By M.M. Janapriya –
A few mornings back I read with amazement and disdain an article titled “Upcoming Presidential Election Yahapalana Challenge”on a morning daily broadsheet of the 24th March 2019. This is clearly an article engineered to boost the chances of a certain individual winning the presidential race. While taking my hats off to a former regime for getting rid of the LTTE cancer that was gradually eating Sri Lanka away, they let the golden opportunity to develop the country and rid the country of corruption that fell on their laps slip away in style. While I congratulate the finishers of the war for cleaning up Colombo and some other big cities and improving the road structure of Sri Lanka, this country graced by Lord Buddha on 3 occasions which is indeed an Aladdin’s cave, became the playground of the corrupt politicians, other powerful people with ill-gotten money and criminals. Sri Lankans are not the best of proactive people in the world but they do suddenly wake up from their long and deep state driven slumber and churn themselves in to action when needed. For them it came to ‘enough is enough’ of this regime and eventually turned tables on the latter in 2015.
During the final stages of the war on terror to re-establish the sovereignty and the unitary nature of the country, everybody in Sri Lanka and outside knew that there were at-least a few civilian casualties. If not, it is logical to assume that there must have been some, as the LTTE used civilians as human shields in the dying stages of the battle. Tactically it was wrong to say the number of civilian casualties was zero. This is exactly what the government of the time maintained which quite understandably the international human rights forums refused to believe.
The government’s position should have been “We are a developing nation who were fighting the most ruthless and best trained guerilla outfit in the world namely LTTE with no support at all from the developed west or any other militarily powerful western country. We had no sophisticated war weaponry that would have helped us use precision attacks on LTTE strongholds. We had to do our best to delineate terrorists from the civilians and target the former. This was difficult but we did this to the best of our ability to rid the country of much hated terrorism. As such there may have been some collateral damage leading to a small number of civilian casualties about which we are extremely sorry and our thoughts are with the families of those who have so suffered”
Such an approach I am sure would have gone down very well with the international community and the UNHRC and the ‘witch hunting exercise’ of the diaspora would have died a natural death. Any member of the yester Cabinet of Ministers whose degree of diplomacy lacked sharpness needed to allay international anxiety the way I have suggested fails the acid test of suitability to be President.
The article also goes on about how the Yahapalanaya Government appointed the TNA as the official opposition in Parliament with only 16 seats overlooking the 55 MPs who stuck with what should have been the true opposition, the vast majority of whom were Singhala Buddhists. The article goes on to blame the Government for being responsible for sidelining the Singhala Buddhists as a consequence. The President and the Yahapalana Government may well have paid scant regard to the constitution of the state and appointed the TNA but this is not the first time this kind of open flouting of the constitution has happened and will not be the last either as long as the politicians at the helm maintain their high degree of insanity. The concerning thing is how this action by the powers that be has been taken up by the author and gone on to sow seeds of racial disharmony giving credence to divisive politics. Singhala political parties especially the old SLFP and it’s descendant parties have played the Singhala Buddhist card as a vote puller from time immemorial. I am a 100% Singhalese and a practicing Buddhist but I am one of the few who hate divisive politics. There may have been some justification for the above approach of the olden Sinhala Politicians as Tamil political leaders from the very outset were singing from the same separatist hymn sheet. They played a democratic game to try to achieve this while harbouring and nurturing strong nationalist views. As time went by democracy was gradually pushed to the back burner whist the arms struggle took pride of place. Periodic eruption of riots in which a larger number of Tamils and a smaller number of Singhalese got harassed and some killed together with short sighted education policies made this metamorphosis possible and indeed speeded up the process. So I blame both ethnic groups equally for the mess we were in for about 4 decades and for the mutual mistrust that prevails even today.
All the same, I am of the strong view that this country belongs to all of us who have been fortunate enough to have been born here. We are all Sri Lankans by birth and of course in some cases by descent. The political and social atmosphere of the country should be such that all of us should feel equal and should want to make a contribution to the upliftment of the nation. Equally any honest, hardworking suitably qualified and a motivated citizen independent of that person’s ethnicity, caste creed, gender or indeed sexuality should be able to be the President or the Prime Minister of the country. I strongly feel most of the educated and intelligent people of this country see this point the way I am seeing it. However, the corrupt rulers be it Singhalese or be it Tamil would find it difficult to govern a one nation country the way they are governing now. So who needs to divide and rule? It is the politicians of both sides of the divide.
Judging from the prevailing atmosphere it is clear that it is not only the Yahapalana that is being challenged. People of this country seem to be sick and tired of 70 years of bad governance. Whilst at a glance, the country seems to be ‘prospering’, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in leaps and bounds. Even though the official figure below the poverty line is a surprisingly low 15% of the population in 2018 it took me long to discover that the magic figure below which a person is declared poor is Rupees. 4166.66. This is a paltry sum of money even for a single individual and the rulers know it no matter of what colour they are. It is important to keep these sad figures as far away from the people as they can because ‘too much information’ will make people open their eyes and spin themselves in to action. Those who understand economics know that in a capitalist economy (Sri Lanka is euphemistically called a democratic socialist republic) money flows centripetally from the poor and down trodden periphery to the rich and powerful centre. In the developed countries this flow is uniform and the poor are compensated for by a realistic financial hand out from the government in the form of a dole. In primitive countries like ours money doled out such, is a measly amount that cannot realistically supplement any family’s income. As such, people resort to doing practically anything, to `make a quick buck’.
There are around 3 million registered 3 wheelers on the road. Only less than 600,000 of these are privately owned and used for personal and family travel. The rest bite away a significant amount of money from the just about comfortable middle class and may be a little less from the uncomfortable lower middle class and the poor. They are solely responsible for bringing indiscipline on to the roads. They weave in and out of the fabric of traffic compelling other road users unwittingly flout road rules and in some instances meet with serious accidents. You name any section of the Highway Code each 3 wheeler man breaks it many times a day with the greatest impunity. They are also the biggest polluters of air that we breathe.
The Private buses too, are a threat to life on the road . Whilst they too pollute the atmosphere in no small measure they are amongst the biggest killers on the road. Sri Lanka roads are amongst the most dangerous in the world. With 7 people dying on the roads every single day statisticians say “Sri Lankans today are more likely to meet their end on the country’s roads than falling a prey to a critical illness or a grave crime”. All governments present and past have watched these figures grow helplessly. They are not disciplined themselves and hence are incapable of setting an example. Law enforcement is difficult too as it is on the backs of these three wheeler and bus driver thugs that these governments come to power. I take this opportunity to redefine Abraham Lincoln’s democracy as “government of the people of Sri Lanka, by the people of Sri Lanka for the political elite, for the elitist professions, for those who can plunder few thousand rupees daily no matter how and for those who own and/or run three wheelers and private buses”.
Governments both green and blue have utterly and miserably failed to eradicate a simple but a deadly vector borne disease like Dengue fever from this country’s confines for many decades. Just like in the case of LTTE separatist war that claimed thousands of lives for over 3 decades, what is conspicuous by their absence are the political will and appetite. This is because mosquitoes cannot invade air conditioned rooms, houses and motor vehicles. The usual sufferer and the fatality is a simpleton in a populous village or a congested city. Fidel Castro’s Cuba managed to rid their tropical land of Dengue thanks to a well thought of, well equipped and a well-executed program that is being periodically repeated to keep mosquito numbers at bay. Can Sri Lanka do it? Yes, we can! Before this can happen we’ve got to see the back of these corrupt politicians who have cast a spell on the voters.
As a medical professional these are some of the glaring lapses in governance I have spotted and placed before you for your consideration. There are of course a whole lot of other curses that have befallen Sri Lanka either due to audacious action or frightful inaction of these selfish, greedy and power hungry inhuman beings who are waiting in the wings to be dispatched home sooner than later.
There are groups and individuals chanting anticorruption slogans on social media. Some others seem more organized and seem to have launched realistic campaigns against 7 decades of misrule. People who generally gather after work for small talk now are keener to talk about bad governance and the need to send the two major parties home, on gardening leave. Right now there does not seem to be a single person who can unify this opposition to launch a realistic run for president. This is by and large due to lack of funds. It is said that for anyone to challenge the two established parties which can be described as mighty election machines, he or she will need a colossus of around Rupees 200 million and generating this kind of money is an uphill task for an up and coming leader if he were to emerge from the suffering majority. For a campaign of this kind there will not be any backing from the ‘oligarchy’ of the land. Most donors would be ordinary people with a few hundred or a few thousand rupees to spare with an occasional millionaire not minding to risk a million bucks. Therefore, fund raising will prove to be a protracted process and in the race against time before the next Presidential election, time might well be the winner.
As a senior Citizen who served this country at the highest professional level for over 35 years I consider it my bounden duty to educate the public the way they should vote to elect their next Government. Majority of the people know that the politicians are corrupt and their only interest is to feather their own nests. They also know that in an uncontrolled economy the country is ruled by the law of the jungle. Society is creaking under the weight of a financial burden of about Rs 300 million per year per minister for their upkeep. The Provincial Councils, that were propounded by the JR Government to appease but rejected by the LTTE at Thimpu and other multitude of talks, gained a firm foothold and flourished in the rest of the country as tentacles of a totalitarian regime. They serve no useful purpose in good governance and is an unnecessary financial burden. They should be abolished. Whether we like it or not the presidential election is going to precede the parliamentary elections. Hence we got to elect an honest, well educated, knowledgeable and a law abiding person with a landslide majority. His party whatever it is going to be will win the parliament which should be reduced to about 125 seats on a first to pass the post basis; i.e. scrap the preferential system. Most of them will work for a nominal salary and some might even forego their salary. The president and the MPs will do away with all the parliamentary perks thus taking the huge financial burden off the shoulders of the people. They will have people friendly Education, Health, Transport, power and Economic policies well drawn up before the elections which they will deploy soon after election. No one including the President himself will be above the law. All the national policies will have more state involvement. For example, an up to date national railway will be established. The bus service will be nationalized and the state run service will be modernized. Three wheelers will be taken off the roads on a spaced out basis by giving the owners an incentive to upgrade them to proper taxis.
The major print and electronic media most of which are privately owned are not supporting the anticorruption campaign either, for reasons that are easily discernible. A private TV channel has given some air time to two of the prominent contenders but this is a drop in the ocean compared to what some of the incumbent ruling hierarchy are enjoying and the Government’s modus operande of a daily dose of 30-45 minutes of advertising on national TV. I consider it the bounden duty of all media institutions to help progressive movements which have got governance sans corruption at the top of their manifesto. Singing songs of praise of a weak ruler who has a hands off approach towards governance who sometimes acts very irrationally or of a strongman who rules with an iron fist and indeed of any government that have openly showed they are a corrupt lot, whilst delivering short term benefits to the institution, is doing a great disservice to the country in general. Trying to impart grace on the faces of graceless politicians is the icing on the cake of such selfish exercise.
Dr. M.M.Janapriya FRCS, FRCSEd., Retired Senior Consultant Surgeon, NHSL, Colombo, Past President GMOA (1983-87 elected uncontested)