Taking The Budget Off Focus

(November 07, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This is budget time but who ever talks of the budget? Does anyone speak of the hike in the price of fuel, gotukola, vatakolu, drugs, and rise in hospital charges or things that affect the cost of living?
Getting friends to speak of these mundane matters even though they may be matters of life and death is rather difficult. They are engrossed in matters such as Duminda Silva being flown off to Down Under, Bharatha Lakshman’s daughter on TV invoking the curse of ‘those above’ this thrice blessed land on the killers of her father, Sri Lanka’s ‘diplomatic triumphs’ in Perth at the Commonwealth pow- wow, TNA’s talks with the Americans in Washington and of course the latest – the Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilized Assets legislation which was sprung in darkness upon the people.

Are we Lankans asexual?
Somehow or the other debates on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s threat to cut off aid to us unless we take off our statute books the legislation imposed on us by their ancestors that would give homosexuals a free run in Lanka, is deftly avoided. We Sri Lankans stick to our Buddhist principles such as refraining from sexual excesses (third precept of the panchaseela—kamala summichchara, etc). We are shy—no? Not being to Eton, Oxford or Cambridge like Cameron we are described by oversexed Westerners as being asexual. Those sex maniacs in NGOs, who want us to pull down our pants and do what comes unnaturally, will call us closet homos.
Underperformance in business
Of course, those efficiency machines like the Medamulana Rajapaksas have got to be concerned about performances in the private sector like the Hilton Hotel. We are not Five Star Class hotel patrons but we are told that despite the hotel’s ‘underperformance’ it is hard to reserve a table for dinner on a Saturday night or even book a reception hall for your daughter’s wedding at the Hilton.
Maybe this is all anti-government propaganda of the UNP and imperialist stooges. Government institutions we believe are performing on top gear but something seems amiss.
Our doubts have been cast even on the performance of the Temple of Justice – the courts – where cases drag on ad infinitum, government hospitals where patients are told to buy their drugs from ‘outside’, schools where getting a child admitted is near impossible unless you bribe the principal, electricity supply where sudden breakdowns have resulted in all our work on the computer being wiped off – we cannot afford a UPS – when power breaks down despite the bragging of the minister or the cops quite apart from catching burglars cannot catch killers of newspaper colleagues.
The COPE report
Do not take what the COPE report of D. E. W. Gunasekera about 249 government ventures losing Rs 19 billion very seriously even though DEW is a staunch Rajapaksa supporter. The earlier COPE report of Wijedasa Rajapakse too said something similar about government run institutions. He had to leave government ranks soon after. Let us hope DEW will not disappear like a dew drop in the Rajapaksa glare.
Now a Competent Authority, chosen by the Rajapaksas no doubt will run the 37 under-performing establishments like a well oiled machine. We wonder who this miracle man will be. Going by past form, he should be a Rajapaksa.
What purpose will this legislation serve and why was it kept so secretive and then rushed to parliament in an indecent hurry? It is not that the Rajapaksa government would face any threat in the budget being defeated in parliament but it would certainly stave off criticism and public anger about the performance during the past two years. This takeover of non-performing assets Bill will generate enough sound and heat to make the opposition forget about ranting on the failure of the government – its broken promises such as salary hikes and the inability to bring down the cost of living during the last two years.
Alleviating the people from the privations they are going through is one of the basic objectives of any budget.

Confusion strategy
Besides November 16, the birthday of the great man – the grand occasion – is close by and do we want it spoilt by opposition criticism? All Messiahs in modern times want to make a song and dance on the days on which they were born. Remember one such Messiah, the Suriya Theivam?
No doubt, the stupendous achievement of building harbours, airports, highways and power plants will be recalled with gusto on that day while a feeble opposition will speak about rocks in the harbour and castles in the air. Massive cut outs and magnificent pandals will be put up by grateful citizens with bakshi of those who have been able to stack them in recent times. But the bottom line for the average citizen will be the pangs of hunger in his stomach, clothing and a roof above his head.

Shadow boxing
Even though the per capita income of Sri Lanka may grant us the status of a middle income country the average income of the so-called middle class is hardly Rs 10,000 which is grossly insufficient for a family of five for sustenance. What then is the income of a peasant farmer which is much less?
Knocking out capitalists in bouts of shadow boxing will be a source of cheer to the poor and that is one of the aims of this Assets Bill.
The great Chinese war strategist of the past, Sun Tzu, spoke of confusion of the enemy being an essential strategy for victory. The Rajapaksas appear to faithful followers of Sun Tzu.
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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