24 June, 2024

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Debate Or No Debate, Addressing Critical Issues Is Important For Voters

By Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

In recent weeks, we have observed a disheartening spectacle unfold between the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the Jathika Jana Balawegaya, (NPP) as they engage in a futile tussle, each blaming the other for the failure to arrange a debate between their respective leaders and economic policy teams. This debate, crucial for enlightening the voting populace ahead of both the Presidential and General elections, remains elusive due to the entrenched animosity between the parties.

Consequently, the electorate grapples with disillusionment and disenchantment, triggered by the pervasive negative posturing exhibited by these factions, all while professing to champion System Change and advocate for a governance model marked by inclusivity and transparency.

Both party leaders exude an air of unwavering confidence, believing they possess the panacea for our nation’s longstanding woes — be it the chronic mismanagement of the economy, the bloated and inefficient public sector, the archaic and dysfunctional constitution, the ailing healthcare system, the dilapidated state of education, or the pervasive corruption staining our political landscape and workforce. Yet, despite their professed solutions, they balk at the opportunity to engage in a substantive debate, opting instead for recycled rhetoric hailing their past ministerial achievements as the ultimate testament to their capabilities.

It begs the question: if they deeply hold the keys to resolving these entrenched issues, why shy away from a platform that could elucidate their strategies and policies for the benefit of undecided voters? As they bask in the glow of favourable poll numbers and draw sizable crowds to their political rallies, it becomes imperative to scrutinize their positions on critical matters. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to pose several pressing questions, hopeful that the responses from these leaders will empower our electorate to make informed decisions come election day.

Economic Reforms

The lofty promises of providing food for the impoverished, lowering essential commodity prices, ensuring equitable education, and universal healthcare are commendable. However, the glaring question remains: how do they intend to finance these initiatives in the short term? Both parties have criticized current tax policies, labelling them unjustifiable burdens on the populace.

If elected, how do NPP and SJB plan to fill the revenue gap created by abolishing these taxes? Moreover, what strategies will they employ to stimulate economic growth and attract local and foreign investments? What specific details on their proposed policies and initiatives would provide voters with a clearer understanding of their economic reform agendas?

Public Sector Reform

It is evident that the public sector is bloated and inefficient, draining taxpayer funds without delivering commensurate value. Bold restructuring is imperative to curb wastage and instil accountability. Yet, such reforms inevitably entail job losses. How do the SJB and NPP propose to restructure these institutions while mitigating the impact on workers?

How will the administration ensure that displaced workers are effectively supported through redeployment, comprehensive redundancy packages, or access to retraining programs for alternative career pathways? Moreover, in the case of redeployment, where will these individuals find available vacancies and which industries will offer opportunities for retraining? Additionally, how will the necessary funds be allocated to ensure substantial redundancy packages for those affected by workforce transitions?

Administrative Service

The Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) comprises trained professionals, adept in government procedures. They collaborate closely with the President, Prime Minister, and Ministers to formulate and execute policies, maintaining political neutrality and upholding SLAS integrity.

However, recent years have seen a decline in SLAS professionalism and integrity due to appointments based on political connections rather than merit. Can the JJB and SJB commit to reversing this trend by appointing qualified SLAS officers to Secretarial positions in the ministries?

Diplomatic Service and International Relations

The image and reputation of a country rely heavily on competent diplomats who advocate for its interests globally. Historically, skilled diplomats have upheld our nation’s dignity and earned respect through responsible and professional representation in international relations.

Regrettably, recent appointments within the Foreign Service have often prioritized personal connections and political affiliations over merit. This neglects career diplomats and well-trained civil servants, leading to a decline in our international standing. Can the NPP and SJB assure they will not perpetuate this trend?

Public Sector Procurement Process

In 2017, the then President grimly revealed that over 50% of Sri Lanka’s public procurement contracts were tainted by the insidious grip of bribery and corruption. Shockingly, despite this alarming disclosure, successive governments, including the current administration, have regrettably fallen short in instituting the requisite measures to combat this pervasive menace, which continues to corrode the very fabric of our society.

The woeful underperformance of certain state institutions can be attributed to a myriad of factors. On one hand, these organizations suffer from a glaring absence of vision, transparency, accountability, and efficient systems and procedures. On the other hand, they turn a blind eye to the imperative of corporate governance, as rampant corruption infects the procurement process of public contracts and fosters a culture of unethical conduct. Furthermore, a dearth of business acumen at the leadership echelon has only exacerbated the lacklustre performance exhibited by most of our state institutions.

What are NPP and SJB proposals to implement a transparent public sector Procurement Process to ensure that the government is getting value for taxpayers’ money?

Public Sector Car Permits

It is widely acknowledged that certain professional groups in our society receive exclusive benefits from the government, including free car permits for vehicle imports and reserved placements for their children in prestigious government schools. The rationale behind these privileges raises questions: why are these groups afforded special treatment that is not extended to other government sector employees? Is it because they possess significant industrial influence, capable of exerting considerable pressure on the government through strike actions? Shouldn’t the government prioritize valuing the contributions of all its employees equally?

Trade Unions

Trade unions wield considerable influence in our society, often resorting to strikes as a means of protest. While legitimate grievances deserve to be addressed, politically motivated strikes only serve to destabilize the nation. What measures will the parties introduce to ensure that trade unions act responsibly and transparently? Could the JJB and SJB potentially implement Trade Union laws requiring strikes to undergo democratic balloting, along with mandated clear notice periods aimed at minimizing disruption?

Pension Reform of Parliamentarians

The issue of full pensions for ministers and MPs after a mere ten years of service raises questions of fairness and equity. How do the parties plan to address this disparity and align the pension schemes of public servants with those of other citizens?

Dual Citizenship

The prohibition on dual citizens holding positions of responsibility within the government sector restricts the talent pool available to enact meaningful change. They are gathering in thousands for political meetings organised by JJB. If so, what reforms will JJB and SJB propose to tap into the expertise of the overseas community while safeguarding against corruption and political interference?

Port City

Creating of a 25-year Tax Holiday zone with other incentives, called Port City within Sri Lanka to encourage foreign investors is under severe criticism from opposition parties due to many reasons. Reports suggest the introduction of a distinct tax system in the Port City, diverging from the national tax framework in Sri Lanka. This development raises concerns about the potential adverse effects of a dual tax system, including the demotivation of the workforce and economic inefficiencies. Considering these concerns, what proposals are being considered by SJB and JJB to reform this disparate tax structure and ensure uniformity across the country’s tax regime?

I understand that despite the proposed 25-year tax holiday, foreign investors are hesitant to participate in the scheme. It appears that as of now, there have been no tangible investments made by foreign entities in the Port City. How do you plan to ensure the success of this project, or will you allow it to languish as another ‘White Elephant’ doomed to inevitable failure?

Constitutional Reforms

Executive Presidency and the Proportional Representation electoral system have been criticised by many politicians as well as the public for increased corruption and political favouritism compared to the introduction of current system with the previous electoral system which operated prior to 1978.

During a rally in Sweden, the leader of the NPP party passionately advocated for Proportional Representation, emphasizing its role in allowing minority communities to have their voices heard in Parliament. He argued that ensuring adequate representation from minority groups is crucial for fostering peace and harmony among diverse communities. However, this argument appears weak when considering the reality that major political parties like NPP, SJB, UNP, and SLPP often fail to provide opportunities for minority leaders to emerge within their ranks.

By neglecting to cultivate leadership from minority communities, these parties effectively bar individuals from those backgrounds from ascending to the positions of President or Prime Minister. It is worth noting that parties such as NPP and SJB could learn from examples set by the Conservative Party in the UK and the Democratic Party in the USA, both of which have seen leaders of Indian and African origin rise to the positions of Prime Minister and President, respectively. The question then arises: why hinder the possibility for a Tamil, a Muslim, or any member of another community to lead your party? Do you believe it would be beneficial to reduce sectarian voting by encouraging minorities to hold prominent positions within the major political parties?

Will your party commit to abolishing the Executive Presidency if elected to form the next government? Additionally, do you pledge to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, thereby granting Provincial Councils comprehensive powers, including control over the police force? During a rally in Canada, when posed with these crucial questions, the leader of the JJB evaded providing a clear answer, suggesting that it was not an immediate priority. However, it is vital for voters to have this information before casting their democratic ballots in the upcoming election.

Judiciary

It is a well-known factor that some of the Judges and the President Counsels have been appointed by the governing party based on political affiliations rather than the qualifications, experience, and suitability of the person to those positions. What are your Proposals to introduce reforms in this area to ensure that the Judiciary is free from making politically motivated decisions and it will be free from political interference?

Appointment of Heads of Forces

Recently and in the past, there are plenty of criticism, arguments, and accusation about appointing Heads for the three Forces. What Proposals do you have to ensure that those selections are done by independent Commissions attached to these Forces and the appointments are made on the recommendations by these commissions?

Environment

During the last few decades Politicians, Businessmen and Party supporters have been given the permission to clear out well established forests and other green sites and build commercial properties such as tourist hotels, golf courses, etc. These construction sites have destroyed the natural habitat making the weather patterns to behave in strange ways. What are your proposals to protect our forests and the natural habitat from corrupt businesspeople, political henchmen, and politicians.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the voting public deserves clarity and accountability from those vying for leadership. There are many other valid questions and I hope that the voters will raise those issues in coming months. It is incumbent upon the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and the Jathika Jana Balawegaya to rise above partisan squabbles and engage in substantive dialogue. I believe that only through informed debate can we pave the way for a brighter future for Sri Lanka and her beautiful people.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Mr Jayaweera

    You have asked the same questions I have been asking for a long time. For my efforts, I have been called incorrigible & with low IQ, so, its nice to know that I am not alone. Many academics & intellectuals have been quick to sing the praises of the NPP & its charismatic leader but lately, it seems some of them are subtly conveying to the NPP leadership (through CT articles) to clear the ambiguity, which most NPP supporters have assumed for the better, just like expecting a new broom to sweep better.

    Serious thinkers will conclude the NPP as a socialist party but with the JVP influence (AKD being the leader of both), which does not hide their communist ideology, as well as, trade union activists in the party, it is fair to assume a restrictive closed regime similar to former GDR & Eastern block countries, or at best, another Mrs B era of austerity. In such a scenario, what would be the prospects of direct foreign investments & aid programmes, which SL desperately need? SL needs the technical expertise & the transfer of skills to compete internationally, as well as, markets with concessions for our products, so, what is the strategy? ‘Re-Negotiations’ alone are not going to cut the ice.
    Cont.

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      Cont.
      SJB, on the other hand, is assumed ‘business friendly’ but again, is not clear about their plans. The garment industry is no more & even late comers like Bangladesh have overtaken SL. I don’t see ‘pure SL tea’ on supermarket shelves but Darjeeling tea is. Today, SL depends on tourism & remittances from mainly unskilled labour for FOREX revenue but when even small European countries dependant on tourism are concerned about unsustainability & its impact on locals, we could be killing the golden goose with too much dependance. As for foreign remittances, what is done about unscrupulous job agents exploiting desperate people? Will there be mandatory insurance & a minimum wage with reasonable working conditions? Will there be incentives for expats to invest life savings in SL? (NPP is expecting huge investments from the SL diaspora but I want to know how safe my hard earned $ are)

      At least for the serious thinkers, answers are necessary from those hopeful of forming the next govt. It is not a debate between the leaders but a public panel discussion represented by senior members of each party. All claims should be supported by facts & figures & ‘fact checked’. It is different from the usual ‘shouting the loudest’ from political platforms, therefore, an impartial moderator needs to control the proceedings. However, I have doubts it would enlighten the average voter?
      Cont

      • 3
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        Cont.
        I would vote for AKD as President purely because he has pledged to eliminate corruption & all the perks enjoyed by politicians, including, the generous pensions. His hands are clean so far, therefore, should be able to inspire by demonstration. However, the NPP in govt. is another story. The SJB under the leadership of Premadasa jnr.would be no better. Nevertheless, the SJB under a new capable leader with integrity running the govt. & AKD mature enough to support with his anti corruption agenda is the best I can think of.

        • 2
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          Raj-UK: The NPP has made it public at all of their seminars, and public rallies, that a Government of them would NOT DO BUSINESS, but create the necessary environment and provide the facilities for the Private Sector to handle the production of national wealth for the country. Having said that the NPP, of course, would always keep within its purview some of the State functions such as Education, Health, Energy, and securing Food provisions for the people.

          I hear, the NPP leader – AKD is scheduled to address the Sri Lankan community in UK shortly. I request you attend that meeting and clarify your concerns and doubts with him directly.

          • 0
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            Douglas
            The NPP is a pickle of 22 or so parties, consisting of ‘Academics’ to trade unionists, as well as, a women’s front & a Bhikku front, so, the old saying ‘too many cooks’ comes to mind. The ranting by a women’s front leader on ’empowering women’ seems a load of bull to me, considering we have female professionals in all spheres & even in Parliament, we have/had housewifes to aging porn stars. If this is the type of contribution to be expected from the rest of the coalition, it’s a joke. However, more worrying is the JVP influence.

            Certain public services, such as, health, basic education, transport should be under govt. control but due to inadequacies, private enterprises have taken over. The genii of private bus enterprise is out of control, so is the 3 wheeler taxi service. Will there be regulations under NPP? The Water Board & the Elect. Board behave as profit centres not, as a provider of essential service. Particularly, with trade unions on board, I can’t see any reforms under NPP. As for the Bhikku front, do they need representation in Parliament?

            I have better things to do than attend political rallies but if I have direct contact details of AKD, I have questions.

            • 0
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              Raj,
              “The NPP is a pickle of 22 or so parties”
              As far as I know, there is only one registered party in the NPP pickle. That’s the JVP itself.
              There are a couple of well-meaning (?) Academic organizations, but the rest are JVP unions and fellow-travellers.
              You are right, how can JVP unions act against their own membership? They are the ones who gave themselves 25% annual increments at CEB and CPC, and caused uncompetitive operation in the first place.
              https://www.npp.lk/en/about#zse2

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          Raj:
          “Nevertheless, the SJB under a new capable leader with integrity running the govt. & AKD mature enough to support with his anti corruption agenda [as President] is the best I can think of.”

          Exactly my thoughts too! That would be the best combination given the very imperfect choices we have.

  • 3
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    Gamini Jeyaweera,
    “Yes,There are many other valid questions and I hope that the voters will raise those issues in coming months.”
    No one, whether it is Ranil or SJB or AKD have answers to the many questions. You only talked about solving the problems of Sinhalese. Sinhalese problem is cost of living only. But there are number of questions from Tamils, Muslims and Christians about what happened to their loved once who were handed over to the Sinhala military at the end of war, recent Easter Bombing etc. Do you think any of the candidates have answer to these questions? Will Ranil or SJB or AKD have a guts to tell that they were murdered by Rajapaksa Family government? Jaffna library and was burnt and 1983 massacres by Ranils government?

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