Friday, April 11, 2008

The welfare state of Samurdhi Beneficiaries

There is something extremely wrong about our Samurdhi system, which was intended to help the truly deserving and poor, but now covers half the nation. The GNP per capita is US$1,500 in Sri Lanka. Either the inequality in this country is way ahead of anywhere else or 75% of those receiving benefits should not be. The latter of course is the case.

Entitlements are used as election carrots and therefore, no one from either side wants to rock the boat by streamlining this or cutting benefits, It has got to be done as the absurd situation of people coming in vehicles to claim their entitlements makes a mockery of the system. I have heard people complaining saying they deserve an entitlement they don’t get, but so and so is getting it because they belong to a particular political party in power.

Last morning I was returning to Minneriya at the crack of dawn and was surprised to see so many well dressed women in the Samurdhi queue waiting for the cooperative sales outlet to open so they can cash in their stamps for foodstuffs. Some would queue for hours for some lentils or rice, rather than spend that time in employment to earn more than the handout.

In other countries it is called welfare dependency and I suspect the same is the case here. To wean someone from getting something they are used to is even harder than giving them this benefit in the first place. It is incredible the time and effort to obtain this benefit, but I know from personal experience people don’t like to forego anything free. It is better not to give it free, rather than expect people not to take up the entitlement. It is important that it is overhauled, so efficiencies can be released back to the economy.

The administration cost of this department is staggering with the number of employees used to distribute these benefits and the attendant costs. All this adds to the inefficiencies in the system, which is turn affect the productive process of the economy. It is sadly that the processes set up to keep people out of deprivation is used instead to add to the inefficiencies and no one has the courage to address these for fear of being singled out for ridicule.

It is important to take immediate steps to reform Samurdhi and thus release much needed resources to remedy some of the other more pressing gaps in the economy.

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