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A Budget like none other!

| by Victor Cherubim

( October 25, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) President Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered his 10th Budget since 2005, in his capacity as Minister of Finance and Planning with the words “Daru kathanayakthi thumani,” respectfully addressing his brother Chamal Rajapaksa, the Hon. Mr.Speaker countless times, drawing the attention of a subdued Parliament to what he hoped to target in the next five year period from 2015.

There was no noticeable fanfare like at Budget time at Westminster, no cacophony, no clapping, no coughing, no disruptions, no pausing for sipping water, no tirades from the Opposition, no characteristic humour, except on one occasion, when the President aroused his backbenchers. Ministers Priyadarshana Yapa and Pavithri Wanniararchi, sitting behind the President were listening captivatingly, for two hours fifty eight and a half minutes, banging their tables in unison, as if they were playing the "rabbana" to “His Masters ‘Voice”, every time tax sweeteners in preparation for an impending election in January 2015,were proposed.

The Government estimated Rupees 1,812 trillion (approx US 14 billion) as expenditure, with a budget deficit of 4.4% GDP expecting a growth rate of 8.2% in 2015, faster than the current over 7%. It was a “people centric” budget, with exemptions on several goods, helping to provide a wide range of concessions to nearly every section of society, young and old, worker and non worker. Will the public wear it?

Where is all this money coming from?

Economists argue that “the solution for poverty is not wealth but justice,” perhaps the distribution of wealth. With the underlying fact, of one percent of the people, mostly the very rich, owning up to 50% of the wealth and resources, the monstrous gap between the rich and the poor is growing to alarming levels. Does the 1% need to need to invest in the poor? We are aware that poverty is very much a rural phenomenon in Sri Lanka, as 80% of the island still live in rural areas. How many times did President connect the various rural towns like a litany for funding, similar to an announcer at a train station, rattling off where the train will stop?

There appears to be a window of opportunity which President Mahinda Rajapaksa has spotted. The issue of livelihood has come into the fore like no other business.

Livelihood Investment has not been addressed. There needs to be a balance between Development Infrastructure and Livelihood Investment. There were several impediments for restoration of livelihood. He now perhaps wants to diversify, attend to other challenges which during his earlier terms he did not focus. In his Budget 2015 (Aya Weya) “Unstoppable Sri Lanka,” he sees his neighbour India, wanting to compete in Sri Lanka on a different footprint. He may have envisaged this chance and wants to throw everything at realising this change. There is much that meets the eye.

Leadership and Management

Management is about coping with complexity. Leadership in any field by contrast is about coping with change. The function of leadership is to produce change and set the direction of that change. Strategic leadership was what was lacking in Sri Lanka, which can be transformed into Statesmanship.

Strategic Leadership

We are repeatedly told that President Mahinda has too many issues which are weighing him down. Does he have the capacity for strategic leadership? His soothsayers say if he plumps for the numerology of 8, 17, or 26 of January 2015, he has every chance of winning a third term. What is “wasanawa” and what is strategic leadership?

Strategic leadership is a leadership style, appropriate for the time. To successfully deal with change, leaders need a combination of skills, tools and support for strategic formulation and implementation.

Strategic leadership does not come easily. Running fast in many different directions may not be strategic leadership. Strategic leadership, Harvard Business School teaches, requires us “to think, act and influence others in identifying connections, patterns and key issues.” But must one attend Harvard to reframe past challenges, see the diversifying of footprints, from different angles?

“Time and tide wait for no man.”