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.