Thursday 4th February, 2021
The national flag is fluttering majestically and grand preparations have been made for today’s celebrations to mark the day when the British retroceded this land to its rightful owners. Patriotic excitement has reached fever-pitch. Newspapers traditionally strike a positive note in their editorial comments on a day like this, but why should depressing political, economic and social realities be ignored?
Sri Lankans are known for celebrating what they lack; they are celebrating Independence today. Their leaders, who never miss an opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag, suck in their king-sized pots, puff out their chests and belt out the national anthem with great gusto, religiously, on 04 Feb. They bellow rhetoric, making propaganda mountains out of the molehills of their achievements, year in, year out. The sobering reality dawns when the Independence hangover goes away. This, we have seen for more than seven decades under successive governments perhaps save the first couple of decades after Independence.
During the early years of Independence, students called Sri Lanka a developing country, in their school essays; seven decades on, their grandchildren are saying the same thing, as someone has rightly pointed out. If this is not an indictment on successive governments, what is it? However, it may be wrong to say the country has not achieved anything since 1948. There have, of course, been some achievements, most of which are in the health and education sectors, but sadly they are the exception that proves the rule.
Sri Lanka can be proud of some impressive health and education indicators. But whether they can be maintained is in doubt because the country’s economic performance has been below par, all these decades, as can be seen from the tumble of the rupee against major currencies, the alarming increase in national debt and the difficulties successive governments face in honouring debt commitments. True, a protracted war and two bloody insurrections took a heavy toll on the country’s economy, but it has been more than a decade since the war ended, and there had been no healthy expansion of the economy even before the commencement of the armed conflict. The current pandemic has only aggravated an extremely bad situation.
Those who are languishing in the political wilderness, aka the Opposition, having failed to live up to people’s expectations and been exposed for ineptitude, abuse of power and corruption, among other things, flay their rivals at the levers of power for not doing what needs to be done to develop the country! Rulers try to cover up their failure by criticising their rivals in the Opposition. This is the name of the game in Sri Lankan politics. It is thanks to these ‘leaders’ that the country is in a pretty pass so much so that it has had to beg for COVID-19 vaccines. President of the College of Medical Laboratory Sciences, Ravi Kumudesh, has recently told this newspaper that the Medical Research Institute, which once produced vaccines, is today without facilities even to test imported vaccines! So much for the progress the country has achieved in the fields of science and research! It is only natural that shamans go places during health emergencies, and superstition has taken precedence over science.
Perhaps, the way to make the Independence Day somewhat meaningful may be for all political leaders responsible for the unholy mess the country has got into, over the decades, to kneel at the Independence Square, on 04 Feb. and ask for forgiveness from the nation. Others, however, are not free from blame. Most of those whom people elect as their representatives are political dregs; the voting public has to take responsibility for this. A national work ethic is conspicuous by its absence; the state service is characterised by bureaucratic red tape, lethargy, inefficiency, and bribery and corruption. Trade unions do precious little to increase national productivity; they only make demands.
Sri Lankan leaders, both past and present, ought to learn from the experience of other nations that rose, under the guidance of visionary statespersons, from the depths of poverty. Let Lee Kuan Yew’s book, ‘From Third World to First’ be made mandatory reading for them.