Conflict resolution might be way out!
By Dr Laksiri Fernando
Sri Lankan crisis cannot be separated from the international crisis both in economic and political terms. This is a warning for the political leaders to resolve their differences and conflicts in an amicable manner. Holding (or not holding) of Local Government elections and the newly-introduced Advance Personal Income Tax (APIT) regime are the main contentious issues between the main political parties and their trade unions at present.
While there are only nine recognised parliamentary political parties in the Australian federal system, sixty-two political parties are recognised in the Sri Lankan parliamentary system giving rise to both superficial and unwarranted conflicts and competitions between them. As a result, there is no stability in the political party system. Where are the UNP, the SLFP, the Federal Party or the Ceylon Workers Congress today? All these main parties from the early years of independence have suffered crippling splits.
Conflicts and Conflicts
Intense political rivalries at the political party level are undoubtedly a reflection of the psychological mood and orientation of the public and the people. These rivalries are not uncommon to many other political systems including the developed democratic countries. France at present is one example while many parts of America have been inundated in this situation for a long time.
However, to my experience and observation, extreme politicisation and rivalries are much higher in the case of Sri Lanka. There has been a tendency among the people (both young and old) to look almost everything from a prism of politics. Even at social events or even family parties, mainly men, get involved in political debates. The drinking of liquor (excessively) at these occasions might be a contributing factor.
The world undoubtedly is going through a civilisational crisis. The war in Ukraine has become a mess and human disaster. The invasion by Russia was unwarranted even in terms security or prestige of its country. However, instead of resolving the conflict through peace and negotiations, the NATO countries and America have intensified the war through supplying arms and ammunition to Ukraine to continue a fight. The major failure has been on the part of the UN which has become hopeless in terms of conflict resolution and peace. There is a possibility of the war becoming a nuclear disaster.
This is not an isolated case. Humanity, civilisation, the so-called developed nations, and the UN have continuously failed to prevent war between Israel and Palestinians and many other wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. These conflicts have given bad examples to many other developing countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, etc. Similar conflicts have continued in the Latin American nations. This is the civilisational crisis today. Although humans have developed in terms of science and technology, they have terribly failed in terms of human relations, justice, peace, and conflict resolution. This is also one reason for the natural disasters and environmental problems.
Facets of Economic Crisis
Sri Lanka should not be callous in addressing the present economic problems. The IMF does not have a magic wand while those who oppose the IMF are misled by old leftist arguments. Sri Lanka has been a member of the IMF since 1950. If there are disagreeable conditions from the IMF, those should be discussed and negotiated. I was surprised to observe that many international media reported that the last general strike in Sri Lanka was held in opposition to the IMF! While the trade unions undoubtedly have many grievances, they should sober their positions and slogans to suit an amicable resolution to the present crisis.
The emerging international signals are continuously worrisome. Two major banks in America, Silicon Valley Bank, and the Signature Bank, have completely melted down. The signal clearly is for a world recession sooner than later. The repercussions are now shaking the Credit Suisse bank (the second largest) in Switzerland. If the government leaders in the country are trying to give a rosy picture after obtaining a small amount of IMF loan, and restructuring the debt repayments, it is a complete distortion of the situation.
The loan taking during the last ten fifteen years have been completely irresponsible. There was no transparency. There were no discussions to reveal the plans and objectives and to take inputs from independent specialists and/or the people. The political leaders and the top bureaucrats were not even keeping the accounts or information properly. When it became revealed that Sri Lanka is not able to fulfill the debt obligations, it was a shock to everyone. That was the result of the irresponsibility of the political leaders.
Still they move in the same direction of duplicity. The so-called debt restructuring is often pictured as debt cancellation. These restructured debts must be paid later while the government is still taking loans from countries and multilateral institutions. Apart from debt restructuring, the country needs to restructure the economy. Although some measures have been taken, no clear plan or programme is put forward before the people. The people’s support is imperative for any economic recovery. This is where the conflict resolution is necessary.
Relevance of Conflict Resolution
The last year 2022 was a mess both in political and economic sense. According to reliable figures the economy had contracted by 8 percent. This will not significantly change this year. A global recession will adversely affect the Sri Lankan efforts to resuscitate the economy and develop the country. These are the matters on which the political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations should come to a common understanding. That is one aspect of conflict resolution. However, there are so many other aspects.
Although the open war is over, the Sinhala-Tamil conflict is still a major obstacle for the country’s development and peace. The failure to understand each other, and respect other people’s values and culture is common even among religious, language, cast, gender, professional, regional (up-country vs. low country) and other groups. Under such a situation, peace and conflict resolution should be taught to children from the beginning of school years. There can be a mass movement and a massive effort to fulfill this task transcending political parties, divisions, and groups.
Let us take few examples. On the advice of the IMF, the present administration has declared that over 40 loss-making state institutions would be closed. To my view, this is a necessary measure to manage the economy better, and the support of all groups should be sought. Although not overtly expressed, there can be conflict of views on this and other matters. What are these institutions? What kind of an economic position that they are engaged in? These facts and information should be revealed to the public to open a healthy conflict resolution discussion.
This does not mean that the situation in the country is completely hopeless. The younger generations are quite skillful with modern ideas and views as revealed through social media and new social engagements. Although they are highly frustrated about the present situation, they could be mobilised and motivated for new ventures and paths. It is unfortunate that the present university students are disoriented and discouraged. While curricula should be changed to modern directions, the medium of instruction should be English for future prospects. Sri Lanka should be a modern country and old views, values and practices should be discarded.
During the last two decades, the development trajectory had taken a distorted form. While large infrastructure (ports, airports, major roadways) is a must to the country, they should have been the second priority, giving much prominence to industrial, entrepreneurial, and export-oriented enterprises. What are the main pillars of the economy? Traditional exports (tea, rubber, coconut) have not improved enough with value additions. New exports (textile, garments, gems, and labour) are also a fragile pillar without long term agreements or understandings with importing countries.
Of course, tourism is a promising area although affected by the Covid and political instability in the country. Unless the two major current issues of local government elections and APIT tax are remedied amicably through conflict resolution, the tourism sector also would be badly affected.
On the question of elections, the government is now playing with the idea of a presidential election at the end of this year. Although a presidential election could resolve the de-legitimacy of the present President, the logical step is to have the local government elections first to safeguard and preserve democracy. There can be negotiations, but soon. Even in resolving the tax issue, there should be negotiations and the government can easily reduce some percentage of the tax while trying to resurrect the abandoned files of the people who were excluded from the tax net under the last government.
It is not good for the country to have continuous strikes, protests, and demonstrations that could lead to violence and destroy not only the reputation but also the economic recovery of the country. It is my wish particularly for the universities to commence their sessions/teaching soon and for the students to study well and contribute innovatively to the economy, country, society, and democracy. There should be amicable conflict resolution in this sphere.
How much muddying is enough?
Maduranga Kalugampitiya (MK) in his Kuppi article in The Island of June 6, titled, “Have humanities and social sciences muddied water enough?” tries to highlight the stepmotherly treatment given to humanities and social sciences (H/SS) in higher education and says that the practitioners in these fields are themselves responsible for this downgrading of the two fields. The core of his argument is that the H/SS streams being in a lowly position in campuses, is more a problem with the practitioners of H/SS than one with the condescending attitude of the policymakers and the general public. As a remedy, he goes on to say, we have to muddy the water, meaning, we have to make interventions that will unsettle the status quo so that the authorities will sit up and take notice; and for this to happen there should be a restructuring of the relevant programmes.
With regard to the weaknesses found in H/SS streams, MK refers to a few issues, saying that the necessary restructuring should produce academics who can engage “in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence.” However, it is doubtful whether such an exercise will raise the level of recognition being given to H/SS studies because as he himself agrees, “downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day.” Asking difficult questions and disturbing the status quo are not likely to raise H/SS streams to the dignity they deserve because the relevant subjects under H/SS are by no means the ones that can cut any ice with the global powers that determine which disciplines would best suit to run the circus of their profit-making consumerist economy.
Asking disturbing questions will be the very thing that will make the giants further denigrate the H/SS programmes. Of course, students of hard sciences neatly fit into the “predefined slots” of the mighty engine which determines the world order. It is the students of hard sciences along with those of engineering, medicine, marketing, IT, etc., that have predetermined places in the system with high salaries, perks and prestige. None of these disciplines are free of the market paradigm and help perpetuate the system. None of the subjects coming under H/SS have that glamour in the eyes of those who pull the strings; hence muddying the water will only further aggravate the problems of the field of H/SS. In fact, the widespread idea that spending time and money on these subjects is a waste is directly related to their being evaluated, not by progressive minded academics who envision a more humane society, but by those who are on the top, promoting crass consumerism and profitmaking. Hard sciences, commerce and technology are grist to their mill.
MK’s assumption that H/SS streams are smeared with a bit of soft skills to add some “value” to them is a bit erroneous. It is not only these subjects, even those prestigious subjects like engineering, IT, marketing, etc., have a top layer of soft skills, without which, the students cannot secure a lucrative job. For example, it is an open secret that most of those who are absorbed in to the private sector are not necessarily those with better academic credentials; they happen to be the ones who perform at the interview better although they may have average grades. This, once again, shows the direction of education which is set to produce those so called “employable graduates”; an education which is mightily influenced by the market requirements. As such, whether with or without the topping of soft skills, the H/SS will not compete with the hard subjects. The problem lies elsewhere outside the pail of the curriculum.
The very fact that MK “self-consciously” uses science-related terms like “laboratory” and “H2O” to prove his points in a discourse on the problems of H/SS streams itself shows the popular appeal of science terminology. That’s the crux of the matter. The hard subjects are quite pervasive even in terms of language and the reasons are above and beyond our comfort zone of purely academic interests. Everybody wants to do hard sciences or marketing related subjects because they are the ones that will take them to the promised land of luxury and comfort. Anyone who takes a liking to subjects like, painting, music, language, history, geography, archeology, etc. will have to do it at their own peril unless he sees a clear path for social climbing. As such, the idea of muddying the water will not go a long way with the powers that be unless muddied water can compete with “purified” bottled water in the market place!
MK touches a sore spot when he says that most H/SS researchers wouldn’t produce anything more than “jargonised commonsense”. He goes on to state that the reason is not simply the lack of “rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory” because even well qualified researchers don’t seem to muddy the water enough. One reason for this, according to him, is the lack of academic integrity of the researchers who for personal reasons flinch from conducting research and push conclusions to their logical ends. They fear the undermining of their own privileged position and the backlash from the society. If this is the case, it is a tragic situation which truly begs the question whether it is worth pursuing H/SS subjects. In fact, it proves that H/SS streams are not only in need of significant restructuring, but even the basic concepts of H/SS have to be reexamined and necessary formulations put in place. It is doubtful whether how much academic training would be enough to make a veteran researcher get enough “training to withstand that pressure”. After all, there are many laymen who can resist pressure from outside without any academic training!
Finally, there seems to be another reason which merits a radical restructuring of the H/SS streams. Of course, the students may be getting training in critical thinking when they are made to study these subjects. The study of almost every subject in H/SS- be it literature, history, sociology, art, economics, political science, language or archeology involves critical thinking. However, as “humanities and social sciences” imply these are much related to our existential problems. This is all the reason why such critical thinking should not be limited to their narrow subject areas. Isn’t it pertinent to ask how much of these critical thinking skills have helped the practitioners of H/SS (teachers, students and researchers) to look critically at the socially and culturally transmitted traditions that have had a stranglehold on our lives? If the conventional mindsets of most of these practitioners are any indication, it is clear that the necessary restructuring must comprise fundamental changes, if the relevant students are to be made progressive minded citizens in our society.
Celebrating what went well or denouncing what went wrong?
By Chani Imbulgoda
“We suffer today, because leaders in the past have failed to govern this country properly”. Oh, the predecessor has not done things well, they all have let the place go haywire”. Familiar excuses… When one takes over the leadership be it the country, be it an organisation, or be it a new position. We, naturally, incline to blame the past, criticize the leadership and highlight what went wrong. We start new reforms, new policies, new practices… condemning the past. We have a tendency to look back through the rearview mirror… only to criticise what went wrong, and start everything all over. Why don’t we give some credit to the past and celebrate what went well, as well?
It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, I wondered how much similarity we can evidence today. Tolstoy describes how the war was waged in early 1800, and how Russia suffered. After two centuries, we witness how Russia repeats it over Ukraine. No lessons learnt from the past. We just passed a civil riot; strikes, protests continue; and controlling and curbing protests are not rare. As a country, have we forgotten our gloomy days in recent past? Bombs, killing, destructions from northern point Pedro to southern Dondra, youth insurrection, misdirection and all the blood we witnessed… It seems that we, rather than learning the lessons unlearned it.
Bringing the beauty of learning from the past, American author, Judith Glaser suggests looking at the past, finding new meaning from significant events, following them and creating successful behaviour patterns. Have we forgotten our glorious past where this country was recognised as the jade of the Indian Ocean? This was known as a prosperous country during the reigns of ancient kingdoms. Once the granary of the East, and even before that, crowned as the Kingdom of mighty by king Ravana, who deemed to be the first to fly an aircraft. I recall my friend in university days who used to say that “there is no future without past”. As Santayana, Glazer and my friend say “we need to look back and learn from our past in moving forward. In the early 19th century, we submitted our sovereignty to colonial masters by conspiring against our own breed. We made Sinhala only policy in 1956 and we opened the economy in 1977, letting our strengths blown out by foreign winds. Lots of lessons are on the stake, if we really want to take. An upcoming book “What Went Wrong” by a bureaucrat, Mr. Chandrasena Maliyadde, a former Secretary to Government Ministries discusses how Sri Lanka failed in many aspects, including public service and University education. There are books on historic accounts, newspapers and media that bring present contexts, and futuristic projections…it is left for us to make our soup adding right mix of past, present and future to taste the soup.
Past is a repository of knowledge!
Reflect on the qualities and competencies possessed by today’s youth with yesteryear’s generation. Do we miss something in the new generation? A state university officer once lamented that those young officers joining the university did not look at the overall picture when making decisions … fair enough, I have noticed a many young staff, and even some old hands think only about the fraction of work they deemed responsible … ignoring the whole process involved. We often pin the blame on the education system. During the good old days, school curricula consisted of lessons on morals and ethics, lessons on history. More importantly, formal education kept space for youngsters to think, there were no tuition classes, and no online assignments to complete. There was time for friends … time to play; time to enjoy nature, and time to talk with parents. Those days youngsters were a part of the real world, nature and ancestors who educate the wholeness of life. Aren’t we missing something in our education system? It is time to look back and look ahead, and look across. Finland, known to be one of the best countries for education in the world, avail time for students to engage with nature; no tough competitive exams, they learn being humane, they learn to be balanced humans. There was a propaganda “Nearest School is the Best School”. In the present context where everything has become expensive, exercise books to transport fees. Safety and security of both male, female children are at stake. Much concerns over drugs, and sex, it is time to revisit and refresh this propaganda tagline. There is a shortage of papers, there was a shortage of fuel and electricity, we never know what is in stock for us in the coming months. We cannot afford to have marker pens and whiteboards in schools now. Time to think about the rock slate which we could use several times and learn well and hard way. I believe more the hard work put in tiring both the hand and head, higher the productivity. Considering the wellbeing of individuals, rising cost and scarcity of essentials and medical drugs, and sustainability of our environment, time has come to think of our past styles of commuting, cycling. Cycling reduces air pollution; cycling makes you fitter. In effect, we will not be compelled to depend on many vehicles imported and perhaps medicine too. We have reached the point where we have to bridge the past with the future. We need to learn from the past and blend it with the future, appropriately without forgetting the present and its context.
Learn from the past, but don’t
stick to it.
When we see a roadblock, a cavity on the road or a commotion or congestion, we naturally turn to the rearview mirror. But we do not turn the car and go back to where we started. No doubt we learn lessons from the past, but we can never create the past again. If you drive constantly looking back from the rearview mirror, you would not proceed much far! Buddha has said that “you can’t have a better tomorrow if you think about yesterday all the time”. One of the key accusations during recent public agitations, and the rebel was that youth do not get opportunities. The anxiety developed over rejection or blocking paths for youth, to be hatred towards old. We often miss fresh blood in decision making bodies, especially when it comes to public sector institutions, owing to too much credit being given to the past. Long number of years in service overshadows competence. When recruiting people for positions, we look at the conduct and experience of the applicant in the past, and make our decision; sometimes a decision to show the door would completely sabotage the future of the applicant. We come across people who wag their past records when they make important decisions for the future. People like to boast about their glorious past and want to create yesterday in tomorrow. I recall an incident that took place at a staff meeting where I work. When the senior officers celebrating past glory, a few newcomers openly challenged and declared they get demotivated in effect. If we cling too much to the past, we will end up spoiling both our present and future.
Change is inescapable. Everything gets changed, context, requirements, and mindsets. History cannot be restored as it was, only lessons and practices can be brought and tried after careful analysis. We normally cling to one of the two paradoxes; one school of thought is glued to the history, experience, and the way things happened. They hardly see goodness in novelty. On the other extreme, the school of thought is forward-looking they ignore the past, condemn the history and embrace novelty. In a car, we have a larger windscreen, two side glasses and a tiny rearview mirror. Why? When we are moving, we need to look at the future with a much broader view, assess the present, and from time to time look back and ensure we are alright.
Past is always a scapegoat for those who don’t want to strive to achieve success. We as a nation today suffer a lot and I believe in owing up to the blame game we play with the past and egoistic attitude and our unwillingness to learn from the past. I always advocate seeing what went well in the past, success stories teach us lessons, where failures are more appealing to worry and enjoy at the same time.
(The writer is a holder of a senior position in a state
University with international experience and exposure and an MBA from Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Sri Lanka and currently reading for her PhD related to reasons of reform failures at PIM. She can be reached at email@example.com)
Rogues have no right to eat while masses starve!
Ali (Raheem) Baba and 225 rogues have no right to eat while the people they are supposed to protect, nourish and maintain go hungry.
A poor widow with a school going child called me from Elpitiya and told me that they had not eaten anything yet. The time was 11 AM. The child had refused to go to school with an empty stomach. But the mother had coaxed him to go to school promising him to keep lunch ready when he returns. She had not found anything to cook by 11 AM and desperately called me. This was just one of such calls I get regularly.
I lost my shirt; I scolded her and told her that she had elected Ali (Sabri Raheem) Baba and 225 scoundrels and that she should go to them and ask for food. I instructed her to do this. Collect as many widows like her as possible and go to the house of their MP (GK) and remind her that they had fed her all these years and now they were hungry and she must feed them. Sit down in the house and do not leave till your problem is solved. While you go hungry that woman has no right to eat. In fact, the scoundrels of Diyawannawa have no right to gobble down subsidised food in the canteen of the den of thieves called the parliament of Sri Lanka.
Another widow called me and told me that she and her children lived in the dark. They have electricity but they could not afford to use it. The family lives in total darkness, every night. The government which could not maintain an uninterrupted power supply at least during the A/L examinations is not a failed administration but a heartless criminal regime. The rogue government which deprived the people of power has no right to use power in their den for light, sound and air conditioning.
And the rogue government has no right to govern at all. It has deprived the people of their right to vote and choose representatives they desire. It has cancelled the provincial council elections and the local government elections. By depriving the people of their right to vote it has abrogated its right to govern. Getting rid of this government is legal, and, in fact, it is the right and the civic duty of the people of this country.
It is this government that robbed the country to bankruptcy, ruined the agriculture and the economy and destroyed law and order in the country. Now, it blames Aragalaya for that. They pretend to be the victims! The effect has become the cause; they turn everything upside down!
Everything they are doing now is some desperate measure or other to keep marking time as long as possible to rob and rob and empty the national coffers before getting out of government and the country.
The scoundrels in the Parliament are accused and even found guilty by courts, of every crime under the Sun. They cheat, swindle and rob openly and unceasingly. This is a curse on the country and its people. We are paying for our stupidity and gullibility. We are a people immersed in superstition and irrational beliefs. There are no better ways to learn life’s lessons than hunger and deprivation. Aragalaya was a great eye-opener and a teacher of the difference between myth and truth, between objective reality and the narrow chauvinism of race and religion; the last refuge of the scoundrel. I hope the 6.9 million have at least by now learnt the lesson.
My dear co-citizens of Sri Lanka, it is time to act. It is pathetic and depressing to see our small children becoming stunted, weak and malnourished. They cannot wait to grow up till things get better constitutionally and decently. The powers that are do not behave constitutionally or decently. They are not gentlemen. They are certainly not ‘Honorable’ Members of Parliament. They have become fascists and tyrants, dictators and underworld god-fathers. Regardless of the cost, we must free ourselves from their murderous grip on us and on the country. It is time to act. For the sake of generations of our children, it is time to act.
Fr J.C. Pieris,
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