29 May, 2022


Why Sri Lanka Is A Failed State

By Oliver A. Ileperuma

Prof. Oliver A. Ileperuma

The rupee is crumbling and ordinary citizens are taxed to the hilt in consumer goods, fuel and services. At the same time, what is squeezed from the common man is supporting expenses for the kith and kin of powerful politicians for sojourns abroad. The presidential entourage to New York last year is a case in point where 63 people joined the bandwagon for merry making in New York. By contrast, the husband of the New Zealand prime minister personally paid for his air travel since he had to take care of a new born baby. Prime minister too, not to be outdone, has ordered 2 luxury bullet proof vehicles for Rs.590 million rupees according to the JVP leader Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Is this where the hard earned money of the common man go as taxes? In my own case, after serving the University for 44 years, the provident fund savings I got is now taxed. I can understand if these taxes go to repair the dangerous suspension bridges or provide clean water to people suffering from the chronic kidney disease in the Anuradhapura district but not support the extravaganzas of ministers and other members of the parliament.

Corruption was rampant during the previous regime where massive amounts of money went into politicians on useless grandiose projects such as the Hambantota harbour, Mattala airport and Suriyawewa cricket grounds. In addition, there are other wasteful projects like the massive conference centre at Hamabantota larger than BMICH which is now gathering dust and a university hostel without any university. People voted for the yahapalana government hoping that such colossal wastages will not happen with the new government. However, people have been duped again with a worse den of thieves hell bent to rob the people of this country. There was even a proposal to build a railway line from Kurunegala to Habarana, a distance of 88 km, at a massive cost of 151,000 million rupees although it appears to have been withdrawn after heavy criticism. There is already a railway line to Habarana via Maho covering a distance of 113 km and the proposed line represents only a saving of 25 km. Only two passenger trains ply along this route per day due to low demand and there are no signs of any export processing zones coming to Habarana which has only a population of around 10,000. Politicians do not care for the needs of the country but only interested in the kickbacks when embarking on such unnecessary grandiose projects. Even a modest commission of 10% for the rulers means that those who decide on this project would have been able to reap a whopping 15000 million rupees. Eventually, it is ordinary people who have to pay thorough their noses in increased taxes and no wonder why Sri Lanka has the highest suicide rate in the world.

We have a democratic government where the people elect their representatives to the parliament. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “a form of government of the people, by the people and for the people”. This expression has to be changed for Sri Lanka as “a form of government of some people, by some people for some people”. Let us consider the pathetic situation of our present Government. In 2016, parliament approved Rs. 1.6 billion to import luxury vehicles for ministers and deputy ministers, some costing over Rs. 70 million. One media spokesman had the audacity to say that they need better vehicles to travel to their electorates while they were still using luxury benzes, BMWs for such travel. Is this what the people expect out of the parliament? A single day’s parliamentary sittings cost the Sri Lanka’s tax payer around Rs. 4.6 million and yet, when important policy decisions are taken only a handful of members are present. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya lamented on this pathetic situation when a supplementary vote was debated in parliament where only 62 members out of 225 members were present. Most of the members had gone to the inaugural screening of the film Paththni! It is the curse for the people who elected such parliamentarians who are helpless to stop this shocking and disgusting behaviour of our politicians. As a general rule less than 50% of the members attend parliamentary sessions even after the government increased the daily sitting allowance from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2500 last year. 

What is the solution for this dismal failure of our parliament? Personally, I feel that the parliament along with its rogue jumbo cabinet should be abolished. Only a few countries have progressed through parliamentary democracy. There were strong men like Lee Kwan Yew and Mahathir Mohammed who transformed their economies from the ashes. Other countries like Thailand and most of Europe have monarchs who have an overall responsibility for the well-being of their countries. Even England became prosperous after the authoritarianism of its kings. Democracy can only be exercised if the population is intelligent enough and the country is substantially economically developed, to elect their own representatives to the parliament. Are our voters intelligent enough to select whom to send to the parliament? The answer is an affirmative no. They will select drug lords, actors and actresses who have no feelings to the sufferings of the common man. The preferential voting system has made it worse where only the rich who can spend a lot of money throughout the district can win a seat under this system. The greatest disservice JR Jayewardene did to this country was enacting a new constitution with preferential voting and the creation of an almighty president.

Democracy, if it is a form of Government for the people has to ensure that all people should be treated equally. Here again, only some people, particularly those belonging to the ruling party are recruited to lucrative and not so lucrative jobs in the Government sector. The University system where I have personal experience can recruit a professor but even a labourer appointment has to be made from the list provided by the Minister of Higher Education. Once recruited, it is difficult to control these henchmen since they are the “minister’s men” This is most likely true for appointments made at most of the ministries.  This is the most despicable way in which democracy works in Sri Lanka. As result of a recommendation of the Youth Commission appointed  by the Premadasa government after the second JVP insurrection, all appointments to the Government sector were based on a competitive examination after open advertisement. Successive governments have conveniently forgotten about this procedure and instead appoint only party loyalists and friends to all jobs in the public sector.

Maintaining a minister in this cabinet cost at least Rs 1 million monthly considering their vehicle expenses, coordinating and private secretaries and media personnel. What is needed is to elect a non-partisan and an impeccably honest person as the President and get him to suspend the parliament for at least five years and draft a people friendly constitution. This is a fanciful suggestion which may be a distant dream. However, we should remember that “there should be a dream: otherwise people perish (proverbs:  29.18)”. The president once elected can dissolve the parliament and appoint a caretaker cabinet comprised of a few professionals, both from the public and private sectors to run the ministries but with no politicians. If the country can be run without a parliament for at least five years then a number of the present day problems can be solved.In Belgium, after the 2010 election, the two major parties failed to arrive at a consensus and the country ran without a government for a world record of 589 days! Government bureaucracy ran the country with a caretaker prime minister and 11 cabinet ministers and the annual growth rate increased from 2.5 to 3.3%. In other countries such as Finland, there are only 11 ministers and Holland has only 14 ministers. Yet their economies are booming and the citizens are happy. In Sri Lanka taxpayers support this jumbo cabinet of 30 ministers along with state ministers, deputy ministers and draining our meagre financial resources.

Another big drain on the national economy is the system of provincial councils which serves no useful purpose but only helps to a ballooning bureaucracy creating  administrative burdens on people. This system arose from the Indo-Sri Lanka accord which JR Jayewardene (JRJ) signed without any consideration to our national interests. One may say that India forced this system down our throats. However, If JRJ had acted wisely this white elephant could have been avoided. He made enemies with India insulting the Gandhi family and this resulted in India establishing LTTE training camps in India. His son Rajiv Gandhi carried on this antagonism and forced JRJ to accept this useless system of provincial councils. While it was meant to help devolve power to the North and East provinces, eventually it engulfed the entire country.

People gave a mandate to the present Government to abolish the presidential system and reconstitute the constitution, in particular the curse of the preferential voting system. To achieve this a committee was proposed comprising of 3 members from the parliament and 7 outside members. However, our parliamentarians who think they are the smartest  decided  to include 7 members from the parliament and 3 outside members. This was nearly two years ago and the committee has not succeeded in producing any tangible outcome.  They seem to work on the principle, “if you can do it tomorrow, why do it today” and tomorrow never comes.

For a country to prosper, law and order should be engrained in the administrative system. Enforcement of laws is left to the judiciary and if a simple civil case takes six years to solve, there must be something wrong somewhere. Land dispute cases can drag on for over 20 years by which time the original litigants are dead. Even for murder charges, the convicts are released on bail after a few hearings and the cases drag on for years. Does this kind of system operate anywhere else in this world? “Justice delayed is justice denied” is a popular legal maxim in the west. People have to suffer waiting for the dispensation of justice paying hefty amounts to lawyers. The present system only makes lawyers richer and the parliament which has many lawyers in its ranks will never enact laws for a speedier justice. Recently six people were convicted in Tangalle courts after a lapse of 22 years after committing the crime! Even Justice minister Thalatha Atukorale recently admitted that there are 750,000 cases pending judgment and the main reason is the postponement of cases. It is doubtful whether the Government will do anything to alleviate this pathetic situation. It is dangerous for an individual like me or even a newspaper to highlight the long delays on cases pending in courts to highlight the long drag on cases for the  fear of prosecution by courts as what happened earlier to S.B. Dissanayake and now to Deputy minister Ranjan Ramanayake.

In a true democracy, freedom of expression is taken for granted. In the USA, President Richard Nixon had to resign from Presidency after two investigative journalists uncovered the Watergate scandal. Previous Rajapaksa regime controlled the media through financial rewards to journalists, offering them foreign junkets and helping them to send their children abroad for education. Journalists who could not be bought were brutally assaulted, intimidated or even killed like in the case of Ekneligoda. The present government is no better with 13 journalists included in the presidential entourage to the United Nations in New York last year and it is not surprising that none of the printed media or even most websites had the courage to highlight this colossal wastage of funds. Such is the freedom of expression practiced in our country and can we ever claim that we have democracy in this land? Similarly, no mainstream news media reported on the extravagant spending of Rs. 590 million for two luxury cars to the Prime minister. What is even more surprising is the deafening silence of the Government on this reported abuse public funds.  

Many educated people I meet regularly complain about the present situation where there appears to be no hope. They openly criticise the two main parties for failing to serve the aspirations of the general population. I used to advise my students that they can go abroad after graduation but return back to serve the motherland. Now I give exactly the opposite advice to never return to this country ruined by the politicians beyond repair. What is happening in Sri Lanka is that power keeps on shifting from one set of crooks to another worse bunch and it is the future generations who will have to bear the consequences of hefty loans taken solely for the financial comfort of politicians rather than that of the common man.

The main reason for the falling rupee is our low national productivity. We import a lot of our food requirements like onions, dhal, potatoes, mung beans and gingelly. There is no plan to increase cultivation of these essential commodities in our own country. We are not making use of our natural mineral resources to strengthen exports. Abundantly found mineral resources such as mineral sands, rock phosphate, iron ores, throium minerals and graphite are either underutilized or not used at all. This writer has been agitating for over four decades to develop a chemical industry and manufacture value added products from our minerals and these pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of our politicians. Our rare earth minerals from Beruwela were processed and exported in the 1970s but after the free economy, this completely stopped and JRJ gave the equipment and buildings located at Katukurunda to the Police training school. Rare earths fetch high prices in the international market because they are extensively used to make sensors in electronics. Similarly, we export minerals such as ilmenite without any value addition and import its processed products at 1000 times or more. We have excellent quality graphite and we do not even make pencils locally out of graphite. Manufacturing phosphate fertiliser from Eppawela apatite will enable the country to save Rs 5 billion annually on the fertilizer subsidy alone and a complete factory to produce fertiliser costs only around Rs. 3 billion. Politicians think that this valuable phosphate reserve is their personal property meant to earn a few bucks by selling it to a foreign investor. Many previous attempts on building a phosphate manufacturing plant failed due to such political interference. Our financial planning is carried out by economists who cannot understand the difference between river sand and beach sands. Our main planation crops like tea and rubber are getting affected by a foolish ban on the popular weedicide, glyphosate based on the unscientific facts presented to the President by a Buddhist monk. Also, corrupt practices such as blending our tea with imported cheap quality tea has ruined the “Ceylon tea” trademark. Similarly our spices such as black pepper and cinnamon are adulterated by imported inferior quality products. According to newspaper reports, when the chief executive of DSI complained at the Economic council that they have to now import shoes from China our Prime Minister was annoyed and barked at this executive. He can clobber down such local businessmen using his power but what has his trio of friends in his economic planning division done for the economic upliftment of the country? His appointments to the Central bank and Sri Lankan airways were based only on old school ties and both failed miserably and even put these institutions in the back track.

These economic failures can only be corrected through the involvement of people, particularly the intelligentsia of the country. Mainstream political parties such as the UNP nor the SLFP (or even the SLPP) are well established failures to carry the country forward. A totally non-partisan President is the only way forward and people in this country should awaken from their deep slumber and think of a better country for their children and grandchildren.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    The majority of Sri Lankans are feeling sad and helpless at these times. Corruption is rampant and the rule of law is not adhered to but in my view it is not easy to turn these around without the participation of majority of the people. The poor majority who witness these crimes daily are helpless because they are engaged in an unending struggle for their own survival. So it is up to the learned individuals who are members of various forums to raise their voices to insist that the governments take early action to reduce the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor. This is a problem even in devloped countries but in our country the situation is becoming catastrophic. To begin with I suggest people like the Professor insist on equal opportunities for education which has hampered the progress of our rural youth. At a time when education is being privatized the govt. must insist that a reasonable percentage of non fee leving students be accomadated in all private instiutuions at least up to the tertiory level. Corruption cannot last long in an educated society. It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

    • 6

      What happening? I wish we have more people like you and professor Oliver Elayaperumal but monks don’t care because people give free food

  • 6

    Country’s current pathetic state is caused by the people themselves. In Sri Lanka people are corrupted and mostly unjust. Politicians know this. That is why, they deliver what people look for. People are looking for exploiting people. When people become thinking about people and living justly then the politicians have no chance to do all these wrong-doings

  • 8

    everything you have written is fine prof. but not a single word about accomodating the aspirations and grivances of minorities.. do you thing without national integration and social cohesion can we achieve development. look at the number of pogroms that took place in the country. development should be all the people and not to one segment of the population.EX: look at the govt. service. what is percentage of minorities? it is well below 10 percent. how many secretaties are there? only one or two. how many ambassoders are there? the list is long.

    • 2

      Dayal if we hire more minorities into all of these areas tmrw – it still won’t fix the grave systematic issues highlighted here… better more educated worldly politicians who understand diversity are required to realize what you wish?

  • 5

    It is the people who elect the government and if those politicians fail the state you have to blame the people. People get a government they deserve. All the leaders since independence have exploited race, religion and language to divide people. That includes DS Senanayake who deprived 800,000 Hill country Tamils their citizenship and franchise.
    Then came the Sinhala Only Act and the standardization scheme for admission to the university. It is the latter that drove the Tamil youths to bear arms against oppression.
    Everyone thought there will be a change in the style and content of the government. When Sirisena was elected as President all thought the Messiah have at last have arrived. But within a week of his assumption of office, he promoted his brother from the Timber Corporation to Telecom! A man who claimed he is a one-term president wanted to find out whether he can hold office for 6 years under the old system.
    His pledge fight against corruption is a damp squib. He appointed a person notorious for corruption as the Prime Minister. He claimed he acted on the best legal advice he received from “experts.” So much for the stupidity of the man. As the professor pointed out rightly he took a jumbo load of people to US to attend the UNO. That included his immediate family members and close friends. The colossal wastage of funds left people breathless, Et Tu Brutus? Many asked?
    The doubling of lawmakers salaries, the doubling of the number of local government members from 4,327 to 8,327 an increase of almost 100%. Is this not an act of madness on the part of the Yahapalanaya government? The import of luxury vehicles for MPs, PC members was insane. Unfortunately, at the next elections also people are going to vote for these corrupt politicians and the corrupt political parties.

  • 1

    Kannadasan was a popular Lyricist in India for a good long time . He barely left
    anything about life untouched . A Genius in South India . One of his creations
    comes to mind . Snake from around the neck of Parama Sivan asks Garuda ,
    ‘You alright ‘ ? Garuda replies , ‘ Yes , as long as everybody else remain in their
    place ‘. And it is true says Kannadasan. We have a place in the world and we
    forget it most of the time , many in US say some countries forget their countries
    and remember the US for many reasons ! I believe we are one of them ! There
    are Americans who are frustrated that congress is not necessary if courts can
    decide on their own and president has veto power that amounts to autocracy .
    Democracy and Autocracy , both are capable of doing good and bad to the people
    and the most of modern world has neither absolute democracy nor absolute
    autocracy . Don’t you find Mercidez and Ferrari in Moscow ? What was the first
    foreign trip of Mr Ttrump ? Why a democracy chose an autocratic Saudi ? Is it
    not because of the levels of democracy within that autocracy or the autocracy
    that the US has within their democracy ? The truth is , most of modern world
    has the mix of Capitalism , Socialism and democracy working together to survive.
    What you need is growing up to the truth with the system already in hand . With
    our GDP we stand at 91 according to the IMF , 94 W B and 95 according to C I A
    2017 which put us ahead of many countries including India ! Out of 193 U N
    member countries ! According to CIA index , just 13 steps up the ladder you are
    at China’s seat ! All we need now is communal harmony . Establish peace
    among communities and see the difference .

    • 3

      It is very very hard because religious leaders policy’s. American founders were very smart and they gave the religious freedom but they did not allow religious fanatics to rule the country. From 1957 every time they government want to give the God given rights to the minorities the monks overruled the people choice.. The politicians are chicken to stand up for the rights of the people. Time will come the international community will rise up with the side by side to say enough is enough and choke the country ecconomically as they did with North Korea. Rhodesia, and South Africa. It is better to live with harmony with the Buddhist. The majority are not racist but the majority of the monks are racist. I see many diaspora Tamils are carrying Tiger flags, it is sad to see. Most of my friends gave money to the Tigers and I nver gave a penny and don’t attent Tamil functions. It is sad the Monks are trying to convert liberal minded many into radical that is why Prabakaran became a mister and I blame the monks.

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 1

    Sri Lanka Is Not A Failed State. Hate to disagree.

    • 4

      The article clearly shows that Sri Lanka is not just a Failed State but a Corrupt, Lawless, Bankrupt Failed State!

      Pretending that it isn’t the case is part of the problem imho – too many people unwilling or unable to face the harsh reality.

      As far as the devaluation of the Rupee goes – this was requested by the IMF as a condition for further loans to prevent Total Collapse of the Economy. IMF wants a Rupee at 200 to the USD – this is what is going to happen. This has appeared in print.

  • 5

    Excellent article. You have however said that the govt spends around a million to maintain a minister. Auditor General recently in a report had said that government spends. 3.75 billion per year to maintain a minister. In my view it could be even more because the systems are in place. What a terrible mess unless it is corrected at the earliest.

  • 5

    Sri Lanka is a failed state because it has no Law and Order. No minimum education is required to run for elected office. When the President and the Prime Minister are expected to fall on their knees and worship an uneducated 20 year old in yellow robes, because he is a Buddhist Monk, still learning religion, we are a pathetic country.

    Separate State and Religion as the first step towards Progress. Drop the term – State Religion – in the constitution and recognize all people are Equal Citizens under the law.

    All of the above is a start and should go a long way. In my mind, I have decided that Bribery is here to stay for a long time. As long as we keep offering Donations to God expecting bigger Returns, bribery to the peon, clerk, Inspector, Supervisor right up to the Minister is going to continue. After all, if bribing God is okay, why not people in power to expedite our expectations?

  • 3

    Without utilizing the TAX we paid efficiently and effectively each Government takes foreign loans unnecessarily.

  • 1

    We have seen such a number of articles in various media about corruption, bribery, malpractices etc. But the people continue to elect the same corrupted, deceptive and murderous politics as their reps in parliament. Why? The people at grassroots level need to think and change. Articles such as this should reach them. They should be educated without any political bias by independent people like this author.

  • 0

    Dear Prof

    Thank you for a simply written yet

    – the essence of ‘Economy Stupid’ captured very well.
    – administrative issues captured very well with recommendations.
    – The disastrous election 1977 TULF/UNP folly captured very well …………in my opinion (197719832009)………now is 2019 and the current discussion on constitution shows is not a democracy?????
    – opportunities missed and what we have left unexplored also captured well

    The failure of united front from the ‘elected’ is indeed our failure since 1948 because ’causes’ not related to nation building have been discussed ‘then and now’ (constitutional assembly) after all the loss of life by the misfits???

    We need a graph showing death and misery vs time due to infighting………..post 1948 – 1970(near zero), 1970 -1977(traces), 1977 -2009(few hundred thousand) will simply show the inadequacies of a ‘democracy’ in a post colonial nation??? how this was taken over by the ‘unfit’ systamatically….I can vouch as a man from Vaddukottai…..we had to vote under terror/intimidation/harassment/bullying/killing of the opponents/misinformation by Suthenthiran to create what we have today…..the same sit their shaking hands with the ‘foreigners’ having let our children to death as mercenaries???? I guess the South could not be any different??

    We are slaves to the world is a fact……..because we have failed ourselves through terror brought to our door steps by our own children???? who were trained to kill/destroy all our dreams………a failed neighbourly love because someone did not like our elected?? I am not sure on this one Sir………….we are not talking about taking this ‘foreign state sponsored actors” to Hague for all our failed state???????? but blaming each other???

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