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[Blog] Budget Speech: Hope or Despair?

For the government supporters, the Finance Minister did a fantastic job. He listened to the people and lifted some of their burden which was becoming unbearable. He supported the unemployed, workers across the board, the old age pensioners, the planters, the fishermen, the SMEs and low income group with a cash allowance of at least Rs 1000 monthly and a number of incentives.

To the government supporters and some independent minds, the socialist policies enumerated in the budget speech should be acclaimed along with the measures to boost food and energy production.

However, for the Opposition supporters and other independent minds, the quantum of the allowances is inadequate and will soon be engulfed by a new wave of soaring prices of commodities and services. Rising inflation and the devaluation of the rupee is making us poorer. To them, the budgetary measures will not revamp the economy. Instead, there is cause for alarm as the frustration of the people will continue to grow, especially in the light of the global economic problems caused by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the harmful impact of climate change on food production and the emergence of other regional conflicts.

Every year, we experience the same scenario of hope and despair. The government defends and praises its budget while the Opposition does the contrary, criticizes and finds fault with the budgetary proposals. One would say that this is normal in a democracy. But, Democracy Watch believes that we are not living in normal times and therefore we should be bold to do things differently to cope with so much uncertainty around us. Apart from the rising prices, food items will become scarce. We have already seen how the wheat market has been globally affected and how protectionist measures are already in place. This does not augur well for a vulnerable economy like ours.

The government is right in providing additional incentives to boost local food production, but needs public confidence in the implementation process. Should we not all welcome that measure? Why should there be a government and opposition divide on this issue of national importance? Same goes for other vital sectors like energy, environment, education and health. If the government and the opposition somehow manage to pool their resources together, surely we will be able to implement our policies with more determination from all quarters. Unfortunately, the ongoing debates in Parliament are likely to result in a higher level of contradiction, acrimony and intolerance. What to do?

In our country, we have a serving Minister of Finance and a long list of former Finance Ministers, most of whom are now in the Opposition. What is it that prevents the Minister of Finance from meeting and discussing with all his predecessors in the superior interests of the country?  Democracy Watch had hoped that such meeting would have taken place during the budgetary consultation. We believe that a roundtable grouping present and past finance ministers under a wise leadership will help to keep away from the rough confrontation and move gradually toward meaningful dialogue and the much needed public confidence. Will the Prime Minister get the message and act decisively?

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