07/17/2009, 00.00
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Sri Lanka to increase defence spending to US$ 1.74 billion this year

Defence spending is rising steadily and now stands at 17 per cent of government spending. The number of people in uniform rises from 110,000 in 2006 to 350,000 this year. A new recruitment drive will be soon underway. At the same time one quarter of the population lives below the poverty level and the average annual income per person is just over a thousand dollars.
Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Sri Lanka’s defence budget is to reach 200 billion rupees (US$ 1.74 billion) this year. This is about 17 per cent of overall government spending for the year. Last year defence spending stood at 166 billion rupees (US$ 1.4 billion).

Earlier this year the Defence Ministry had requested a raise to 177 billion rupees (IS$ 1.54 billion) to pay for the war against Tamil rebels. Now, even though the war is over and ammunition purchases from China and Pakistan have been cancelled, defence spending is going up even more. 

The ranks of both armed forces and police have also increased, 110,000 in 2006, 240,000 last year and 350,000 this year. By next year an additional 50,000 are expected.

In fact at the end of May the Sri Lanka Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka launched another recruitment drive. If it goes well Sri Lanka should have 1 citizen in 66 in uniform.

In the meantime Sri Lanka has requested a US$ 1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan to bolster foreign exchange reserves and solve a balance-of-payments problem.

More money for the military is in great contrast of what the government is doing for the population, most of whom live in poverty, or for given sectors like education.

Official figures show that public spending on education represents only 2.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with public education getting only 47 billion rupees as a whole, far less than private education which is inaccessible to most people.

Health care lags behind as well at 2 per cent of GDP, an area where the government is very loose with funds given to the country in the wake of the 2005 tsunami and the end of the civil war.

According to World Bank data, 25 per cent pf Sri Lanka’s 20 million people lives below the poverty. The annual average income is just over a thousand dollars US.

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