By Camelia Nathaniel
Following are excerpts of the interview:-
Q: What is your opinion of the budget as a whole?
A: I think especially the government servants and people’s expectations are not met. However there is some price reduction in some essential goods which is welcome. There aren’t much immediate relief measures but there are long term benefits. However we still feel that there isn’t anything much in this for the people. In the case of education although they say a big amount has been allocated, but I believe that in terms of education for the North and the East nothing much has been done. However having said that there are a lot of good things in this budget but there could have been more. Immediate relief measures are not enough.
Q: Although funds were allocated for various projects in the budget, there is doubt how the government plans to raise these funds as they had not specified any measures to generate this income. What are your views?
A: Well we will have to wait and see how the government plans to generate funds to implement these measures. The government obviously does have some plan in mind and we will just wait patiently and see how they go about raising the funds needed to back their ambitious projects.
Q: Some essential goods have seen price reductions, but due to the rupee devaluation, don’t you think this will impact the traders?
A: It is true. Although the government stipulates a price, sometimes the traders can deliberately create a scarcity in order to create a demand and then they can sell their goods at a higher price. That is why I say that there are a lot of ifs and buts in this budget and the government has not thought things through. The government can through this budget impose price restrictions, but these are not in the hands of the government and not within their control, hence it will be hard for them to control such a situation.
Q: In parliament recently the TNA spoke of the need to balance between preserving the income of the farmers and the cost of goods. How do you propose the government to do this?
A. Even now the farmers are facing difficulties as the production costs are very high and they are unable to market their produce to cover the cost. This is a dilemma that is faced by most of the farmers around the country. Therefore unless the government has a proper plan to grant the farmers some sort of relief, either in the form of subsidies or grants, and assist them in reducing their cost of production, any other effort will be futile.I remember when I was in Jaffna, the farmers wanted me to tell the government to give them a subsidy for cultivating seed potatoes as it is very costly and not commercially viable for them to do it alone. Unfortunately these incentives have not been included in this budget.
Q: The government has extended an invitation for the Diaspora to come back and invest in this country. But what are the incentives the government has offered to encourage them to come back?
A: Absolutely nothing. Except for the fact that the fear psychosis has died down in the country and people are free to move around, nothing has been don’t to encourage those who left the country to come back.The bureaucratic red tape is a major deterrent for these people to want to come here to invest. In fact I knew someone who was trying to set up a water bottling plant here, but he is now fed up with the government’s lethargic attitude, that he is on the verge of giving up on the whole project.Every minister talks on all political platforms asking the expatriates to come back and invest here, but apart from just small talk, nothing is done at the ground level in order to facilitate these foreign investments. Practically nothing is happening.
Q: What were the allocations specified in the budget for the North and East, and is this sufficient?
A: I don’t think the amount that has been allocated is sufficient. What was asked was not what was given.
Q. There is a dire need for employment opportunities for the Northern people. What measures do you observe being taken by the government to address this issue of the Tamil people?
A. Job creation seen in the past is that the government is giving hand-outs to the people through schemes like Samurdhi etc. However this is not what is needed and unless the government provides the opportunities to set up businesses and brings in investment to these regions, there will never be enough opportunities for these people for income generation. The government needs to do a feasibility study on the business ventures that can be established and sustained in these areas and then bring in the investors. Otherwise just patching up here and there will not be a solution for the issues of the people in the North and East. The previous government did some work after the war in terms of infrastructure development, but at the same time the only businesses they created were the taverns and restaurants for which the previous government gave licences. This is not the right solution.
Q: Many of the proposals in the budget looked very good on paper. However do you think in practical terms it is do-able?
A: As I have said, there is a problem whether this government can actually implement in practical terms what they have put so nicely on paper.
Q: You made a point in parliament regarding the plight of the middle class. Does this budget hold any promise for the middle class?
A: No there is nothing for the middle class. The middle class is mainly made up of government servants but there is nothing in this budget for their benefit. It is true that the prices of gas etc have been reduced, but that alone is not enough.
Q: There were many allegations that the budget speech was long and many had not understood it. Did you have the same issue?
A: Quite honestly a large part of the members could not understand what the finance minister was saying. Only after reading the book later was I able to comprehend. So it’s true and it was not very clear cut. Earlier the proposals are read out separately but this time it was done in one go. Hence it was not very clear to many.
Q: The North and the East is made up of a large percentage of war widows and women headed households. However this budget has not included them and their requirements. What is you take on this?
A: Yes in the North and the East there is a large number of women headed households. I don’t seriously think there is anything in this budget for these women. I don’t see anything included that will assist them in sustaining their families and for them to generate income.Of course there are benefits that will also be enjoyed by them such as the reduction is essential goods etc, however in the form of providing them better opportunities there is nothing that this budget offers them