Samurdhi Only for the Deserving!
Sri Lanka stands at a crucial juncture where every cent needs to be counted and used in a manner that stands to benefit the people. We, as a country cannot afford corruption and malpractices any longer. The other most important fact is we, as Sri Lankan citizens, need to stop depending on someone for someone
Benefits should be given only for the deserving segment of society and not for those ineligible. This is why we are talking about the ‘Samurdhi benefit scheme’ today.
According to a recent survey conducted by the World Bank, a total of 40 percent of current Samurdhi recipients are not eligible to receive these benefits. The meaning is only 60 percent are eligible and another 40 percent who are eligible to receive Samurdhi benefit do not receive it because the scheme is full with another 40 percent ineligible families.
It was revealed during a recent meeting of the Public Finance Committee which met last week as per an official statement issued by Parliament.
Accordingly, it was revealed during the Public Finance Committee meeting that there are some corrupt officials who disburse the Samurdhi allowance to ineligible people and get a percentage of it as a form of ‘bribe’. It was emphasized at the Public Finance Committee that it is a must to prepare a register with the correct data in order to offer Samurdhi benefits to the poor people who actually are deserving of it.
The issue does not stop there. There is another burning issue related to the same topic. That is the failure of Samurdhi officials to collect the accurate data from the people saying that their jobs are at risk due to certain sections of the relevant Act which states that submitting inaccurate/fake data can cost the job of the relevant officer. Therefore, those officials are not ready to collect the accurate data until this section of the Act is amended. This is the situation which existed as at last Friday.
When we go through these two facts, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Those Samurdhi officials should collect the accurate data and hand them over to the relevant authorities in order to make an accurate registry of Samurdhi recipients and include the eligible Samurdhi recipients who do not receive it and remove ineligible recipients who receive it now.
Entering wrong data is a punishable offence. Punishment can mean sacking from the job or something less than that. But we, Sri Lankans know very well that no public servant will refrain from corruption and malpractices if the punishment is not losing his/her job. This is the bitter truth that has plagued this country since Independence. Therefore, the Government can tell the Samurdhi officials to collect the accurate data or go home.
But still there is something that should be prevented. That is the threats posed to Samurdhi officials from the rich and powerful who are not entitled but are nevertheless receiving the Samurdhi benefits at present. There is a possibility for them using their money and political power against the Samurdhi officials who remove them from the scheme. Therefore, the Samurdhi officials need to be protected. There is no argument about it.
The entire country knows very well by now how recipients were selected to offer social welfare benefit schemes and who receives them by now. It was the politicians and their corrupt henchmen who held various positions in the public service who made recommendations during the past 74 years. Due to this situation, even the well to do people receive the Samurdhi benefits while the people who do not have a proper income even to buy a cup of tea and a bun do not receive it. This is the reality. This is why 40 percent of the people who are currently receiving the Samurdhi benefits are not entitled to it. It is not only relevant to the Samurdhi scheme. It was very relevant to Stamps (Muddara), Janasaviya etc.
As a result of the failure of all types of social welfare schemes implemented in Sri Lanka since Independence, today the Government is forced to look after a large number of families by offering them money in various types of names such as Samurdhi, Vedihiti Deemanawa (elders’ payment), special allowance paid to the sick etc. But even a child can see that this process will never end. People should be ready to learn a craft, do it and earn their living without finding fault with the Government all the time for not giving them sufficient funds to live.
Unfortunately, this enslaved mentality had been created in people after Independence and is still the practice. This enslaved concept is very popular because people can do nothing and get money from the Government. They will only vote for the politician and the political party which offers them money for nothing.
The time is right to eradicate the ‘dependent mentality’ and ‘social welfare culture’. As Sri Lankans we have to look into the bitter truth we were hiding up to now. It hurts a lot of people but we have to tell the truth. Otherwise ‘politics based on promises’ will continue. We have to stop this now or it will never end. Sri Lanka will remain a developing country forever.
What is this bitter truth? Working and employed people pay tax to feed a large number of other people who are lazy, who do not work, who are not willing to work and who cannot work. The social welfare scheme has been there since Independence! No matter which tag was used to name them, all of these were social welfare schemes. We have to feed those who cannot work but we should not feed those able bodied who are able to work, but are not working.
It was ‘Stamps’ (Haal Potha/ Muddara) in the 1970s and then it became ‘Janasaviya’. After a few decades it became ‘Samurdhi’. No matter what name you call it, it is a social welfare scheme. There is no argument at all offering a social welfare scheme for a special social group which includes aged, permanently disabled people and the patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as CKDU, cancer, etc. It is a must to protect them and it is the sole responsibility of any State and any Government in the world. But how about others who are being covered by the same social welfare scheme?
Enough is enough. We have to put a full stop to looking after unemployed people. We have to employ them or force them to work in State projects in return for the benefits they receive from social welfare schemes. This system was there from time to time but it was not properly planned and not implemented covering the entire country and the entire population which receives the benefits of social welfare schemes. Now it is the time to do this. This system will save billions of rupees when implementing various development projects by the Government and also when delivering certain essential social services such as the free health service. It is the very same with convicted prisoners. They are being fed free of charge.
Samurdhi or whatever social welfare benefit scheme should only cover the eligible people and even those eligible people should be given the benefits for a specific limited time period. It can be two or three years. They need to be very strictly monitored by the same official who recommended them for the scheme.
No matter whether they gain financial stability or not, they should be removed from the scheme after the relevant time period. They should be made ineligible to enter into any social welfare benefit scheme in future. It is their responsibility to use the money and other benefits receive through the scheme accurately without spending them for alcohol, illicit drugs, betting, etc and gain financial stability for the family within the specific time period. Sri Lanka can be saved from this financial crisis only through implementing this strategy.