Ananda Wanasinghe, M.Ec and migrant in Australia, in The Island where the title is “Most things are rotten in the state of Sri Lanka”…. ALSO IN https://thinkworth.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/most-things-are-rotten-in-the-state-of-sri-lanka/
Technocrats led by Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore to a super-rich and powerful city state in twenty-five years. Sixty-eight years after independence, with far more resources than Singapore had, we are still muddling along in a grievous state of underdevelopment. In a recent address to a gathering of engineers, President Sirisena said that intellectuals must remain in Sri Lanka to support the development of the motherland, rather than seek personal development through high-paying employment in the rich developed countries. Earlier, he had invited Sri Lankan professionals working abroad to return and participate in the development of the nation. He was, in other words, asking technocrats to sacrifice their professional advancement and personal well-being for the welfare of the nation. But there was no promise of ensuring an enabling environment with law and order and professional freedom for them to work in. Therefore, his request was meaningless.Consider the following:
- The country is going through a major balance of payments crisis. This is a result of the massive debts incurred by the corruption ridden government of the Rajapaksas and poor financial management by the present government, which certainly doesn’t seem to be free of corruption. The country is now compelled to seek IMF assistance to tide over the circumstances.
- The government is extremely lethargic in investigating and recovering trillions of rupees fraudulently deposited in foreign tax havens. Two alleged scams in the Central Bank under this government have not been investigated. Poor people are being forced to pay high taxes to compensate these losses caused by the rich, who continue to be under the protection of the present yahapalana government.
- Two days after the Prime Minister announced significant increases in taxes that weigh heavily on poor people, members of parliament, apparently unanimously, agreed to give themselves a bonanza totaling over Rs. 200,000 a month. They already enjoy the best of everything that this country can ill afford. Although the proposal has been shelved temporarily, in the face of public protest; the very fact that it was accepted first, reveals the rapacious mindset of the representatives elected by the people. These shameless parliamentarians continue to shout from rooftops that their sole purpose is to serve the people.
- We now have ninety ministers not counting the President and the Prime Minister. People were hoping that the number of ministers would be restricted to thirty. The cost of the additional sixty ministers, which could otherwise have been utilized for real development, must be enormous.
- Several parliamentarians, among the 142 MPs who hadn’t passed their GCE-AL, questioned the qualifications of the three civil members nominated to the Constitutional Council (CC). A number of MPs, who were infamous for election related violence, abusing State property, attempted intimidation of public servants and bribe voters, were at the forefront of the campaign to stop the CC being appointed. (Daily Mirror – 11th June 2015.)
- Most of the MPs with allegations of corruption and thuggery in the last parliament were given nominations by the two major parties. They are back in the present parliament, many holding ministerial positions.
- Ordinary people paid the largest price in blood, tears, toil, and taxes, to win the war. They continue to suffer without adequate health care, education, employment and transport. Ironically, now they have to pay increased taxes.
- Drug addiction, contract killings, lawlessness and unspeakably sadistic violence against women and children have increased at an alarming pace. Rampant indiscipline, intolerance and ill-mannered conduct among ordinary people in public places are commonplace. Add to this the insanely low conviction rate of four percent in criminal indictments; and can we dare claim that we are a nation of respectable law-abiding people?
- Lastly and most importantly, all the above reflect strongly on the electorate which, even after 85 years of universal franchise, is unable to figure out the kind of representatives it should send to parliament to legislate for the state and manage development for the betterment of the people.
In short, moral, social and political corruption runs rampant in Sri Lanka. In this situation, no self-respecting intellectual or technocrat would want to work under this rotten system. Their learning and competence would be stifled by the bright ideas and boorish behaviour of the untutored, unscrupulous politicians masquerading as patriots and men of great wisdom.
Sixty-three percent of the last parliament had no education worth talking about. They could not have secured any employment other than manual labour. What useful contribution can they make towards framing laws for the country and to seeing that the country is developed and managed within the framework of legislation? Ironically, most of these parasites have been returned to parliament in the August 2015 elections, by an electorate of mindless voters lacking in judgement. They can only think of satisfying their vanity and amassing wealth and power.
These politicians are ably assisted in the reprehensible exploitation of the people by the state machinery that had been browbeaten into subservience by politicians and their stooges in a cancerous process that started following the 1970 elections. The cancer continues today, even after January Eighth. With such a long period of consolidation of inefficiency and corruption in the government service, we cannot reasonably expect the rot to be reversed even in a couple of years. The real reversal can begin to happen only after another parliamentary election conducted once the electoral reforms envisaged in the now forgotten 20th Amendment to the Constitution are established and enabled.
At a recent “Pethikada” TV program, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank, said that in 2008 the total cost to the government of maintaining a minister amounted to about Rs. 500,000 a month! How much would it be now – eight years later? President Sirisena has achieved noteworthy savings in expenditure in institutions under him. But, he has yet to call upon politicians to make sacrifices for the sake of the country and its people. It is downright indecent for them to enjoy the luxury food that is reported to be provided in parliament, while a large segment of the people are forced to endure severe privations owing to the poor management of the national economy by these same politicians.
Why is it that 85-years of universal suffrage, 67-years of parliamentary democracy, and a literacy rate over 90 % (above the world average) have together failed to instill responsible voting among a large segment of the population?
Can we ignore the ignoble reality of the last parliamentary election? With almost all electronic and print media stridently urging people not to vote for candidates with allegations of corruption and thuggery, many of the most widely implicated were nominated by their respective parties and got elected. To cap it all, a candidate in Ratnapura while being held in detention for murdering a supporter of the rival party, received the highest number of preferences in the district.
What are our values as a society? Can we call them civilized? No; But crafty politicians and most religious leaders with simple minds continue to fool the masses by bragging about our high literacy rates and how clever and intelligent our people are; And these ‘intelligent’ masses continue to elect dishonourable tricksters as their representatives in parliament.
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe was often spoken of as an honest and tough technocrat who would turn the country around towards rapid development. However, sixteen months since becoming Prime Minister, his performance is quite unimpressive. His new found bravado in parliament; usurping the powers of the Speaker to shout down opposition MPs, inability to discipline serially recalcitrant ministers, and the pathetic responses to the Central Bank scams do not inspire confidence. He also stood by his appointee, the Governor of the Central Bank, disregarding the President’s advice to request for the Governor’s resignation – even after Mr. Sirisena made his position public.
This and the recent revelation that taxes had been increased without informing the President, call into question the current status of the much publicised consensual government of the UNP and the SLFP. During the presidential election campaign many people feared that Ranil and Chandrika would be millstones around Mr. Sirisena’s neck. Has half of that premonition come true?
Most people still have hope in President Sirisena to eventually bring about the changes that will make us Sri Lankans to stand tall among the community of nations. However, this hope is flagging largely because the gap between his very meaningful words and the required forceful action is forever widening. To be effective Mr. Sirisena must also wield the powers that the constitution grants him to push through the necessary reforms. He is the president of all people, and he should not be deterred by the present configuration of the parliament.
The waning support for Mr. Sirisena among the people could be recovered if he would get the judicial procedures started in cases where investigations have been completed by FCID and CIABOC. It is said that investigations on a considerable number of alleged frauds have been completed and the findings have been forwarded to the Attorney General’s Department. It is widely opined that a special court should be established to try these cases. Some of the persons implicated in these cases may have been close to Mr. Sirisena in the past. It could be understood that with his patently human persona he must be subject to considerable cerebral pressures generated by the inconsistency between his personal sentiments, and his often voiced pledge and obligation to the people to bring the offenders to trial.
However, personal difficulties notwithstanding, painful decisions and action have to be taken. As the “Principal Servant” (pradhana sevaka) of the people, he stated he would be in his first address to the nation; he should with firm resolve, use his authority and influence to restore the rule of law and clean up the machinery of the state for the betterment of the people of Sri Lanka. He could have no other purpose or intent.