By ROHANA R. WASALA
“Elect good, honest, educated, and morally upright people as MPs” is not a new slogan. It has been heard at least over the past half a century, without any indication of it being heeded by the average voter. This is usually because the voters have no choice over the matter. It is the parties that nominate their candidates for election, subject to various considerations, having little to do with their formal education and moral character. The main criterion, they seem to consider, is how good is a candidate’s chance of winning; a candidate’s acceptability to a particular section of the general electorate does not necessarily depend on its perception of the person’s education or moral rectitude. If one party does not nominate a person of less than ideal qualities, who nevertheless stands a chance of winning votes for it in a particular constituency, then the party runs the risk of losing that electorate to a rival party which fields a candidate with questionable but ‘winning qualities’ in that particular setting. For voters in such a context, it is a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee as in the nursery rhyme. This frustrating fact is well known and need not be elaborated here.
It is not that the nomination committees of political parties want to include in their nomination lists individuals who are known to them and the public to lack the qualities named in the slogan (which forms the title of this piece). They don’t, but they can’t help it. Politicians, however morally refined, cannot avoid being pragmatists; they are obliged to strike a workable balance between principles and demands of pragmatism. The most important thing, in this situation, is that a ruling politician must have a lot of humanity to sufficiently ‘humanize’ his or her unavoidable pragmatism. For it should not be forgotten that though a politician need not be a ruler, a ruler must need to be a politician; in the treacherous world of politics, a politician cannot avoid pragmatism, but they can still be humane.
This time, however, it may be assumed that there is a difference. People are more aware of the necessity of having an elite of cultured technocrats of the ViyathMaga (Professionals for a Better Future) type in parliament. The education and the moral background of candidates must have received relatively more than customary attention from the nomination committees of all the parties, at least to some extent, though the ideology and the organization mentioned were the brainchild of the present President. But one cannot be sure that even the VM list of nominees (of the party that supports him) is completely free of characters who should not be there. This is because party organisers cannot afford to ignore the reality that under the existing electoral system, people vote for a particular party, unlike in the olden days, when widely known respectable individuals were elected to represent a constituency. Then it was the individual candidate, as much as the party, that was chosen. Today, for getting elected to parliament, a candidate must get enough preferential votes among a number of contending candidates put forward by each party for multi-seat constituencies; so naturally there is a form of undeclared war among candidates within each political party.
Recently, I wrote an opinion piece published in The Island (July 7) – what you are reading is an adaptation of one paragraph from that article – pointing out the importance of giving a chance to candidates to display their preferential numbers in a striking way, in order that the voters would remember the numbers of the candidates of their choice across the whole range of parties, alliances, and groups in the unusually long ballot paper. If that opportunity was denied it could be disadvantageous for the two most important types of candidates: the new and the materially poor. Candidates who are poor cannot afford expensive media advertising; the little known new ones would find it hard to make their numbers stand out among the numbers assigned to veterans, whose already well known names and previous designations render them conspicuous and memorable. So the veteran candidates of every party would not be likely to object to the Election Commission’s tough stand in this regard, for it would mean that they had a special advantage over their newer or younger and probably more ‘elect worthy’ contenders in the invidious intraparty war for preference votes. This situation can be most prejudicial to the newer fresher competitors, and also contrary to the generally shared desire among the voters to elect a decent lot to the august body this time. It was heartening to hear party leaders, on both sides, on their final campaign speeches, implicitly stressing the need for voters to make use of the preferential vote to reject possible rogues, if any, in their nomination lists.
Road accident killer:
One every three hours
There is a spike of serious traffic accidents and the number of fatalities reported from all parts of the country during the last few weeks. They have snatched many precious and valuable human lives. Media reports, quoting Traffic Police sources indicate, despite the country being in lockdown for three months due to COVID–19, that this year from January to the end of August, 1,418 persons have been killed in traffic accidents
A person is killed every three hours on our roads due to road accidents, and annually 3000 persons die in road accidents. Nearly 8000 serious accidents take place annually, and in many instances the victims end up never to lead a normal life again. In the last four years – in 2016 there were 3017 fatal accidents, while in 2017 it was 3147. In 2018 according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, Road Traffic Accident Deaths in Sri Lanka was 3590, and has been identified as the 10thcause of death in Sri Lanka’s top 50 causes of death, beating other serious diseases causing death in the country. In 2019 there were 2851 fatal accidents.
On September 2nd, a serious accident occurred in the Colombo city at Mattakkuliya. As reported in the media, in that accident three people died instantly when two three-wheelers were hit by a speeding lorry. Apparently, speeding, and driving the lorry without a valid license to drive, is sheer negligence and lack of responsibility of the lorry driver. Lack of care and responsibility for the life of others who share the road is a serious problem. Instilling road discipline in our drivers is paramount for the safety of all road users.
Drivers of motor vehicles need to be responsible and realise, the moment he/she sits at the driver’s seat and holds the steering wheel you are in control of a piece of heavy equipment, at high speed is mere seconds from a potential innocent victim. Furthermore, speed, while greatly increasing the risk of serious crash, increases the odds of an accident and increases its severity.
A driver under the influence of alcohol is as deadly, and similarly at risk of serious accidents. The harmful influence alcohol has on the crucial decision to drive is great. Drinker’s self assessment about whether he/she can drive safely is critical. The deadly influence alcohol has on the driver is great. Alcohol impairs the drinker’s ability of self-assessment. Reduces the driver’s ability to react to things that happen suddenly. The alcohol also blurs vision, impairs attention and reflexes are slowed.
The road accidents having reached such a horrendous proportion, random measures to instil road discipline in errant drivers are not effective. Speeding, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol are the major causes of serious traffic accidents. The Police launching limited enforcement and special operations during festive seasons, and operations targeting certain Police areas or specific Traffic Rule violations, are not enough to address this tragedy. Police must implement comprehensive long term programmes, employing technology and modern devices to detect traffic rule violations and make roads safe for all road users.
According to Colombo Traffic Police, there are 106 CCTV cameras operating in Colombo and use 3 Mobile CCTV Surveillance Vans to monitor traffic. Surveillance of Colombo using the Road Safety Camera system alone is not sufficient. Road Safety Cameras; Red Light violation detecting cameras, and combined Red Light and Speed cameras can detect a host of Traffic Rule violations. Sri Lanka Police should seriously consider expanding this method of surveillance using the Road Safety Camera system countrywide.
Road Safety Cameras installed at intersections in all cities and major towns, at strategic locations and high risk roads along the country’s entire road network, would be a deterrent to speed maniacs, and other road rule violators who know they are being watched all day and night. These cameras can be used as both detective and preventive measures. It’s a 24/7 surveillance.
The camera captures a host of data including the vehicle number plate, date, time and location of the offence etc., sufficient to prove the offence committed by the driver. In addition, mobile cameras mounted on Police vehicles positioned at strategic locations, and hand held cameras, could be used to book speeding drivers and other road rule violations.
As for alcohol-impaired driving, the government can do more to reduce the number of drunk-driving instances. Couple of years ago the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) proposed to reduce the maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of drivers; at present it is 0.08 grams per 100 mm, to 0.03 grams per 100 mm. There is no indication thus far of any initiative of the government taken in this regard. Australia and most European countries have the BAC level of drivers at 0.05. Norway and Sweden in Europe, and China has this level at 0.02, while in Russia it is 0.03. Canada, USA and some countries have it at 0.08.
The government could look into lowering the legal BAC level to 0.03 as proposed by the NATA. This approach would better respond to discouraging drunk-drivers. The government could also consider making instances of driving while exceeding the legally permitted BAC limit, a criminal offence; initially applying it to drivers exceeding the legally permitted BAC level and meeting with accidents, and finally extending to exceeding the permitted BAC level under any circumstances, a criminal offence.
Clearly, the law can’t work on its own. The key factor in the reduction of Traffic Rule violations is enforcement and stiff penalties. Police should be provided with technology and modern devices used in other Police Forces around the world. Police should be given authority to stop and demand to undergo testing from any driver at the roadside more often, rather than testing after accidents occurred.
Cross-disciplinary learning to meet graduates’ skills shortages
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasized the importance of matching the skills acquired by University students with the demands of employers. Over the years, criticism has been directed at Humanities and Social Sciences programmes in local Universities, questioning their relevance to the needs of a developing economy. Besides, some of these graduates had problems finding jobs in the private sector. They have historically relied on public sector jobs, an expectation almost all recent governments have had to grapple with.
The employability of Humanities and Social Sciences graduates is not a puzzle unique to Sri Lanka. In Singapore, I encountered several contemporary students who feared their degrees were not well sought after by the industry. I have seen such students putting a lot of effort into studying a minor in fields of study that could give them an edge over their peers. A minor comprises a set of courses which helps a student to develop secondary expertise in addition to the degree requirements of one’s major field of study. Completing a minor is not compulsory in most cases, but it sends a positive signal to employers on the quality of their potential hire. Some of the most popular minors among my batch mates were Business, Computing, Economics, and Entrepreneurship.
Promoting such cross-disciplinary learning could be an immediate solution to the expectation set by the President. Local Universities already possess resources to implement such programmes. It eliminates the need for a hurried overhaul of the curricula in universities. Most importantly, a rapid increase in the output of graduates with qualifications demanded by the industry, could just be the solution to the critical skills shortage faced by sectors such as Information Technology.
Depositors and Stock Exchange
State Minister Nivard Cabraal recently requested Sri Lankans who have deposited money in banks and finance companies to use that money in shares on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Our ministers and officials who control state finances do not know that most of those depositors maintain those deposits not as investments. They live on the interest they receive monthly from those deposits.
Before 2015 too, Cabraal as Governor of CBSL and many others, encouraged those depositors to invest in shares, and many learnt the lesson as they were caught in the game of “pumping & dumping” by groups of some big fish. Cabraals are in a way hitting those depositors by ad-hoc reducing of interest rates, and now they ask them to follow the more easier path to think of committing suicide.
Have the higher-ups in the government ever investigated why people maintain those deposits and how many use the interest they receive to meet their daily needs, before playing around with interest rates in order to please the borrowers and lessees?
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