By Ishrath Zanoosey –
Much water has flowed under the bridge, ever since, Sri Lanka gained independence from British Empire in 1948. Many political parties, from time to time, had contested at elections, as separate entities and some as coalitions. Winning party has had ruled the country as coalitions and also sometimes as a single party. Although, post independence Sri Lanka has made some astounding strides in certain sectors, overall progress and development of the country is at a low ebb. Compared to many other countries in the region, development has been lagging behind, due to a host of reasons.
Among other things, misuse of power, nepotism, embezzlement, bribery, corruption, infighting and the lack of any vision for the country are commonly seen at the centre stage of Sri Lankan politics. “Gone are the days of gentleman politics”. Sri Lankan politicians with vested interest, by hook or by crook try to come to power. Most of the time, these politicians, in the event they lose at elections, had been resorting to turncoat politics, and try in one way or another to cling on to power for their own vested interests. Many corrupt politicians, no sooner they clinch power, start exploring for opportunities to make a fast buck. Towards this end, they would keep no stone unturned to find ways and means to creep through any loophole they find in the rule of law.
During the past, intimidation and violence had been used in no smaller measure to avenge against political opponents, let alone abductions, disappearances and murdering of those holding alternative views. Above all, most of the power hungry politicians are hand in glove with notorious and infamous characters including drug kingpins. In most instances, they have had taken the law into their hands and had made money through shady deals. In the process, powers as an MP had been used to the maximum to cover up themselves from their past misconduct. They have plundered the country’s wealth by swindling money through misappropriation, soliciting commissions, bribes, and accepting kickbacks. In short for them, greed for money knows no bounds. If not for these corrupt practices, as a country, Sri Lanka would have reached the pinnacle of development in the region. Of late, this has been the bone of contention for the people of Sri Lanka. In this backdrop, day in and day out, fury of the masses has come to fore and is gaining momentum.This may sound somewhat weird but the fact remains, that this saga continues unabated in our country. This turn of events, seems to be the main impediment standing in the way of our country’s speedy development and happens to be the much talked about subject now in Sri Lanka.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Having said that, naturally this is not always the case, as there had been many examples of patriotic and good visionary leaders of the past and even in the present. It is no secret that unlike in the present days, there had been very many good gentlemen politicians and philanthropists whose contributions towards the progress of our country had been steadfast and praiseworthy. Their kind of politics transcended party, ethnicity, religion, language, class or caste, up-country, low-country differences, or any of the many identities which divide our people. Yet, gentlemen of their caliber, now a days, are hard to come by. Of those who are corrupted, it is hard to distinguish whether the power corrupted the man or the men who were drawn to power were already corrupted.
On the other hand, majority of our voters, thus far are politically immature and live in their own dreamland of a fool’s paradise. By nature Sri Lankans like to be in comfort zone. Most of the poor daily wage earners, toil hard from morning till evening, to make ends meet for their living. But civically, they are short sighted and are likely to sway their opinion easily for various forms of bribes during election times. Average citizens are embroiled in their own household chores and don’t care two hoots about elections. In a way, our voters are to be blamed for the present political turbulence as the voters knowingly or unknowingly, have used their ballots to bring some political crooks to power time and again.
They are good at delivering speeches with their tongues in their cheeks not to mention the distribution of free food parcels, gifts and oiling the voters palm with their ill gotten gains. The present day politicians are well aware of the voters weak mindset. For these guys, persuading and luring the voters is a trivial thing. It is a matter of getting on to the political platform and eloquently narrating few cock and bull stories and giving few false promises to lure them for votes. At times, shedding crocodile tears or to lament about the mistakes of the past to lure the voter is a common thing. Even prior to the election day, some voters could easily be hoodwinked and persuaded to vote for a specific candidate. Each and every time elections are held, majority of voters, fall prey to these corrupt politicians. For some reason or other, most Sri Lankan voters have got used to this gimmick, apparently due to poverty, ignorance and specially the lack of awareness to understand the value of universal suffrage.
However, It becomes too late when you start realising the true colours of corrupt politicians. As usual, post election laments, woes and fury of the general public falls on deaf ears and serves no purpose and produces no result. At the end of the day, citizens of our country are the ones at the receiving end. By and large, the middle class and the poor have to bear the brunt of the corrupt politicians. The ignorance of voters and their lack of involvement civically is a problem for a functioning democracy, which requires participation of the governed.
Past grueling experience indicates that some of our representatives, contrary to the pledges given at elections, have shown little or no concern for the voters plight, let alone the long term development plans or any other beneficial work for the country. On the contrary, they are Interested in their own perks, entitlements etc. Many political decisions had been made without the consensus of the masses at the grass root level. It now transpires that the past regime had obtained foreign loans at very high interest rates. Furthermore, colossal borrowings by the previous regime for infrastructure development hasn’t brought any return on investments. Some of the heavily invested mega projects like Mattala Air port and Magampura sea Port have become white elephants. The country or its people so far, doesn’t receive any dividends from these projects built on foreign loans. In terms of maintenance, most of them have become obsolete and a burden to the country’s economy. Yet, the present Government has been compelled to repay instalments and interest for loans already obtained since 2015 though they run at a loss. However, recently, Magampura maritime port at Hambantota has been given to China on a long term 99 year lease agreement This has been considered to be economically beneficial to our country as the government hopes to settle debt payment with this. It is said that Sri Lanka’s highest foreign debt repayment is due in 2019. As a result of this, our country has been embroiled in a gigantic debt trap. Obviously the burden of investment in our country has been passed on to its poor citizens. Among other things, present Central Bank bond scam has implicated the members of the incumbent regime and this has sent shock waves among the concerned citizens. The report and recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Treasury Bond Issue has now stirred the hornet’s nest. This has paved the way for debates and exchange of words between the present and past regime members. Decisions taken, most of the time were not in keeping with needs of the common man. In reality, income generating projects, beneficial to the citizens are hardly seen to take off the ground. Spiralling cost of living and unemployment rate have gone up many folds. Among other things, agitations, demonstrations and protest marches staged by trade unions and unemployed graduates have become a common thing in the country. In the process, election time promises given to the voters are being conveniently forgotten and turns out to be only a lip service.
Despite spiralling cost of living and political uncertainty in the country, It appears that the majority of voters doesn’t have an idea of the deteriorating economic situation of the country and don’t take the time to ponder upon the crux of the real situation. On the other hand, In the light of political instability, foreign investors are seen to drag their heels and shying to come and invest in our country. In this backdrop, political parties that have governed our country since independence have lost credibility of the voters and they are left in the lurch. As a result, people are increasingly turning to populist leaders who promise to break the cycle of corruption and privilege.
It’s a pity to note the apparent signs of weakness, corruption and confusion manifesting in the apex body of legislature. Following suit, the heads of subordinate institutions tends to take matters in a lighter vein. It now becomes clear and is baffling to see the inefficiency and lethargy that has crept into many state sector institutions. Soft peddling, procrastination, double standards and playing the second fiddle in very many state institutions have become the order of the day. To a certain degree, this unhealthy development can be perceived as a break down in the state sector machinery. If this tendency is not kept in check, obviously inefficiency and lethargy could cascade down the rank and file of public institutions. This seems to be an additional impediment to the progress of the country.
This state of affairs, calls for early intervention by the authorities concerned. Time is running out and there is no time for dilly dallying and the need of the hour should be to act quickly and reverse the situation. This calls for a paradigm shift in the governance. Patch work to mend the shortcomings in the government sector institutions would not work. In the face of all odds, It would be prudent to go the extra mile without dragging heels and to think out of the box and infuse new vigour to the public sector. Inevitably, the big wigs must make use of their professional prowess, leadership and their acumen to pull up their socks. They should step into the fore to motivate and lead their subordinates by setting examples and turn the tide. Thereby, we could fast track development work and put the economy in the right course.
At the same time, ongoing investigations into the past and present acts of malpractices, corruption and fraud etc, which are taking a snail’s space, inevitably must be expedited.“JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED”. Proper inquiry has to be held against the corrupt ones and those found fault with has to be taken to books early. “NOT ONLY MUST JUSTICE BE DONE; IT MUST ALSO SEEN TO BE DONE”. At the rate things are happening now, one could easily visualize that it would take ages to set the government institutions into motion and steer our country towards prosperity. As many pundits predict, our economy is moving at slow pace. This doesn’t sound well and augurs bad for the country.
Let the bygones be bygones. Voters should seriously realize the gravity of the past and present political turbulence ravaging our country. In this context, voters should especially, be mindful of those bunch of jesters, bandits, thieves, sex perverts, psychopaths etc. to name but a few, some, who were rejected last time but are now raising their heads to come to power . This comparison certainly appears to hold ground. No doubt that they would spend their ill gotten gains lavishly to hoodwink the poor masses and by all means will try to enter the sacred parliament. It’s a case of “Once bitten twice shy”.
Enough is enough. In the present scenario, are we going to be mere spectators or are we ready to be partners in pulling out our country from this abyss of despair? Obviously, we can’t expect outsiders to advise on the modus operandi for redeeming our country from this mess. Hence, the responsibility lies on all citizens of this country to turn over a new leaf and vigorously start social and economic reforms by judicially using their ballot.
Our country is endowed with a rich heritage, wealth of talented youth, human capital and natural resources, which hitherto had not been harnessed to its full capacity. These resources if put to use productively could benefit our country in a big way and make our country second to none. In any event, at the outset corruption and waste have to be nipped in the bud so as to improve our economy. Obviously an end to corruption will save the treasury a great deal of money. In order to attract foreign investors, concessions and incentives may have to be granted to induce those interested in investing in our country. Local Industries have to be encouraged to improve quality of the end product so as to face competition and capture foreign markets. Value addition and quality control measures have to be done for export oriented goods. Tourist industry could be developed to its full capacity in order to increase the numbers of tourist arrivals. Priority should also be laid to improve cottage industry to improve the economy of rural sector. Agricultural and livestock and fisheries sector may have to be revamped and developed fast to meet the food requirement of our people. In respect of agriculture, suitable high yielding crops could be cultivated by incorporating latest research findings. Age old agricultural water tanks have to repaired and maintained to enable storage of rain water. Developing livestock farming and aqua culture including inland fisheries would help in meeting the protein requirement of our citizens. Farmers have to be given incentives to cultivate most of the unused arable lands. Given proper leadership and guidance, to some extent we could make our country self sufficient.
In the political playing field, intellectuals and young game changers who are patriotic, honest, proactive, and energetic with farsighted vision but devoid of vested interests must take over the challenge of building a corrupt free just society. Women’s representation in parliament has to be increased. In a levelled playing field, they may be able to contribute towards putting our political and economic records straight. These intellectuals could raise awareness among voters and educate them about the value of franchise and the political legacy passed down thus far from day one of independence to create awareness among voters and to learn from past mistakes.
People have to be trained to cherish pluralism and tolerance from the childhood starting from school going days. Emphasis should be laid on the need for racial harmony through amity and coexistence. Stringent and proactive measures should be taken to prevent any unusual and sporadic eruption of racial tensions which could jeopardize peace and unity among ethnic groups. Any racial tensions arising out of trivial situations should be nipped in the bud. In this respect, establishment of a Rapid deployment force comprising of policemen from all ethnic denominations may be prudent. This outfit may have to be kept in readiness under the control of the police for any unforeseen contingency and should be trained to deal with such situations without any bias. Among other things, honesty, hard work and minimising waste in all our dealings has to be promoted and emphasized to our people. Beliefs, values and discipline may have to be instilled in the minds of people. This may be a Hobson’s choice but must be done sooner or later. In this respect schools and religious leaders could play a pivotal role.
Although we may not able to create an utopian society, we may have to assert and try to awake our citizens from the present slumber. This way, the new generation of leaders could be good change agents and emancipate our people from the present misery to usher in a corrupt free new era. It is said that one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. Hence the urgent need is for more and more intellectuals and honest youth to come forward and contest in elections and enter the parliament to take over reins as MPs and Ministers. No doubt, the new generation will be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel and would be able to look forward to a corrupt free prosperous Sri Lanka!