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Friday December 8th, 2023

Aswesuma welfare scheme aimed to create poverty-free Sri Lanka by 2048: official

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new consolidated welfare system Aswesuma aims to create a poverty-free Sri Lanka by 2048 with a view to creating an entrepreneurial state instead of a welfare state, an official said, amid criticism of deserving candidates allegedly being left behind.

Social Empowerment State Minister Anupa Pasqual told reporters on Tuesday July 11 that the government launched the Awesuma programme in response to allegations that the existing welfare scheme system was too politicised, with criticism specifically levelled at the Samurdhi scheme.

Aswesuma was launched by the Welfare Benefits Board following a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said Pasquel, adding that the president “intends to create an entrepreneurial state instead of a welfare state.”

Welfare beneficiaries have been organising protests against alleged injustice in the evaluation process of Aswesuma, even as the government and opposition trade charges in what has now become a fresh political controversy following a significant rise in poverty.

State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe tweeted on Tuesday that district secretaries will commence assessments of 968,000 appeals and 17,500 objections received for Aswesuma to make accurate determinations. The government will ensure that all deserving individuals who require assistance will be included in the new scheme, he said.

Instructions have been issued to assistant government agents to prioritise the entry of physically received appeals and objections into the system of the Welfare Benefit Board to ensure that everyone’s grievances are heard and addressed. The final count will be notified to the public upon completion of this process, said Semasinghe.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, who called the Aswesuma programme a “blindfold” in a statement he issued on June 25, claimed that it would only benefit 1.2 million Sri Lankans in three years.

“While questioning the government about its intention in providing subsidies only to 1.2 million people when there are 7 million poor people, we would also like to know from the government about the criteria adopted in selecting those 1.2 million people,” said Premadasa.

However, State Minister Pasquel, who said Aswesuma is a non-political, open process, defended the programme. Both appeals and objections may be submitted throughout the same process, which will also cover the annual procedure of admitting the qualified and removing the ineligible, he said.

“The president entrusted our ministry with enlisting 1.2 million people into the productive economy in order to empower them. Before the end of this month, the president will get the relevant plan. The empowerment of this group will be accomplished during the course of the three-year strategy,” said Pasquel.

Protesting beneficiaries and would-be beneficiaries have made allegations of injustice in the evaluation process for selecting deserving candidates, which they said has been unfair and will deprive many poverty-stricken people of a vital stream of income.

The Aswesuma progarmme was originally set to come into effect on July 01, with some 400,000 families identified as severely poor receiving payments of 15,000 rupees a month for three years.

State Minister Pasquel noted that there are 1.8 million ‘Samurdhi’ beneficiaries, more than half of whom are adults. Although they were engaged in various jobs when they were young, they joined the Samurdhi movement after the age of 60, which has drawn the attention of the president with action proposed to be taken to implement the pension system with help from the Welfare Benefits Board. This will be submitted to the cabinet in the future and the necessary work will be done, said Pasquel.

The state minister also called for education reforms aimed at social empowerment through the creation of skilled professionals.

“We are receiving support for this programme from China, the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and the Samurdhi Banking System. As a result, rather than eradicating poverty in Sri Lanka, we have planned to exploit the Samurdhi Bank system to generate wealthy individuals.

“Currently, some politicians are working very hard to misrepresent the Samurdhi Bank. However, the Samurdhi economy and financial system are being promoted more vigorously thanks to the Aswesuma programme,” he said.

The official said, starting August 01, those who could not apply for Aswesuma this year or failed to submit appeals will have another opportunity to do so. Every year, a certain number of people are eligible for these benefits, and some of them drop out due to a variety of reasons, he said, adding that the programme provides empowerment and protection to everyone, from young children to senior citizens.

“Instead of eradicating poverty, President Wickremesinghe wants to see Sri Lanka become a developed nation by 2048. This serves as the required context for that. A welfare state is not what we desire. A state of entrepreneurship must be established. The goals of building a developed country cannot be achieved through a welfare country. We are moving forward with these programmes in line, to achieve such a state,” said Pasquel.

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SLPP enjoying “great demand” from potential presidential candidates: Namal

FILE PHOTO – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with nephew Namal at the opening of the last part of the Southern Expressway/PMD

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) enjoys “great demand” from potential presidential candidates, and the party will have to take a call on working with incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP Namal Rajapaksa said.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday December 07, Rajapaksa claimed several names have come up concerning the SLPP’s candidate at next year’s presidential election.

“There is great demand: entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, are all there. There are presidents too, ready to come forward with our party,” he said.

“Out of all these people, we will put forward on behalf of our party the candidate that can take the country forward while stabilising the economy,” he added.

Commenting on continued support for President Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa said the while SLPP at present works with the former in the present government, the party will have to decide whether that relationship continues going forward.

“The matter of whether we work with the United National Party (UNP) in the future – this is not a politics dependent on individuals; the SLPP is a party. We will talk as a party with other parties, but no discussions will be held centred around individuals,” he said.

Rajapaksa noted that Wickremesinghe was the only member of parliament representing the UNP at the time of his election by parliament following the resignation of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa .

“If we are to collaborate with the UNP in the future, we’ll have to discuss that. Once the party has decided on that, we can get a start on those discussions. Today, we work with the president in the present government,” he said.

Last month, when asked to comment on President Wickremesinghe’s 2024 budget, MP Rajapkasa sounded rather sceptical of the president’s ambitions for turning the crisis-hit economy around.

“We must study the budget. He had presented a lot of these proposals in last year’s budget too. They don’t seem to have been implemented,” Namal Rajapaksa said, speaking to reporters after the budget presentation Monday November 13 afternoon.

Rajapaksa’s father and leader of the SLPP former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, spoke in favour of Wickremesinghe’s budget.


Sri Lanka’s “forward-looking” 2024 budget will instill fiscal discipline: MR

While not without its shortcomings, the older Rajapaksa said, the 2024 budget is a forward-looking one that aims to ensure fiscal discipline and put Sri Lanka on the path to recovery. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka ruling party MP contradicts poll to claim his party is overtaking president’s

ECONOMYNEXT – The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is rising from the ashes albeit at a slower than anticipated pace, while President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) still commands only 1-2 percent of the vote, an SLPP legislator said.

MP S B Dissanayake, who is not a member of the cabinet of ministers headed by President Wickremesinghe, told reporters on Thursday December 07 that support for any major political party of the island nation is on a downward trend while the SLPP alone is gaining ground.

An independent poll by the Institute for Health Policy (IHP) however shows that this is decidedly not the case. Polling data for October showed that the leftist National People’s Power (NPP) had enjoyed support from 40 percent of likely voters, having dipped 2 percent from September, while the main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) stood at 26 percent, increasing four percent from 22 percent in September. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP’s support decreased marginally to 11 percent in October from September’s 13 percent. The SLPP also saw a decrease to 5 percent from the previous month’s 8 percent.

“You can’t gamble with elections. The election must be held. We always say electrons must be held. The presidential election must be held next year. There is no alternative,” said Dissanayake.

“Parliamentary elections can be called if needed. But that’s not how it is with the presidential election. Nominations for that will have to be called by September, October next year,” he added.

Asked by a reporter if the SLPP is ready for elections, Dissanayake acknowledged that support for his party had eroded, to nothing.

“We crashed to zero. We were turned to ashes. But we will rise from those ashes. We’re not where we thought we were. The 6.9 million [votes received at the 2019 presidential election] no longer applies. We’re at about half of that. But we’re rising, like this,” he said, gesturing upwards.

“As other major parties go in the opposite direction, we’re rising slowly. But the UNP is not. It’s still on the ground, and still at 1 to 2 percent,” he claimed.

“The SLFP is there too. Those who left us are the same. Even together they cannot form 1 percent. But we’re climbing,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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Sri Lanka president appoints main opposition MP advisor

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed MP Vadivel Suresh as a Senior Advisor aimed at “fostering the integration of Hill Country Tamils into Sri Lankan society”, the president’s office said.

A statement from the President’s Media Divison (PMD) said Suresh’s “pivotal role will centre around overseeing the comprehensive integration of Hill Country Tamils, particularly focusing on the districts of Badulla, Nuwara Eliya and Rathnapura”.

“The Senior Advisor will play a key role in coordinating various initiatives related to the welfare of Plantation Companies, the promotion of women, safeguarding children, addressing disparities in Tamil schools and upgrading the delivery of health services,” the statement said.

In May this year, Suresh, who represents the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) in parliament and also serves as the general secretary of the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union, made headlines when he issued an ultimatum to opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, demanding an apology for a perceived slight on the Indian-origin Tamil community that Suresh represents. He also spoke favourably of President Wickremesinghe, hinting at a possible cross over.

Sri Lanka’s Indian-origin Tamils, most of whom have historically worked in the plantation sector and live in dire conditions on wages widely considered unacceptably low. Speaking at a May Day rally, the Badulla district MP said Premadasa must apologise to the estate Tamils for allegedly snubbing them at an event in Madulsima that he failed to attend.

“I would like to say to our leader, sir, do not take us for granted,” said Suresh.

“If you need us to stay with you, come right now to Madulsima and apologise to my people and then we shall restart our journey. Otherwise I won’t be part of that journey. There will be no Vadivel Suresh. If you don’t apologise to my people, I won’t be with the SJB,” he said.

Making matters worse, the MP also expressed a willingness to join President Wickremesinghe if he was able to raise the daily wage of plantation workers and resolve their grievances. He also said the president has been successful in containing the disruptions caused by the currency crisis.

“On this May Day, we say to both the opposition leader and the president, I and my people would join hands with a leader that worked to increase [estate workers’] wages and give them [access to the Samurdhi welfare scheme] and include them in national policy,” he said. (Colombo/Dec07/2023)

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