Getting to the nuts and bolts | Daily News


Getting to the nuts and bolts

Sri Lankans have a habit of blaming the past and even their previous incarnations for any kind of misfortune they face. But it is far better to put those troubles behind and focus on the future, because that is what matters. Yes, it is important to learn lessons from one’s past, but just brooding on those will not bring good results.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has bucked this trend by focusing firmly on the future instead of dwelling unnecessarily on the past. This attitude was reflected in his Freedom Day speech, where he outlined his plans for the country’s progress.

Later, addressing senior public officials, the President pledged that his Government would work with commitment to save the country from the present chaotic situation without pointing fingers at the past for prevailing problems. He said that he accepted the challenge of re-building the country with a clear understanding that the economy was near collapse, noting that the Vistas of Prosperity manifesto was a consequence of many years of studies in collaboration with academics and experts in various fields in order to serve the public.

The President lamented that, for years, many state entities have become just convenient places for providing employment. This is a result of successive governments stuffing these places with their political supporters, many of them not even qualified for their jobs. Worse, this was at the expense of academically qualified persons like graduates.

As the President pointed out, the country cannot be taken forward in this manner. What is needed is a fresh attitude to getting things done. In short, we need more dynamism in State institutions and the public sector. In the case of the public sector corporations, it is thus the responsibility of the new chairperson and the board of directors of a public corporation to make the institution profitable by thinking anew. If existing methods and systems have failed, it is time to replace them with more viable systems. In this process, it is vital to root out waste and corruption.

One other area that needs a total rethink is the country’s education system. There are thousands of vacancies advertised each week in the Sunday newspapers, but hardly any takers. The cause for this anomaly is the mismatch between school/university education and the requirements of the job market. Hence there is a clear need to change the education system to meet demands of the job market. If we can think anew on such vital aspects, progress will indeed be rapid.


Agitation Corner

Protests are a feature of a vibrant democracy. The Right of Assembly is guaranteed by our Constitution, a fact alluded to by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his Freedom Day speech. In recent years, residents and visitors in Colombo have been terribly inconvenienced by the frequent protests conducted by a range of groups, including unemployed graduates, university students and, even health inspectors (among others).

The normal response of most governments to these protests has been tear gas and water cannon, not to mention the baton-charge. However, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has allowed marching protesters who crowd the metropolitan streets to send in a delegation to meet and discuss with his officials and find solutions to their grievances. The problem is that protesters are known to inconvenience road users even as such discussions are going on - by sitting on the roads and engaging in other disorderly behaviour. This has caused huge traffic jams during rush hours, with people stuck in their vehicles for hours. One can imagine the resultant wastage of man hours and fuel as well as the accumulative ire. In the process, the protesters lose what little public sympathy they had.

But now, the authorities have hit upon a novel idea: designation of a separate “Agitation” or “Demonstration” Area near the Presidential Secretariat where protesters can gather peacefully, hold placards, shout slogans, make speeches and even enjoy some refreshments. This is a brilliant move and several groups have already made use of the facility, some on their own and others, after a bit of persuasion by the Police. Several other countries have similar places where the public can gather peacefully to raise their voice on any pertinent issue.

This “Agitation Area” will be music to the ears of motorists, bus commuters and other road users in Colombo who have had to wait for hours in traffic jams as a result of various protest marches crowding the city streets. There have also been many occasions in which passers-by have been caught in the “crossfire” as protesters clashed with police.

The Government must now consider having a few other demonstration sites in Colombo, including one near the Lipton Circus and the University Grants Commission (UGC), a frequent target of protests by university students. Kandy and Galle can also take a cue from Colombo to designate their own Agitation or Protest Areas, though they do not encounter protests on the scale that Colombo does.

In the end, protesters must reconsider their actions in the first place. Negotiation, not agitation, is still the best, most democratic, way to win demands.

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