By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka –
Desperate situations require desperate remedies. Tormented by the deadly crisis of historic proportions that has now engulfed the country, it is possible to identify four obvious interventions which are critical if Sri Lanka is to be rescued from severe social economic and political disintegration at this time. To be sure the proposals are highly idealistic. We must not be under any illusions. It may be pure fantasy to expect that such measures would ever be implemented. They might in an ideal society where governments are committed to sacrificial service, where professionals are independent and refuse to be cowed by politicians, and where people by and large are capable of rational choice, and cherish freedom democracy and the rule of law. But that is not Sri Lanka, where governments are power crazy and corrupt, professionals academics and the so called educated classes compromise their intellectual authenticity for favour and prosperity, and a majority of people are racist bigoted and gullible, wallowing in the sanctimonious humbug of false religion as they kowtow to rabid monks and political cardinals.So there is little hope that the four moves summarized below will ever see the light of day. However before mentioning them it is necessary to clarify the background.
Hobbling along and hoping for the best ?
It looks as if the present government has still not woken up to the enormity of the horrendous catastrophe that has engulfed this country through the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead we see the selfish short sighted preoccupation with preserving a cheap political advantage over political opponents and the foolish obsession with holding early general elections amidst the pipe dream of securing absolute power.
The country is facing a catastrophe of seismic proportions which threatens to wipe out both governments and the governed, leaving future generations with nothing to look forward to except rising sickness and death, a shattered economy, the wreckage of a former cherished way of life, and a society gripped by pervasive insecurity fear and despair. Yet in this dire crisis what we have is an incompetent government led by an arrogant imperious chief executive who surrounded by gung-ho military strongmen and terrified spineless professional acolytes functions in tandem with a third rate intellectually mediocre cabinet of ministers. With the rate of infection having risen more recently, one gets the impression that the government is just trashing around from day to day with no sound concrete long term plan to extricate a troubled nation from its woes.
Indeed the whole scenario evokes visions of ‘Nero fiddling while Rome is burning’, or whistling in the dark inside a sinking ship where the doomed passengers are told to “lockdown” in their cabins and await developments ! Indeed faced with the critical question whether to relax the lockdown and risk the increased spread of Coronavirus, or retain the lockdown and risk the incalculable suffering and socio economic consequences of doing so – one can sense the lack of any convincing focus and strategy by a government which hobbles along, confused and bewildered by the complexity of the million dollar question with which all governments throughout the world are now grappling.
Even the 30 year war on terror on hindsight now looks more like a ‘walk in the park’ compared to the war against the monstrous Coronavirus. The former was a localised war against a tangible human foe about whom much was known, where the government forces had the required weaponry and good control over many aspects of the operation. The latter is part of a global war against an insidious biological foe about whom little is known, where the government forces have no weaponry (there being no vaccine), and consequently little control over the operation. Those who with cocky self confidence imagine that involvement in the former war equips them to deal with the current war are indulging in a dangerous fantasy !
Four Critical Initiatives
In this situation the following measures are so simple, obvious and devoid of profundity as to be self evident to even an intelligent school kid suffering the boredom of ‘lockdown’ and wondering when life might return to normal !
1. Establish an All Party National Government as an emergency administration to save the country. Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the Prime Minister of such a national government which can consist of a large cabinet drawn from the most able and intelligent men and women from every political party. The formation of such a national government will for the present drain the poison of bitter party rivalry, political ambition, insecurity, and suspicion, that is hampering a powerful credible knowledge driven and unified national response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating collateral implications.
2. Immediately reconvene parliament under section 70(7) of the constitution. This would enable the formation of a National Government and must be seen as an integral part of that process where reconvening parliament and forming a national government are two sides of the same coin. With the whole parliament behind the new government there is no need for the present caretaker government to fear that reconvening parliament might enable opposition politicians to take mean advantage of the situation.
3. Postpone general elections for one or even two years until the Coronavirus threat is completely cleared, the economy stabilized, peace and security consolidated, and the normal way of life of the community restored. This will put an end to useless feverish speculation, perpetual conflict, and endless discussion surrounding election dates that are draining the energy of society. Free of unnecessary distractions it will enable the government to focus on dispelling fear of Covid-19 and get Sri Lanka back to work.
4. The newly formed emergency National Government must immediately bring together a body of outstanding experts including relevant medical specialists, scientists, economists, sociologists, bankers, business people and professional managers amongst others, to form a powerful brilliant steering committee that will determine future strategy in the Coronavirus response with respect to both health and the economy. This will include critical decisions about the timing extent and distribution of lockdown relaxation relative to disease patterns. The members of this crack organisation will be the best brains in the country irrespective of personalities and political affiliation.
Needless to say sole dependence on a distinguished task force of this stature will necessitate consciously distancing the National Government from the raucous dissonant voices of destructive groups like the raging political monks of a corrupt worldly Buddhist establishment who bring religion into disrepute and have nothing to contribute in matters of governance. They along with clergy of all religions must be kept at arm’s length and encouraged to stop interfering, instead confining their attentions to what they do best – namely ennobling the lives of their adherents in terms of the pristine teaching of each religion, so that people attain to eternal life beyond death however differently that blessed state is perceived by each religion.
One can imagine the enormous surge in public confidence, hope for the future, optimism and goodwill across communities that will be triggered by the above four measures. But the people must demand them. And the government must take the enlightened initiative. Unfortunately one despairs of anything of the sort taking place. In this fallen world human beings are so deaf and blind to the truth about themselves that even the extremes of tragedy and suffering don’t bring nations to their senses and a realisation of what is in their own best interest. And so the moment of opportunity passes.
To quote Shakespeare “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures” .
One of the most poignant moments in the life of Jesus was when he came to Jerusalem the great city of the nation he loved, whose people would tragically reject him and his message of salvation. When he saw the city he wept over it saying “If only you had known, on this great day the way that leads to peace ! But no; it is hidden from your sight. For a time will come upon you, when your enemies will . . encircle you and hem you in at every point; they will bring you to the ground, you and your children within your walls, and not leave you one stone standing on another, because you did not recognise God’s moment when it came”.
The rest is history. 40 years later in AD 70 in one of the best attested facts in the whole of ancient history Jerusalem was brutally flattened by the Roman armies. The historian Flavius Josephus records that 1.1 million people were killed in the terrible siege of the city. The Jews were dispersed throughout the world for centuries to come. They had not recognised the moment of salvation when it came.
Obviously those events were 2000 years ago and bear no comparison to the challenge facing Sri Lanka today battered on all fronts by Covid-19. But it raises the question whether the government and people will seize the moment of opportunity or let it pass compelling both present and future generations to suffer the bitter consequences.