What a difference a year makes. This country has been experiencing a year of newsworthy events, not all of them agreeable to the populace by any measure.
Nonetheless some of them have been downright sensational. Worryingly, they mostly hold undertones of the country’s deep divisions.
There isn’t even a scintilla of doubt that the country appears to be in deep trouble just when its battered economy cannot afford any more political bruising. Surely, disappointment and anxiety have prompted both analysts and voters to re-examine Sri Lanka’s political model in a new and more critical light. The clamorous din of the constitutional commotion for most of us has been a monumental pain in the posterior.
Power has become a poisonous serpent in Sri Lanka politics that has for the present relegated the main concerns to the backburner. Among the most important issues to be addressed are establishing healing and reconciliation bringing down the escalating cost of living and establishing a more democratic form of government. Ensuring human rights and investing in people by providing them with better health and education is another priority. But plans and pledges in Sri Lanka have been two a penny in the last couple of decades. Getting them implemented is actually the hard part.
It often seems that affairs in this country can get no worse. And yet they have. Despite all the garish charm the city has been bedecked in, the season of discontent in Sri Lanka is underway. With clouds of turbulence looming over the economy and with more tormenting financial hardships being imposed on the people, the political skyline does not seem a placid one. Besides, such a stormy political climate is downright dangerous. Such conditions if allowed to prevail have been known to blow in tempests of social unrest. To many who do not know where their next meal is coming from, local breadbasket issues rank higher than the nation’s power politics.
For too long now all our administrations have been re-writing the all-too-common script that pledges to create wealth for the masses, but have done nothing of the sort. On the contrary what they have been bent on is merely enriching an entrenched and undemocratic elite, which they are part of.
The “Big Bang” of promised reforms that all successive administrations pledged have never been honoured. This is not particularly because they appear like aimless patchworks of fantasy, but because the politicians have been taking a leaf from old Nero and fiddling around too much while the nation burns.
Besides all our administrations have been trundling along like slow-coaches to nowhere lurching mostly between rhetoric and inactivity. They have also been guilty of appalling indecision when it comes to key issues. All this highlights the blatant insensitivity of our political leaders to the people’s pain.
What is unacceptable is that every government has been spoiling its politicians and bureaucratic flatterers rotten in budget-slashing times where ordinary citizens are being entreated to exercise austerity which now appears to border on bare hand-to-mouth existence. Take for instance, the dishonesty, the neglect, the incompetence and the sinful waste which have become the norm in most every utility, state-owned enterprise and the bureaucracy.
Utilities charges today have become outrageously unaffordable. Take into consideration the reality that the consumers of this nation are already paying among the highest electricity and water tariffs in the world. In a nation where poverty and inequality remain disappointingly widespread, perhaps nothing is more destructive of public trust in a democracy than belief that nepotism and corruption are flourishing as never before.
Let us hope that the New Year will bring about a decisive moment in history where one would be looking ahead to signs of genuine statesmanship being demonstrated by our leaders by avoiding senseless political showdowns. Yes, there will be the usual pageantry and political messages of goodwill that will amount to nothing but hot air amid the nippy seasonal breezes.
To the leaders of the powers that be we say: You are all a little bit older, and your corpulent cabinet is much more than just a little bit larger. The conclave contains more than one minister who is more a scrounger and bludger than being a shaker and mover. Yet you are their leaders. You need to go and straighten them out. In the course of any year, you will encounter a whole lot of individual and group dynamics that lose efficacy and that only you can un-tether.
There may be several practices that have become outdated, policies that no longer work. There could also be routines, rituals, and habits that now just get in the way and meetings that have lost their purpose. Remember you are all older in governance yet but none the wiser if you shilly-shally and let things go the way of the Dodo!
So here’s cheers to a New Year and another chance for you to get it right. And to all you readers out there I am touched and thankful for your personal seasonal greetings. While wishing you all a peaceful and prosperous 2017 on the admirable theme of reconciliation may you be blessed with courage to fight against injustice and stand up for your values in the New Year.
The deputies who declined
During the recent past, super luxury vehicles for ministers and MPs costing countless millions were approved to be obtained out of people’s funds. Of them only three parliamentarians rejected these perks. They were three deputy ministers, Ranjan Ramanayake, Dr. Harsha De Silva and Palitha Thevarapperuma. Parliament on December 10 passed a Resolution to pay all Parliamentarians a monthly allowance of Rs. 100,000 to cover the expenses of maintaining an office and also to increase the allowance of Rs. 500 for attending Parliament sittings up to Rs 2,500. All Parliamentarians are entitled to the increased allowances from January 1, 2017. Social Empowerment and Welfare Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake has written to the Speaker rejecting the recently increased allowances approved by Parliament.