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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sri Lanka needs a change

By Upali Tennakoon |Lanka Independent Published on June 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm
When we live in ‘exile’, we often meet various people from various countries. They always speak about their own countries and leaders. Sometimes they boast about their victories and histories. But, as Sri Lankans, what do we have to say about our country and its leaders? What do we have to boast about?
Yes. We have a long 5000 year history that dates back to the era of King Ravana. We can speak proudly of our history it was undoubtedly a one filled with glory and prosperity. The splendor of this era prevailed throughout centuries. A foreigner, who eagerly listens to this interesting story may ask an important question. “Where does your country stand now?” This obviously is a very valid question.

Sigiriya - Ancient rock fortress in Sri Lanka's Central Province and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
What happened to our country? How did that age old glory diminish? Is it because of the foreign invasions, destruction and carnage that took place during the past 500 years? Or, is there a reason beyond that? Even today, Sri Lanka is gradually stepping towards a vast chasm and this ‘journey’ seems to be irreversible.
Today the pace of this particular ‘journey’ has noticeably increased and it’s clearly visible in every sector of society. But, even in this context, some people, particularly our leaders, often wax eloquent about ‘development’. What is this development? The citizenry is trapped in a huge muddle. The people are constantly lashed at by the torturous cost of living. The subsidiaries which were given to the poor, have been curtailed, one way or another. The vast majority of those poverty stricken people are struggling to make ends meet and at the same time poverty and malnutrition is increasing day by day. This so called development is not visible to the public?
Democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of speech have been curbed and suppressed by the regime. The stalwarts of the opposition parties are being bruised and battered and some of them have been incarcerated in prison. The people are not allowed to be free from fear. Suppression, oppression and domination are thrust upon them by the rulers.
Now, more than two years have elapsed after the military victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also known as the Tamil Tigers. But, have we gained lasting peace and national reconciliation? Disappearances, abduction, slaughter and many other oppressive acts take place continuously and with the blessings of the government. It’s needless to discuss each and every incident separately; but there is enough evidence to substantiate this fact.
Personal development
In a context such as this, can we expect any progress or development? Perhaps the rulers and their stooges have attained certain achievements. Their ‘development’ is very visible. Someday, If they disclose their assets publicly, everyone can see the ‘altitude’ of their progress and development. Our politicians and other top level government officers must disclose their assets for the past 10 years. They should disclose the details of their local and foreign assets and bank accounts along with those of their family members. The citizenry as well as the media should be given the chance to question these public officials about these details and it will eventually, expose the staggering magnitude of the corruption with which the country has plagued.
Hiding booty in foreign lands
The assets of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were publicly exposed only after he was ousted from power. Until then no

President Hosni Mubarak
one, not even the top echelons of his government, knew the details or size of his amassed wealth. This characteristic is common to some other leaders as well. Many of their assets are kept and hidden in foreign lands. A recent report released in America revealed that many of Bangladesh’s assets are hidden in overseas lands. Several months ago ‘Wikileaks’ made a revelation about gigantic Swiss bank accounts belonging to certain Indian politicians.
Lack of transparency can be seen as the major reason for this socio-economic catastrophe. Therefore, some countries are taking legislative measures to curb bribery and corruption. India, for instance, is in the process of drafting an anti corruption bill. Through the anti corruption bill, India expects to restore financial discipline and transparency to its monetary system. But, when it comes to Sri Lanka there’s not even a single shadow of hope for curbing bribery and corruption. Instead of restoring monetary transparency, the prevailing situation is only getting worse.
It is true that Sri Lanka was in an advantageous position, a few decades ago, particularly when in the transport and infrastructure sectors. Somehow, we could not capitalize on it. For instance, we can still recall the trams and trolley busses which were plying in Colombo some time ago. We could have developed these services and formed a robust and luxurious transport service at least in the main cities. Apart from that, it can certainly add some attraction to the city as well. By now, many countries have developed very attractive, efficient and luxurious Tram Car and Trolley Bus services.
Malaysia, as we all know, is a country with a booming economy. But in the 1980s even the tallest building in Malaysia was much shorter than the Ceylinco Tower in Colombo. After two or three decades, Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lampur has gone from strength to strength while Colombo has gone nowhere. When Malaysia reconstructed the city of Kuala Lumpur, the then President of Malaysia Mahathir Mohammed instructed the authorities to protect the old structure of the city as well. Perhaps his intention was to highlight and demonstrate the progress of the nation to future generations.
Compared to such international figures, our leaders still remain in kindergarten. Our leaders have an entirely different mindset. If they had some kind of sense about the betterment or the progress of the nation, they would not have done away with the Tram Car or Trolley Bus services. Even after doing away with these services they did not make any serious effort to develop our public transport service to a robust level.
There was a time when the Ceylon Tire Corporation, Oruwela Steel Corporation and the Yakkala Ceylon Hardware Corporation were at their peak. These institutions were established in Sri Lanka as a result of donations from powerful foreign countries. There was a large-scale paper factory in Valachennai, sprawling weaving mills in Veyangoda; state owned garment factories in Pugoda and Thulhiriya. In addition to this, there were state corporations for cement and fertilizer production and distribution. But now, many of these corporations have become defunct. Some institutions still survive amidst immense difficulties. Some are gasping their last breath. How did this happen? It is of course a very important question.
Not even toilets
What happened to the public toilet system in Colombo? These public conveniences were established by the old administrators, to accommodate the less privileged people who visit or reside in Colombo. This public toilet system should have been modernized and developed by successive administrators. But instead of that, they shut down these public conveniences and sold those pieces of land to vendors. The sorry state of our nation today is a sad reflection of the selfish, ungrateful and negligent attitude of successive leaders. It is quite apparent that they have measured everything in rupees and cents to their own personal benefit.
The agricultural renaissance initiated by the late Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, the public transport service ( CTB ) set up by the

SWRD Bandaranaike
late Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake fell victim to the same pitiful reality. All the leaders that governed the country in the recent past should be held responsible for this. All of them contributed to this ‘demolition’, one way or another. The politicians made false promises and had no desire to develop the country’s natural resources and national projects.
If one were to go through the election manifestos presented by all the political parties during the recent election, the culture of ‘false promises’ is clearly visible. I doubt whether there are any promises left to be given in forthcoming elections. If those promises materialized into reality, then Sri Lanka would have definitely become a ‘heaven on earth’. But politicians repeatedly present the same old promises at every election. And quite surprisingly, the voters accept these promises, continuously, without any resistance.
In the past some political parties urged people to rally around them to conduct ‘revolutions’. But finally, these parties ended up being constituent parties of the grand coalitions which were formed only to gain power. The undisputed leaders of those parties held prominent portfolios in these governments. Then, their faces were unmasked and identities exposed. That’s why the leftist movement in Sri Lanka faced a tragic death.
Muddy swamp
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) emerged in this backdrop, accusing all the other leftist parties of being party to repressive, capitalist governments. But ultimately, they also ended up in the same muddy swamp. Today, is there any difference between the JVP and the other ‘traditional’ leftist parties? If they are unwilling to come out of this muddy swamp, they will become extinct, just like the other leftist parties.
Sihala Urumaya, spoke on behalf of the Sinhalese people. But within a very short period, the party became defunct. Then they masked themselves with another ‘Urumaya’ and even some prominent Buddhist monks became the stakeholders of this tomfoolery. Again, the voters were deceived. Now, all these parties and alliances are stuck in the same mud pool.
True faces
Therefore, we should identify the true faces of these masqueraders. This country needs a change. This particular change should emerge with a new mindset. A brand new thinking pattern. This can only be achieved with new faces. The country needs new leaders. The voters of this country should be able to distinguish ‘leaders’ and ‘masqueraders’. That is the path to create a new country. A new Sri Lanka.
We need a new approach towards our industries. There should be a new approach towards public services such as heath and education. The university education system in Sri Lanka needs to be revamped. Every sector of our society needs a facelift. The leaders who are capable of making this change should be elected to power by the people. If not, we will remain in the same mud pool for centuries. We spent the entire ‘post-independent era’ in this swamp.
More than 63 years have been wasted. These political incumbents have rotted our country. While sitting on this rotting mass the present rulers still continue to paint a rosy picture and conjure up a ‘fairyland’ for the benefit of the gullible people. In other words, they are fooling the entire nation.

Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. Tamilnet photo
I recently read two news items related to the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. One was a remark made by him about the brutal assault which took place in Jaffna, against several Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Members of Parliament (MPs) and the other one was a letter sent to him following the attack against protesters in Katunayake FTZ.
In the first incident, the Defense Secretary alleges that the assaulted TNA MPs had made a complaint to the American Embassy, instead of complaining the police. But the MPs refuted these allegations insisting they had complained to the police first.
In a separate incident, the German Ambassador to Sri Lanka sent a letter to Defense Secretary Rajapakse, inquiring about the police attack on peaceful demonstrators at the Katunayake FTZ where many Germans had invested in businesses, mainly in the garment sector. Apparently, this particular letter had irritated the Defence Secretary Rajapakse.
In the former case Mr. Rajapakse blamed the TNA MPs for complaining to the American Embassy. But, can they be faulted for that? The Assaulted TNA MPs might have made the complaint to the American Embassy because they have lost faith in the Police. Furthermore the responsibility for such a lack of faith is mainly the fault of the top echelons of the government such as the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. In this context, the victims have to rely on foreign embassies.
Apparently, the TNA MPs had no other option but to complain to the American Embassy. Therefore officers such as Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse should take necessary measures to restore their faith in the police and military forces. In fact by making these allegations, Rajapakse is only humiliating himself in front of the entire world. This is nothing but a reflection of the Defense Secretary’s incompetence.
German Ambassador riled
The issue, created by German Ambassador’s letter also falls into the same category. Writing or sending a letter is not a strange act. In

German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jens Plötner
a democratic society, anyone can write a letter and send it to anybody. But if the Ambassador’s letter irritates Mr. Rajapakse unnecessarily, it means that Mr. Rajapakse has not fulfilled his responsibilities to his job and his country. Any person would act on his/her belief and faith. During a critical moment, one would usually rely on the most faithful and reliable person/ institution. This can be stretched to the Police Department and the other law enforcement bodies too. Today, in Sri Lanka, the people are reluctant to rely on the Police. There has been a gradual erosion of trust because of past bad experience and because the police have not acted in a reliable manner when it comes to critical incidents. Neither is police or the government doing anything to regain the faith of the public. In a context like this, how can the Defense Secretary fault the TNA MPs for seeking refuge in the American Embassy?
State of the Union
During the recent ‘ State of the Union Address’ made by the US President Barack Obama, he used two words “innovate” and “innovation” 11 times. He insisted on the need for ‘innovation’. Even America has realized that its recovery depends of ‘innovation’. We should not forget the fact that, still, the Americans possess the most advanced and sophisticated technology in the world. They are capitalizing on it. These missions are not just limited to ‘words’. They have already taken action to achieve this targets within a projected timeframe. Countries like Singapore, North Korea, Germany and Canada have achieved a huge economic and technological advantage within the past three decades. But still, these countries are in a process of expanding these sectors. They are already outlining necessary plans to develop such sectors as housing, construction and modern technology.
China, the emerging global economy is another example. They have already achieved an exceptionally good development rate. They are now on a mission of making this development rate persistent. It is true that they are confronting challenges such as inflation and a soaring cost of living. But the Chinese administration has identified this matter and they are in a process of rectifying it. China has identified the need for redesigning its education system. China is working hard to redesign its education with the aim of making it better than America’s education system. China’s leaders have insisted that they are uplifting its education system as a strategy to confront future global challenges. Through these educational reforms, the Chinese government is giving more space for ‘modern technology’ with the aim of fulfilling the needs of the job market in the future. The government has defined it as a National Priority. Annually, the Chinese government is facilitating hundreds of thousands of new inventions and investing in scientific research. At the same time, Japan, the Asian economic giant, is now re-emerging from the aftershock of the devastating earthquake which hit Japan, several months ago. The Japanese leaders have already implemented policies to rebuild the nation after the huge natural disaster.
Many countries have adopted a National Priority List of their own. What about us? Do we have one?
Futile projects

Hambantota port project
No, we don’t. If we had a ‘priority list’, would we be spending millions on ineffective futile projects such as an ‘international port’ and ‘international harbour’ in Hambantota, particularly when cost of living, unemployment and malnutrition are reaching sky-high levels? What is the outcome of these two large scale projects? They swallowed millions and billions of public money and produced nothing. What is the point of making ‘international airports’ without aircraft and ‘international harbours’ without ships?

A bird's eye view of the Hambantota Port Project. Photo courtesy
If the government spent that staggering amount of money on infrastructure projects such as water, electricity and transport it would have produced results. Still in the grassroots, many villages do not have basic facilities like water, electricity and roads. Housing, unemployment and university crises are the other severe socio-economic issues that still remain unaddressed. In spite of these burning problems, the government is spending public money lavishly on fruitless projects. The ultimate aim of many of these projects is to build up the image of a person or a family. How much do we spend on the research sector? How much do we focus on new inventions?
Therefore, it is not so difficult to realize the crisis we are facing right now. We shouldn’t be deceived by our leaders anymore. We should wake up from this deep slumber. We should not fall prey to political jargon and jugglery. We should embrace the winds of change and move towards a new era.
First of all, we should elect leaders who can lead from the front. They should be creative, innovative leaders who have a true and genuine intention to lead Sri Lanka towards a new chapter in history. They should be clean and magnanimous. I don’t think it is impossible to find such charismatic leaders. The potential leaders are still there. The only thing is we need to identify them precisely.

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