Money Where the (Sinhala) Mouth Is

by Eelapalan blog, November 30, 2013

Following the money trail often leads to interesting findings. Sri Lanka’s 2014 budget is no exception. It is as Sinhala Buddhist as its constitution is but this analysis only focuses on one aspect which is the militarization.

Reference in the title to the Sinhala mouth is intentional.  It is to highlight how it is being fed for the time being and how it is could potentially be robbed of food in the future.  (Disclaimer: I am more interested in highlighting the general pattern through a trend analysis instead through absolute numbers. But would welcome input on accurate numbers if readers do have access. )

Of the eight sectors, National security & Law enforcement takes up 12.5% (Rs.309,057,392) of the total budget.  To put it in context, that is more than both health and education combined total (Rs. 270,596,000). (1). This has been increasing year over year even after the war has ended.  80% of the total budget for this sector is for, curiously combined, Defence and Urban Development. A mere 20% is allocated for the other half of the sector heading which are Law & order, Justice, Rehabilitation and Prison Reform. And, of the total budget for this sector, 84% is recurrent expenditure:  Meant for upkeep and maintenance. On the other hand, one subcategory, State Intelligence Service, got a whopping 717% year over year (YoY) increase for its Capital Expenditure.: Meant for Expansion.

So where does this lead to?


Occupation is an expensive business

Active combat is over and it is unlikely in any foreseeable future. So why an exorbitant amount of money is being spent in the name of Defense and National Security in a country that has no external enemy? Sinhala nation would soon realize occupation is as (or more) expensive as the war was. Military occupation, as referred to by the elected Chief Minister of North Province and many others, to be successful, requires two key elements.  One is troop saturation and the other is a pervasive Intelligence apparatus.


Troop Saturation

Sri Lanka has one of the highest percentage of military per work force in the world.  Sri Lanka is ranked 25th on armed personnel per labor force at a 2.59% on this site.  The first person to broach this subject in the island is Sivaram.  In a brilliant analysis he did in 1997, titled, The Cat, a bell and a few strategists, he analysed the conflict  through the concept of MPR (Military Participation Ratio).  He concluded correctly, at that time, that the LTTE would not need to abandon the military option. But when he said “ The maximum degree to which the [Sri Lankan] army can raise its manpower, other things being equal, may not therefore go much beyond .82 percent of the Sinhala population”, turned out to be incorrect. Sri Lankan military did raise its manpower beyond that and it happened with recruitment during ceasefires periods (1995, 2001). See this chart. Even Though this chart is for armed personnel per labor force it correlates the same way to the armed personnel per Sinhala population base.

If the state is willing to recruit during peacetime, Sinhala youth would be willing to join the military in bigger numbers.

I believe the percentage of armed personnel per labor force in Sri Lanka, looked at correctly, is much higher.  Sri Lanka budget proposal deliberately does not list the numbers for the military personnel but does so for the police.  So a quick reverse engineering (Explained at the end of the post ) shows that the total military personnel in Sri Lanka by conservative measure will be over 350,000. This estimate is in line with this Srilanka Campaign infographic. The very latest statistics from Sri Lanka show a labor force of (Counted as 15 & above) 8,861, 919.  So this alone would put the percentage of armed personnel per labor force at 4%, making Sri Lanka the 12th, not the 25th, in the world.  But that still does not reveal the entire trend.  If you were to account for the military recruitment age and understand one absolutely important factor — that the Sri Lankan military is mono ethnic, it would move Sri Lanka well above in the ranking.  That the Sri Lankan military is mono ethnic Sinhala is important for two reasons.  One, it shows the military participation and the dependence of the Sinhala nation on that military (shown later). Second, it shows a much deeper sociological order of externalizing occupation.

Let’s look at the second reason first. Heavily militarized Sinhala society exports its men (some women) to the Tamil lands. As the earlier SriLanka campaign infographic shows and this site highlights, almost the entire (19 out of 20 divisions)  Sinhala military is stationed in Tamil areas. It is no wonder then that the ethnic reaction to this occupation is polarized. And explains why the state continues to pour more and more money, as allocated in the 2014 budget, into maintaining a saturated military presence in the Tamil regions.

Intelligence Apparatus

In order to sustain that occupation among a hostile population, the state needs to expand its intelligence apparatus.   The 2014 budget shows a whopping 717% year over year increase in the capital expenditure for the State Intelligence Service.  Tamils can be sure of increasing intimidation and harassment in the coming years.

Return on Occupation

In the corporate world, any time money is spent, the results are measured by the Return on that investment.  So what do Sinhalese and Tamils get in return for this budget spent?

Sinhala Nation

Sinhala narrative is that of heroes going to a far off land and fighting the good fight. But when they come back and the money does not, would the Sinhala nation reaction be different?

I would suggest that the Sinhala economical order is propped up by remittances.  External worker remittance has been the highest revenue generator for the country, amounting to 8% of the GDP.  More than 70% of the Sri Lankan population is categorized as rural. It is from here most of the unskilled labor for the foreign labor market is drawn.  How much this remittance economy has permeated into the Sinhala sociological order would make an interesting study if one does not exist already.  Does this external worker remittance mindset also explain the remittances of the Sinhala military serving in Tamil regions?

critical study by Selvarathinam Santhirasegaram of Jaffna University shows “how military expansion in Sri Lanka contributed to achieve.. macroeconomic goal [of], reduction of unemployment and poverty.”  And his study concludes that it is so in the Sinhala areas because the military is Sinhala.  So the Sinhala nation has an economic dependency on the military and benefits from the expansion as long as it happens externally in the Tamil regions. Sinhala nation recently witnessed the implications of militarization in its own soil in Welliweriya.  That military response to a civilian protest generated the outrage it deserved among the Sinhalese and others. Unfortunately it never translated into an empathy for the Tamils. Tamil civilians are facing the same, but alien, Military at a saturation level of 3:1.

So what do Tamils get in return for the money spent?

Tamil Nation

Tamils continue to face the onslaught of occupation.  Unable to remember the dead, and unable to move on with their daily life without military intrusion. The recent UN report highlighted the impact of the militarization on the Tamils.  How close military installations are to a Tamil and how often they are visited by military men are documented in that report.  This psychological and physical abuse by occupation is not the entire picture. Since we are on the topic of money, the economical impact is important.

Sri Lanka, when collecting statistics, groups employment by three industry groups: Agriculture, Industries, and Services.  Armed forces are counted under the Services group.  But in the north and east armed forces are intruding into the agriculture and the industries groups as a way to generate revenue to offset the cost of the occupation. Infographic by the Sri Lanka Campaign and the report by the International Crisis Group highlight this phenomenon. This encroachment into other employment groups denies livelihood to the Tamils.

The 2014 budget of Sri Lanka is a further indication (as if another one is needed) of the entrenched and structural nature of oppression Tamils are facing in the island. A budget that aims to fund the occupation by troop saturation and expansion of intelligence services.  If we are to learn from history, no amount of oppression will keep the Tamils wallowing in apathy. If the Sinhala nation continues to tolerate this alarming militarization of the Island,  it needs to know those military chickens will one day have to come home to roost.


A logical calculation of the number of military personnel:

Calculate the annual pay rate of police. and assume the same for others.  Divide the annual salary total by the estimated annual pay, this gets a close enough number for the military personnel.

Assumptions: Army is not getting combat pay since the end of war.  Allowances and others don’t skew too much towards the officers’ corps as compared to the police.



Personnel Emoluments: 26,995,500,000

employment profile: 79,100

estimated per person annual spending:  Rs.341283



Personnel Emoluments: 93,582,860,000

per person annual spend:  Rs.341283

Estimated employment profile: 274,208



Personnel Emoluments: 26,356,000,000

per person annual spend:  Rs.341283

Estimated employment profile: 77226



Personnel Emoluments: 20,988,100,000

per person annual spend:  Rs.341283

Estimated employment profile: 61497



Personnel Emoluments: 3,402,900,000

per person annual spend:  Rs.341283

Estimated employment profile: 9970


Total military (excluding police) : 422901

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