By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
This is not mere rhetoric. When I say that it is the youth, this is not mere cosy flattery. It is the truth. All compounded things are impermanent, and we all have to go, sometime and then the responsibility cast on the youth is bound to be heavy. So dear youths, we have messed things up, substituting some country’s industry for our laziness. Of course there is no Free Lunch, and in importing their goods or services, we import their inflation as well. When we borrow their money to import luxury goods (cars included), we are also selling your birthright and honour, to indulge in our profligacy. We consume more than we should and produce less than we could.
We owe you the youth a profound apology, also for crippling and isolating you by the Crime of foisting our “National” Languages upon you, particularly the Sinhala medium products, because language is mainly for communication and not for pinning a badge on your sleeves. Unfortunately, the rest of the World, are the poorer for lack of foresight, to learn Sinhala and savour its unique delights!. I do not know how we could make amends for the stupidity of ranking our political exigency ahead of your future. We should prostrate ourselves at your feet and confess our sin. It is the bounden business of my generation to leave you a great country, and not a hopeless dump of garbage. It will be your duty to improve matters even further for the next batsmen to follow.
Ours was a fortunate generation, to see a World free of “Major” Wars and have seen vast achievements in the fields of electronic magic, improved health and other comforts. Television, cars with AC and even starter buttons (we had to crank the engine manually), and when it rains, put up shutters carried in the car boot, (if it had one). The range of benefits is enormous. But then, we could buy imported potatoes and sugar at some =/08 cents per pound, newspapers at =/10 cents in the morning and =/05 cents in the evening, imported butter from New Zealand for 2/50 a half pound, a crate of Elephant Brand Ginger Beer for about 20/= and for the older generation, “Beck’s or Heineken “ beer bottle for around a rupee or so! When we got to drinking age, it was “Guiness” Stout at 2/25 and a plate of potato French Fries at about =/50 cents at the Savoy Cinema Building. At school, my highest fee (Science) for the University Entrance Form was 22/= per month, enough to buy two of the smartest “Arrow” Shirts. Private tuition was unheard of and even when given, was gratis! When I bore our children with these “dry stuff” stories, the retort is “Yes, but salaries are much higher now”. True, but salaries have not increased a hundred-fold and sometimes a thousand- fold, to match these figures, and also meet greater demands of improved living conditions.
I have perhaps an unjustified aversion to Politicians. Maybe, but I have a reason, politics has insidiously crept into all aspects of our lives during the past seventy years. There are many very decent, capable, cultured and admirable persons. But, I fault them. The pithy saying that “those who lie with dogs wake up with ticks” applies in this case too. What have any of them done to reform, reject or correct this pitiable state? Exceptional rewards demand stellar performance. Is this met? They thus only generate envy and fear. It is time that the public assert themselves against this abomination. The whole system in our society have been craftily invaded, in a manner that allows a grasp of authority, detached from accountability. It is apparent that our confusion gets dispelled, by the realization that recognizes that the true contest is not between the SLFP, UNP,UPFA or TNA, Pohottuwa, Bulath Kole or Aliyah, Kola, Nil or Thamba. It is really between the Politicians (of all stripes) versus the People (of all Ethnic, Religious, Linguistic persuasions). The rest is a game of pretended rivalries. Anyone watching Wrestling Shows on TV will see fake hostility. Could Politicians really be in cahoots but displaying pretended animosity? Cordial association at social functions between those declaring their “six feet below ground” treatment for each other, kiss and forget so easily, hinting that they may creep under the same blanket?
You were promised bell-bottom jeans, belts, beads and a million jobs. Where? Now laptops, but no playgrounds, no toilets and no water to drink. I believe that is not only the telephones that are ”Smart” and that your generation will not take this baited hook, this time round. Just see the sessions of the UK House of Commons. All sit on long benches and a single podium is used by each side. The “Front Benches “are literally so. The Speaker’s seat is equally austere. Not ours, expensive chairs, fancy mikes, water bottles, plush carpets and staff buzzing around servicing calls on blinking lights. Life is good and made better by buffet meals, surpassing those of five-star hotels. With all of these, the House adjourns often for lack of a quorum “because …… Members are abroad”. This makes sense of a proposal to raise Attendance Fees to 20,000/= per day.! Even now, an “ordinary” MP is said to cost some millions a month, and the exclusive ones in an ever increasing Cabinet considerably more. Good value for money and Rates of Return on investment?
Our youth should consider in some detail, the way the primary body which decides your futures (and ours as well), namely the Parliament functions. The “House” is said to control all Government expenditure and thereby its plans for the year. The Budget is a seminal, and authoritative part of governance. It has to be carefully drawn up and delivered by the Finance Minister, representing the whole Cabinet and the budget is a key indication of Government intent for the Year. By tradition, a solemn Budget speech is presented by the Minister of Finance promise of intent. Much ritual is followed with the Minister entering the chamber, brandishing the “Budget Box”, with a delayed Grand Entry, to the already assembled house and then proceeds to deliver his speech. As he drones on for three hours or so, uttering pompous figures of various kinds, which we cannot understand, nor he and perhaps not even those who put those magical figures together do either! This (fiction?) is presented principally to a Front Bench, whose occupants have been captured on camera, and distributed World-wide by Facebook or Twitter or whatever. All the “ Honourables” are in deep slumber, and some visibly snoring. Understandable, after a sumptuous subsidized lunch. I wonder whether their dreams flash through visions of their humbler masters (the Voters), toiling in the blazing sun, to keep the August Assembly and all of us going! Upon conclusion of the speech, The Assembly shakes off their sleep, adjusts their suits, possibly a visit to the Rest Rooms, on the way to the traditional Budget Tea Party. The day’s exhausting work done.
Then follow weeks of debates and first, second and third readings and finally, the Vote. The result is a foregone conclusion, members being subject to the Party Whip and open vote. When it comes to General Elections, freedom of choice is said to be guaranteed, and elaborate arrangements are made to preserve confidentiality of citizen’s voting to determine who is to represent them. What is good for the Goose Is not so for the Gander! Then, why bother sending qualified, and high quality representatives to Parliament, when all they are called upon to do is raise their hands or “press their buttons” in the newly installed and very expensive electronics and display panels? As that celebrated Tarzie Vitachchi (of “Flybynight” fame) declared, “Communication without Transformation is gossip”. Is this not so for the Budget process? If not, why bother to vote, debate, or go through an expensive process that matters not a jot? And to cap it all, dozens of extra-budgetary “Supplementary Votes” are ritualistically passed, scandalously, even for luxury bullet-proof cars. Are we all, including the youth, being taken on a “right royal” ride? The whole affair is cynically funny. The leaders of a country should be Role Models. Are they?
It is deeply distressing to see students engaging in street processions, strikes, ragging and other unseemly behaviour. They have been through an intensive path of education and must be the “cream of the cream.” – having benefited from free education at the tax-payers expense along with family sacrifices. They should be at their lectures, reading in the Library, taking part in sports and really enjoying their youth, not taking on unnecessary “Uthgoshanayas “ on matters of little direct concern to them. Perhaps it might be significant that students of Medicine, Science and Engineering are poorly represented – being busy with learning. I recall an occasion, when Dr PPGL. Siriwardene, on his way home, was blocked on Thurstan Road by a student protest rally. He asked a protester what this was all about. The reply was, “Ay sir, danne nedda? Lomba Marala ne !”. Patrice Lumumba had just been murdered (in Moscow). This indicates the extent to which young minds are being ruined – often by left-leaning Politicians. A contrasting case – the much feared Sir Nicholas Attygale was VC, whose office was in a corner of the main wing of the University. It was conveyed to him that the President of a student body wished to see him. “Ask him in”. He replied, in the meantime lifting his feet on to his desk, leaning back, cigar between his lips. The Student leader walked in looking menacing. “Yes” said the boss. “Sit down” “Sir, I have brought a petition from my Union.” “Read it” orders Sir N. “Sir?” This was duly done. “Yes, yes, read it”. Duly done. “Now tear it” A shocked “Sir?”. “Yes tear it.” Also duly done. Then holding his WPB up, “Put it here”. Also done. “Now bugger off”!. Problem solved. But, could anyone do so now?
The immediate problems that will confront the youth, stem from two major factors .These are Population increase and Global Warming.
Population increase is a global problem but no less so for Sri Lanka as well. With our population of 21,000,000 and a Growth Rate of 2%, in actual terms this would be 420,000 per annum or 1,160 daily. This would mean so many schools the size of Royal College per day. If just half of the 1160 marry, 290 new houses are needed per day. Proportionate increases of hospital beds, railway coaches, buses, cultivated acreages etc. etc. And when today’s needs are met, we will have a similar requirement for tomorrow’s and for each following day! This might be a crude estimate, but the drift seems reasonable. Needless to say, this amounts to a huge challenge. Unfortunately, religious, political and emotional prejudices, blind us to this reality. In 1798, Rev. Robert Malthus proposed the theory that while Agricultural productivity increases linearly, population increases exponentially. Thus, when there is unchecked population growth, comes the point where resources cannot keep pace with the population. Starvation and catastrophe restores the balance. Wars, plagues and pestilence reduce the population. This is how nature moves towards sustainability. What came to be known as Malthusian Theory, angered particularly socialists, who saw it as an attempt to suppress the “Working Classes”. For small, under-developed countries like ours, population planning is imperative. There is obviously no chance of providing Government jobs to over 1,000 per day, although one million new jobs would be provided to youth in 5 years will go the same way as the many promises broken!
Employment And Leisure
The State simply cannot take on this huge increase. For orderly governance, there have to be regulation (Licenses, Permits, Policing, Records etc). Development (Buildings, Roads, Farms, Hospitals, Schools, businesses etc.). The ratio is probably about 80-90 % for regulatory and 10-20% developmental. Presently, the State sector employees are said to be about 1.2 – 1.4 million. This cannot possibly absorb 420,000 more annually. Did not someone promise a million new jobs in five years. Where? An insecure Private Sector cannot either. Therefore, the content of education, as much as its goals must adjust. Were you not promised bell bottoms, chewing gum, belts and bracelets? Where, again? The encouragement of enterprise and self-employment opportunities should be actively promoted and education should adjust accordingly. The capacity for originality – “thinking outside the box “must be paramount. As Mark Twain is reported to have said, “I never allowed my schooling to interfere with my education”. We have a long way to go towards developing a “work ethic” and pride in a “Good Job done”. A celebrated Principal of Trinity College, Rev. A.G.Frazer expressed himself, “I do not mind if our boys become Rickshaw coolies, provided they become good Rickshaw coolies”.
The spectacular progress in improved communication via the internet, opens up unbelievable access to information has transformed teaching. No long is there a need for lessons to be designed towards merely imparting of knowledge by “Rote learning”. Any information desired can be accessed electronically and rapidly. No longer should teaching cram information into young heads, but rather to directing students on where to access information, and how to discard the rubbish.
So, youth should develop a good “Work Ethic” with pride in what they do. Punctuality, courtesy and integrity, focus and prioritization, honesty in word and deed, criticism of what is rotten and respect for what is right. This is not difficult and the cost is small, but the dividends are large. So, youngsters, break away from the past, think anew and steer our nation to greatness. You can !