Impediments deter forward march | Sunday Observer

Impediments deter forward march

2 April, 2023

By the time the Britishers left our shores, we were fairly on a sound financial footing and we were second only to Japan among the countries in Asia. However, when we look back at the progress we made during the past 75 years, one cannot be fully satisfied with the achievements we have made since Independence.

Except for a few post-Independence years, Sri Lanka didn’t witness any significant development compared to other countries in the region such as India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan as well. Where did we go wrong?

An independent probe will show the following impediments as the main cause for our plight.

Opportunistic and dirty politics stemming from Ponnambalam’s 50/50, Sinhala only, Eelam War and separatist sentiments; irresponsible and highly politicised trade unionism with its agenda for wild cat strikes to paralyse successive Governments; pseudo-patriotism; two major insurrections – in 1977 and 1988-1989; lack of national policies; misappropriation of State funds by politicians and officials for personal use and the culprits go scot-free; demanding commissions and kickbacks from foreign investors; outdated laws and lack of tough laws to deal with corrupt politicians and officials is the cardinal reason for bribery and corruption to thrive.

Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake realised that the ethnic sentiments were simmering under the carpet among the Tamil community even before we won Independence and in order to satisfy them he accommodated three Tamil leaders into his Cabinet.

His agricultural development projects were also aimed at establishing communal harmony. The Senanayake Samudraya and Gal Oya multipurpose irrigation project and colonisation scheme were mainly to inter-mingle Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities in the North and Eastern provinces.

However, the Tamil leaders were not very happy and started demanding more powers for their local administration.

All subsequent leaders including Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to solve the conflict which gradually turned out to be a ruthless war against the Government. The immense destruction caused during the thirty year war cannot be easily enumerated in monetary terms.

Malevolent trade unionism

The cardinal concept of any trade union is to look after the interests, rights and privileges of the employees of a particular organisation that they represent and to negotiate with the relevant authorities for the benefit of their membership.

They should justify the demands of the workers through consultation, consensus and compromise with the authorities. Quite contrary to the above, most TUs in Sri Lanka directly connected to the revolutionary Left wing political parties try to destabilise the Government in power whenever there is some vital issue.

Students’ TUs in the universities are directly controlled by a radical hardcore and bankrupt political party which has no vote base but always engaged in destructive activities dragging the innocent students on to the streets on issues which are not even relevant to these university students.

The peaceful Aragalaya was also turned into a force of violent, destructive mission by these destructive trade unionists whose main purpose is to destroy the smooth functioning of the State and create a chaotic situation for their political advantage.

From the beginning of Independence, left wing trade unionists had disrupted the Governments in power with their protests and wildcat strikes which sometimes resulted in bloodshed and enormous destruction to State and private properties.

The final outcome is the massive loss of revenue to State coffers. It is high time that the Government took drastic measures against these economic criminals who pose as TU leaders and try to create chaos in society.

Patriotism is yet another factor which negatively contributed to the forward march of the country. Scrutinising political history, it is quite evident that some politicians found refuge under the umbrella of patriotism.

There was a period where they managed to inculcate national feelings among the masses (it equally applies to both Sinhala and Tamil politicians) and capture power in some of their electorates. It is doubtful whether these politicians were able to make any significant contribution for the country’s socio-economic development.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) which emerged as a patriotic movement with a big bang failed miserably in the process with their personal agendas and disappeared faster than they appeared at the subsequent election, leaving an ugly impression about the Maha Sangha in the public mind.

In 1971, the United Front (Samagi Peramuna) Government headed by Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike was threatened by an armed guerrilla movement (JVP) and mass scale destruction was caused in most parts of the country. They even captured some police stations. However, within a few days the Government managed to bring the situation under control with the unconditional support of the Opposition Leader J.R. Jayewardene.

The militants were taken into custody by the security forces and legal action was taken against them. However, in the process, a large number of youth who were involved in guerilla activities were killed. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government which followed a closed-door economic policy was riddled with a number of economic problems following the 1971 insurrection.

The same movement headed by leader Rohana Wijeweera re-emerged in 1988 with a different ploy, i.e. killing political activists in rural areas, killing members of the Security Forces and their families, threatening people who held different political views and killing prominent personalities in various fields such as education, media and health.

A large number of bhikkhus who held different political views were not spared. They did not even allow the family members of the victims to conduct a decent funeral.

During those two years the magnitude of the destruction caused to State property was immeasurable. A large number of tea and rubber factories, agrarian services outlets, electricity pylons, post offices, rural bank outlets and CTB buses were destroyed.

These dastardly activities committed within two years by the JVP hooligans had disrupted the forward economic march of the country by decades.

Bribery and corruption had been an inherent feature in the Sri Lankan economy and there are different types of corruption.

The public is unable to get their matters through unless they oil the palms of most public servants. The level and the magnitude of the abuse depend on how important the institution is and the type of service they provide.

Bribery, corruption and malpractices have intensified over the years. Large-scale unviable development projects were carried out under the guise of development activities squandering a huge amount of public funds.

Those who were in charge of those projects siphoned off a substantial percentage of the total cost of the projects.

There are instances where foreign investors who were ready to invest billions of dollars here had gone to Bangladesh and Vietnam as huge kickbacks had been demanded by our politicians and officials.

All Government contracts and supplies of material were handled by politicians and their cronies incurring huge losses to the coffers. No proper procurement procedures were followed or tender notices issued in most cases.

There are a number of vital State institutions where corruption and malpractices are rampant. The high officials of these State institutions with the support of businessmen fleece a huge amount of revenue due to the Government coffers, making the national economy weaker.

Lack of national policies

Though we received Independence long ago and the country was governed by a number of leaders with different political visions, programs and ideologies, none of them had ventured into introducing a national policy in any vital area or segment such as education, health, agriculture and industry.

All Governments which gain power execute their programs and political agendas sometimes grossly deviating from the work that had been carried out by the previous regime.

Countries such as India, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan have adopted a national policy on all vital spheres so that the policies remain intact though the Governments change from time to time. These countries have been steadily progressing economically and socially.

It is reported that the present Government is formulating rules and regulations to introduce a national policy for all vital areas.

With the advent of the present Government headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, there seems to be a vast change taking place in the country’s political, social and economic structure.

The public desires to see the immediate introduction of tough laws and their strict implementation in order to save the motherland from corrupt politicians, State officials and radical extremist political hooligans who engage in destructive campaigns against the Government.

It is widely believed that President Wickremesinghe with his ocean of knowledge and firm conviction will succeed in his efforts to save the country for our future generations.