18 August, 2022


Disasters & Democracy: Facing Up To Realities In Following New Year Tragedy

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Asanga Abeygoonasekera

The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society to establish conditions which improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.” ~ Lee Kuan Yew

Last year, an article title New Year Kokis To Luxury Permits was written for the Colombo Telegraph highlighting that the Kokis treats eaten on our traditional New Year didn’t have the time to digest among us before luxury permits was issued to Parliament members. The very public who suffered last year from the burden of permits now has to face a colossal disaster. This disaster has cost lives as the entire nation mourns rather than celebrates the New Year. The son who distributed kokis as a New year tradition returned to see his parents buried by the garbage landslide which was stacked up owing to a systemic failures of standards and systems. This mountain of garbage stacked at Meethotamulla in Colombo District crashed, killing 30 and destroying more than 90 houses. The last incident of a similar nature occurred in the East African nation of Ethiopia killing 113 in March of this year.

Several reports by experts and public intellectuals reports were ignored by policy makers in the past. It is a hope that from now onward policy makers will have more respect for policy inputs from academia. What I wish to highlight is why we have become a reactive society than proactive. The reason is clearly procrastination, rejection of solutions and blaming each other. A systematic method to streamline and implement top priority projects that improve quality of life and secure human security should be implemented by the Government without delay. The security of individual and the security of the State should be top priority. If the State takes the Hobbesian choice of of keeping chaos at bay, it would be fulfilling its duties toward its individuals.

It is either best practices or tragedy that shapes policy. The former remains the ideal to avoid the loss of human lives. Unfortunately, many proposed projects for waste management including waste to energy plants was rejected by policy makers for various reasons. In 2003, in Vijayawada India, I witnessed how generated waste was converted to usable energy and supplied to the national grid. Let us hope we could start some similar project of this nature in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of our New Year’s tragedy..

As reported by the World Economic Forum, Sri Lanka is a third world country transiting to a second world, moving from being factor driven to efficiency driven.. Although certain segments of our society live a first world life, the majority o still on the third world state with 27% poverty. Those who belong to the first world segment of predominantly urban society, educate their children majority overseas with even health care obtained internationally. The country is at a $3600 per capita while our target according to Central Bank is to achieve $7000 by year 2020. With the present economic climate this will be clearly unachievable. A nation like Singapore which most of our politicians quote as their example is at per capita above $50000 ,to achieve this state how long does Sri lanka take? How much of best practices we need to import and adapt?These remain among the larger questions we should be asking.

On the day of the disaster at Meethotamulla this author was in Singapore talking to one of the young geopoliticians Dr. Parag Kannan of Lee Kuan Yew School who has authored the recent book Technocracy in America. During the discussion we spoke about how important to have technical experts at policy level and how nations like Singapore has achieved as a technocracy and sometimes Democracy is not the best model. Technocracy may be understood as a philosophy to which similarities could be drawn with the teachings of Plato. The concept is about technical experts running the core institutions of a nation. Technocracy is evident in Singapore, South Korea, China and even Rwanda.

The health of a political system is determined by the quality of its institutions. For more than a generation, citizens of Western societies have been voicing steadily their increasing dissatisfaction with their system of government, even directly challenging whether or not democracy is right for them. 49% of Americans now believe that experts should decide what is best. Thus, the “end of history” is being turned on its head according to Parag Kanna. The case of Switzerland and Singapore are both verifiably democratic and rigorously technocratic at the same time. They both have a high percentage of foreign-born populations, national military and civil service, strong linkages between education and industry, diversified economies, and massive state investment in R&D and innovation. They are both relentless in seeking self-improvement. Their only ideology is pragmatism. With the world’s top-ranked civil service (as measured by merit and autonomy), detailed scenarios and forecasts are used to strategize the countries domestic priorities and international positioning. Crucially, both countries are also at the cutting edge of leveraging big data. Switzerland has pioneering finance and technology companies, while Singapore has become a living lab for those innovations.

Sri Lanka could adopt technocracy. First, to change our political culture we should bring in technocrats in order to have a dramatic change over a short period of time. What we have currently are technical problems and policy makers have failed to give solutions because they basically have no clue. So technocrats should take up this work for the betterment of our country. The question hinges on the ability of a technocrat to get elected in a democratic system. Society cannot afford to get carried away during the election, especially on massive political spending. The public needs to be vigilant and evaluate the election purely on meritocracy. The spending capacity of a candidate is not a qualification for their post and this must realized by the general public. The national list should be used only for technocrats and not to satisfy loosing candidates.

Given the current trajectory of our economy, with very small incremental changes year on year, it will take us a very long time to become a $22,000 per capita developed economy. My estimate is that at the present rate, it will take us till the year 2040.

Technocracy is one solution we can introduce to fix the present underperforming governmental institutions and the relevant policy making areas specially to improve quality of life. To give you an example of the role of Government to improve quality of life one could look at how Singapore government will soon introduce a 5 Singapore Dollar health check to most citizens above 40. The health check will include even cancer screening. The idea is to detect early health issues and treat to improve public health. When looking at quality of life in Sri Lanka including unmanaged recent dengue outbreak, its important to think not just the living conditions but also about the dead since there was inferior coffins used for burial.

A sustainable political system should support society and improve peoples living standard. If it does not- it has failed. If a democracy fails to bring discipline nor development to the society then it is worth exploring the realities of moving towards a technocracy. In the words of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, “The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development.”

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Your thinking is Wrong. Most western countries were colonial masters. So,they had access to lot of resources and that is why they thrived. there are aboginies in every country including in Britain and they are complaining what the white man did to them. Now those couyntries have deep states which try to hold onto the past golry and that won’t happen. They will go down slowly and become like portugal, Spain, Ottoman and dutch etc.

    With respect to Sri lanka, Sri lanka had some freedom since 1948 and out of that so many decades were wasted beacuse of Tamikl problems and then JVP problems.

    It is wrong to decide everything based on Gross income. In countries where the gorss income is high, people have to pay for everything. Govt is wasting lot of money which they grab forcefully as taxes from people. Don’t you think, there is a price for so many women working overseas and their families becoming dysfunctional, tourism which brings Casinos, various types of prostitution and cancers resulted by air pollution caused by vehicles, and thge mental stress because people are rats along that fast track.

    If you understand how people lived in the greener pastures moving into village like settings, how people are looking for spiritual development and not much for money, you will understand a different scenario.

    A few decades ago, Sri lanka was a wonderful country except for the uprisings from both the Sinhala and Tamil sides.

    Just think, why in Sri lanka people go to rual areas and live a rural life for a few days. That was the life we had every day sometime ago. Only difference now is they drink to the death when they go there. NO real enjoying of life.

    • 1

      This is a very sad article that puts faith in technocrats. Please read Dr. Siri Gamage’s CT article on the need for a new model of development!
      Today Sri Lanka is a DEVELOPMENT DISASTER where the interests of the global 1 percent determine development policy, because of over-dependence on foreign technocrats and Fake experts and analysis. Sri Lanka needs to investment in education, Research and Development today and access its own experts, but the fact is that the Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s Economic Policy is being drafted in Washington DC. by the Fake Development Experts at the right wing Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), to further US govt interests in Indian Ocrean region, in league with pseudo development experts at Harvard’s Center for International Development, Ricardo Hausmann and his deep divers and big data analytics! All the HYPE about Asian, i.e. Korean and Japanese experts and“investment’ in Sri Lanka, with India, is part of the great US game with China. Let us make no mistake!

      • 0

        Dead on Kalu! Next Division of Sri Lanka will not be the North LAND for Tamils and South Lankd for Sinhalas! The emerging divide is South for China (Hambantota and Colombo ports) being key, and the northeast for US-India-Japan-S. Korea, Singapore and ADB (Trinco Port) on the famous Trinco-Colombo Corridor!

        The great game is on in Lanka while Ranil is dancing to the American Tune, and MR and co the Chinese opera, JVP and Trade Unions will need to ensure that the people of Lanka are not once again beggared and INDEBTED in the name of (Fake) Development i.e. interest of US and China and their global 1 percent that results in local environmental disasters and social conflict and a new war a la the proxy war in Syria.

        • 0

          Singapore is a hot air HUB Asanga, and does not inspire critical thinking Also a hot air hub for financial crime and money launderers
          Check out the Sri Lanka – Singapore Summit that was said to net $ 15 billion & inflow for Sri Lanka in 2016, where Perpetual Treasuries con man and financial Criminal Ranjan Hulugalle held forth!
          This was to set up money laundering pipeline from the Central Bank Bond Scam.
          Someone should investigate SL Diaspora Financial criminal Ranjan Hulugalle and Arjuna Mahendran. It seems a high number of diaspora dudes are criminals and cooks!

  • 0

    Promotion of technocracy with this bureacracy here? Never! Never! Never!. The standard song of the bureaucrats:

    “Politicians may come to power and Politicians may depart from power
    We the the bureaucrats would go on for ever”.

    The situation is so bad that all the bureaucratic laws are for the technocrats. Doctors escape through their power of strike. The bureaucrats are immune to the law, even from earning fat commissions. Let me quote from the “Yes Minister”. “Administration is Eternal! Amen!”

  • 0

    Asanga, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, dude! Singapore and Switzerland are free of corruption – they just launder other people’s black money!
    Technocrats are no use in a world of Fake news, fake analysis, fake technocrats – unless they are ETHICAL and HONEST and work for economic and social justice and to reduce INEQUALITY AND POVERTY.
    Now, why do you think that there is no in investigation of those named in Panama Papers Mega Financial crimes and the politician criminals who looted the people of Sri Lanka and created a massive DEBT TRAP, or Mahendran and Wickramasinghe who looted the Central Bank? Because this is the policy advice of IMF and its TECHNOCRATS who have institutionalized and legalized financial crime and corruption in the global financial system and work for the global 1 percent. IMF did the same thing in Greece, never went after the crooks who stole but forced austerity and poverty, on the poor who are suffering today.
    India and Pakistan, which do not have IMF advisors running their Central Banks have investigated names of their citizens and politicians in Panama Papers who dodged taxes, but there is no investigation in SL because global Financial technocrats and advisors promote looting of Central Bank with impunity and turn a blind eye to CORRUPTION!

  • 0

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Asanga.
    Drink deep or taste not of that Spring.

    First, pl. educate yourself on basics before providing fake advise on bad analogies and analysis.

  • 0

    Saying singapore a paradise is MODA-Logics. they are living in like chicken coups. JHouses are very small. So, they must go outings or travel overseas, in order to break that monotony in life. If you live neough you undestand money won’t be the only thibg that people are looking for.

    Sri lanka has enough reources if the politicians want to develop it. Only thing is they don’t understand it. Sri lanka should have a agroculture based and human resources based technology. Sri lankan youth are very intelligent. that reousrce is not used at all. there are so many problems related to that. and no one address it.

    • 0

      jimsofty “Sri lanka should have a agroculture based and human resources based technology”

      what the hell is agroculture based and human resources based technology.

  • 0

    There was an era when Singapore looked up to Ceylon followed by Singapore learned from the Ceylon’s mistakes.

    We are refusing to learn or even accept our mistakes viz corruption, nepotism and culture of impunity.

    Let us keep our ears open to the mistakes India is making – Hindu nationalism replacing Indian nationalism.

    We must first demonetize the language/religion divide currency used in elections.

  • 0

    Every one is jumping on the Meethotamulla rubbish wagon to express an opinion.

    “it will take us a very long time to become a $22,000 per capita developed economy.My estimate is that at the present rate, it will take us till the year 2040”

    you must be joking..you ask the politicians, they will laugh at this suggestion they are already on 2,220,000 per capita income.

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