By N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA
This Government was elected to office with a huge majority, considered impossible in a PR electoral system. There were two important factors that contributed to this victory; one was the immense popularity of the nationalist leaders of the SLPP, and two was the anti-national policies followed by the ‘yahapalana’ government and its dichotomous leadership, that bungled in every aspect of governance. Voters came, even from abroad, in large numbers, in a surge of nationalist feelings that seemed to proclaim “let us get together to save the country”. The Government, however, must not forget that such strong sentiment, like a tide, can turn against it if it does not get its act together.
It should not take for granted that just because it has the support of a large number of people, who have nationalist feelings, it could get away with major blunders, forever. Already the signs are visible that people are not very happy about what is going on, and all that disillusion is not due to Opposition propaganda alone. There seems to be a vibrant Opposition, as it should be, that grabs every opportunity to badly embarrass the Government. Instead of lambasting the Opposition, though there is enough ammunition to do so on account of their miserable failure during ‘yahapalana’ days, the Government must take stock of the situation and take remedial measures as soon as possible.
Issues seem to crop up almost on a daily basis, which, very often, take the form of a comedy of errors, with Government high-ups becoming the target of lampoons. There were several issues that impacted on the daily life of people, which were mismanaged and allowed to grow into disastrous situations; with growing suspicion that there could be corrupt practices also. Price of rice, the irregularity in relation to Customs duty on sugar, and import of contaminated coconut oil, were three such issues that caused a lot of damage to the reputation of the Government, recently. What made it worse for the Government was the unprofessional manner the Government explained matters to the public, and the appearance that an attempt was made to cover up. The various spokesmen for the Government could not, at least, speak in one voice. One would say contaminated coconut oil has not been released to the market and another would say coconut oil in the market is being tested for aflatoxin . The Opposition would latch on to this and shout from the tree tops that the coconut oil will bring cancer to the people in the New Year. With regard to price control of rice, one minister would say they will raid the stores of mill owners and take over the hoarded rice, while another would say they will import rice. The Opposition would shout that there will be no rice for the New Year “kiribath”.
Anyway, the issues regarding rice, sugar and coconut oil should have been more efficiently managed, without appearing to be bumbling along. If there had been any corruption, related to these matters, the Government must get to the bottom of it, find the culprits and punish them, irrespective of whether they are top ministers, government politicians or supporters. Else the canker will grow, resulting in the downfall of the government.
70% of those who voted for this Government are poor people. If the Government makes a genuine effort to improve their lot, mainly their income, health, education and housing, the effort of the Opposition to exaggerate the issues, which it must be said could occur under any government, would have less success. At present the Opposition seems to be having a field day with people tending to rally around it. The President’s visits to the villages would give a lot of confidence to the poor people, but whether what he promises are being implemented by the officials is something that needs to be looked into. The President must also focus on a comprehensive plan to take the people out from their abject poverty. He has said that is his intention and seems to be genuinely concerned about this matter. He had changed the strategy to combat Covid and avoided large scale lockdowns, keeping in mind the need for the economy to recover and things would have not been bad. Covid seems to be under control and the economy also seems to be recovering, according to the World Bank. The World Bank goes by economic parameters, like GDP, but whether the apparent growth reaches the people is not certain. Whether enough is being done to improve the poor people’s living standards is the question.
The President has said he would concentrate on developing an agro-economy. This indeed is laudable as 30% of the workforce, in Sri Lanka, is engaged in agriculture and related activities. Land is of short supply in a small island, and there is a tendency for encroachment, into forest reservation, for expansion of agricultural and other economic activity. This is like the stomach invading lung space and could be equally disastrous. Several such instances have been detected, and the Opposition may have exaggerated all this and attempted to show that the President is Eco-unfriendly. Some of his own MPs have added fuel to fire by taking on the forest conservation officers who are trying to do their job.
How could this problem be solved? An agro-economy would need to contribute at least 25% to the GDP. Now its contribution is only 8%. How could agricultural produce be increased without damaging the environment? What experts like Prof. C.S.Weeraratne have proposed is to employ scientific farming methods, like the use of high yielding varieties, better seeds and fertilizer, improved irrigation, greater mechanization, better storage and transportation facilities. Funding for this work must be found and there cannot be any excuses because people can see that the Government has enough money to spend on the comfort of their politicians. Further, if corruption is curbed, money would be available for these projects. The President is known as a big achiever and a ‘no-nonsense’ person, and his track record in this regard is excellent. It is disappointing and sad to see a Government, headed by such a person, bungling along, due to the activities of incompetent ministers.
Self-sufficiency in essential food items should be a priority. If this is the policy of the Government why is it importing coconut oil. If we are not producing enough coconut, why do we export coconut products. About 7% of our exports, in 2020, were coconut products, and 50% of this was kernel. Is it a better trade policy to export local products and import the same products in a different form from abroad? Is there any logic in this? We must export essential items only if we are producing in excess of local requirements. One hopes there is no corruption involved in the practice of exporting coconut kernel, and then importing it back in the form of oil.
Government must not forget that its sustaining force is its nationalist orientation. Its nationalism should be based on the national consciousness of the people, and it must be defensive and protective, but not oppressive or chauvinistic. It must protect all communities and treat them equally. It must look at every issue from the national point of view, and look for solutions within that framework. Nationalism of this government has been castigated as racial by some commentators who support separatism. Government must avoid doing anything that would be ammunition for such commentators.
Its decision not to enter into the MCC agreement is in keeping with its nationalist policies. The way it handled the UNHRC Resolution was also good, but more could have been done in this regard. It could have made use of the seemingly unsolicited helping hand that Lord Naseby extended. By unwittingly spurning it, the Government appears to be accepting the view of separatists and their supporters that Lord Naseby is a “backbencher”, and, therefore, his view does not carry weight. However, it could be said en passe that the viewpoints of people like Siobhan McDonagh, Labour MP who supports separatists, are being made use of by separatists, despite the fact that she is a “backbencher”.
Some say there is no unity in the Government and there are “ginger groups” and disgruntled members. There is reason to believe that this may be true. Disagreements and disputes came out into the open and there was washing of dirty linen in public. This could be very damaging to the future of the government and the SLPP. Such things should not be allowed to happen. Differences must be settled by engaging in cordial discussions in a spirit of give and take. A nationalist government in Sri Lanka, with its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, could have many powerful external enemies. If it develops internal animosity and strife its days would be numbered. Let it learn a lesson from what happened in 2014, which resulted in the ‘yahapalana’ regime and the ensuing huge damage to the economy and the independence of the country.
But more importantly, if the Government does not improve the poor man’s lot, which could be done only by developing a national economy, based on agriculture that contributes about 25% to the GDP, the Government would be doomed. It is not the time for mega projects, like elevated railroads and highways. Such activity will not reach the poor people sufficiently to alleviate their poverty, as shown in the past where nationalist governments were defeated, despite achieving much with such big projects.
Regulate sports in popular schools ahead of big matches
The Big Matches between popular schools in Colombo and main outstation cities are round the corner. In the past school sports was in the hands of former sportsmen and sportswomen who loved the game as well as their school. They devoted their time and money to coach the budding youth without any monetary gain for themselves.
But, see what has happened today. Sports coaches selected by the schools demand millions of rupees to coach the students. And this is readily agreed and paid by the school authorities. In the good old days the members of School teams were provided free meals during match days and also Sports equipment. But it is not so now. The school earn millions of rupees from big matches played for a duration of two, or three days in some cases, and this money could be utilised to buy the required cricket gear such as bats, pads gloves, boots, etc,. I understand a pair of cricket boots is in the region of Rs.18,000 to 25,000. Can a poor village lad who is enrolled to an affluent schools in Colombo, based on his performance in Education and Cricket afford this? These lads should be given all the support to continue in their respective sports rather than drop out due to financial constraints
Coaches in some schools are in the payroll of big-time businessmen whose children are, in the so called pools. Parents of children engaged in a particular sport should not be permitted to come in as sponsors as this would be rather unethical.
The Big Matches between popular boys schools are around the corner and I suggest that the Sports Ministry ensures performance based selections rather than on other criteria.
‘Post turtle’ revisited
I have written about this amusingly thought-provoking creature, the ‘post turtle’ to ‘The Island’ around three years ago (appeared in the opinion column of The Island newspaper on the 19th of June 2018, titled ‘The post turtle era’). The story, which I am sure most of you have heard/read already, is obviously not a creation of mine and I happened to come across it somewhere, sometime ago.
And for the benefit of those, who haven’t heard the story, it goes like this:
“While surturing a cut on the hand of an old Texas rancher, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually, the topic got around to politics and then they discussed some new guy, who was far too big for his shoes, as a politician.
The old rancher said, ‘Well, ya know he is a post turtle’. Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle was’.
The old rancher said, ‘When you are driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, well, that’s your ‘post turtle’.
The rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he went on to explain. ‘You know, he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place’.”
Now I was having this nice, little siesta, the other day and suddenly there appeared ‘the turtle’ in front of me, sitting on a fence post, seemingly doing a precarious balancing act as the post itself was too high for it to give it a try to jump down to the ground. Not that it probably wanted to do it anyway for it looked quite contended and happy sitting there doing absolutely nothing. And no doubt some loyal and dumb all rolled into one, must have put him up there and been feeding it well too, for it looked quite contended and fat showing a thick head that kept turning to the left and then to the right, while its tongue kept on lolling out as if it was saying something, which must have been absolute gibberish and rubbish anyway.
What a fitting and symbolic representation,
I mean this ‘post turtle’, of the lot, or the majority of it sitting across ‘the oya’, I mused on after I woke up from my snooze.
Many of them get there thanks to the gullible voter, who while ticking the boxes, thinks: he/she will surely deliver the goods this time as promised!
And those two-legged post turtles inside the edifice, bordering the Diyawanna, like the one in the story, keep uttering sheer rubbish and spitting out incomprehensible mumbo jumbo, all in return with thanks to those, who tick the boxes in their favour.
Their statements such as ‘what is oxygen for, to eat?’, is just one among many such stupendously stupid utterances of theirs and I don’t want to tire you with the rest, for they are well known and far too many.
Now I have only one question for you before I end this:
When are we going stop being ‘those dumb asses’, once and for all?
Abuse of use of title Professor
I read with much interest the letter by Mr. Nissanka Warakaulle, regarding the above matter, in the issue of the Sunday Island of 18th April 2021. I agree fully with the contents of his letter. He should be very familiar with the regulations as he is a former Registrar of the University of Colombo. I wish to highlight another instance where it is abused. In the 1970s, the title of Associate Professor was created. Until then there were only three categories of Professors. Firstly the holder of the Chair, secondly a co-Professor and thirdly, an Emeritus Professor. There were also, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers and Readers. The title of Reader was replaced with the title Associate Professor, which is meant to be a designation, to be used after the name. However, this category of academics started using it as a pre-fix, dropping the word Associate!
Profesor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya MBE
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics,
University of Colombo
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