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Budget ballast for economy - Part II:

Good ideas canít wait

Text of the speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP on the 2013 Budget November 12, 2012

Though of course decisions must be made by the technical experts in the Ministry, it is vital that affected communities are consulted, and kept informed of progress. One difficulty in ensuring this I suppose is that responsibility is exercised at different levels, which is why we must ensure better coordination between Central and Provincial Ministries. I hope that the structural changes needed to ensure this will be implemented swiftly, with the needs of local communities, and their right to be consulted and informed, being the key factors that administrative reforms should fulfil.

I am delighted, Mr Speaker, that the question of devolution should have been discussed in a budget speech, because for too long we have been dealing in this regard with dogma that takes account of neither financial nor practical realities. I believe that reform is perfectly possible within the framework of the current Constitution, provided we work on the principle of subsidiarity, which was the basis on which the Liberal Party first promoted devolution, when discourse on the subject was dominated by those committed to domination of geographical areas by one ethnic group or the other.

The simple fact that governance should be about people, not about the power of politicians, has been forgotten for too long, and I hope we can work rather on the principle of uniform National Policy Ė which the Constitution lays down as applying to all subjects Ė developed through consultation of all interests, along with implementation through units that can best promote the interests of the people within them.

LLRC Action Plan

In this regard I welcome the move to develop the potential of local authorities, and I hope the current responsibilities they fulfil are expanded to ensure more precise attention to basic needs. Health and nutrition, education and training, roads and transport, are best understood and promoted at local levels, in conformity of course with policies and programmes developed at national and provincial level.

Efficiency and effectiveness demand that duplication should be avoided, and responsibilities must be clearly defined. The financial savings this would ensure are considerable. At the same time, we should apply the same principle to central government too, and work towards reducing the number of Ministries, as well as Government Departments, since these are not only an unnecessary burden on the people whose taxes fund them, but also on officials who often do not act because responsibilities are divided.


President Mahinda Rajapaksa arriving in Parliament to present Budget 2013. Picture by Sudath Silva

This has been a problem, Mr Speaker, in the effort to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Plan, and I am sure those in charge of implementing the LLRC Action Plan have the same problem. I am glad in this regard that the budget speech pays due attention to this aspect of developmental needs.

Reconciliation process

The stress on training and human resource development for the Police is most welcome. For years I have argued that are Armed Forces in general behaved with exemplary decency in the midst of a war against terrorism of vicious intensity, but the same could not always be said of the Police. In the last couple of years however I have noted increasing professionalism on the part of the Police, and the enormously positive attitudes to them now of the people I meet at Divisional Secretariat meetings in the North and East are testimony to the change that has taken place. The Police in general do a commendable job in difficult circumstances, and the commitment not only to improving their capacity, but to giving them decent conditions in which to work, is timely.

The commitment also to fast track the Reconciliation process is welcome, though I would also suggest that some funding should be devoted to ensuring that the good work that is done is communicated systematically. The website of the Peace Secretariat, along with the website of our Mission in Geneva, helped to refute unfair allegations during the period of conflict, and we must ensure that all our Missions have websites with similar communicative capacity in a context in which we are still victims of unfair allegations. For this purpose a dedicated website should be developed in Sri Lanka, and I hope the Presidential Secretariat will be provided with both financial and human resources to do this.

Finally, Mr Speaker, whilst congratulating the President on the range and relevance of the initiatives outlined, I should strike a cautionary note, in registering the need to establish mechanisms to ensure implementation of these excellent ideas. Last year I remember welcoming the suggestions with regard to Prison Reform, but unfortunately very little was done in this regard. I appreciate the efforts of the Ministry in this regard, but concerted action was needed, in particular with regard to sentencing policy, but coordination in this regard did not take place. The tragedy that took place last Friday at Welikada suggests that, when good ideas are advanced, they should be implemented quickly. I can only hope then that the good ideas in this Budget Speech are implemented swiftly, efficiently and efficaciously.

Concluded

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