Thinking Out of the Box is the catchline of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He gave this advice to the banking sector in May this year, and to the members of parliament in his opening address last month.
The need for new ways of thinking to overcome local and global challenges and revive the economy – out of the box thinking – is the declared stuff of his reasoning. The new ministerial structure was also with such thinking.
What is advocated with such emphasis for economic growth, has been wholly ignored for the progress and growth of democracy. It looks like economic growth has nothing to do with the advance of democracy. The rulers of the past, in many countries of the world, had their economic and wealth gains, with nothing to do with democracy or the sovereignty of the people. These were known as dictatorships, the power of colonialism, and Soveit and Communist power too.
Are we rapidly making a retreat to the proper Rajavasala Buddhiya – the Thinking of the Ruler Reign, a rush back to the Box of Dictatorship?
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution now made public shows a complete retreat to a non-democratic situation, and thinking that is entirely within the Executive Presidential Box.
The 19th Amendment will be no more under this Rajapaksa Regime. It has the two-thirds power for that. Two items of the 19A will be kept – the reduced five-year term of the presidency and the two term limit for a President. Two items that don’t matter for Mahinda Rajapaksa anymore. Everything else that matters, that came from out of the box thinking by Yahpalanaya in April 2015 will be no more.
The rush to the 20A is a mockery of the voters who, thanks to a divided and crooked UNP, enabled a two-thirds power to the Rajapaksas. It has nothing to do with the need to meet the economic and social needs and demands of the people, in the post Covid 19 crisis. The 20A is the re-empowering of an Executive Presidency, even more than what JR Jayewardene forced on the people in 1978.
The ‘out of the box’ thinking of the Rajapaksas is very much ‘in the box’ of ensuring family power without even a semblance of democracy. The service of Independent Commissions in key areas such as the Judiciary, Elections. Human Rights, Police, Public Service, Bribery and Corruption, Finance, and many others are no more. The Constitutional Council is disbanded to empower a Parliamentary Council that can only advise the president, The Auditor General’s independence is forgotten. Appointments to key positions of the Judiciary are in the hands of the President (and politicians!)
In a situation where the average age of MPs is reportedly in the late 60s, the 35 year age limit brought by 19A to a candidate for the presidency, has been reduced to 30 years. It is clear that the ageing Rajapaksas – from the late 60s to near 80 – have thought of their younger generation for the continuance of the Rajavasala domain.
What the 19A did was to give more power to Parliament and the Prime Minister, as elected representatives of the people, against the Executive President that was the singularly dominant power in the country. 20A will ensure the end of such recognition of the sovereignty of the people. The Prime Minister, even being an elder brother of the President, is wholly under him, who will chair the Cabinet, can hold any number of Cabinet portfolios, and can appoint any member to the Cabinet, without the approval of the PM. Sections of the media report that the PM is in a political trap, but let’s not forget that such traps are a necessity for wider family dominance over the demands of democracy.
Then comes the dual citizenry; what is seen by many as the key need of the 20A. It was the 19A that banned dual citizens from contesting elections to parliament and holding the country’s presidency. JRJ’s dictatorship had not banned this. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after being a US citizen for nearly three decades, gave it up, to contest for the presidency. But there is another Rajapaksa dual citizen who will not give it up. The 20A is the decorative path for Basil Rajapaksa to move to Parliament, Cabinet, even Prime Minister, and who knows even the President, come the proper time!
Let’s not bother to talk of the conflicting situation that prevails when a person who has pledged to serve the US as a citizen, fight for it, be armed against countries and forces that oppose it, or strongly disagree with it, can be a representative of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan people, and or the independent policies of this country. We are moving to the dual Citizenship Box and not thinking out of it. It is the Box of the MCC deal which the Rajapaksas and Pohottuva were loudly against … but not so much today. This is a move to the Pathfinder Box that will see its leader as the High Commissioner to India, with a Cabinet ranking. Just think a little more of the other Pathfinders in key positions of government today. What a Box of American strategy to be caught in!
We are in the midst of a duality of thinking. The duality of those talk loud about protection of Sri Lankan citizenship, and also hugely support the benefits and advantages of the US Citizenship. Are we moving to a situation when a 21st Amendment will give dual – US and Sri Lanka citizenship – to all Sri Lankan, whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Aadivaasi too?
Thinking out of the box shows us the huge dangers of the 20A. In a country that thinks a lot about rebirth, this looks very much like a move towards the rebirth of JRJ. The rebirth of the dictatorial dominance that all parties in the opposition from the SLFP to the JVP – and the older LSSP and CP and breakaways – called for removal, by abolishing the 1978 JRJ Constitution.
Such thinking, once strongly supported in the Mahinda Chinthana in several elections, is now no more. We are taken back to the Jayewardene Box of political strategy, creeping into the new Rajapaksa Box of politics and governance. The rise of the Jayewardene – Rajapaksa Presidency. The Box of Disaster for Democracy, out of which no thinking is done by the Rajavasala Kattayas of today!
Reduce number of vehicles on our roads
Please allow me a short comment on the perceptive article by George Braine, in The Island ( 4th September, page 6), on renationalizing the private bus service. I hope it catches the eye of our President.
Firstly, his observation about how in Hong Kong and (Singapore too), buses are washed every day, and trains are comfortable and clean. Let alone comfort, couldn’t the “higher powers” provide us AT LEAST with CLEAN public transport, despite the now ingrained lack of hygiene in Sri Lankan society (it’s now part of Sri Lankan culture!). We have become an unhygienic people immune to uncleanliness – if you doubt this, tell me the name of ONE South Asian country which is as filthy as us. (Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong …?). Habits such as spitting betel leaf in public, onto the pavement, throwing “Buth Parcels” on to it for the purported purpose of obtaining “merit”, by feeding the disease- infected stray dogs and cats (I almost forgot to include the rats) – this is us!. If you still doubt, go have a look at the state of our Public Toilets ANYWHERE, including the “international” Airport. Our children should be taught at an early age, how to use a toilet correctly – obviously most parents don’t know this skill.
Forty years ago, the belching buses with people hanging onto the footboard for dear life, were a common sight. It remains so today – in what aspects did we lopsidedly “Develop”? Highways – for whom?
Recently I travelled from Colombo to Galle, and last week, from Colombo to Nuwara-Eliya by car. On the Galle trip, I saw private buses tearing along, racing each other on the wrong side of the Galle Road. It was reported the following day that three had died in a head-on collision. On the Nuwara-Eliya trip, even up in the dangerous winding hills, private buses were engaged in a permanent roadrace to gather passengers.
In the very same newspaper (September 4th), on page 3, headlines read – “Three persons killed, three others seriously injured in car mishap”. It goes on to say that due to speeding, two young men sent themselves to a premature death. At least three die every day in fatal road accidents. The country’s Traffic Police are out of touch with reality. Dishing out parking fines (for the ulterior motive of collecting revenue!), watching idly as trishaws (a law unto themselves), cut across the line of traffic, allowing motorcycles to “short-cut” along the pavement, Mr Braine’s suggestion that vehicle imports should be BANNED (including Duty Free ) for five years is absolutely right! I hope the President will firmly refuse to bow to pressures in this regard, in the public interest.
He will receive fervent thanks from the public at large if he can reduce the number of vehicles on our already clogged roads. By prohibiting vehicle imports he also creates jobs for the numerous vehicle repair shops needed to keep existing vehicles in good order.
A true People’s Company for a People-Centered Economy
By JUSTIN KEPPETIYAGAMA
As per the policy manifesto of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ (‘Rata Hadana Saubhagyaye Dekma’), the main objective of the government is creating a people-centered economy through rural development.
In achieving these expectations, Sapiri Gamak, a community-based development programme is being implemented, anticipating to convert the entire country to one development zone, by building a people-centric economy that will be fully owned by the people of the country, and strengthen the local entrepreneurs; instead of selling and mortgaging national resources and financial assets of the country to foreigners.
The objectives of this programme are, improving employment and livelihoods through development of rural facilities, and thereby uplifting the socio-economic condition of the rural economy. These development projects should facilitate the income pathways of villagers and generate self-employment opportunities.
Under the guidance of the Prime Minister through this programme, projects for development of roads, infrastructure facilities required by the agriculture sector, facilities required to uplift the economy at rural levels, facilities required for development and upgrading of rural health, development of education by providing electricity, water and sanitary facilities for schools and other priority physical infrastructure facilities that are directly attributed to development of rural economy will be implemented.
Under this programme, Rs. 2 M. will be spent to implement development programs at each Grama Niladhari Division, covering 14,021 Grama Niladhari divisions of the country. At present, under this program, 37,862 development projects worth of Rs. 27,920 M. are being implemented island-wide by the Divisional Secretaries under the supervision of District Secretaries.
Divisional Secretaries and District Secretaries are not the stakeholders of these projects. To implement this project there should be a mechanism that should include all villagers as the stakeholders of this project. It should not be a mechanism, operated by bureaucrats, or one dependent on budgetary funding. It should be a mechanism, funded by the people, entrepreneurs, farmers, producers, consumers, living within the G.N. division and supplemented by the Government. It should be a mechanism, owned by the villagers and operated by the villagers and for the benefits of the villagers. This should be a self-financing mechanism; a legal entity having its own identity. It should be a village-based mechanism to address the problems faced by the villagers. It should be a mechanism that leads to a self-sufficient economy.
The situation prevalent today must be changed. The course of development followed so far must be reversed totally. It must be village-based. All modes of production must be village based. The villagers must be given the knowledge to improve all their economic activities. Any industries facilitating all economic activities of villagers should be commenced in the village itself and by the villagers themselves. All technological knowledge we get must reach the villagers. This mechanism should transform all villagers to stakeholders in the village economy.
1. To create a people-centered rural economy I propose to promote one co-operative society per G.N area under the Co-operative Societies Act. It should be an enterprise of villagers, by the villagers for the benefit of the villagers. There should be 14,021 co-operative societies covering the entire island. The objectives of these co-operative societies should include:
a. Buying, stocking, selling and supplying all forms of industrial, agricultural and trading inputs and consumables and livestock required for raising the living standard of villagers.
b. Accepting deposits from members and providing venture capital or debenture capital to them to carry on their business activities. It should be the Rural Bank.
c. Providing credit, in cash, or in kind, to members to meet their other needs.
d. Undertaking the promotion, management, control and supervision of any enterprise or scheme using identified deposits of members for the benefits and advancement of such members or a group of members, and charging a fee, commission or a share of profits for such services.
e. Making investment of identified deposits of members in stock, shares or securities, on behalf of such identified members
f. Carrying out survey and research, issuing publications, and maintaining a database helpful for improvement of economic conditions of its members.
g. Providing professional services to the members regarding investment in income generating activities.
h. Promoting all types of business entities as sole proprietorships, partnerships, joint ventures, limited liability companies, or cooperative societies among or between members and be a partner, shareholder as the case may be, of such business.
i. Consulting, promoting, issuing, organizing, managing and administering mutual funds of any type or character for the benefit of their members.
j. Rendering managerial, marketing, technical and administrative advice to members to carry on any form of commercial or economic activity.
All government development projects relevant to a particular G.N. area should be contracted to the relevant co-operative society. They also should be agents for state owned enterprises such as Paddy Marketing Board, Sathosa, Milk Board, Fisheries Co-operation and State Banks.
2. To create a people-centered national economy the government should promote one Peoples Company making all 14,021 G.N level co-operative societies and all State Owned Enterprises as its shareholders. Government’s all national level development projects should be contracted to this company.
Restructure e-banking systems for transactional efficiency
It is a widely known fact that many citizens relying on government funds such as Samurdi, Covid-19, pension and other payments are subjected to needlessly excruciating barriers coloured with corruption and red tape, and given the extensive amount spent securing these payments come at a huge personal cost to the individuals, a very vulnerable group of citizens.
On the flip side, the government too encountered many difficulties with regard to managing the transfer of various social payments to the public, due to many of them not having bank accounts. The current system in place to process and deliver these payments is outdated, relying on physical record keeping and transactions. People receiving social benefits, rely on cheques being delivered via post, or having to personally make the trip to collect the monies issued by such payment orders by visiting relevant government offices. In an era where electronic payments are increasingly becoming the norm, as well as a preference for its many benefits, measures to move away from physical transactions to safer and efficient systems should be taken.
Our government has a clear opportunity to better manage this by first making it mandatory by law for citizens to register with a bank for a savings account. This would minimise systematic errors and maximise resources and process efficiencies.
Sri Lanka has proven its potential to be a very technically affluent demographic, as such if the Central Bank were to work along with the current government to take active steps to shift the existing processes to a digital more cost effective and manageable process, the many issues that are encountered could not only be avoided but also controlled in a more profitable manner.
In an effort to plot a path in the right direction for the future, the government should also consider designing and launching an initiative to encourage every person, in the demographic of 16+, to open a personal bank account by the time they are issued with their National Identity Card. There is a good opportunity to capitalise on this market by offering savings account options with good interest rates and current account options such as Mahapola payments, scholarships, medical insurance coverage, educational benefits and with good external incentives and without any annual bank service charges. Youth engagement plays a huge part in the future of economic development, and by enabling this group to become active members in the community and our industries from a young age it would produce a breed of young professionals in the country.
Another point of interest to consider would be to offer private and government sector employees special banking packages, benchmarking the ones offered in countries like the UK, where banks liaise with external businesses to issue value-added services such as mobile insurance, car insurance, life insurance, Spotify/music, hospitality, mortgage benefits to first time buyers, and would serve as incentives to encourage savings. This of course could be locally customised.
The right implementation of such efficient systems with an affordable interest rate, would not only encourage savings account holders to save on their monthly income, but having such support would also enable the individuals to set life-goals seen as achievable. Furthermore moving towards a digital platform will create awareness and behavioural advancement in personal financial handling that would ultimately allow people to enjoy life without any unnecessary external disruptions or barriers. Improving the chances of having a better quality of life in would ultimately lead to an ambitious and a productive workforce.
This brief proposal is to invite our government officials to embrace innovation and outside-the-box-thinking, to provide a much-needed change in our existing outdated banking packages, to be more in line with the new generation and embrace the digital age. Such systems would work to capitalise on the market to bring revenue to the government coffers , as well as protect people’s lives by training them to have positive financial goals. Such stringent systems would be a beacon and deter any illegal activities and corruption.
H. H.S ARATH
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