Why democracy and good governance unlikely to bring about an improvement in the quality of life
The Political transformation that is taking place in the country today is undoubtedly a positive development, because it is mostly focused on the need to promote democracy and good governance.
Yet, even if we succeed in establishing democracy and good governance on a firm footing, these alone are unlikely to bring about an improvement in the quality of life, the living environment and future prospects of the country and the wider population. The reason is simple: it is not political rhetoric that brings about positive social and economic change but rational, evidence-based policies of the government and other institutions.
On the other hand, governments do not often adopt and implement such policies unless they are persuaded to do so by the knowledgeable and concerned people in the country with the support of the wider public.
In this regard, the media institutions have a major role to play, not only to educate the public but also to promote public discussion on the subject with a view to influencing the decision makers.
It is obvious that, since the change of government in January this year, little or no attention has been paid to the need for sound public policies in most of the public discussions in the media.
Most political leaders, in particular, opposition politicians talk a great deal about themselves and their leaders but little or nothing about the problems and challenges facing the country and people. On the other hand, we will not solve most of the problems we face in various sectors unless we adopt rational public policies to address them.
"Yet, most of the politicians today are preoccupied with their own problems and do not pay much attention to these problems."
This becomes quite clear, when we look at the economy, the education system, health sector, ethnic relations, agriculture and transport.
Yet, most of the politicians today are preoccupied with their own problems and do not pay much attention to these problems.
They are primarily engaged in a power struggle and show no interest in exploring ways and means of addressing economic, social and other challenges facing the country.
Given this situation, it has become necessary to tell them that the general public has little or no interest in their petty power struggles but wants them to think about the best ways to solve the country’s problems, be it poverty, ethnic disharmony, poor health and educational facilities and widespread alcohol abuse. It is the responsibility of the media to promote public discussion on such issues rather than waste media space to accommodate petty political debates that only serve the interests of myopic politicians.
What is urgent today is identifying key issues in different sectors and mobilise experts to deliberate on such issues with a view to formulating the best policies and strategies to address them.
"They are primarily engaged in a power struggle and show no interest in exploring ways and means of addressing economic, social and other challenges facing the country"
There are hundreds of State institutions that have been established over the years to deal with various issues. Yet, these institutions have not been effective due to various reasons, in particular due to politicisation.
These institutions need to be revamped by appointing suitable people to manage them and allocating adequate resources to support their programs. Political leaders demonstrated little or no interest in improving the performance of these institutions in the recent past. For them, they were there to serve their political interests rather than to serve the people.
Appointment of friends, political loyalists and close relatives to high posts here and abroad showed this in no uncertain terms. As is well known, almost the entire Foreign Service was filled by such people at an enormous cost to the public.
It is only when the government, State institutions and the State functionaries pursue national goals and address problems of the people through sound national policies that democratic governance becomes meaningful and relevant to people.
This is why the enlightened politicians, intellectuals, journalists, civil society activists and the voting public need to work together to promote sound, evidence-based national policies in the country. This is the only way to have a better future for the entire population of the country.
On the other hand, if the intellectuals, professionals and concerned citizens do not come forward to facilitate and contribute to a wider process of national policy formulation, the situation described above is unlikely to change.
It in on the basis of this shared understanding and concern that some of us in the universities, the private sector, professions and civil society organisations have had deliberations on the matter for several months and finally came together to launch an independent initiative to set in motion of process of policy discussion with the view to developing broad policy ideas relating to a number of selected areas.
The response on the part of some sections of the political establishment has been encouraging.
The process is scheduled to be launched today at the SLFI, Colombo.
The group of eminent academics, professionals and civil society leaders contributing to this initiative are pleased that that there are already encouraging responses from many political leaders including the President of Sri Lanka.