By Anura K. T. De Silva –
Lay of our land
It is apparent that the current economic turmoil did not happen due to a natural disaster or accidentally as it was caused by a combination of manmade soup of bad policies, wrong economic direction, mismanagement, high degree of corruption, oppression and social division that prolonged lack of economic growth. While the Rajapaksa regime exploited the prevailing political and social dysfunctions, it will not be exhaustive unless due credit is given to President JR as the father who gave birth to the cracked foundation to resurrect out of the preceding closed economic policies. He poisoned our social norms by appointing himself above the laws, granting him excessive powers, destroying the independence in the branches of government and failing to introduce any checks and balances in governance. As a result of the absence in checks & balances and immunity from the laws, he gave birth to an aggressive form of fraud & corruption for those holding powers to function as cartels in a protected racket. Therefore, JR’s system of governance did not only weaken the judiciary and the state machinery by luring the criminal & fraudulent elements while distancing the lawful citizens from governance, he created a new political culture attracting the bottom of the barrel and the right toxic environment for the Rajapksas to rise up. As the pollution was not restricted to the political system, it spilled over to the society magnifying a 6.9million base that caused the economic downfall hitting rock bottom.
Even though our immediate crisis seems to be highly focused on the economy, we should not ignore the fact it stemmed through many years of political decay that even resulted in a deteriorated social fabric. Hence, instead of taking short cuts with bankrupt leftist political, social & economic ideologies that failed the nation previously, it is important to realize that we need to fully awaken to choose the right path. That right path will need to reform not only the failed institutions by understanding how they failed to change even when they were creating poverty and how all people can be awakened with liberal democratic values of stronger rights and broader responsibilities for all individual citizens without reliance on a larger government. Hence, it is important to consider how people can govern themselves with smaller governments by coming together to improve education, healthcare, transportation and housing as top priority. Hence, the new way forward should support economic conservatism and political liberalism by ensuring increased freedom for all people to participate in a new market economy and away from failed sociological ideologies.
Even though the immediate economic debacle was accelerated and magnified by the arrogance, stupidity and corruption of the current regime, we need to recognize that the dysfunctional political process is a result of the divided and unempowered society. Hence, it is crucial that we just cannot go forward unless we transform our social structures, systems and values as a prerequisite to restructure a transformational political system to generate economic growth.
Due to the current gravity of the economic crisis, the popular initial demand had been focused for Gota to Go Home as he was the architect who accelerated the downfall. Now he is gone, the 225 will continue to reshuffle among the same political cults to deceive the people while doing everything to protect their own turf. As a result, Ranil who was rejected by the people was able to maneuver his way to become the President with the blessings of his arch rivals as either party stoody behind their own national policies. Therefore, it is important that the ARAGALAYA needs to withstand the recent raid and continue to represent the true aspirations of the people. Therefore, grave social and political transformations are needed to overcome the deep-rooted multifaceted social decay by strengthening universal freedom of all citizens to realize an equitable and sustainable economic revival.
During the past years, the prevailing social insecurities became much more grave as they were continuously exploited by political families to even cause mass murder of innocent civilians to regain political powers. Therefore, we cannot continue within the prevailing social culture but need to build a new social composition to live as one inclusive society in which every individual with rights and responsibilities should promote a high social cohesion by honouring everyone’s;
* Human rights and fundamental freedoms
* Cultural and religious diversity
* Truth and Social justice
* Special needs for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups
* Democratic participation and the rule of law
The new inclusive society can only be promoted by social policies to reduce inequalities to create a flexible, tolerant and interdependent society by economically empowering and granting freedom to all citizens. Trying to provide quotas or preferential ladders to deprived groups as quick fixes will only be ignoring the root problems of an already divided society. Hence it is important we embrace a shared set of social values that can increase respectful social interaction, overriding the prevailing superiority or inferiority complexes from race, gender, class, generation etc and give rise to a more healthier society. As a result, the inclusive society in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities will have an active role to participate economically and politically by giving rise to innovation, greater opportunities through a new social platform of good governance. In an inclusive society, citizens not only will have the ability to choose their own way of life to grow individually or grow collectively. Hence, one of the most significant aspected in creating an inclusive & interdependent society is the development and engagement of an independent citizen who can be empathetic to others. The independent citizen should not be identified by caste, race, religion, ethnic communities but identified by a shared set of values such as democracy, individual rights, equal opportunity and individual responsibility guaranteed by a new constitution. It is the birth of such a diverse society that interdependent individuals who can contribute and benefit from shared resources and celebrate our social cohesion that Sri Lanka can strive for an unified and harmonious nation that can underpin Sri Lanka’s prosperity.
How we can realize an inclusive society
The aim of social cohesion is to create an inclusive society, in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, will have an active role to play. An inclusive society is based on the value of the fundamental human rights such as all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of humanity. It is a society in which all members, regardless of their backgrounds, are able and motivated to participate in civic, social, economic and political activities which can give rise to a new civilization. For this to happen, legal, regulatory and policy frameworks must be inclusive, so that equal access to basic education, public space, facilities and information are ensured, and diversity and cultural pluralism are respected and accommodated.
Since the ARAGALAYA opened the eyes of many anaesthetised citizens, it is now the opportunity where people have finally realized that the country needs an overhaul to benefit the general citizenry. As people gain power, they will want to govern themselves rather than rely on an all powerful central government. Furthermore, the purpose of a decentralized political system will be to make citizens more participative in the decision making and grant more power over their own lives, rather than surrendering their powers to a central authority. Therefore, we need to think fresh about how the people can self govern rather than surrendering their powers between each election. Hence, power devolution needs to be seriously considered not only to dilute the central powers but primarily to self-govern. In addition to protecting citizens from the government, there are numerous merits of decentralization, most importantly to ease access to public services, decrease bureaucratic burdens and increase speed in policy implementation.
In decentralized governments, individuals at the far ends of the web of decentralization can accomplish more with less because they have fewer citizens to manage. As decentralization is more beneficial for the grassroots, decentralization enhances the depth and legitimacy of governance and builds a basic value and framework for Democracy. In addition to devolving power from the center, it is important to restrict and clearly define the roles and responsibilities in each government to function independently within a common set of laws across the country and cannot deprive any individual or minority group.
Separation of Powers
To prevent the concentration of unchecked power and to provide for checks and balances, in which the powers of one branch of government is limited by the powers of another branch—to prevent abuses of power and avoid autocracy, it is very opportune and prudent that we introduce checks and balances to each level of our governance. Even though most matured democracies consist only of 3 branches:Executive, Judicial and Legislative, Sri Lanka as a politically amateur nation, should consist of at least 4 branches for the Central Government where the independent 4th branch(Senate) will consist of apolitical Governors elected by the people from each of the regions and external to the parliament to perform the following tasks:
* Represent a direct(non-political) voice from the regions to the center
* Appoint & conduct oversight of national level independent commissions
* Supreme Court Judges to to be represented from each region
* Conduct oversight of the Public Administration to keep the public services independent
* Ensure checks and balances among all branches of government
Head of the Senate can rotate among the Governors for a limited period to grant an opportunity to each Governor. Hence, the proposed limited government in the center will consist of the Judiciary, Legislature, Executive and a Senate as independent branches and each of the regional governments will consist of 3 independent branches with necessary legal protections to keep each branch independent with power to conduct oversight of the other branches.
It is evident that Sri Lanka’s economy cannot continue with the status quo but requires a 180 degree transformation in a new economic path. We have repeatedly witnessed that every elected government failed to balance the budget by increasing foreign debt without increasing revenue. As a result, the highly import dependent country has now run out of dollars needed to import even the essential goods (food & medicine) and inflation has even eroded the rightfully earned local currency. Therefore, it is time that we accept that no individual or even 225+1 could ever lift the country’s economy on their own without empowering the 22M people by granting necessary economic freedoms. Currently, due to the restrictions imposed by each government to import or freedom to trade internationally has restricted even those willing and able to participate and contribute to the national economy. Coupled with such restrictions, each Government has often favored those who help the politicians while restricting the majority of potential entrepreneurs. As a result, many people have been restricted by each government to exchange internationally, gain credit, hire or work for whom they wish, or freely operate their businesses. Therefore, it is apparent that Sri Lanka needs to learn some economic denominators at least from the neighbouring countries like Hong Kong & Singapore or even smaller populations like New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, Australia, and Denmark to establish a free market place, under common laws and limited regulations.
As considerable research has determined the inverse relationship between the degree of economic freedom and income inequality and direct relationship among economic freedom on social mobility, there is no doubt that we need to increase economic freedom for all citizens. As the Fraser Institute suggests, social mobility, economic freedom are highly related to quality of education, lifelong learning, technology access, and inclusive institutions, legal systems and protections of property rights. Fraser Institute further emphasizes the importance lies in the fundamental role of economic freedom in promoting individual initiative, entrepreneurship, voluntary exchange, and freedom to conduct a business, which ultimately leads to long-term economic growth, good governance, and democracy. The author concludes that weakness of the rule of law, the inflated size of the government, politicization, and nepotism are among the most critical factors that have impeded the development in Sri Lanka.
It is very evident that the economic impediments 22M people face today stem from the way political power was robbed, exploited and monopolized by a narrow elite, like a quasi mafia enterprise. Unlike previous generations, we are fortunate that the youth today are a new citizenry who are innovators, changemakers, nonviolent fighters for their rights, visionaries and trend setters. They believe that they deserve so much more than the cards they have been dealt with as they are a better class of citizens who had the courage to express their displeasure as a fulltime nonviolent ARAGALAYA. It was evident that if the government had any credibility, there would not have been a need for an ARAGALAYA to voice the displeasure of the people. If there was any shame left in the 225, they should have resigned voluntarily when they failed to provide the bare necessities to the people. But yet, people are still ignored while the parliamentarians are busy shuffling among the dysfunctional branches of government rather than coming together to plan and implement strategies to recover from the downfall.
Unfortunately, the protestors are yet to define a clear vision for themselves or for the country even after President Gota was expelled by the people. But the Aragalya youth seem to be in agreement that the country should take a new path away from the failed conventional wisdom.
Many may ask, who would perform this daunting task that is very essential. It will definitely not be the existing crony 225+1 who caused the turmoil and therefore, Phase 2 of the independent Aragalaya should now become our ‘Pro Democracy or the Civil Rights Movement’, if the youth can return to its original apolitical theme by divorcing from the political cartoonists. This new movement will need to develop the menu of transformational changes and a recipe/roadmap to establish the new foundation, construct pillars to establish the new institutions and a common roof to strengthen the rights and protect & serve all people. As Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France and US revolutions once did by overthrowing the elites who controlled power, we too should perform a Social Transformation, which can result in a new Political Transformation without continuing to rely on the prevailing central authorities, so all people can participate in an new economic revolution to create the new nation we all deserve. This is our revolution even if we have to repeat the aragalaya on the 9th of every month to declare our long term bold vision to strengthen and broaden the political rights of every individual and hold governments accountable and responsive to the citizens. In such an empowered citizenry, people will not only vote at elections but also participate in governance between elections and hold power to impeach those they elected through an independent judiciary. As a result of self-governance, great masses of people will participate in an enabling environment to take advantage of economic opportunities from a well regulated free market place towards building the new nation we all deserve. Therefore, people need to continue the ARAGALAYA to the next level and continue fighting for their human, civic and political rights to expand everyone’s economic opportunities as we cannot allow our children to go begging as well. The result will need to be a fundamentally different political and economic trajectory which will need to be built on a newly bound social fabric with humanity at its center, beyond the insecurities from race, religion or political loyalties that once divided us all.