Defence spending remains a cause for concern

Army Military trgThe Sri Lankan government recently released its proposed budget for the coming year. It’s been met with an array of responses. Some commentators have questioned the calculations which the government has made, including over fundamental matters such as tax revenue. Kusal Perera, a Colombo-based journalist, says that “most numbers are fake or arbitrarily inflated.” Among other matters, Perera is concerned that this budget will result in increased economic inequality.

On the positive, Maithripala Sirisena, the country’s current president, will control far less of the budget than his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa did during the end of his tenure. According to, Verité Research, a think tank in Colombo, Rajapaksa controlled 62% of all expenditures in 2014, an incredible centralization of power. For 2016, it appears Sirisena would control approximately 10% of total expenditure.

Unfortunately, defense spending stands out yet again. A Verité infographic also highlighted the fact that 2016 defense expenditures are expected to exceed 2014 defense expenditures by over 20 billion Sri Lankan rupees.

It’s worth pointing out that 2014 defense spending actually includes expenditures from the Ministry of Urban Development. Since Rajapaksa’s ouster in January, that ministry no longer falls under the purview of the Ministry of Defense. (As an example of both heightened centralization and the military’s flagrant foray into civilian affairs, Rajapaksa renamed the defense ministry the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development in 2011.) That fact that that’s no longer the case means that the increase in defense spending from 2014 to 2016 would actually be more than it initially appears. Other commentators were quick to highlight this on social media.

Why does defense spending in Sri Lanka continue to climb?

There are no legitimate national security reasons for justifying this. Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war is over and the country’s continued militarization, especially in the historically Tamil northern and eastern provinces, is quite troubling. The Sirisena administration has yet to address the issue of militarization, but an increase in defense spending sends the wrong message. If the Sirisena administration was willing to speak candidly about militarization and acknowledge that this is an issue that must be dealt with, even a modest reduction in defense expenditures would be welcomed.

While the budget has not yet been finalized, defense expenditures are expected to remain stubbornly high. This looks like another missed opportunity for the Sirisena administration. (Huffington Post)

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