More than one and half years after the people’s silent and peaceful revolution of January 8, 2015 major questions are being raised about how far the Yahapalanaya Government has gone or failed to go towards the vision of good governance, democracy and a just society. There are plus points - the 19th Amendment, the restoration of media freedom and the right to vibrant debates or criticism, the improvement of Sri Lanka’s international image and standing and the recent unanimous approval of the Right to Information Act.
But most analysts agree that the negatives outweigh the positives. Therefore the people and the non-political civic action movements need to be aware and be awake to ensure that the Yahapalanaya Government remains faithful to its pledges to work towards inter-racial and inter-religious unity, accountability and transparency and a development strategy that is sustainable, all inclusive and eco-friendly.
Yesterday we saw the emergence of another non-party civic action movement -- the People’s Intellectual Assembly (PIA), whose conveners are civic action and constitutional lawyers Chrishmal Warnasuriya and Srinath Perera. In a vision and mission statement the movement says its main aim is to reinforce citizens’ leadership. The lack of people-centred policy, inequality and corruption throughout the party political system has become a common occurrence since our independence. This is driven primarily by a selfish two-party system that exchange governance from time to time without giving top priority to the people and their genuine needs, whether it is good governance, education, health, transport and other key issues. This has led to a largely politico-dependent vicious cycle that this corrupt system itself would rather sustain, for its own survival, the PIA says.
Since the January 8 people’s revolution, there has been a consensus that academics and professionals who share a passion for correcting this “system” must rise to the occasion and express a voice on the direction and control of our country. The malfunctioning is not only based on individuals in office but rather the existing system itself. Unless and until the people are empowered to assert their rights with knowledge, merely changing personalities will not deliver results.
The PIA has sought the blessings of all religions for its mission and among those who spoke at yesterday’s inaugural media briefing were the Ven. Ambulagala Sumangala Thera and Kurunegala’s former Bishop the Rt. Rev. Dr. Kumara Illangasinghe. The PIA wants paramount emphasis on honesty, ethics and integrity, with the primary objective of offering an educated and rational response to our national issues, for an intelligent debate by the people, who will then be empowered to make informed choices. It aims for a society-based leadership to create a national sense of thinking on where we are today, why and what must we do to take Sri Lanka to its deserved place in history.
Among other speakers was Federation of University Teachers Association’s (FUTA) former convener Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, who spoke of issues in the vital education sector. He said that though the new government had promised to raise the education budget to 6 percent this was largely limited to figures and in practical terms little had been done to transform the sector.
Leading nutritionist Dr. Damayanti Perera, speaking on the health sector, warned the government that the western policy on food and nutrition had failed and it would be a folly to follow that policy. She pointed out that in the United States almost 60 percent of the people were obese and suffering from non-communicable diseases, such as heart ailments, diabetes and high cholesterol. Dr. Perera however commended President Maithripala Sirisena’s policy of producing all the nutritious food we need in Sri Lanka itself without busting up so much money on processed rubbish or junk food from abroad.
While there were major questions about the Executive Presidency and the levels to which Parliament was descending, Mr. Warnasuriya made an important point about the judicial process. He said most clients who came to lawyers often asked them whether the issue could be settled without going to courts, because of the long delays and high cost of seeking justice in courts of law. Such a crisis needs to be resolved effectively, if we are to prevent a collapse of the judicial process also. Constant public vigilance is the price of liberty. Voting at elections is important but that is only one step.