in the experimental stage. It has not been approved by any governing body or by the WHO.

Until such recognition we can’t give it to the people. The irresponsibility of the Leader of the Opposition and the entire Opposition is unbelievable.

Q: The Opposition says Gazettes have failed to deliver the goods at controlled prices. What steps should be taken to arrest this situation?

A: We cannot do everything through Gazette notifications. To implement a legal framework, we need the support of the public, government officials and the Opposition.

The Opposition should extend support to implement the Gazette notification or the legal framework rather than criticise it. However, the decision regarding the price or item is legalised and we are doing our best to implement it.

Q: From what we hear every day, the Yahapalana Government has almost destroyed the economy and national security and prestige. What are your views?

A: It is obvious. They betrayed the country in Geneva. They have sold all national treasures to foreign countries. We saw the behaviour of SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake who tried to control the country’s legal system through telephone conversations.

The Yahapalana Government destroyed the entire economy through the bond scam.

They also damaged the cultural values of the country, and all social, political and economic aspects over the past five years.

That is why we got an overwhelming majority of two-thirds at the Presidential Election.

Q: The Government has rightly withdrawn its sponsorship of the UNHRC 30/1 resolution. Now that we have enough evidence should we not refute these unsubstantiated allegations and protect the image of the country?

A: Yes of course. We categorically denied all the allegations made in the Darusman Report.

However, we didn’t have enough space to reply. It is a unilateral decision taken by the UNHRC and the Committee. Some of the members in those committees are clearly handled by certain international non-governmental organisations and they have a clear agenda.

So the decision taken by the President to withdraw from the resolution is approved by the majority of the people. Obviously, we cannot take responsibility for what we have not done during the last stage of the battle against terrorism. If there is no substantial evidence to prove their allegations, it is unilateral and a mere imagination.

Q: Don’t you think it is time for the TNA and others with similar agendas to cooperate with the Government and develop their areas in the interest of their own people?

A: They were also a part of the previous regime. They helped the Yahapalana Government but they haven’t carried out any economic development in the northern and eastern regions.

What have they done over the past five years? Any infrastructure development in the northern or eastern province was done by the 2010-2015 Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. We are prioritising the needs of the people in the Northern Province.

We will develop the region irrespective of the support of the TNA. We extend our hand to the TNA to join us. However, it is doubtful whether they can extend genuine support to us with their chauvinistic ideology.

Q:The Government has already streamlined the national security to meet any situation. Do you think any more are needed to ensure national security?

A: We have given priority to national security. A significant portion of the Budget is allocated for national security as top priority.

Every time progressive nationalistic governments came into power, we gave priority to national security. We defeated terrorism and protected the unitary state of the country. We are always committed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.

We listen to the voice of the people and the Maha Sangha and it is our utmost priority to protect the national security of the country.

Q: At present the Government is spending billions annually to import drugs, and there is an allegation that most of the drugs could be substantiated. What are your proposals to manufacture imported drugs in Sri Lanka and invite foreign investors in this regard?

A: Under the sponsorship of the then Health Minister of the Yahapalana Government, there was a Government sponsored drug mafia over the past five years.

It was evident through the Presidential Commission that enormous sums of money were flown to private companies and foreign agents in the name of pharmaceutical purchase.

The President has given me the target to make the country self-sufficient in western medicine in five years. So we are in the process of achieving the target.

Probably, we may be able to cover 50 per cent of the sufficiency within three years. We have already initiated the process and I am confident that we can achieve the target in five years. At present, only 15 percent of the medicinal requirement is produced locally and 85 percent is imported.

With the help of the private sector and the Ministers, we are in the process of establishing a new pharmaceutical plant in the country.

Probably, we may be able to produce insulin, anticancer drugs, and anti-venom and anti-rabies vaccines within the next couple of years, for the import of which we spend a huge amount of money.

In addition, we are now focusing to develop certain medicine devices within the country. With the guidance of the SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa, we are establishing a separate zone in Hambantota to export drugs.

We have a good market in the South East and African region for drugs. So we are in the process of establishing a separate pharmaceutical zone for export purposes.