By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
President Ranil Wickremesinghe presented the 2023 Budget under the theme “Sri Lanka, towards a new beginning” in Parliament yesterday (14), and the proposals mainly focused on developing a competitive export-oriented economy, an environmentally friendly green and blue economy, and a digital economy. Investments in the arts were lacking to some extent, which is to be expected, given the economic crisis the country is currently experiencing.
Stressing the importance of achieving rapid economic growth, President Wickremesinghe said sectors like education, health, agriculture, and marine resources must be modernised. “We should carry out this socio-economic transformation taking into account the global phenomena. In particular, special attention should be paid to climate change,” he said.
Research on the history of Sri Lanka
One of the proposals made by President Wickremesinghe was regarding a separate institution to study the history of Sri Lanka. He proposed the establishment of a research facility, with an allocation of Rs. 50 million proposed for this purpose.
This could be seen as a welcome proposal, as it would give more people the opportunity and resources to carry out research related to the history of the country. At present, several universities and higher education institutions offer programmes on Sri Lankan history, but a dedicated research facility could prove to be a valuable addition to the sector.
Given the budgetary allocation for this project, the exact nature or structure of this research facility remains to be seen. However, looking at foreign establishments, those with an interest in history, specifically Sri Lanka’s long and rich history, may have a reason for hope.
One such centre is the Institute of Historical Research of the University of London, which is England’s national centre for history. It aims at championing the value and importance of history, enabling and nurturing the current and next generation of historians, and supporting the historical community.
The Oxford Centre for Global History is another key institution that looks at connections beyond borders and rethinks history from a global perspective. There is also the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH) or the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations that promotes global history as a critical humanistic enterprise in today’s world of coexisting and contending cultures. This is done through research, writing, teaching, and international exchange.
The 2023 Budget focused on the youth of the country, with President Wickremesinghe saying we are creating a new economy for these young people, for their tomorrow.
“The real national wealth of our country is the youth. Can we be satisfied with the work we have done so far in order to create educational, social, and economic opportunities for the youth? If we have played a proper role to protect that youth, why are they queuing up to leave the country?” the President questioned.
“The hopes of young people are melting away,” President Wickremesinghe added, stressing that the country’s youth hope for a better future and a good country. A new approach is thus needed, going beyond traditional, political methods, such as agitations, struggles, and strikes.
In terms of promoting youth engagement, the 2023 Budget proposes retaining the youth in the agriculture industry, as this will be extremely important in ensuring the country’s food security.
“For that, agriculture should also be modernised to suit the present day. Hence, I propose to select 240 youth who are currently unemployed, representing each district of the island, and empower them as agricultural entrepreneurs,” President Wickremesinghe said. An allocation of Rs. 120 million has been set aside for this purpose.
The 2023 Budget also includes proposals to encourage young female entrepreneurs, and a loan scheme will be introduced in this regard. This scheme is an attempt at recognising the importance of encouraging young women entrepreneurs who are engaged in informal household businesses. Female entrepreneurs not already covered by the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) line of credit project, implemented under the financial assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), will be eligible for this new loan scheme.
“Under this scheme, young women entrepreneurs can obtain a loan up to a maximum of Rs. 250,000, empowering at least 1,000 young women entrepreneurs at its initial stage. This scheme is expected to be implemented through the Regional Development Bank (RDB), covering all districts.” President Wickremesinghe said in his Budget speech.
As a startup fund, Rs. 250 million will be allocated throughout 2023.
In addition to this, the President proposed the allocation of Rs. 50 million in 2023 to the National Youth Services Council to train youth for foreign employment opportunities.
In conclusion, President Wickremesinghe highlighted that the 2023 Budget proposals can create the space to initiate a new journey with a fresh outlook.
“Let’s make the best use of that space and come together to create a better future for our true national resource, our youth,” he said.