Whither Sri Lanka – once the pearl of the orient?

By E. R. Joseph

This country was once described as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Even President Lee Kwan Yu of Singapore who visited this country, years ago after we got independence had visions of developing his country to the status of Sri Lanka. That was the development of Sri Lanka then. Now 59 years after Independence we have been gradually sliding down and down over the years and now stand at the brink of a ‘Failed State.’ On the other hand, Singapore is now one of the most beautiful and prosperous countries in the world, smaller in size with a lesser population than Sri Lanka.

If one were to analyze what went wrong in Sri Lanka over the years, I wish to quote the Archbishop of Colombo, the most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis who states in his special Independence Day message which appeared in the Daily Mirror of 3rd February, 2007 that “People get the rulers they deserve.” A true statement indeed. It is the people who are to blame for electing those unworthy politicians to represent them in parliament. This has been happening at every election over the years. It was the D.S. Senanayake regime after Independence that worked for the country. Ever since, the country has been experiencing changes for the worse and gradually sliding down with no proper government and no decisive action taken over the gnawing problem to the ethnic issue. With the war endlessly being fought over 22 years with destruction and loss of lives, all successive governments have been concentrating on the war and not the welfare of the state.

This war is un-winnable especially when you are fighting guerrilla forces. This is a worldwide accepted principle. If the govt. does not know this, it has sadly lost its way. What the President is doing is that he is talking peace on the one hand and making his military moves on the other, despite a lot of advice coming for lasting peace from international sources. He is listening to advisors who have ulterior motives and not for peace, nor the welfare of the whole country. However much you fight the guerillas and conquer their territories, terror tactics will not cease. How long are we going to deploy our forces in our streets, in villages and jungles hunting for the tigers? Check points, road blocks, body searches, procuring arms and ammunition for the war has to go on endlessly for years and thereby development in the country suffers.

With the recent mega cabinet of the government, matters have become worse, with billions spent on maintaining 54 ministers, 34 project ministers, including 5 for nation building and 20 deputy ministers. Nation building appears to be a big joke. We wonder whether this nation can ever be built without lasting peace and stability. Just doling out a few portfolios to get a majority in parliament is not going to help this cause.

In comparison, our neighbour India, with a population of more than 1 billion and China with over 1.3 billion have less than 30 ministers each. Even Bangladesh, a poor country has 22 ministers for a population of 150 million. We will very soon enter the Guinness book of world records. Expenses for the mega cabinet and the cost of war, has brought this country to the verge of bankruptcy. Perks and privileges that the working people of the country deserve are virtually robbed and given to the parliamentarians who are already leading luxurious lives. The people are heavily burdened now looking after the government and not vice-versa.

Most of the foreign exchange sectors like Tea, Coconut, Tourism etc. are in a parlous state. The Educational system obviously needs a complete overhaul to suit the employment opportunities of the country. Strikes and killings are commonplace in the once respected seats of higher learning. They are now called ‘open and close Universities.’ The dearth of teachers in rural schools, with most schools in a dilapidated state and school children incited to strike, has made a mockery of education. Dr. Sarath Amunugama, at a meeting in Kandy on 5th February, 2007 said that education in the country is a big lie. To cap it all, there is absolutely no law and order in the country. Abductions, killings, disappearances are a daily occurence raising questions as to how some of these could happen in high security zones. And now death threats are being sent to cabinet ministers as well. Bribery, corruption, misappropriation of government funds, erratic tender procedures and abuse of power are rampant.

Inflation has hit an all time high. The Governor of the Central Bank has admitted this in a speech made some days ago and says that it takes time to bring it down. It is not like giving a Panadol to a patient to cure a headache, says he. How long have the people to suffer? Yes, the Government which was elected to cure the ills of the country seems to be capable only of giving Panadol to the people! Negotiations to usher in peace is the need of the hour and it is a very urgent indeed, in order to prevent the country sliding down any further.

Will we ever come out of this mess and be able to lead the country to prosperity and fulfillment? This is the million dollar question.

[A letter to the Editor, dailymirror.lk]

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