02. Mr Speaker, our small island nation gained independence on the 4th of February 1948 after ending a long spell of colonial rule. At that historic moment, people of the country and the rest of the world had great expectations and confidence on the future of this great nation. The late Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew once noted that Sri Lanka was the “model colony of the British Commonwealth” at the time of independence. The English newspapers at the time of independence projected the then Ceylon to be the “Switzerland of the East” due to its strength in human capital and natural resources. In 1948, the per capita GDP of the country was second only to Japan in Asia, whereas the others lagged behind.
03. However, since the day of independence, instead of collectively working towards building the nation, we were fighting with each other on the basis of political ideologies, ethnicity, religion, and even on the basis of cast. Hence, during the last 70 years, we encountered two violent insurgencies fueled by youth unrest and a three-decade long ruthless war. Nonetheless, the end of the war in May 2009, brought about a valuable opportunity to portray Sri Lanka as a country which respects and hounors diversity by winning the hearts and the minds of Tamil 2 people and learning lessons from the past. Instead, the then rulers took advantage of this historic moment only to consolidate crony capitalist kleptocracy.
04. On the 8th of January 2015, President Sirisena took oaths against all odds at the time, when terror and corruption was the norm, embezzlement the economic vision, the country sliding towards complete isolation, internationally and the size of country’s debt stock even bigger than the “Meethotamulla garbage dump".
PREVIOUS BUDGETS OF OUR GOVERNMENT
05. Mr Speaker, the new Government had to face the challenge of counteracting immediate and short term vulnerabilities the economy was exposed to prior to 2015. We laid a firm foundation based on the pillars of democracy and reconciliation and, on this, we also started building an innovation driven social market economy, accelerating economic growth in a fair and equitable manner. Mr Speaker, I would like to commend my predecessor Hon. Ravi Karunanayake for facing the challenges boldly and squarely and, placing the public finance management of the country on the right track.
ENORMOUS ECONOMIC CHALLENGE IN 2015
06. Mr Speaker, one of the major challenges we had to face was the rapidly and continuously falling Government revenue and a mountain of debt. The changing weather patterns including the prolonged droughts, frequent floods and landslides were also challenges we had to face during this period. The impact of such adverse weather is estimated to have cost us around 1% of GDP in 2017. Meanwhile, demand side pressures were also built up causing severe balance of payments
DECISIVE TURNAROUND IN PUBLIC FINANCE
07. Mr Speaker, despite all these challenges, we are witnessing some early harvests of our prudent economic management policies. As a new Government, we have been able to make a decisive turnaround in the public finance management within a relatively short-period. We introduced reforms to domestic revenue mobilization and engaged productively with international development partners to regain lost confidence in Sri Lanka. Such measures helped reverse the decades-long downward spiral of Government revenue which increased up to 14.2% of GDP in 2016 from 11.5% of GDP in 2014, marking a growth of 41% in absolute terms. In 2017, Government revenue, I am certain, will come closer to 15% of GDP, ensuring a revenue growth of 13% in 2017 over 2016. Further, we are in the process of effecting revenue reforms in all areas including Inland Revenue, Customs, Excise and others in a manner to raise the Government revenue closer to 20% of GDP over the medium-term. As revenue increases, and expenditure remains well targeted and rationalized, overall budget deficit is expected to reduce up to 3.5% of GDP by 2020.
08. Mr Speaker, overall, the economy is expected to grow by around 4.5% in 2017 and projected to move gradually to a higher GDP growth path of around 6.0% by 2020, while containing the level of unemployment at around 4% level. We have already taken measures to strengthen the official reserves. Meanwhile, relatively high inflation observed in the recent months is expected to decelerate as the effects of supply side shocks wane. Thus, we expect real interest rates and real exchange rates to adjust towards equilibrium levels over the medium-term.
09. Mr Speaker, our battle to restore macroeconomic stability on a more sustainable footing needs continuous effort. In line with Vision 2025, we need to undertake bold 4 reforms in factor markets in order to eliminate price distortions and restore property rights in accordance with market principles aiming at promoting faster and sustainable growth. Capital market reforms to capture its full potential are imperative for ensuring high growth over the medium-term and beyond. Without proper ownership of land and property, no country could achieve faster growth ensuring prosperity for all. In this context the country’s land and property ownership issues need a careful and urgent appraisal. Country’s labour demand against the constraints on labour supply requires a closer examination of all areas of the labour market including labour laws, to pave the way forward to harness the productive resources of the economy.
10. Mr Speaker, Sri Lanka needs an unrestricted economic growth to achieve the upper-middle income level by 2025. Sri Lanka needs to liberalize and globalize. The dormant spirit of competitiveness must be reawakened to make Sri Lanka the trading and the commercial hub it deserves to be. The country needs to shift away from being more protectionist and inward-oriented. Sri Lanka’s border measures need to see a complete revamp through well-targeted and time-bound trade reforms promoting growth. Our over dependence on non-tradable drivers challenges growth in the coming decade.
11. Mr Speaker, as the President assured at the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, Sri Lanka is firmly committed towards the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As such, the Budget I present today is based on the principles of SDGs.
‘BLUE - GREEN BUDGET: ENTERPRISE SRI LANKA’
12. Mr Speaker, I now present the Budget 2018 under the theme of “Blue - Green Budget; the Launch of Enterprise Sri Lanka”. It is “Blue” because we plan to 5 integrate the full economic potential of ocean related activities in formulating the overall growth strategy. It is “Green” because we build our economy on an environmentally sustainable development strategy. The “Enterprise Sri Lanka” will reawaken the entrepreneurial spirit coming from our ancient forefathers enabling Sri Lanka to be a vibrant trading hub and encouraging all Sri Lankans to become co-owners of a country enriched.
13. The National Budget 2018 will support the achievement of envisaged medium-term targets such as per capita income of USD 5,000, one million new jobs, FDI inflows of USD 5 billion, and doubling exports to USD 20 billion. In 2018, we envisage a GDP growth of 5%, inflation of around 6%, and, we hope to achieve for the first time in almost 6 decades primary surplus of 1% of GDP and a Budget deficit of 4.5% of GDP.