Building bridges instead of people – Eran

A UNP National List Parliamentarian says the government, through the budget is looking to build bridges than the people. He said the government had failed to increase the salaries of professionals and therefore is at the risk of losing the managerial class. Eran Wickramaratne, MP speaks to The Nation about the UNP stance on the budget, the assault on the UNP MPs during the budget speech and more.

Following are excerpts:

Q. What is your take on the budget?
This budget focuses on infrastructure development. There is a continuous lack of focus on certain sectors such as social services, health and education. For example, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned less than 4 per cent of the total GDP is spent on health, out of which half is contributed by the private sector. It is very low when compared to the global scenario where 9.5 per cent is spent on health.
As far as education is concerned the value is less than 2 per cent of the GDP and 8 per cent of the total budget in 2010. This is less than the percentage in other Asian countries such as Philippines (17 per cent), Nepal (19 per cent) and Bangladesh (14 per cent).
Well, the government says that it wants to make Sri Lanka a knowledge hub. How can it be a knowledge hub if it is not giving adequate attention on education? My point here is that the government is heading in the wrong direction. It is not spending on building people but on building bridges.

Q. Are these your main concerns with regard to the budget?
No. The government had said the salaries of the public sector employees would be increased by 10 per cent. Last year, the actual increase was negative, because it was not enough to keep up with the inflation rate.
Actually, it is not a salary revision. It is given as an allowance.
This time, the government has increased inflation by devaluing the rupee. They are not giving salary increases to people like the university teachers and other professionals. The government is losing its managerial class. The steps taken are not enough to retain the high level of people from leaving the country.

Q. A lot has been said about the government’s move to devaluate the Rupee. What’s the UNP’s stance on the issue?
The UNP has always maintained that the exchange rate should not be artificially managed. It should reflect the real value. The IMF has suddenly woken up and has asked the government for a realistic value. But, in the recent times they had silently condoned with the government policies.
It has cost the government one billion dollars to defend the earlier exchange rate. We are disturbed the by way in which the government has managed the exchange rate.
The monetary policy is the domain of the Central Bank. The government is doing the work of the Central Bank and the Central Bank is doing the government’s work. Therefore, there is a conflict of interest and the independence of the Central Bank is called into question. The Central Bank is responsible to the Parliament and not to the Executive.

Q. Some members of the UNP were assaulted by the government members during the budget speech. What do you have to say about the incident?
I think the behaviour was disgraceful. The UNP protested while the Minister of Finance was making the budget speech. It is the responsibility of the Speaker to take action if the UNP had broken the standing orders or the traditions of Parliament. Government MPs cannot take the law into their own hands. I regard it as a dishonour even to the President.
I believe that Parliamentary sessions should be broadcast through a dedicated television channel so the public can see how their representatives behave and what they say.

Q. The government ministers said that the UNP also resorted to such actions in 1993 when the SLFP was in the opposition. They also said that most of the UNP MPs were not in Parliament during 1977 to 1994. What is your response to their claims?
I was not in Parliament at that time. But, if such a thing had happened, two wrongs do not make a right. This lawlessness is not confined within the parliament alone. We saw it a few days ago in Dematagoda where a person was abducted in a white van, a month ago in Kolonnawa and a few months ago through the Grease Yakka scenario.

Q. There have been questions raised due to the high percentage of budget allocation for defence in the post war situation. This time too the government has allocated a high percentage for defence. Do you think that it is logical to do so more than two years after the war has ended?
The defence forces have to be re-trained and we should invest on that. And those who wish to be deployed in civilian affairs should be released into civil society. At a minimum, they should be given that option.

Q. There is a general view that the opposition is weak. Do you agree?
I completely dismiss the view that the opposition is weak. If we were weak, we wouldn’t have been attacked by the government. The people do not get an opportunity to see Parliamentary sessions being broadcast.

Q. But, there are internal rifts in your party, which makes people believe that the opposition has become weaker. What do you have to say about that?
Internal rifts exist in all political parties and particularly when you are in the opposition. I believe they should be handled internally and I admit that we need some self correction.

Q. It is evident that the UNP has lost the support of the majority of the minority. It was evident during the last Local Government polls in the North where the TNA won the majority of the divisions followed by the government. What measures have you taken to win back the support of the minorities?
The interpretation is wrong here. The people were choosing between a regional party and the government. So naturally, the votes got polarised. It was a protest vote against the government.


Courtesy: The Nation