On March 21st, 2019, SLYCAN Trust organised a dinner discussion on Sri Lanka's newly unveiled budget. The well-attended discussion took place at Hotel Janaki and featured a panel of experts trying to answer the leading question: How green is our budget?
A Delayed Budget for 2019
Sri Lanka's 2019 budget was presented on March 5th by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera under the theme of "Enterprise Sri Lanka - Empowering the People and Nurturing the Poor". Annual budgets are usually proposed during the last quarter of the preceding year, but the 2018 political crisis caused a significant delay for this one.
Despite this, it is vital to take the time to understand the implications of the new budget for environmental protection and sustainable development. Climate change looms over every sector of the economy, from agriculture to power generation, fisheries to industry, and tourism to education: and the budget plays a key role in addressing its impacts.
A Panel of Experts
The panel consisted of Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Head of the Colombo School of Business & Management and professor at the Department of Economics, University of Colombo; Mr. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice; Mr. Heminda Jayaweera, Director Capacity Building and Innovation at SLYCAN Trust and co-founder of Venture Frontier; Mr. Milinda Rajapaksha, Council Member of the Colombo Municipal Council; and Mr. Trishan Perera, Committee Member of the UNP Young Professionals Organisation.
(Mr. Hemantha Vithanage and Mr. Milinda Rajapaksa at the panel discussion)
They were joined in discussion by Mr. Uchita de Zoysa from the Centre for Environment and Development, Mr. Charana Kanankegamage, Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Kumar Lopez from the Sri Lanka Press Institute, and other members of the audience.
While not all panellists and discussants agreed on everything and some parts of the budget were received positively, the majority agreed that it seriously lacked the necessary resolve to combat climate change effectively and facilitate sustainable development. Topics of discussions were, among others, the community-based "green clubs", the registration of single-use plastics manufacturers and importers, the natural disaster insurance scheme, ecosystem conservation, and electric vehicles.
(Mr. Heminda Jayaweera and Mr. Trishan Perera at the panel discussion)
The majority of the discussants concluded that after the "blue-green" budget of 2018, Sri Lanka's 2019 budget does little to effectively build on the promises made toward a green or blue-green future. The main element carried on from 2018 is not the environmental aspiration but the “Enterprise Sri Lanka” concept to promote entrepreneurship and private enterprise. Aspects like renewable energy, electric vehicles, or plastic pollution are only included to small extents or not at all.
From an environmental perspective—and in the face of climate change, this perspective cannot be ignored—, the budget is insufficient and allocates far too little funds for conservation, adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development.
How green is our budget? Not green enough.
Dennis Mombauer currently lives in Colombo as a freelance writer and researcher on climate change and education. He focuses on ecosystem-based adaptation and sustainable urban development as well as on autism spectrum disorder in the field of education. Besides articles and research, he has published numerous works of fiction in German and English.