By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –
Part 7: Sri Lanka—Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches: Concepts, Solutions, and Actions
Most of the high-interest foreign loans taken by the Sri Lanka government over the past 15 years were not essential. The country’s priority should not have been beautification but sustained development for the benefit of the people. Across Sri Lanka, it has an inherent natural attractiveness, including beeches, rich ancient history, unique culture, and hospitality.
What is lacking are (A) the political will to enact policies that ensure self-sufficiency in food and clean water, (B) improve and maintain a fair, sound, and affordable healthcare system without exploitation of the public, (C) modify the higher education system for the need of the country and future, (D) undeniably, maintain its sovereignty, (E) work towards energy sufficiency through renewable energy, (F) sustained cost-effective economic development programs, and (G) a definitive plan to get out of the loan traps. None of these has been addressed by politicians yet. Besides, the loans obtained by Sri Lanka over the past four administrations were not for the reasons mentioned above.
Historical aspects and the growth of corruption
In 1948, Sri Lanka inherited a reasonable political and administrative system from the British. However, this system is manipulated by the local politicians to benefit themselves. They cunningly embraced the former British principle of “divide and rule” for their benefit. This was formalised in 1970 and significantly strengthened in 1977 through the introduction of the executive presidency. However, none of these constitutional changes provided benefits to the people. Instead, enacted changes took power away from the people.
What made it worse?
The district quota system and appointing list worsened the system by allowing the administration to appoint MPs, even ministers and those who lost elections (RW), with no relevant skills, qualifications, or capabilities, based on nepotism (as with the former finance minister) and money. No wonder they were incapable of generating appropriate laws or solutions that the country needed. However, they talk with no action (as with the NATO: No Action Talking Only).
Achieving the system and constitutional changes also need educating the public and winning their hearts and minds, in conjunction with strategic planning and effective grass-roots organisations. There are several non-political organisations in the country with such capabilities. They need to set aside minor differences, get together under one banner and come forward as a formidable political entity to win the next election.
The country needs a new constitution, not repairing it with amendments
The most recent changes in 2021 with the 20th Amendment made it from bad to worse. Revoking this dangerous provision from the constitution could re-establish the lost transparency, accountability, and freedom of the judiciary, which was deliberately removed by the parliament in 2020, allowing open ransacking of the country. New legislation is necessary at the earliest possible to revoke the 20th Amendment, combined with the elimination of the 13A. This can be achieved with the two-third majority vote of a new 21st amendment in the parliament. However, patch-up with amendments is not the country’s solution for a tainted constitution; it needs a brand-new constitution.
The abolition of most tribunals and independent commissions and stealing of the Judicial freedom discussed above were blatant violations of people’s rights and freedom. It worsens the corruption by removing checks and balances reference to the administration and parliamentarians, including repealing many serious lawsuits pending against themselves. It was a significant step toward establishing a dictatorship and moving away from the democratic republic system.
Presidential appointments of ex-military friends with no experience or skills as heads of most government departments, institutes, and ambassadors were ridiculous. Consequently, they made many blunders and contributed to the economic downturn during the past two years. One noteworthy is the foolish decision by the head of the COVID task force to enforce blatantly wrong curfews that destroyed the economy and livelihood.
Steps need to regain the credibility and establish the efficiency of the system
The enormous debt burden generated by unscrupulous politicians should manage by working closely with the IMF to restructure debt in an orderly default. This includes specific austerity measures to reduce government size and the expenditure by eliminating all unnecessary and duplicate positions (downsizing the government) in departments such as the military and other expensive programs. As described in the previous part of this series, it also needs to raise local income through taxes and implement measures to increase productivity.
In addition, the dishonest and non-committed government servants, including senior administrators, and permanent secretaries, should be let go and disciplined for wrongdoings. To avoid conflicts of interest, they must be barred from reappointing to any government or industry positions. As in the cases of any other financial fraud, the legal system should make them payback to the treasury what the country lost due to their inefficiency, crafty, and dubious work.
Chaotic police and or military suppression
Using force to crackdown (also killing) peaceful protestors allegedly initiated by the administration through the head of police and army was unethical and undemocratic. The use of force might subside demonstrations temporarily, but it will never go away. The pendulum has passed no return, and thus, these flawed actions will only worsen the situation. Amazing, the ignorant administration fails to realise that.
Instead, anarchical police and or military suppression will lead to a countrywide tsunami of prolonged protests, overwhelming anger, more deaths, and complete boycotting of the administration. The police and the military are supposed to protect the public; instead, they were utilised to kill them—another insane response by the administration. Despite foolishly printing money, individuals and companies across the country must be untied and withhold paying taxes. That would further reduce the government’s income and reduces its ability to pay the salaries of public servants, including the military, etc. The lack of incoming funds would make it impossible for the government to run the country for more than a few weeks.
Importance of the unity of Sri Lankans
Besides respecting and recognising all ethnic groups—“Sri Lankan nationality”—must be highlighted in conjunction with the national flag and one Anthem. One-year, five-year, and ten-year financial and development plans must be developed to propagate sustainable longer-term economic growth, food security, re-organise the undergraduate and graduate education system, accelerated renewable energy programs, and high-yielding agricultural output using hybrid varieties that endure droughts, and consumer-driven higher education should be implemented systematically.
Not adhering to or accomplishing those highlighted above would be suicidal, like jumping from the frying pan to fire with zero possibility of recovery. Besides, the lack of patriotism, authenticity, honesty, and ideas to turn around the current economic crisis by the current political leaders of the four main political parties is stunning. Immediate and longer-term economic solutions need to be prioritised in conjunction with finalising the new constitution during the interim administration. The former is feasible by working with the IMF and economic/financial experts, and the latter with unentrenched constitutional scholars with new insight. These will reduce and eventually eliminate the uncertainties and suffering of people and pave the path for a corruption-free society, peace, and prosperity in the country.
*The next article will discuss practical solutions to the economic collapse and the need for an immediate cessation of police brutality.