Budgets have always been controversial. They have never been liked by all. The nature of the job is such the finance minister is always an unpopular man. He has to tax someone to give relief to another.
Decades ago in our country ordinary people were more worried about the price of day-to-day essentials. As we progress the situation seems to be much different. Post budget I hardly heard of anybody complaining about such trivia. Now they seem to be more concerned about things that matter, things like car prices. Perhaps, we are no more a poor country.
The price of an electric car has gone up by as much as two and a half million rupees, while other vehicles have gone up in price by sums ranging from two hundred to five hundred thousand rupees. Most people are unhappy that the duty on motor vehicles has been jacked up making them unaffordable to many.
Vehicle price hike seems to have offset the goodwill the government earned by slashing the prices of some essential food items, cooking gas and the like. This is because a motor vehicle in the minds of most Sri Lankans has become as important as the food items.
The reasons are justifiable as Sri Lankans do not have a decent public transport system. With overcrowded buses and trains the majority of the working people use public transport only because they have no choice. It is natural for every young man or woman who begins the working life to dream of owning a car.
It is not incorrect to say that through his budget the finance minister has shattered the hopes of all those middle income earners who have been aspiring to buy their own cars. But then the real issue is different – over sixty thousand new motor vehicles enter the limited road network annually causing traffic jams in the cities. This trend if not curbed in time can end up causing huge impact on productivity of the nation.
There are also other moves to curtail entry of too many vehicles into the city, like compelling drivers to carry more passengers in a vehicle. Some of these proposals are obviously impractical. All these are only short term measures as the main cause of the problem is the absence of a modern mass transport system at least in the western province.
While implementing temporary measures to minimize the entry of new vehicles into the road network the government should expedite building a suitable mega transport system by which people can have a reasonably comfortable journey. This has to be done as a matter of priority with local or foreign capital. When such a system is in place a section of even those who can afford using their own motor vehicles will opt to use public transport thus easing the traffic jam.
In such a situation question of discouraging private car use by jacking up the vehicle prices or imposing special levies on vehicles entering the city will not arise. The hopes of ordinary people aspiring to own motor vehicles will not be shattered. The political fallout of such unpopular measures to curb the traffic jams can be too heavy for the government. A wiser move will be to implement a mega transport plan without much delay.