A pair of ‘ducks’ for woolly headed budget critics | Sunday Observer

A pair of ‘ducks’ for woolly headed budget critics

29 November, 2020

Smart alecs are ten cents a dozen in the Opposition, but in this regard Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne form the Royal College opening pair that never scores. Wickramaratne is seen these days criticising the minutiae of the 2021 budget. His punditry ranges on everything from how to run the port, to taxation policy.

But the smart alec remarks are all on the detail. So it is with Harsha de Silva. Eran Wickramaratne says that the proposal for a new University for each district is meaningless because the allocated rupee amount is not adequate. The man is a champion of the stray factoid.

Somebody has to break the bad news to them. They are not going to get any traction aiming missiles at the Government on the detail. This is because the budget is presented in the context of a big picture.

There are certain conditions precedent to this budget which are significant as this is the first budget after the transition from the UNP government to the SLPP-led Rajapaksa administration. We could call these conditions the four struts that structurally support the budget — which is essentially a financial, not a policy document.

It’s better for Wickramaratne and others to look at these conditions precedent, rather than cavil over details which make them look like harried schoolmasters poring over illegible answer scripts.

The first of these conditions precedent of Budget 2021 is that — the Defence allocation is significant — is presented at a time the nation has been secured, and the people are no longer anxious about their personal security.

During the time of Wickramaratne and de Silva’s government, the collective anxiety about security was not a mere detail. It was a concern that weighed heavily on the minds of the people who experienced the collapse of the entire Intelligence apparatus of the State, as if before their very eyes.

This security related angst was certainly not one of those things. It meant that the economy couldn’t progress in peacetime, when the global conditions were nothing but positive.

Just imagine that. There was no pandemic, the global markets were open and the tourism sector was booming globally, but peacetime security was such a failure that the domestic economy plunged.

How’s that for the detail-oriented pundits? Did they pontificate about getting the rudiments right, by securing the nation, and revamping the Intelligence arm of the military?

Did the schoolmasters Eran W and Harsha recognise that there couldn’t be an economy to speak of let alone a University for each district, under these conditions? No, and those who have some memory for comic theatre would remember that Wickramaratne held up a so-called fuel-price formula written on a display board — milasuthraya — and enjoyed a raucous belly laugh before the TV cameras, while all these incredible fiascos in the national security arena were playing out.

Today, that single most important structural pivot that is a precondition for an effective peacetime budget has been looked after. The Intelligence arm of the State is revamped, and there is no anxiety about security breaches. That’s half the problems of the nation solved right there, and that definitely beats looking at the devil in the detail with microscope in hand.


The second structural pivot that is a condition precedent of the 2021 budget is the issue of sovereignty. Our sovereign status as a nation is not under threat because the State is not interested in bartering away our sovereignty by being co-sponsor of various resolutions that are inimical to us.

No treaties that remotely smack of a negation of our nationhood have been signed, even though the Opposition has done its best to say that such pacts would be inked each time a foreign dignitary from a big power visited the country.

People going to bed at night were so afraid that they would get up in foreign territory when they woke up the next morning, because Mangala Samaraweera was quite serious about bartering away our sovereign rights.

He dreamt about it and was quite proud of the fact. People’s anxieties were at such fever pitch, and as a result the slogan of the day became okkotama issella ratak thiyenna one. “We must have a country left for us before anything else.’

There is no sovereignty issue anymore. Other than raise needless bogeys about an impending pact with the U.S or China — which is never taken seriously by anyone — the Government’s critics talk about militarisation each day which is another way, subconscious albeit, of saying that our sovereignty is protected, thank you.


The third condition precedent that was fulfilled in the context of the 2021 budget was that the anxieties that prevailed between communities have ceased and in other words, Sri Lankan society is not polarised along ethnic lines anymore.

This fact had been acknowledged recently by a columnist who styles himself as a peace NGOista. While enjoying himself on a trip back from Kandy, he was ruminating in a newspaper piece last week, that ethnic tensions are no more in this country.

He is correct about the absence of ethnic tensions after the elections, except that the reasons he adduces are wrong, and one suspects, ill-motivated to advance his own NGO agenda. He says ethnic tensions abated with the elections because various political players stopped mouthing ethnically charged slogans for political gain.

But the reason there is amity between the disparate ethnic groups in the country after the polls, is that the Sinhala majority is no longer trampled underfoot and kicked around with contempt by this Government, as they were during the UNP’s term in office.

Once the Sinhala majority was treated as equals to the other communities, not as inferior as the previous government did, the Sinhalese no longer felt resentful and bitter, and all ethnic tensions settled down as a result, post November 2019. It has nothing to do with political parties and their slogans or the positions they took on minority issues. If the NGO columnist concerned stopped to think straight on his way back from Kandy, he would have recalled that the previous government — which of course as everyone knows, he idolised and worshipped as an NGO — persecuted soldiers to appease certain external elements, among other things.

These soldiers were almost all Sinhalese. The Sinhalese were blamed at the drop of a hat for everything that ailed the country, and told that they should shut up and ‘reconcile’ which meant they had to barter their country’s sovereignty, and more.

Buddhist sites of historical and archaeological significance were being destroyed in the Eastern province, and the Sinhalese were told they have to shut up and put up. When the Easter Sunday bombers were planning their evil deeds, the intelligence was ignored because no Sinhala government was — as per the then prevailing doctrine — supposed to antagonise Muslim politicians to whom the terrorists had organic bonds. The Sinhalese felt under siege, resented, and second class in their own country.


Of course such treatment of the majority community — any community — is bound to cause resentment, and the symptom of such emotions that run high would be a natural distancing between our ethnically disparate communities. In effect the ‘reconcilers’ of the previous government had become the chief dividers between ethnic groups with their wrong-headed policies that sought to humiliate the Sinhalese and kowtow to ex LTTEers.

All that changed with the election that brought the SLPP, and President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rajapaksa into power. So it’s correct to say that whatever ethnic tensions that prevailed subsided with the elections, but that was for a very good reason, and not due to anything the NGOistas would have us believe.

The fourth condition precedent of course that predated this budget was that this Government brought order from the chaos that prevailed before it assumed office. Need we say more about that, when memories are fresh about the chaos that resulted from the gridlock of cohabitation between a President and Prime Minister under the terms of the 19th Amendment?

These are the solid facts that form the background of social and economic stability upon which this budget was structured. The preening, farcical talking-heads such as Harsha and Eran should grasp them before they attempt to ridiculously deconstruct the document’s content.