Unity is the key | Daily News


Unity is the key

In a timely move, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa convened a meeting of all leaders of political parties represented in the last Parliament in order to brief them on measures being taken by the Government against the COVID-19 pandemic and obtain their co-operation to successfully fight the disease. 

At a moment of major national crisis, it is not enough for the Government of the day and the executive State leadership to lead the way. When the co-operation of every single Sri Lankan is urgently needed to save lives and protect our socio-economic way of life, then all our political leaders must step forward.

After all, it is the claim of Parliamentarians that they are the directly elected representatives of the people. If so, then these politicians are empowered (and privileged) people who, by their electioneering and stewardship of their constituency, are supposedly in close touch with the mass of people. Thus, it is they who can best motivate and mobilise the constituencies for public action on a mass scale.

The COVID-19 epidemic is currently the worst crisis to hit Sri Lanka since the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster. Our first experience of defending our whole island community against a dangerous, new, viral epidemic over the past several weeks is now revealing weak points in our collective and multi-tracked response to this threat. With the public administration now fully mobilised, the Armed Forces already undertaking a multitude of tasks in supporting the administration, the business community already contributing resources, the political class needs to get its act together.

Pushed by the Prime Minister into meeting together and sharing concerns and ideas, the party leaders must quickly get fully on track in meeting the crisis by contributing their principal resource: political leadership.

The Government, clearly realising the gravity of the situation, has rightly adopted a transparent approach. Despite the value of competitive electoral politics in normal governance and political management, there can be moments when such competition is more an obstacle to much-needed collaboration between political parties.

The Opposition must normally stand by to question the Government’s actions and oppose or criticise if needed. And this will and should be done especially if the Government is reticent about its plans and actions and, worse, is performing inadequately to meet national needs.

By bringing every stakeholder on board and, while keeping them informed, drawing them into a collective effort, it is possible to build a kind of shared accountability by the parties. It is by building such a national ‘crisis unity’ that the Government can hope to avoid the disruptions and delays that can occur if party rivalry prompts hostile posturing and inter-party animosity that distracts the people from their immediate challenge.

What is needed is not a ‘blame game’ but a powerful demonstration of unconditional participation in what must be a joint effort. Only such a vigorous collaboration will inspire the citizens to, themselves, rise to the occasion.      

Unsung heroes

The curfew clamped down island-wide was lifted yesterday in most parts of the country and people rushed out to quickly complete various urgent chores before the curfew was re-introduced.  Supermarkets, public sector food stuffs retailers, pharmacies were all open and functioning. These readily functioning services and the available stocks of food and other household supplies are the result of the hard work and dedication of all the workers fulfilling their duties despite the risk to themselves.

Even as we, in civil society, thankfully cleared the shelves in supermarkets, yet other workers made sure the streets are kept clean. City workers in our crowded metro areas still nightly collect the garbage. Electricity and water supplies are maintained at normal levels in these abnormal times. Telecommunications run smoothly, straining, no doubt, at the systems overload as millions now work from home and millions more anxiously ask after each other and share contagion survival tips.

All these systems are maintained by the hard work of skeleton staff on duty at operational installations across the country.

Meanwhile, much of the import and export of goods continues just as much as supply systems within the country are maintained ensuring, for example, that we had fresh veggies available when the curfew lifted. They are further supported by other logistical staff like vehicle drivers, loaders, container gantry operators, mechanics, all around the country and working night and day as usual, but under the added stress of an epidemic threat.

Even as millions of Sri Lankans, in cities and villages, stay at home to prevent the virus spread, their daily lives are facilitated by the labours of a million others still labouring in agriculture and in many services.

It is up to all of us to be inspired by their disciplined commitment to duty and to observe our own civic duties to meet the enormous challenge of a contagion almost out of control.  

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