The election of a caretaker Government brings with it a sense of responsibility in resurrecting lost hopes. This could be in people as well as in the socio-economic perspective. Several key sectors including health, finance, law, environment, administration and media have been addressed by successive Governments, but today, all these areas need to be revisited. Recovering the country from its current economic slump to regulating prices of drugs and cutting down perks allocated to politicians are foreseen obstacles. On the other hand it is important to continue addressing and promoting areas such as right to information and human rights, thereby ensuring that all citizens have an equal opportunity in the face of law. With that in mind the Daily Mirror spoke to experts in a few key sectors who shed light on matters at hand and what the new government should prioritize on.
Govt. should play a role in regulating prices of pharmaceutical drugs : Dr. Haniffa
While we condemn strikes wholeheartedly we also need to ensure that doctors’ salaries have been paid and their concerns are also being met
Sri Lanka’s health sector has gone through certain improvements, but lack of accessibility, facilities and a dearth of doctors, are matters that need to be looked into. Apart from that, soaring prices of pharmaceutical drugs add to the high cost of living.
“If you take the healthcare delivery system statistics show that around 11 million people visit all orthopedic units while six million people go to hospitals for ambulatory primary care,” said Dr. Ruvaiz Haniffa, Immediate Past President of Sri Lanka Medical Association, Consultant Family Physician and lecturer in Family medicine at Family Medicine Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. “Therefore the focus of the health system should shift from hospital to primary care. Road traffic accidents are on the rise and about seven people die every day. So the Government has to take care of such casualties as well. But instead of that we could prevent these incidents from happening by imposing laws and having a proper traffic plan. Some other concerns include strengthening and improving the delivery of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) with a particular reference to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), stringent controls on dangerous drugs, alcohol and tobacco and ending violence / ragging in universities and corporal punishment in schools,” the doctor said.
The system is corrupt to the extent that even if you want to do away with strikes, the system doesn’t allow for it,” Dr.Haniffa added
He also suggested that a top priority of the new government should be to declare 2020 as a Year of Tolerance in Sri Lanka. When asked about doctors going on strike and inconveniencing patients, Dr. Haniffa opined that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. “This shows the lack of discipline in the system. While we condemn strikes wholeheartedly we also need to ensure that doctors’ salaries have been paid and their concerns are also being met. The system is corrupt to the extent that even if you want to do away with strikes, the system doesn’t allow for it,” Dr.Haniffa added.
When asked about the exorbitant prices of drugs, he said that prices of 52 essential drugs have been reduced including those prescribed for non-communicable diseases. “You can’t increase the prices of pharmaceutical drugs by holding people to ransom. So the Government has to play a role in regulating the prices of drugs. On the other hand we have to establish a quality control laboratory. The private sector should play a part in this process. They need to focus on quality and pricing standards,” he went on.
Govt. should earn confidence of the private sector : Wijewardena
Government should encourage the private sector and earn its confidence. labour peace needs to be established
Sri Lanka is currently facing a debt crisis of $34.4 billion. In addition to that, the value of the rupee has been depreciated and recently the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Sri Lanka’s economy remains vulnerable to adverse shocks given the high public debts and low reserves.
“The new President’s economic manifesto targets a growth rate of 6.5% or higher, but currently its at 3-4%,” opined W.A Wijewardena, senior economist and former Central Bank Deputy Governor. “In order to increase the growth rate from 3-6.5% investment levels should increase to around 30-35%. For this both the Government and private sector must be involved.
Therefore the Government should encourage the private sector and earn its confidence. On the other hand labour peace needs to be established, thereby reducing or putting a stop to all the strikes that take place. Next year when the Budget is being presented, the Finance Minister would have to make this assurance,” said Wijewardena.
When asked about the spike in stock market prices after the election of the new President, Wijewardane said that it doesn’t have an impact. “Some people have put in money and those stocks rose, but now the figures are negative,” he said.
Govt. should adopt pro-active approach to promote human rights and right to information : Dr. Senaratne
The govt. should adopt a pro-active approach with regard to the promotion of human rights, including the right to information
In numerous instances the citizens of Sri Lanka experienced how the Constitution could be interpreted and misinterpreted. The Constitutional Coup which took place last year is an example. The next concern is regarding the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which reduces the powers of the president.
In his comments, Dr. Kalana Senaratne, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Law at Peradeniya University, opined that when the President and the Prime Minister are from the same political party, the impact of certain provisions of the 19th Amendment becomes quite feeble in practice. “The 19th Amendment was designed especially to address the unique situation in 2015, where the President and the PM were from two different parties. So I am not too starry-eyed about certain provisions of the 19th Amendment. However, the 19th Amendment has a number of very useful features which should be retained; three in particular. Firstly, the right to information (which is part of Chapter 3 now); secondly, the ability to institute fundamental rights cases in relation to the acts and omissions of the President; and thirdly, the re-establishment of the Constitutional Council (which enables the appointment of independent Commissions recognized under the Constitution).”
Human rights and the Right to Information law are two other areas of concern which were discussed to a certain extent during the Sirisena regime. “The government should ideally adopt a pro-active approach with regard to the promotion of human rights, including the right to information,” he continued. “The latter right, in particular, has served a very useful purpose, and one hopes it would continue to do so in the future. Importantly, Commissions such as the Human Rights Commission and the Right to Information Commission currently comprise of experts who are dedicated to promote human rights. It would be good if the Commissioners of these respective bodies can continue under the present government as well. I am not sure whether that will happen, though. However, one needs to wait and see how the Government would proceed in promoting fundamental rights, without rushing to conclusions,” Dr. Senaratne said.
Dr. Senaratne also agreed to the fact that a Constitutional reform is a need of the hour. “A Constitution which is more acceptable to the ethnic and religious communities in the country, one which does not appear to be privileging any single community or religion over others, one which gives prominence to fundamental rights over personal laws, one which maintains a reformed Presidential system, etc. are some of the broader aspects that should be considered when reforming the Constitution,” he added. “At present, the proper and full implementation of the Constitution (including the 13th Amendment) seems an equally important task. How could one trust the promise of reform, when even the present Constitution is not being implemented in full?” he questioned.
Five areas pertaining to environment need to be given priority : Gunawardena
Habitat degradation, extinction of endemic plants and animals are key areas that need to be probed
Environment has been a key area of concern with more habitats being destructed and levels of pollution rising. Mismanaged garbage dumps and waste disposal add to this issue.
“Habitat degradation, fragmentation and destruction, extinction of endemic plants and animals, air and water pollution, invasive species coming into the country and marine pollution are five key areas that need to be probed,” said Jagath Gunawardena, attorney-at-law and environment protection activist. “There are three bills in the pipeline including the proposed Act to Control New Organisms, Biosafety Bill to Control genetically modified organisms that may be coming into the country and the Bill to Protect Crop Genetic Resources. These need to be brought about immediately,” said Gunawardena.
All politicians should declare their assets : Ivan
I also believe that all politicians should declare their assets. If they don’t, the fine is as low as Rs. 1000 and it’s a joke
Media freedom was challenged during the previous Rajapaksa regime. But the Sirisena Government was instrumental in establishing the Right to Information Act thereby giving freedom to people to express their thoughts. However during the latter part of his tenure, certain individuals including authors and media personalities were jailed or summoned to the CID on alleged claims of violating the ICCPR Act.
Veteran political commentator and senior journalist Victor Ivan appreciated certain steps taken by the new regime. “HE has cut down his staff, reduced the number of vehicles etc. These are good moves. One thing I’m not happy with is the fact that the National Anthem should only be sung in Sinhala and not Tamil. I also believe that all politicians should declare their assets. If they don’t, the fine is as low as Rs. 1000 and it’s a joke. I suggested that the fine should be raised to Rs. One million with a one year jail term. Anybody should be able to request another person to declare their assets. Thereafter these details should be available online,” he added.
He further said that the system has fallen to such a level that politicians get duty free vehicles and their fuel bill is paid by the Government. “With all these expenses, how can a Government raise its head? It’s forever crushed by a huge economic burden due to such unwanted expenses. Politicians need to be simple,” we went on.
He also said that the media has no self regulation or a sense of social responsibility. “Media has a responsibility to inculcate a culture of critical thinking,” he opined. “There is no self-governing structure within any professional body. On the other hand, television and radio frequencies need to be given through public auctions. But politicians hand over these frequencies to their associates and the revenue that is being generated never reaches the treasury. Television channels need to work within a national framework,” he said. In conclusion he said that the investigations into cases of murdered and abducted journalists should be continued with.