ECONOMYNEXT – A new mechanism to find eligible welfare beneficiaries in Sri Lanka will see better-targeted welfare programmes and cash transfers that will be made directly to beneficiaries’ bank accounts, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.
Presenting an interim budget for the remainder of the year, Wickremesinghe told parliament on Tuesday August 30 that the new mechanism, upon its completion, will also ensure that transparent laws and systems are in place.
Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis in 74 years of independence, and the public is facing immense hardships due to rising prices and shortages of a number of goods. In the midst of a crippling foreign exchange shortage, the island nation has had to default on its external debt and much needed but politically unpopular economic reforms including expenditure cuts are already under way that that will add to the people’s difficulties in the short term.
“I am well aware of the difficulties faced by many due to the ongoing crisis. That’s why I decided to cut some of the capital expenditure and find room to provide enhanced support for vulnerable communities,” President Wickremesinghe said.
He noted that, between May and July 2022, the government had spent 31 billion rupees to as a monthly allowance in urgent assistance o those affected due to loss of employment, decline in agriculture or inability to cultivate.
“I propose to continue this programme for another four months to reduce the pressure of the economic crisis [on those people],” he said.
Other welfare measures include 2,500 rupees in addition to 20,000 rupees already paid to pregnant women, and 10,000 rupees to be allocated per family to 61,000 food-insecure families in need of urgent assistance. Some 46.6 billion rupees has been allocated for these measures, according to the interim budget document.
As previously announced by Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara, direct cash transfers will be made to fisheries and plantation sector workers who are impacted by a recent hike in kerosene prices.
Meanwhile, 133 billion rupees has been allocated under a World Bank loan and approval has been obtained through the Supplementary Estimate presented prior to the interim budget reading to provide immediater elief to around 3.2 million people affected by the current economic situation.
Under this, the president said, the monthly Samurdhi allowance has been increased to an amount ranging between 5,000 and 7,500 rupees per month for approximately 1.7m illion families currently Samurdhi. Apart from this, 5,000 rupees was provided per month temporarily to around 726,000 families who were in a waiting list for expecting Samurdhi benefits.
An allowance paid for Sri Lanka’s elderly, disabled, and kidney patients has also been increased to 5,000 to 7,500 rupees, and a temporary assistance of 5,000 rupees has been allocated for people in the waiting lists for this assistance.
In addition to the above concessions provided under this project, 110 million US dollars (40 billion rupees) has been allocated for the import of urea requiredf or paddy cultivation in the 2022/2023 ‘Maha’ season, and fertilizerp rocurement is already underway, said the president.
“I believe that this will enable paddy farmers to get a good harvest in the coming season and we will thus be able to get rice at a reasonable price consumers,” he said.
“Under the same loan facility, domestic cooking gas was imported and distributed in the country during a short time duration to overcome thed domestic gas shortage that had arisen due to the currents hortage of foreign exchange. Also, we are working to meet the domestic gas requirement without shortage in the future as well. It is intended to spend about 70 million US dollars (25 billion rupees) from this loan assistance for that.” (Colombo/Aug 30/2022)