During the last few months, our dear motherland had experienced chaos and tragedies unprecedented. The constitutional crisis plunged this dear country in a 52-day cloud of unknowing and confusion. We became a stinking sore in the eyes of the world’s nations. There are three major crises facing the nation today, at this very moment: political instability, economic collapse and the national debt. Many learned minds vacillate about the possibility of any future government, let alone the current one, of leading the country out of this triple mess that has entangled us inexorably.
Some issues at stake
Despite the explosive state of affairs, sitting as we are on the top of a volcano, or red hot ambers which for the moment are lying in the films of dust, our politicians are shamelessly scrambling for power, drunk as they are with greed to capture, some to keep their seats and others to capture the lost seats, in various houses of legislature, instead of caring a tuppense to the glaring and gnawing cry and cries of the people at large who live in this country. If the most recent statements made in various platforms are true, over 50% of our people remain poor and do not have the fortune of three-meals-a-day. The most hit are the poor villagers, the farmers, the tea-pluckers in the interior parts of our country.
The current plea and cry of the plantation workers for a 1000-rupee monthly salary increment is a reflection of the sorry state of affairs of those who live in miserable conditions in the hill country and elsewhere to which no one seems to lend an ear of compassion. In the cup of tea we enjoy, we should instead taste not the exotic sweet savour but the bitter sweat, tears and pain of those who make that cup of tea possible. Those of us who have lived and worked in such plantation areas know for sure the lamentable conditions under which these poor workers and pluckers live and work.
Most of them still linger and languish in the hovels of line-rooms that were laid during the British period. There is no clean water, toilet facilities, medical care, decent meals and schooling for the children of these unfortunates. So far there has not be a concerted effort in the hill-country to construct housing schemes for the tea-estate workers and give them decent conditions of living and care though they form a major source of national income with tea still being one of our major exports. This is pure and simply the oppression of the poor, the rape of labour and enslaving them in the trade!
"The current plea and cry of the plantation workers for a 1000-rupee monthly salary increment is a reflection of the sorry state of affairs of those who live in miserable conditions in the hill country, to which no one seems to lend an ear of compassion"
Some TV channels daily give us news about unsurpassed roads with pools of water that inconvenience school children making their daily walk to school and the sick to be transported to the nearby or at times distant hospitals. Safe and drinking water has turned out to be a major problem and a health hazard in many villages. At the same time, massive construction work is going on in our major cities: mega apartment buildings, hotels, entertainment centres, shopping complexes etc. So little development seems to percolate down to the poor in the rural areas of the country. The trade unions need to rethink the way they are dealing with the tea-estate workers, mostly women who brave at times severe weather-conditions when they go out to work. The very picture of a tea-plucker walking to work dressed in gunnies and shabbily dressed, with a basket in the back that they are obliged to fill for the day’s wage and a stick, rings a sour note at the heart’s penury!
Is this the way, our national revenue-earners treated as dignified workers and lo, the back-bone of the national economy? One wonders! Then we face the cry of the farmers who are often affected on the one hand by irregular weather-conditions like the expected rain-fall that is disturbed and vice-versa, the deluge of rains that inundate their fields. What about the times, they can hardly sell their produce and products and these lie rotting in store-houses? Is there no intelligent planner who can think of managing the phalanx of waters that come down in torrents during the floods, so that conserving these can help the farmers during long period of unexpected droughts?
Since D. S. Senanayake who launched the Gal-Oya scheme in the 1950s, no one seems to give any attention to the conservation of rain-water and improving the tanks we already have especially in the dry zone. The illegal logging and lumbering of forests have resulted in our rain-forest being lost by a huge percentage and apparently only 27% of it remains at the moment. This will definitely affect and breed environmental degradation. Hurt nature and it will hit back at you, the wise man says.
Stigma of the unbearable debt question
While the above factors form part of the economic problem, it is the enormous and unbelievable national and international debts that we have incurred over the last three decades that are shockingly depressing to the nation. One counts it in millions and billions of dollars! Do our ordinary people know the serious problem connected with these national borrowings by all the governments so far? The bribery, the corruption, the embezzlement, the stealing and racketeering in matters that are fiscal and financial must be arrested forthwith if we are to rid ourselves of the begging bowl that we have carried ever since independence. Our situation had been so bad, that at times, even the international funding agencies like the World-Bank, the IMF and the ADB and the like have threatened to stop or reduce such funding. Some of these contracts and agreements that govern these borrowings are highly questionable and unethical. We have become ploys in the hands of our donors not knowing the seriousness of the ill-effects that follow from these ventures. No government has seriously come up with a plan for systematically dealing with this debt-problem and thus liberating us from these stringent and perpetual claws of economic slavery and dependency which are utterly humiliating for a nation that has been independent for over 70 years. Without blaming any economic imperialism from without, one has to confess humbly for not creating conditions conducive for FDIs to arrive, to attract foreign investors of different kinds, for improving and modernizing our exports which in turn will help us reduce our importing of even those items that we can locally produce. Some of our assets, financial and real have been abused and wasted by the powers that be and unnecessary political structures have sucked in even our reserves. The poor tax-payer had been at the butt-end of all these stupid and short-sighted manoeuvres. Have we put to use even the talents and the skills that are already available in our human resources?
National Signs of Contradiction
To certain TV channels we are grateful for beaming news about the cries of our people, the poor, the uncared for and those for whom promises have not been fulfilled following election campaigns by many parties. They include the cry for pot-holed village roads to be done up, for schools that need not only furniture but also good and qualified staffs, laboratories and other facilities, reasonable transfers of principals and teachers etc. There is also the bewildering threat of the drug menace intruding into the lives of schoolchildren and cruel behavior of school authorities; at times political influence being brought to bear in the sector of education. We need to add the skill training of students so that they can grow and qualify in those areas of expertise which will help them to be creative and innovative in their later employment pursuits. We boast so much about the high rate of literacy and health services in the country, both being free and in good gear. But watching the scramble in the OPD wards, the scramble for medicines in pharmacies, the highly expensive and now at times unavailable drugs, the over-crowded wards, one begins to wonder, how rosy the situation is! People’s cry is heard from all over the country about the injustices to the ordinary workers, about the threats to pensions etc. How is it possible in all right conscience and ethical standards, that we can compound these undesirable contexts with monies squandered in travel, celebrations and election campaigns? The national question of ethnic reconciliation, so-called war-crimes and the emergence of a Sri Lankan identity for all in this country are far from being achieved. It is a pity indeed, that whenever there is a window of opportunity to solve these crucial problems crippling the nation, someone insidiously closes all the doors!