What happened to ‘The Whole Country on to the Right Path’ ? | Daily News

What happened to ‘The Whole Country on to the Right Path’ ?

Eleven political parties affiliated with the Government unveiled on March 02, 2022 a national policy paper titled ‘The Whole Country on to the Right Path’ (Mulu Ratama Hari Magata). Both the Government and the Opposition from every political level were invited and quite a gathering was present.

Usually, this kind of event complete with the fanfare of traditional drummers and choreographed dancers, blessings from clergy and other religious dignitaries and decorated stage is organised by the Opposition when presenting their election manifesto. Therefore, it was a very curious matter for part of the Government to act as the Opposition, especially when some were Cabinet Ministers.

The launch of the National Manifesto Mulu Ratama Hari Magata

This little mystery was solved by the then Cabinet Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s tirade against the then Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Clearly, this group had other ideas from the economic path the Government was treading but had not been heard. It was strange to see, sharing credit for this paper, former President Maithripala Sirisena too in this group that ridiculed and condemned him not too distant in the past.

Exactly what was hoped to gain by airing this proposal or the umbrage against BR to the public is unclear. The public certainly cannot implement the policy paper into action. Only the Government can do so. Thus it is ludicrous when the Government or part of the Government comes forth to promote policies to adapt for the country’s betterment before the public without battling it out within Cabinet and Parliament.

At the time this group was still with the Government. Had they reorganised themselves as a distinctly separate entity challenging the Government with a Presidential or General election close by, then the course of action expected from the public would be obvious. Yet this Administration has three more years before it expires.

Implementing policies may be beyond the ordinary man’s capability but not protesting over BR’s alleged treachery. It was not the main Opposition, the SJB that capitalized on the internal conflict but the politically insignificant JVP. With a vote base of a mere three percent they barely scraped into the Parliament. With the National List slot, their presence is only three seats in Parliament.

The JVP, with its history for challenging democracy, seized the moment. The consequences to the damning accusations that the Government’s power circle is deliberately allowing the economy to collapse for personal gain at a time the economy was reaching a meltdown were catastrophic.

Soon after this event the Government quickly weakened due to internal conflict and the country was threatened with anarchy by the anti-government protests that erupted and continue to date. In the aftermath of May 9 violence JVP politburo member Sunil Handunneththi admitted that their entire cadre was mobilized and played a decisive role in the protest grounds that was supposedly apolitical.

Amidst all this excitement this policy paper is forgotten by the presenters themselves. At a time when all are harping over the issues, this paper was promoted as the solutions to light the way forward. Yet today no one remembers it much less talks about it. Then again, it did not generate a notable discussion or debate even immediately after the event either.

The Policy Paper’s Missing Elements

It is not necessarily because Weerawansa’s lambasting eclipsed the paper’s essence. The policy paper in itself is a high level roundup of various sectors significant to the economy. It briefly discusses the government’s role in managing these, mainly through taxes or tax breaks.

However, it does not appear to be compiled by subject experts. For instance, to protect our dwindling forex the paper recommends we should for the next five years discourage importing new vehicles.

The paper however does not speak of the measures needed to counter the consequences. If vehicles cannot be replaced then it needs to be precisely maintained for a poorly maintained vehicle can also be costly to a nation. Likewise, promotion of public as well as non-motorized transport including walking needs to be included in the discussion.

High demand for foreign currency

This recommendation to restrict importing vehicles is contradicted within the suggestions to encourage the expatriate workers to engage in more money transmissions. A suggestion to promote this engagement is to allow a tax concession in proportion to the monies transmitted enabling expat workers to import a vehicle. These kinds of anomalies imply a potluck of ideas than a policy paper.

Notwithstanding the holes in the paper, there are two points in the introduction that many would agree with.

1.) The current crisis is the manifestation of a plethora of buried issues since Independence.

2.) These issues exacerbated since 1977 due to the Open Economy.

Who Governed Sri Lanka Better - Europeans or Sri Lankans?

It is a fallacy that our political-socio-economic woes began after Independence. Life under European subjugation was certainly not honky-dory to the citizen of that day. The European forced occupation upended all major systems that ensure the functioning of a society.

This included primarily our economy. From self-sufficiency we moved to an import-oriented economy. Most of our basic consumables were imported for which the bill was paid by export income from only three primary agricultural products.

We did not venture into manufacturing or any form of other industrialization. We were seriously lagging behind modern technology of the day such as the telephone, steam engine and electricity.

The education system effectively disenfranchised every Sri Lankan citizen until we acquired at least the basic paper qualifications. The cultural appropriation pushed through the education system distanced us from our own identity.

We fail to recognize that every system introduced by the Europeans, may it be democracy or judiciary, the objective was always to serve their purposes. Democracy by definition is a decision making process among those well versed in the subject that a decision needs to be made.

Therefore, the current thinking that protesting or trade union action with the aim of harassing citizens to pressurize government to heed demands is an individual’s democratic right is incorrect. Democracy is not about agitation or altercation with the authorities. True democratic space is reserved for calm, rational and an intellectual debate.

The franchise the British introduced to Sri Lanka was not to include our expertise or input into the governing matters. It was to explore the possibility of a representative government to execute the decisions the British Government wanted to be implemented.

If a system implemented by the Europeans served the citizens, that was fine. If it did not, it certainly did not bother the Europeans. The Waste Land Act that displaced scores of Sinhalese from ancestral properties is a case in point. This Act rendered many homeless in their own country, which impoverished them.

Depreciation of Lankan currency

This Act was accompanied with discriminate tax laws that allowed Europeans to buy our land with almost zero taxes charged. Conversely Sinhalese had to pay exorbitant rates. These kind of laws enabled Europeans to buy our land cheaply and easily while we could not.

Even when Sri Lankans were finally included in the governance, we were only allowed to manage subjects as health and education. The well-being of the citizens was not a concern for the imperialists. However, subjects as economy and defense were kept firmly and tightly in the British grip.

Surviving Colonization

By and large, most of the citizens were ostracized by these systems. Even after nearly 500 years of three different Europeans forcefully occupying our lands, less than five percent of the population understood English. Furthermore, we retained our culture and cultural values, dress code, philosophy/religion and thereby our own moral code and cuisine.

This seriously contest the fact that we were ever colonized. Though our administration and key systems were structurally altered, our traditional values survived the long occupation.

At the point of Independence we needed but failed to understand the real issues before the people. The open-mindedness to appreciate the pluses and minuses of both traditional and European systems was also absent.

Poverty and disenfranchisement resulted because the British system was recognized and not because of any lacunae in our traditional systems. Unless one learnt the English language and adapted Western ways and thinking, the people continued to be ostracized. Yet, it was our traditional systems that sustained us during this difficult period when the State was not with the people.

Those who took part in governing the country were already acclimatized to the European systems. Therefore, the valiant effort was to get every citizen into this system.

This writer’s intention is certainly not to discount the free education system introduced by CWW Kannangara. However, we must accept the fact that the missionary style education that strives towards a medical, engineering or legal profession has not been practical.

We continue to fail to link education with our economy. The livelihood of our larger population is involved in the agrarian industry. Yet, our education does not recognize this fact. While we support farmers with fertilizer subsidiaries and price controls we are not engaged in research and development of better agrarian methods. Instead, we are dependent on Western technologies.

Psychologically our objective is to be as European-like as possible. Consequently the colonization that took place at snail’s pace during European forced occupation is moving at a rapid pace in the post Independent Sri Lanka.

For instance, Sinhala became the country’s administrative language in 1956. Even as the education curriculum changed to Sinhala we continued to appreciate the English language more. Today, we feel that without English we cannot move forward in society.

Yet, in this age of robotics and artificial intelligence Sinhala can serve us better than English. As a rule-based language Sinhala is unambiguous and hence the easier and the more robust language to teach a machine. It is unfortunate that we discontinued the language revival initiated by great minds as Martin Wickremasinghe, Cumaratunga Munidasa and Venerable S. Mahinda Thera.

If we can accept that we should not need a certificate to be part of the country we were born into, we would make great strides forward as a nation. Instead of the insane drive to push our children to get through GCE Ordinary Level and subsequent exams, we need to revisit our traditional systems that made education part of the economy.

Who is the Cannibal - Open or Closed Economy?

The open economy introduced by the JR Jayewardene is blamed for the death of our industries. Sirima Bandaranaike’s tenure from 1970 to 1977 is often hailed as the golden pinnacle of the post Independent Sri Lanka.

However, the 1971 JVP insurgency challenge this rhetoric that our troubles began with the open economy. Instead of blanket statements we need a thorough analysis of the impact the two extremes - closed and open economies - had on our society and economy.

The JVP insurgency had a devastating social-economic impact. The Marxist insurgents targeted the educated and proprietors. Though the insurrection was suppressed within two months, many of the proprietors - especially at village levels - felt threatened and began to migrate.

Instead of arresting this flight, the socialist driven Bandaranaike Government expedited it. Acts as those that disallowed citizens to own more than 50 acres of Land are directly responsible for the deterioration of valuable export crop as tea, rubber and coconut.

Unable to tap into economies of scale these estates quickly became unprofitable. Today, the majority of once prime estates are abandoned, under-performing or blocked out and sold as housing schemes. Ultimately, this broke the financial spine of a community that played an active role in the economy.

It is commendable that the Bandaranaike Government attempted to initiate a number of industries. However, that government’s mistake was its attempt to assume the entrepreneur’s role.

A government cannot be the entrepreneur but only the facilitator to entrepreneurs. There are of course exceptions especially when social needs override profits. On the whole though an enterprise survives on profit.

As such, the management must have ownership of that business to inject the commitment, passion and vision to keep the venture growing and strong to face adversities that are the hallmark of a market. Irrespective of the qualifications, a salaried chairperson on a 9 am to 5 pm schedule will not meet this criteria.

Jayewardene Government’s open policy and free market made most of these industries initiated by the Bandaranaike Government vulnerable. Still at a budding stage most could not withstand foreign competition. However, the absence of an owner to protect the business also played a part.

The government’s job is to put in place the proper policies that ensure fair play. None of the governments to date have taken this role seriously. These policies cannot be narrowed to only taxes for immediate or short term impact but must have a finer understanding of the horizontal and vertical impact of the industry.

The tragedy of the Bandaranaike Government was the hatred and suspicion cultivated towards entrepreneurs. The myopic social division between the “haves” and “have nots” continues to cost our nation greatly. Equated to greedy, grasping men who would do anything for profit entrepreneurship is unappreciated.

Consequently, leadership, proactivity, innovation and confidence especially to take a risk are not qualities we inculcate in our younger generations. Instead, the push is to seek a job. Hence, the demand of the youth for the past generations has been for the Stare to provide jobs. The government complies even with an already ballooned public sector instead of encouraging the youth to create jobs.

‘The Whole Country on to the Right Path’

This policy paper has issues but also some very good points. One such is to harness the interest of local investors towards infrastructural projects than depend entirely on FDI. It is indeed a shame that such a policy paper fell by the wayside for it brings attention to key points our economy needs to address.

This rebel group is currently grappling over proposals for constitutional amendments. This is not earning any of the politicians’ brownie points from the voters, who are in need of urgent economic remedies. Therefore, it would be fully worth the time of this rebel group and the country’s if this policy paper’s owners fight to push through its contents into the Parliament’s attention.

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