Beginning with a lack of accountability, there are a number of interesting similarities between the Sri Lankan president’s COVID–19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund and the PM-CARES fund of India.
The COVID–19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund established by Sri Lanka’s President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to strengthen the mitigation activities aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 virus in the country and related social welfare programme, have been vested with a set of wide responsibilities.
The fund has many similarities with the PMCARES fund mooted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a prominent sole departure. While the PMCARES fund will be audited by a certified auditor, the Sri Lankan president’s Healthcare and Social Security Fund will be audited by the country’s auditor general. “Fund activities and accounts are subjected to audit by the Auditor General,” a summary statement on the functioning of the stated.
Only financial contributions
Like in India’s PM-CARES, the Healthcare and Social Security Fund too welcomes contributions from local as well as foreign donors. The only provision in both case is to make the donation a “financial contributions” to the COVID–19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund. There is no scope to make donations in kind or services.
In yet another similarity, the donations will be exempted from tax and foreign exchange regulations. Deposits could be made through cheques or telegraphic transfers.
Furthermore, the Sri Lankan President’s fund will be managed by a 17-member committee headed by the central bank Governor. The Secretary to the Committee is the Chief Financial Officer at Presidential Secretariat. Among the office bearers are also Secretary to the Treasury, Defense Secretary, Director General Health Services, Acting IGP, Director General Sri Lanka Customs and Lanka Sathosa Chairman.
The Fund has been set up to provide immediate funding requirement of director general of the island nation’s health services to meet all expenditure connected with COVID-19 related healthcare facilities including drugs, testing equipment and capacity expenses.
The notification says the the fund will help meet expenses connected to healthcare and safety of health sector employees and all logistic providers working to provide essential public delivery services and to provide basic essentials to children, women, low income, elderly, differently abled and vulnerable people.
Not accountable to Parliament
The fund will be managed by a committee tasked to “invest this fund in and securing the necessary purchasing in medicines and testing kits as well as increasing the healthcare capacities; ensuring the health and safety of those in the health sector and in the essential services; financial needs of children, women, low income earners, elders, physically challenged and other vulnerable sectors; integrating public health systems, rural and remote dispensaries, testing and treatment centers and health care systems to reduce the risk of infectious diseases.”
The government will mobilize the required funding to strengthen public healthcare systems, including village and remote area dispensaries, testing and treatment centers, family healthcare system, to further consolidate Sri Lanka’s public healthcare system to reduce country risks to communicable diseases.
It will also assist indigenous medicine, sanitary product manufacturing and distribution, promote research to use resources, knowledge and skills to innovate new health and sanitation products based on local raw materials.
Like in PMCARES, the Sri Lankan fund too is aimed at promoting research and innovation using Sri Lanka’s medical and scientific knowledge and experience to develop protective dresses and sanitation products to global market.
In keeping with the present Sri Lankan dispensation’s prioritising organic farming, this fund will also be used “to promote healthy living with organic food consumption, valuing traditional, yet rich living styles, through media and educational programmes.”
It will also coordinate fund raising with WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank, ADB and Sri Lanka’s major development partner community and agencies based on best guidelines for resource allocations, harmonized national procurement system and governance practices.
Fund expenditures remain low
So far, the fund has collected Sri Lankan Rupees 1,827,314,924.65. Of this amount, LKR 100 crore each have been allocated to the PCR testing and advocacy programming. So far, only a sum of 42,605,812 has been spent by the ministry of helath and the university grants commission. On the other had, the advocacy programme has used a mere 24,364,800 from the LKR 100 crore allocated to the ministry of health for this.
The ministry of health and the ministry of defence together could only spend LKR 38,031,065 on quarantine facilities.
There has been no confirmation of the expenditures as yet against a fund of LKR 112,140,000. The chart says, “Confirmation is anticipated”. Similarly, “Confirmation is anticipated” also for the meagre amount of 3,522,000 set aside end-October for procuring rapid test kits.