- Opposition says Govt. has reduced spending as a percentage of GDP
- Charges billions allocated in successive Budgets not disbursed
- Underspending has resulted in teacher shortages and fewer resources to rural schools
- Govt. acknowledges target of 6% of GDP unmet but denies underspending
- Contends major efforts made to improve infrastructure, provide resources
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
In successive Budgets, the Government has consistently reduced public funding for education as a percentage of GDP and failed to disburse the pledged funds, the Opposition said yesterday, pointing out that the shortfall equalled billions of rupees.
In 2015, the Budget allocation was Rs. 75 billion but spending was limited to only Rs. 36 billion. In 2016, the Government spent Rs. 40 billion out of Rs. 83 billion allocated in the Budget, and last year the allocation was Rs. 103 billion but just Rs. 76 billion was actually spent, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said.
Opening the third day of the Committee Stage Program of Budget 2019, Opposition lawmaker Bimal Rathnayake challenged the Government to stop using media during Budget days to highlight allocations and instead talk about the actual spending for key services of the previous year.
“Almost all governments cut allocations to education. When a student is admitted to school, the parents have to bring a desk and a chair. It is a norm to allocate 6% of GDP for education. Regardless of this norm, it was brought down to 1.7% of GDP during the former Government,” he said.
Highlighting the pre-election pledges the United National Front (UNF) made, MP Rathnayake drew the attention of the House to the actual public spending on education. “The current Government came into power promising to increase allocations to 6% of GDP. We should debate about last year’s progress. According to the Finance Committee of the Parliament, the actual allocation in 2016 was 1.04% of GDP. In 2017, this reduced to 1.34% of GDP and last year it was 1.27% of GDP,” he said.
Reading a letter found among the G.C.E. Ordinary Level examination answer scripts of a rural school in the Eastern Province, Rathnayake said teacher shortages and resource constraints were widespread.
“This was written by a student attending the Ampara Maha Oya Kuda Harasgala Secondary School. This letter was given to me by the teachers who had gone for paper marking from Ratnapura. So, this student in a letter says that they did not have a science teacher for six years. He says he is not requesting a pass but pleads to at least be given a science teacher so their younger brothers and sisters could pass the exam,” held the lawmaker.
According to MP Rathnayake, there are few national policies Sri Lankans can be proud of other than the agriculture-based hydro projects of ancient Sri Lanka. “A free education and free healthcare are the only policies we all can be proud of. We need to accept the fact that there is a big failure in our education system when we read this letter.”
Responding to Rathnayake, Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam acknowledged that the Government had not allocated 6% of GDP for education but argued considerable amounts of money had been spent during the last three years for both physical and human resources development in schools.
“Many questions were raised here in this Parliament without knowing the ground situation and the development we have brought to the education sector. We have built 5,600 new classrooms. Under three stages in the 13-years of certified education separate classrooms were built in 857 schools. The number of Primary Education Centres built comes to 764.
“In addition, 21 new dental units were established in schools, 46 buildings for estate schools, 254 technical laboratories, 261 technical advisory buildings, 30 aesthetic units, 234 junior laboratories, 3,000 mobile laboratories for schools with building issues, 62 canteens, 167 quarters for principles, constructing 329 teachers houses, 900 water systems, almost 200 smart classrooms are established, we are nearing procurement for 200 more digital classrooms, 35,256 toilets were given to 6,726 schools,” he said.
According to the Minister, the Government was able to add more school buildings compared to what was added by previous governments. “The ‘Nearest School is the Best School Program’ has added both human and physical resources to the education sector of the country. Only 50 buildings were given after free education was introduced by C.W.W. Kannangara. But we have managed to construct 1,500 state-of-the-art buildings in schools. We have given money to repair buildings in 6,000 schools.”