By Raj Gonsalkorale –
“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.” ~ Helen Keller
“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Which of these two should we chose?
Has Sri Lanka got a vision? More specifically do our leaders have a vision?
Whether one agreed with it or not leaders like SWRD Bandaranaike, Dudley Senanayake, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, JR Jayewardene, R Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa were leaders with a vision for the country. This is not to say they did not have their faults, and perhaps even misdeeds.
SWRD Bandaranaike came to power at a time when Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon) English literary rate was around 5%, and business in the Courts, in the Police and many other governments departments was conducted in English. Interpreter Mudliars were more powerful in a sense than judges or senior policemen, as they held the life of many a Sinhala and Tamil litigants in their hands.
Much to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation associated with his so called “Sinhala Only in 24 hours” policy, his vision was to first, introduce a gradual process of replacing the English language as the working language in Courts, the Police and government departments with Sinhala, and admittedly belatedly, with Tamil in predominantly Tamil speaking areas, and secondly to introduce the mother tongue as the language of instruction in educational institutions over even a longer period of time. One can argue on the merits or otherwise of this policy, but SWRD’s vision was to give the country back to its people by promoting communication amongst its people in their own language and not in an alien language spoken and understood at the time by a handful of people.
His vision of giving the country back to his people also included the nationalisation of key entities like the Ports, and transport service, both entirely in the hands of the private sector. It also included the vesting of our military bases, then in the hands of the British, with the people of the country.
This article is not about a discussion on the merits or otherwise of his policy or that of other leaders who will be mentioned here, but an attempt to encourage a discussion on the need for our leaders to have a vision and to work towards it.
Dudley Senanayake’s vision was to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in Rice and other basic foods, and he galvanised the country to work towards it. As a schoolboy, the writer remembers the part school children played and although it may not have amounted to much in increasing rice production, it certainly introduced children, more so the urban based ones to feel the soil of the country in paddy fields and develop an appreciation for the work of the farmer and the role played by them.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s vision was to continue the path taken by her late husband in giving the country back to its people and to strengthen the Non Aligned movement and place the country firmly within it. Sri Lanka and Mrs Bandaranaike took a leadership role in this endeavour. Regional big power neighbours like India and Pakistan who were at each other’s throats respected Sri Lanka’s nonaligned status, as did China, at the centre of some conflicts between India and Pakistan.
JR Jayewardene’s vision was to free our markets and to encourage foreign investments in order to take the country to the increasingly globalising world. His view may have been that Sri Lanka had no future within a weakening Soviet bloc or as a nonaligned country, and that we should reach out to the West. His signature project was the Mahaveli development scheme; the largest ever such project undertaken in Sri Lanka then, and since then.
R Premadasa, a leader who rose from very humble beginnings, the first such leader in post-independence Sri Lanka, recognised the need and the value of strengthening the rural base of the country as he felt development that is just and sustainable can only rise from the bottom. His Gam Udawa project was the base for his vision.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure saw the ending of the 30 year war with the LTTE, and his vision was to prepare the groundwork for the country to rebuild from the setback of 30 years of war. Repairing the infrastructure of the country so badly damaged and neglected due to the war, and launching major infrastructure related projects like the Hambantota Port (originally envisaged by President Chandrika Kumaratunga), the Mattala Airport to serve the tourist hub of the South and the South East, the Port City project, power generation projects, irrigation projects, city beautification projects etc, were all essential elements to deliver on his vision.
It is difficult to identify the vision that the current leadership of the last three and a half years has for Sri Lanka. There appears to be a twin engine government where the engines are at the opposite ends and placed in the opposite direction. Either the two leaders, the President and the Prime Minister, have a vision and no one knows about it or they have no vision. They may see things bit they may have no vision.
Many seem to be of the opinion that there is general paralysis in the government and the country in fact is going backwards and not even standing still let along going forward. The readers of this article may be able to comment whether this is so and what they see as a vision if they indeed think there is one.
The economic indicators do not support a view that the country is moving forward economically. The reverse seems to be the case as the GDP is below 3.75 (it was 7 in 2015), the stock market is at its lowest ebb, the rupee has lost value (it was 137 against the US Dollar in 2015 and now its sliding, and it is 162.2 today), foreign debt is supposed to have increased by some 80%, since 2015, although no major projects have begun with foreign investments or loans. This is despite the sale of the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company for some US $ 275 million.
The country needs a vision as its present and future generations must know where it is heading. They must be able to plan their future and that of the generations to come. If the two leaders have a vision, they must clearly articulate it so that the country can see it.
The world is moving towards the next industrial revolution with robotics, artificial intelligence, mechanisation of many aspects of even services such as Drone led delivery services, and agriculture revolutions like large scale hydroponic cultivations, genetic engineering and large scale mechanisations are all poised to change the world we all live in. The impact of climate change in Sri Lanka, and what we could and should do about it, our role in the emerging super power world order with China leading it, and regional powers like India behind them, our links with emerging Tiger economies like Vietnam, and how Sri Lanka adapts to some of these changes and what we should and should not embrace should guide the vision for our future.
The following quotes maybe very relevant here
Vision is the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination and wisdom.
Vision is the ability to see the invisible. If you can see the invisible, you can achieve the impossible
Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality
Leadership is having a compelling vision, a comprehensive plan, relentless implementation, and talented people working together.
Hopefully, the Colombo Telegraph readers will make their views known as that will give an indication of the thinking on the need for a vision from a cross section of readers and what they feel the vision should be.