4 December, 2023


Is There Hope? 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Sri Lankans have become sceptics and possibly harbor an irrational feeling of hopelessness. This is understandable, because hope has quickly changed to despair. We have long been betrayed by electoral promises, only to be shamelessly abandoned. This is one reason why we have changed our political choices regularly – and has little to do with claimed high levels of electoral maturity, but much to do with opportunism and selfish indulgence. We have been duped. For starters, we have spent colossal sums of public money in what is patently a virtually useless exercise. We must convince ourselves that an election (which is said to cost some 600/= million or thereabouts) is really worth it? I do not believe that in most circumstances, such exercises can be considered wise investment. Cut out the waffle about “enthroning democracy” and “peoples’ choice” and such like non quantifiable intangibles, and what do we get? The products generally do not justify the investment. Cost/benefit analyses should help, but “benefits” would defy quantification. If a generalization is permitted, I believe that none of our political parties have ever “won” an election – only that the preceding incumbents have “lost”, but more seriously, the successors have inherited bad habits from their predecessors. Politics is one field in which experience has negative value. Several instances can be cited where “novices” have performed much better than the “veterans” who have no experience other than in politics. It is a fair assessment that those who have proven success in other sectors, are likely to do well as “politicians” too. 

Does the new President reflect a welcome change? Perhaps he does. Some early signs are positive, although seemingly trivial. The image that he has projected of a representative of a small and non- affluent country is laudable. No pomp and pageantry and displays of pretended piety, a reduction of security entourages and other symbols of vanity, a minimum of foreign travel, and when absolutely necessary, being accompanied by modest teams of relevant experts, rather than extravagant bands of free-loaders and relatives, and in general setting good standards for emulation by those below him. In particular, modesty combined with smartness in his garb (no two million Rupee jackets and the trade mark Satakaya) but the affordable bush shirt and slacks. It is amusing to see those surrounding him meanwhile sweating away in suit and tie! Decorum may require some departure, as when he was soldiering in uniform, but this was for  more reasons than mere style.  

A healthy emphasis on discipline. We could certainly do with some simple and no-cost measures – punctuality, courtesy, observance of road regulations, respect for queues, truthfulness, a readiness to greet, smile rather than scowl and a lavish use of “Thank you, Please  and Excuse me” Elders are not “Uncle or Aunt” but “Sir  or Madam”. It is said that in Singapore, chewing gum was banned because some thought that Metro Seats were provided for disposal of “spent” chewed gum! In our context, perhaps betel chewing would qualify.

Many procedures could be modified for public convenience. The unannounced visits of The President to the Department of Motor Traffic and the Airport should be a gentle hint to officialdom that negligence of duty is dangerous! The President cannot personally visit all offices, nor will it be necessary, because the general drift of his actions is clear. So we may hope for an end to the garbage problem for example. Already one senses some awakening and frantic activation, of many sleeping giants.

Many political leaders have had to pay the penalty for surrounding themselves with undesirable stooges. Some have had their sons and daughters do the needful. It takes two generations to breed a gentleman – and there are no short-cuts.  

Sri Lankans are capable of great achievements, as was evident in the way Colombo has been restored to its past grandeur and the way in which the “Invincible” LTTE bit the dust. But sadly, this seems to require a person with a whip in hand. We remember the way the great “Madu walge” and scaffold talk which turned out to be aborted pretty easily. Is GR the required “Whip” man?  

To be candid, there were two fears – the White Van syndrome and dangers of a militarized State. This needs to be negated. The White Vans, rather like Mermaids, Lochness Monsters, Greased Yakkas and Unicorns are sure to exist but awaiting discovery. Two events need to be robustly addressed. One is the sordid flare up of temper in the Phone calls to Ms Fredrica Jansz, and the disastrous showing on the “Hard Talk” programme of the BBC. Perhaps a mere expression of regret and open apology, at least to the nation, may suffice. All of us humans do err sometimes, but genuinely expressing regret is important.

GR should immediately sever all contacts with political parties, as he represents the whole nation and not a particular segment – be it political, racial, religious, class or caste. He is like the oarsman who required a boat to reach the other shore but would be foolish to hang on to it after getting to the end of his journey. This is not ingratitude but pragmatism at its best. Therefore, no “Viyathmaga”, BBS or other. As a newcomer to the political scene, he has the great advantage of not being obliged to favour cronies. He has a Herculean task to clear the “Right Royal Mess” that others have created for him.

Let us all try to help him in his important task, while assuring him that our goodwill will be conditional on righteous, decent, proper, lawful and compassionate behavior. If not, society will become the “Whip Holders “.

Good Luck, Sir!

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Latest comments

  • 15

    Is there hope? Doubtful. GR came to power not entirely on his own merits. In large part, he is beholden to many unsavoury people who campaigned for him. They will invariably demand their pound of flesh. Also, GR’s campaign was based on Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, distortions and lies. Campaign promise to hold the Central Bank robbers accountable is unlikely to eventuate. Agreements with the US which he said he will not sign, for good or bad, will be signed. And GR will have to please the monks and act on their demands, even if he does not go all the way like Hitler. GR has a heavy load of baggage from the past. His supporters may have incriminating evidence regarding them. He therefore will need to do at their bidding. Supporters can be worse than enemies. It is not an easy task for a man with a past to turn a new leaf in politics. Either he will have to rule with an iron hand, white vans included, or go down the path of SWRD pleasing supporters to the bitter end. But still, for the sake of the country, one can only hope for the best.

    • 0

      No hope at all. Gota became president misleading the nation. He had the luck to get elected through his brother. His brother has always been misleading the nation for his political campaign. Just imagine, any single pledge has not yet been fullfilled nevertheless no media would utter a single word about Rajapakshes. I spoke one lady who is from middle class today – who too thought Gotler would revolutionize, but now says, ” malli when I am going to buy veg today, I cant afford them at all so I am now used to buy god elawulu (cheap vegs such ladies fingers (okra) or snakegaurd or the like)… did we hear this in the days prior to Nov 18 ? No, there people thought they were bad and have not done anything for the people.
      I now see, our people in general are no grateful and cant know the truths. They always become the prey of predatory polticiains that would even fuck their mothers if they want to grab votes. Rajaakshes are such bastards. there are provable records about their high crimes, but today, on the very good day, that our elders did it with pride, but these buggers, just show off in Independence celebrations. I hate… even that stupid polonnaruwa, niwataya… BP did not go for that much of SHOW off, but Rajaakshes are born to abuse the funds of POOR man, but in the same time, trying to paint or get painted their pics as kings… my foot… for me, these men should all be caught by a EASTER sunday style bombblast, so that we can go and have nektar for a better future.

  • 11

    Upatissa, I am not sure whether Lasantha who frequently write comments here in CT, is anyway related to you or not. Regardless his views and opinions are some what different from yours. This is just an observation.Though I agree with the general content , I disagree with the wordings . You started by saying irrational fear of hopelessness, which I find as totally rational. People who are affected most will know the difference. As you said general elections in Lanka are utter waste and served no purpose other than taking us further into helplessness and hopelessness. How do we explain, a country like Lanka (which boast to have highest literacy) has only elected family dynasties since independence. We only had Senanayakas, Bandas , Rajapaksa and RW/JR (may be Premadasas in future). Also it is well known for years majority Lankans have been voting solely on racial divisions and nothing else. Acting simple will sure impress public (which they are not familiar) but does not cost much to the individual, party or family. Then again we know how a self claimed humble, simple village man, who was elected as President , within days took a walk to Viharamahadevi Park but later turned out to be the biggest crook, a pathological liar who even attempted raping our constitution. So let us ignore these simplicity and wait for the real governing. The political appointments made up to now are indicative of much worse times ahead of us. (military appointments, diplomatic appointments, ministers ___etc). Recent revelations of RR confirms our parliament is turned into a garbage collection site emanating stench and filth. It is unfortunate to see learned people like you, falling into the same trap as the layman and not seeing the elephant in the room, by that I mean the MR influence on GR.

    • 1

      “It is unfortunate to see learned people like you, falling into the same trap as the layman and not seeing the elephant in the room, by that I mean the MR influence on GR”

      Wonder which might be worse, MR influence on Gota or Gota influence on Gota!!

      Word has it that Namal is being sidelined and MR is furious. The thesis goes, GR is paving the way for his Vipathmaga cronies to gain nominations for the General Elections in April, while MR is struggling to remain relevant.

      Truth be told, GR needs MR to secure an electoral victory at the GE, and MR will be performing hara-kiri if he campaigns energetically for the SLPP. Twists and turns abound in the complex world of vengeance-based politics of the country like no other.

      Any wonder that bro Basil has taken refuge in Trumpland ostensibly for a medical check-up. but maintaining the sub-text that he will lend his considerable weight for the elections from afar!

      Lanka will surely benefit from a bit of good old fratricide!!!

  • 9

    The crowd around gots is third grade no level , skill level low, what u put in, u get . Low quality material cannot produce diamonds, only gravel.

  • 5

    It is true that elections are not cheap; and that, relative to more pressing needs, it certainly looks like a waste of money. But, don’t forget the fact that election is the only peaceful weapon poor & helpless voters have to punish the politicians who keep breaking their promises in order to come to power and to stay in power. without elections, public will have to resort to weapons to change Gvts or, if the Gvt is too powerful to be thrown out by weapons as in Cina or N Korea, public will have to suffer in jails or lose the life altogether for expressing their frustrations against the Gvts.

    I feel sorry to see someone with some intellectual tinge expressing hope in GoRa. I don’t deny the fact that he has some hope. Who doesn’t? But the question is, as I mentioned elsewhere as well, whether he has pragmatic action plan & “credible” team to carry it out to the end. My emphatic answer is no! Considering the urgent & compelling need to pay down debts due soon, a pragmatic plan could not include a tax cut even if it was used as election promise among others that were not considered for immediate fulfillment.

    And the team? They have already fooled GoRa big time by making him believe in that tax cut wouldo lower the prices of consumer goods. Isn’t it the same team who advised MaRa to invest a huge some of borrowed money on “white Elephant Vanity projects” which drowned the nation in an Ocean of debts in the first place?

  • 6

    Upatissa, in my opinion you are still in the early stages of DENIAL , where as people who are affected most, have now gradually progressed Depression over years, hence the helplessness/hopelessness. In stages of GRIEF we witnessed bargaining , as in GR for MR and Anger towards RW/MS. I am tired of hearing such excuses from our Lankan voters as in, “he is not like his brother, he was bad then not now, so and so took more money than mine so he cannot be that bad” —blah blah. It is disappointing, to see the same, coming from you.

  • 6

    Can there be hope when the government plans to “employ” 50,000 new recruits to the Public Service? Perhaps more than 90% of public servants are underutilized in their current employment. Don’t believe? Go to Fort railway station and see what the 58, yes fifty eight, Station Masters are doing, other than fiddling with their smart phones. Perhaps another 42 from the new recruits can be added there to make it a round 100!. Sure, they all fit in to make true of Parkinson’s First Law – “Work expands to fill the time available to do it”. The economists around GR must surely have advised him that the standard of living in any country, without an abundance of natural resources, depends of the level of productivity of its citizens. Examples, Singapore, Japan, South Korea. Sri Lanka has one of the lowest average productivity, at a national level. Only in a few sectors, such as banking and garment industry, one could see a higher level of productivity. Most of the public sector is notoriously low in productivity. Unemployment and under-employment is not because there is no work to be done. There is plenty to do. It is just that we have not been able to properly match employment to work at a national level. If GR can get this working, he would improve the living standard of the people tremendously. Hope, again?

  • 5

    Look at he present cabinet the same lot , will the thinking change , some are involved in fraudulent activities, so there is old wine in a new bottle . Will it do good and be effective?

  • 4

    As far as I can remember every politician begged for the vote giving different promises and never kept them, every president who came to power introduce himself as a “man or small people” but after some time ??
    GR may think different cos he had been in America for a long time.
    The fact that raising among much of us is that as long as MR and his clan is in power GR will not be able to do any thing on his own way, so we are there again we know what of a person MR is and his politics and ambitions are aren’t we ?
    As I see Sri Lankans are really in a situation where there is no hope and helpless, frustration is coming up with a grad of aggression.
    Which is no good for the country.

  • 2

    Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda.

    Is there hope

    It is the same as asking is there Life after Death unless yoy believe in REINCARNATION ( 7 LIfes) . From a Sri Lankan Perspective the answer is NO under Gotha the DIASPORA. Sri Lanka is paying a HEAVY PRICE or sorry Somas-ass a TERRIBLE PRICE. and will continue to pay until he is got rid of. Now it is MRs turn to be summoned to Delhi for a Few Pulichal LADDU and to make it palatable at home MR is also going to Varanasi and Thirupathi sacred for Hindus to say his vows ” Forgive me God for all the sins me and my family have committed

  • 1

    For the question ‘Is there hope” the answer is a big ‘no’. Gota may have good intentions but he does not have people with the right kind of experience to turn the whole place around. For example take the Sri Lankan airlines who is the Sri Lankan who has EXPERIENCE in turning around a loss making airline. it needs lot of skill, experience in a similar field to do the job. Like Alan Joyce of Qantas. What about all the government related loss making industries, it is a gigantic effort. Sri Lanka does not have a pool of highly experienced and skillful operators who can turn around loss making industries and to deal with the Yakoo ministers in charge of those industries.
    Every time a new government was elected there was hope then it turned to despair very soon.

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