We can afford $ 5 m pledge to SAARC COVID-19 Fund : Govt.

By Skandha Gunasekara

Despite its economic woes, the Government is confident that it can afford the $ 5 million pledge it made to the Corona Emergency Fund of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation’s (SAARC).

“The Minister of Finance would not agree to pledge such an amount if we could not afford it,” said Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury S.R. Attygalle when The Sunday Morning inquired as to whether the country’s economy could afford to make such a large contribution.

he SAARC Corona Emergency Fund is the brainchild of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who proposed it two weeks ago, pledging $ 10 million. Sri Lanka’s pledge made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday (23) is the second highest among the seven countries that have pledged to contribute.

Attygalla told The Sunday Morning that the funding would have to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund.

“The President has the power to allocate from the Consolidated Fund and he will do so for this purpose as this is an important commitment,” he said.

When inquired about the far smaller amount pledged by the much larger economy of Bangladesh, Cabinet Spokesman and State Minister of Investment Promotions Keheliya Rambukwella said the size of the economy did not matter when making such pledges.

“The contribution does not depend on the size of the economy or the size of the country. Each country calls themselves sovereign nations with equal status. So that is the basis on which you make whatever contribution,” he stated.

However, when asked if Sri Lanka’s struggling economy should donate $ 5 million at this time, he said: “Now that’s another thing altogether. I am sure the Finance Minister has agreed to this, so I’m sure we can afford it.”

Bangladesh has pledged $ 1.5 million and Nepal is to contribute $ 1 million to the fund. Afghanistan too pledged $ 1 million while the Maldives and Bhutan committed $ 200,000 and $ 100,000, respectively. Pakistan is yet to make an announcement on their contribution to the fund, widely believed to be due to the hostile relationship it has with India at present over the Kashmir dispute.

On 15 March, Modi proposed a coronavirus emergency fund to be set up by the SAARC nations during the SAARC video conference meeting which was attended by all the heads of governments of the SAARC nations, with the exception of Pakistan which was represented by Zafar Mirza, the Special Advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The other heads of states apart from Modi were Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepalese Prime Minister Oli, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Senior independent economist W.A. Wijewardena said that at a time of crisis such as the ongoing pandemic, countries would have to work together instead of acting alone.

“This is not money that is going to waste. It is something that will help all SAARC countries. Whether we can afford it or not, in such a situation, the world must work together. When a temple is built in a village, even the poorest family must contribute,” he said, adding that the Government must not be faulted for contributing $ 5 million.