The then President R. Premadasa on October19, 1989, using the powers vested in him appointed Professor Lakshman Jayatilleke, Chairman, Professor G.L.Peiris, Member, Dr. (Mrs.) Radhika Coomaraswamy and four others to serve on a Presidential Commission on Youth with a mandate to examine the causes of youth discontent, disquiet, unrest and social discontent among the youth and the factors which had contributed to the growth of such discontent and to recommend remedial measures to make suitable improvements in their attitudes, behaviour and conduct.
he members were also called upon to look into perceived grievances, improper discrimination or lack of equal treatment leading to such attitude, behaviour or
conduct, including inadequacies pertaining to policies, administration of numerous governmental bodies.
The Commissioners thereafter in their report to the President had pointed out that if the fundamental changes required for the establishment of a fair and equitable social equilibrium by successive governments could have been achieved “those many thousands, who have sacrificed their lives in the bitter confrontations …would not have died in vain”.
The report further had mentioned:
“It is therefore time for the Nation as a whole to engage in a search for consensus, without arrogant self-righteousness or acrimony, but in the hope of building a better future for the next generation of our youth”.
Why is it that all successive governments deceitfully disregard the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Youth?
Why have they pushed under the carpet an important Public Administration circular (15 of 1990) too, introduced by the Premadasa government, thereafter, for political expediency?
The Commissioners had also urged:
“It appears that the State must place emphasis on the need to respond with a measure of compassion and genuine goodwill, and manifest an unflinching resolve to make appropriate changes in systems, procedures and attitudes. This change of heart must be seen as the reflecting empathy and understanding values graphically encapsulated in what one youth who came before the Commission described as “Kekkuma”. Unless there is an urgent effort to alleviate suffering and to arrest the denial of basic amenities and opportunities for rural youth, the cycle of violence is very likely to recur with even greater frenzy and cause an even more real threat to the survival of democracy and the spirit of freedom”.
Report furthermore states:
“A pervasive sense of injustice “asadharanaya” arising principally from political patronage in employment, which culminates in a demoralising denial of merit; the use of the English language by the urban elite as a sword of oppression “Kaduwa”, to deny social mobility to rural youth; and the emergence of corruption and bureaucratic apathy as major phenomena debilitating the foundation of society; have provided the ideal prescription for youth discontent which has spilt over into violence embroiling a significant section of the youth of the country”.
“Rampant consumerism and unrestrained ostentation of a small but highly visible section of society has lent itself to ever-widening social differentials, disclosing a woeful lack of empathy on the part of the privileged few for the vast majority of society languishing in deprivation and want”.
“They seem to have no one to turn to. Rural politicians, they claim, join the urban elite once elected. Their lives are seen as a series of broken promises”.
“An extreme segment of youth went a step further: they sought to wrest political power by force, violence and terrorism bringing the nation to the fringe of anarchy”.
“The time has also come to trust in the people; to inspire their confidence; to galvanize their creative energies and for the government to provide them with the facilities and resources – itself serving only as a catalyst – to enable the people to harness their own capabilities. What is needed is … the effective use of already available funds to optimize returns. …Inefficiency and obtuseness must not ever be more tolerated”.
"Rampant consumerism and unrestrained ostentation of a small but highly visible section of society has lent itself to ever-widening social differentials..."
“There needs to be a national policy in regard to each of these problems and issues, applicable for a reasonable period of time – with a degree of certainty and continuity, so as to ensure that plans and programmes of action will not be affected by political changes in government. What is required is not an inflexible policy, but one which will be liable to necessary alteration as changed circumstances may require, and as determined through national consensus but not a policy to be affected by the vagaries of transient political majorities”.
The Commissioners have pointed out the need to agree on certain fundamental principles, such as more democracy; adequate devolution and dialogue; equality of opportunity and non-discrimination in every sphere; reduction of disparities, in respect of income, wealth, privileges and advantages; efficient ad optimum utilization of scarce national resources, elimination of extravagance and conspicuous consumption; effective, expeditious and inexpensive redress of grievances; values and institutions which give expression to the diversity within our society.”
Many of the young people who had come before the Commission had been of the belief that most of the institutions including the Judiciary and the Legislature had been weakened due to political manipulation. Several politicians who gave evidence, on the other hand, had referred to lethargy, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and the lack of initiative and empathy on the part of the public servants, which had prevented them from responding effectively ad expeditiously in the delivery of numerous public services.
"Why is it that all successive governments deceitfully disregard the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Youth? "
The Commission in their report had however, recommended numerous meaningful proposals to de-politicise the civil society and successive governments have miserably disregarded implementation of such proposals purely for political expediency.
In their report, they had recommended that “the formulation and adoption of a code of conduct for politicians reflecting norms crucial to the health and continuity of public life, as part of a self-regulatory mechanism, the initiative in regard to which should be taken by the political parties themselves. Some of the matters that might find expression in such a code are –
(i) That political leadership should set an example by restricting time spent on symbolic civil ceremonies, whether they be weddings, school functions or religious ceremonies.
(ii) In this regard we think it is undesirable that school children should be compelled to participate in partisan political functions or ceremonies;
(iii) Functions organised in schools as part of regular routine should not be made use of, even indirectly, for political purposes.
(iv) If politicians are to attend social functions at the local level, which involves community activities, they should endeavour as much as possible to secure the co-operation and participation of other political parties operating in the same area.
(v) Opposition political parties should contribute to the revival of community life by extending their support to, and actively participating in, community activities of a beneficial but non-political nature.
The recommendations made in the Report of the Presidential Commission on Youth, is something which had been completely ignored by all successive governments.
Shouldn’t we remind the politicians, bureaucrats and the general public about the contents in it?
To be continued…