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* NMSJ raises concerns over government’s slashing budget for health sector amid a pandemic
Thu, Dec 3, 2020, 11:05 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Dec 03, Colombo: The National Movement for a Just Society (NMJS) today raised concerns over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as the entire island has become a high-risk zone.

The Chairman of the National Movement for a Just Society, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said at a press briefing on Thursday that the National Movement for a Just Society has conducted a lengthy study of the issues regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few days.

The NMSJ expressed concern that as a pandemic rages in the country, the government has slashed the budget for the health sector next year.

“At a time when all countries have increased their funding for the health sector, Sri Lanka has slashed funding amidst a pandemic. It is indeed extremely unfortunate that Sri Lanka, as a country that is still fighting a pandemic with no end in sight, is paying less attention to our health sector in this way,” he said.

Jayasuriya pointed out that in 2019, when there was no health crisis, the then government had allocated Rs. 178 billion for the health sector in this country. However, only Rs. 159.57 billion has been allocated for the health sector through Budget 2021. This means that the allocation for the health sector for the coming year has been cut by Rs. 20 billion compared to 2019.

He said the government should pay more attention to the health sector and ensure that the daily lives of the people in this country, which have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues unabated.

Following is the statement issued by the NMSJ:

Remarks by Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, the Chairman of the National Movement for a Just Society, at a press briefing on 03.12.2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the whole society is under immense pressure today. The situation is deteriorating, especially in Colombo and in the Western Province. The country and her people are helpless. A top government official leading the efforts to control the pandemic says that the entire island has become a high-risk zone.

COVID-19 has no race or religion. It has no political bias. Therefore, every citizen is nervous and frightened.

The National Movement for a Just Society has conducted a lengthy study of these issues in the past few days. We believe that the time has come for everyone in the country to recall the past.

Were the decisions that were taken initially correct? Did we rush things? Did we use race, religion and even places of worship to deceive the people of this country? Did the government, the opposition and civil society make the correct decisions? Were we cheated or led to be deceived. We feel that it is very important to put these things into perspective and question ourselves.

The government requested for sweeping powers in order to serve the people better and received a two-thirds majority for that purpose. The people gave that mandate. They wanted more and were given unprecedented powers through the 20th Amendment.

We have never seen such a powerful presidency in the world except for a few countries with authoritarian regimes in Africa. Has the government been able to meet the needs of the people despite possessing so much power?

Rice is not available today at government stipulated prices. Many essential commodities such as coconuts, sugar, dhal, onions and turmeric are not available. So what is the use of these sweeping powers? As citizens, we need to find answers for this question.

There have been no recorded instances in the country's history where control prices gazetted by the government have been blatantly violated. This is a dangerous trend as well as a serious insult to the government.

The introduction of the 20th Amendment was opposed by the Maha Sangha, other religious leaders and the civil society. Even today, the opposition towards it continues to exacerbate. Many decried the way in which the 20th Amendment was passed in Parliament. Many believe that the 20th Amendment has divided the Sri Lankan society and that is why we opposed the 20th Amendment since the very beginning.

Sri Lanka has reached a critical juncture now. It is the duty of the government, the opposition and the society to protect the people.

We have hope every time we read about a potential new vaccine for COVID-19. It has been reported that a number of countries and pharmaceutical companies are working to find a vaccine. However, even for the people who reside in the country where the vaccines are made, it will only be made available to them from the middle of this month. At the same time, we will have to overcome various challenges to obtain these vaccines, especially for developing countries like ours. The World Health Organization too (WHO) has noted this.

At the same time, we need to focus our attention on some important considerations. Do we have a plan on how to distribute the vaccine to the people across the country immediately if it is made available by April? Has anyone at least thought about it?

Have we at least discussed this with the World Health Organization?

At a time when all countries have increased their funding for the health sector, Sri Lanka has slashed funding amidst a pandemic. It is indeed extremely unfortunate that Sri Lanka, as a country that is still fighting a pandemic with no end in sight, is paying less attention to our health sector in this way.

In 2019, when there was no health crisis, we had allocated Rs. 178 billion for the health sector in this country. However, only Rs. 159.57 billion has been allocated for the health sector through Budget 2021. This means that the allocation for the health sector for the coming year has been cut by Rs. 20 billion compared to 2019.

Our dream is to save the lives of the people. We have to make certain compromises. Our people can live without carpeted roads, luxury cars and buildings. However, we believe that the government should pay more attention to the health sector. It is our fervent hope that the government pays close attention to this.

At the same time, the government must ensure that the daily lives of the people in this country, which have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues unabated.

The government should empathize with those who cannot afford to pay for the funerals of victims of COVID-19. Further, the government needs to be more compassionate and pay attention to communities and social groups that are distressed and frightened by the rapid spread of the pandemic.

The tragic incident recently at the Mahara Prison is one such example. Today we hear that the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in prisons.

Accordingly, we need to pay more attention to practical solutions that can be used to reduce overcrowding in prisons while focusing on the welfare of inmates.

None of the problems can be solved by shooting or committing murder. It has been revealed that many prisoners, who were injured by the unfortunate incident that transpired at the Mahara Prison, have contracted COVID-19.

What does this show? Have you ever heard of another country that sought solutions after shooting people who have contracted COVID-19?

On the other hand, we need to pay more attention to the concerns of the general public.

Public confidence has eroded after the appointment of staunch political allies to the independent commissions

Although the government touted a 'one country, one law' policy, the politician responsible for the destruction of the royal court of King Buwanekabahu is still at large.

Another politician who publicly proclaimed that he will not permit anyone to touch a 'single hair' of the person responsible for the destruction of the royal court challenged the country's rule of law.

What was clearly validated by that single incident? That the rule of law has been rendered helpless similar to the plight of the people?

It is with good intentions that the National Movement for a Just Society presents these facts but with great pain. It is true that the people of this country have become silent witnesses. But I urge the government not to misconstrue that silence as a sign of cowardice. These incidents are a disgrace to the intellect of our citizens.

We believe that the government will take note of the issues raised here and take necessary action on behalf of the country. We must also be mindful of the fact that people are aware of what is happening in the country.

 

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