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Opinion

The curse of ‘party politics’

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By Panduka Karunanayake

Sri Lanka’s political landscape has been torn asunder by ‘party politics’. This is, of course, not a recent phenomenon, but it has taken a turn for the worse amidst the current economic crisis.Today, the Parliament’s response to the current economic catastrophe has become a farce of splits and shifts of party affiliations and allegiances. A political response to the economic crisis is the last thing on the Parliament’s ‘real agenda’. Even the appointment of the new Central Bank Governor Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe was achieved through people’s agitations! ‘Party politics’ has not only failed to help find a solution to the economic problem – it has even got in the way, as evident from a recent ultimatum isued by Dr Weerasinghe.

We got our current system from the British colonial masters. Western civilisation approached knowledge in a reductionist rather than a holistic way: by dividing knowledge into fragments or subjects and focusing on one subject at a time. This gives the advantage of sharp focus and in-depth study. But the West has also devised methods to bring the separate subjects together when it wishes to make important decisions – for example, ‘think tanks’, ‘multi-disciplinary’ university centres, etc.Ancient teachers approached problem-solving through methods like the case study (Chinese and Hebrew philosophers) and the Socratic method (Athenian philosophers), but Romans invented the confrontational or adversarial method; the learners divided themselves into two groups: such as the prosecution and defence in courts of law, and government and opposition in parliaments. Each group was thereby free to focus on one aspect in depth. We learn the basic rules of this game in school debating teams.

In modern politics and with the birth of the Parliament, this was further developed into the political party system, where the politicians divided themselves into parties representing different political principles (e. g., conservatism, social welfare). And this is the system that we inherited from the British.But before Independence (from 1931 to 1948), the State Council system was somewhat healthy. The elected members of the State Council (who were elected mainly along lines of socio-cultural identities) were allocated to a number of executive committees specialising in different subjects (such as agriculture, education, healthcare, etc.). It was these executive committees that studied problems and devised solutions, which were then considered by the State Council, amended as required, and adopted as statutes. They made some amazing, far-reaching policies in fields such as education, healthcare and nutrition, the benefits of which we more-or-less still enjoy. All that happened before Independence.

There was no government and opposition then, and each elected member was seriously and deeply involved with one subject (as a member of an executive committee) and also able to contribute to the statutes of any subject (as a member of the State Council). Policies were therefore created along the lines of principles and ground realities, rather than on the lines of socio-cultural identities – even though the members were elected along such identities – because the executive committees were ‘multi-identity’ in nature.In 1948, the party system was introduced so that each party could identify itself with one political principle. Some of the early Ceylonese political parties may have been based on political principles, such as the conservative policies of the UNP or the Marxist policies of the LSSP. But this quickly changed after the watershed year 1956, which made a mockery of the party system. It converted democracy into majoritarianism, and politics into ‘identity politics’. The struggle to gain power was operationalised through the party, which now had identities rather than principles. They may have publicly proclaimed policies (e.g., ‘Bandaranaike prathipaththi’), but these were only glorified socio-cultural identities. Gradually, opportunistic, unprincipled, identity-based politics became institutionalised.

In our country today, political principles are probably only known to political scientists in universities and think tanks. In the parties, these are replaced by allegiances drawn along socio-cultural identities, such as ethnicity, religion, socio-economic class, urban-rural divide and so on. And once a politician has been in the business long enough to have reaped the considerable financial benefits emanating therefrom, he or she soon loses one’s original socio-cultural identity too and becomes a bird of one feather with the rest. For them, selecting a different political party thereafter is as easy as choosing a different dish from a restaurant menu.Today, the Parliament has been reduced to a battleground of political parties whose main business is counting heads rather than standing up for principles. Any ‘principles’ are simply statements of the superiority of one’s socio-cultural identity laced with rationalisations, whether mythical or sophisticated.

The whole voting public is also divided along the same lines, and civil political activity is essentially an exercise of gathering and demonstrating crowds that have gravitated towards alluring leaders with appealing identities, who dish out better freebies than their competitors. What a tragedy! Politics has been shoved out, and ‘party politics’ has pushed itself in. Solving the country’s problems has been replaced by party-oneupmanship. No wonder that one of the major features of the GotaGoHome ‘aragalaya’ is the rejection of political parties (‘nirpaakshika aragalaya’). The youth must have got sick of what we are doing in the name of politics. They are yearning back to a time when politicians were studying and solving people’s problems rather than counting heads and grabbing onto power. They are seeking a future that extends beyond the now-proverbial ‘five years’ that a political party gets to stay in power.We have lost politics in the midst of ‘party politics’, and the country has lost its political principles. A fundamental feature of principled politics is that a politician can be of use to society even without power – because of the principles he or she espouses and articulates. Today, that would be thought of as an absurd idea, not only by the power-seeking politicians but even by the voters!If politicians cannot come together to save our country from our current economic predicament – and instead become a hindrance to solving it – then they never can and they never will. They would have lost their usefulness to the nation.



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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Opinion

Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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Opinion

Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’

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On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.

Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.

This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.

Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.

Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.

Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.

His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.

As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.

Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.

As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.

Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”

Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.

His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.

Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email

My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.

With gratitude,
ERANGA

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