“The search for Truth is also a Duty. One must not conceal any part of what one has recognised to be True” ~ Albert Einstein
Sri Lanka is on the verge of reaching 75th Anniversary since gaining independence from Britain. Our forefathers fought hard for this day with the insight of building a truly independent prosperous Sri Lanka. Nation reflect on as to whether we really achieved this objective! There is disquiet and agitation among majority of Sri Lankans about planned celebration on independence day. Preparations are already underway for opulent independence day celebrations at colossal expense(estimated 200 million Rupees) notwithstanding government hierarchy is claiming there is no money in state coffers to hold local government election. Between 1940-1950 country remained predominantly rural with economy based on agriculture. Agricultural production accounted for 30% of GDP. In certain respect, however, Sri Lanka then Ceylon stood out marked contrast to other least developed countries in the region. For instance, the standard of education and therefore, the literacy rate was considerably higher than in other countries in the region. Similarly, public health standards being high, mortality rate was relatively low, due to increased Government expenditure on health, education and food subsidies.
At the time of independence value of our currency was good and one US Dollar was equivalent to one Rupee. In early 1970s value of Rupee was about 5 rupees to 1 sterling pound. In 1981 when I emigrated to UK, I bought sterling pounds at the rate of Rs13.50 per pound. When I returned in 1987 Rupee was devalued by 50% and exchange rate was
Rs 27.00 to one pound. Needless to say today One US Dollar equivalent to Rs. 300 and one sterling pound in the region of Rs. 450. This speaks volumes of what we have achieved since Independence, officially declared bankrupt in March 2022. Sri Lankans are renowned for short memory but they have not forgotten miles of fuel queues last year. Riddled with corruption and commission culture, inflation running above 70%, malnutrition among children rampant, is there a justifiable cause for celebration? Cost of approval of a project to the entrepreneur is 10% of the project value and in addition now they demand percentage of the profit year on year to keep business or company afloat.
Civil Service of Ceylon was established in 1833 and continued to function until it was abolished in November 1963. It functioned as the permanent bureaucracy or secretariat of top civil servants which assisted Government of Sri Lanka. It was renamed following the declaration of the Republic in 1972 as Sri Lanka administrative service. Permanent secretaries to the ministries were also renamed as Secretary to the Ministries. However all appointees were accredited with SLAS. It was President Jayawardene who took an unprecedent step to appoint a non SLAS holder as secretary to a ministry in 1977. That was the beginning of the demise of Sri Lanka administrative service and nepotistic culture within the administrative service. After presidential election in 2005, newly elected president appointed his brother as Defence secretary. His only qualification for the post being the brother of the head of the state. Culture of Nepotism started rolling on in an unimaginable scale. When the latter won Presidential election in 2019, all secretaries to the ministries were replaced by retired military personnel and completed demolition of Sri Lanka administrative service.
Financial and Banking sector
Financial sector was rudimentary and fragmented at the time of independence. The Monetary Law bill incorporating legislation for the establishment of central Bank of Sri Lanka was passed by parliament in November 1949. Central Bank of Sri Lanka became operational in August 1950. In terms of Monetary Law act, Ceylon Rupee was designated the standard unit of monetary value of Sri Lanka and its par value was fixed at 2.88 grammes of fine gold. The Central Bank became the custodian of the international reserves of the country. Governor of the Central Bank was a senior economist with experience in Financial industry until an Accountant without sound economic knowledge was appointed as 16th Governor. His most daring acts include buying junk Greek bonds, fixing oil prices with hedge funds causing Loss of millions of Dollars to Sri Lanka, leading to diminution of Foreign currency reserves. So Sri Lankan economy began sliding on a slippery slope in addition to mountain of debts, borrowed at high commercial rate than rate offered by Japan, world bank or IMF. It is noteworthy none of these lenders offer commission to politicians or Secretaries to the ministries hence burrowing at commercial rate, detrimental to the economy.
Sri Lankans as a nation was endowed with a good education system and higher education based on British system. Thanks to Educational reforms and introduction of free education by CWW Kanangara revered as father of free education, many average low middle class Sri Lankans benefitted and reached top civil service and positions in cooperate sector. Kerala and Sri Lanka were credited with highest literacy rate and lowest infant and maternal mortality rate in South East Asia. However brain drain could not be arrested due to short sightedness of ruling class. Today, after 75 years of independence, people are queuing to leave country, including teenagers with OL, not realising there is little employment prospect for them except unskilled labour. There was an attempt to destroy university education and entrance by abolishing University Grant Commission which withstood the test of time. Due to massive public discontent this was debunked. Oldest learning seat in Sri Lanka are University of Peradeniya and University of Colombo. It is incomprehensible appointment of a Monk without required academic qualification, teaching, research and management experience, as Chancellor to one of the oldest seat of learning.
It is reported in a recent publication by Chancellor of Peradeniya University, 96% of current parlimentarians do not have GCE OL. This is how far we have deteriorated during the course of 75years of Independence.
In 1970s Sri Lanka had a decent health service with committed health service personnel , to be proud of, not withstanding poor resources. There was commitment and quality. However with grant of privilege of private practice, health service was commercialised and training fell by the quay side. Ordering unnecessary and expensive investigation is the norm in private sector and ill -advised surgical procedures are far too common. I have personal experience involving two members of my family. One of them was advised heart bypass surgery at a cost of up to 2 million Rupee by no less than 4 heart specialists. He did not have it and he is happily living on medication alone without intervention. Nurses trade union was run by a monk and GMOA was run by a group overpowering doctors for too long until stopped by a court order. Nominally there is a government health service but most hospitals have run out of medicine, surgical and anaesthetic equipment with no funding for replenishment. Expatriate every so often receive request for funds to purchase life saving medicine and equipment. Ministers and MPs of course have no problem, for slightest ailment they go to Singapore at taxpayers expense. At least 200 million Rupees ear marked for independent day celebration could be gainfully redirected to the health department.
Security and missing people
Over 250 people died and hundreds more injured in Easter Sunday attack in 2019 and to date no perpetrator was brought to justice. Former President, defence secretary and Police commissioner was found guilty of dereliction of duties for the first time in Sri Lankan history. That is a loadable achievement implying Sri Lanka are dragging their feet towards accountability although miniscule, considering the scale of fraud and corruptions ongoing. Population of North and East pressing answers for missing people in the last phase of war. This has not been addressed to the satisfaction of United nation or international community nor indeed to the Tamil Community, although government of the day are preparing opulent celebration.
Jury is out as to what we have achieved during seventy five years of independence or aptly termed ‘curse’. In the presence of insurmountable economic crisis with declared bankruptcy and default loan repayment, mountain of debts of 51 billion Dollars, do the nation have a case for celebration or rather commiseration!!!