The economy is in total disarray despite numbers trotted out to insist there is economic growth. The Prime Minister was reported as having told his ministers to complete all “Development” projects within three months by October. There is a sudden awakening, while 2019 budgetary proposals till now were almost forgotten. There are also massive salary increases given to the security establishment as against paltry sums for others in the public sector. There is a promise to remove anomalies of pensioners too. Though Finance Minister Samaraweera backed out at the last cabinet meeting, he was to allow import of Chinese cigarettes. The excuse was to remove the market for smuggled foreign cigarettes. There is a market for Chinese cigarettes with over 6,000 Chinese labour “in development projects” as the Minister said. But then there is a market for Indian cigarettes too with a much larger Indian labour force here. Importing foreign labour for jobs our youth should have had and then importing cigarettes for foreign labour itself is a “larger than life” indication that the economy is in ruins.
All salary increases in an economy that’s gone haywire are about political living with a presidential election 05 months away. They come as plain “election gifts” this society is quite used to. Every government in the past has doled out election gifts in many ways; from wage allowances and GI roofing to “sil redhi”. Forty plus years, under every President and under his or her government, all these “election gimmicks” have kept increasing along with mega corruption that reached the Central Bank with this “yahapalana” government. All these forty plus years corruption and black money became major economic factors. They came tied behind heavy assurances for more and more tax holidays, concessions, tax rebates and State funded privileges for foreign investors, that every government said without them there will be no “development”. But the promised “development” never came.
Meanwhile with a very selfish urban middle class that keeps fattening and growing with increasing incomes and luxuries within an extremely exploitative open market economy pursuing profits, latest WB classifications count Sri Lanka as not “lower”, but “upper middle income” with GNI per capita over 3,996 US dollars. Today that counts as Rs. 700,000 per year income which is over Rs. 58,000 per month. This in a country where around 100,000 young women from rural society leave the country every year to earn Rs.35,000 per month as housemaids in the Mid East. Its Chinese cigarettes, migrating housemaids and import of cheap unorganised foreign labour that spell out the crisis and contradictions in this free market economy.
The breakdown in functioning of the State and its open bias towards Sinhala Buddhist’s sentiments come with allegations on heavy corruption and complicity in crimes. This is no “State” that carries with it, social acceptance and trust. The judicial process too cannot be counted as independent and fair. Nor even efficient when suspects are held without bail for many long years. Infamous fraudster no doubt, Sakvithi was reported as having been in remand prison without bail for 09 years! He is certainly not alone with such fate. There are many Tamil youth still held in detention for longer periods without any charges filed against them. Apart from lethargic and overcrowded local and provincial government departments, irresponsibility of this State in discharging duties is a serious issue.
With all that break down and chaos in the economy and in the functioning of the State, while on moral and principled reasoning we oppose “death penalty”, why President Sirisena’s anti-drug campaign has caught popular attention among ordinary people has good reason. It is a growing menace that eats into rural and urban poor life. In some districts where migration to Mid East for employment is high, even secondary level school children are addicted to drugs that come in many forms, say school teachers. Worst is their fear in complaining. Implied reason is that local drug peddlers, politicians and some in local police stations work in tandem for good and easy income. That explains why a trishaw driver recently told me, “one gallows in Welikada is not enough Sir. Every district must have one to finish this drug business”. Asked where he comes from, I was proudly told, “Api Kurunegala Mahinda mahaththayata chande dunna aya.” (We are from Kurunegala who voted for Mahinda Sir).
That perhaps is the broader Sinhala Buddhist mind set, President Sirisena is focusing on. Where he is at a total tangent is in his effort to imitate Philippine’s Duterte. Solving or rather finding answers to the drug menace that has swallowed rural life as well, needs serious planning for socio-economic development. If “death penalty” for the drug menace is any answer, President Duterte need not have executed over 5,104 “drug personalities” on official statistics by January 2019 and keep adding more deaths. Drug menace is also about massive corruption allowed in an urban-centred free market economy that grabs anything and everything for “unknown profits”. Over the past four decades all of it has polluted and corroded the whole State apparatus, eaten into all political parties, taken over all print and electronic media and every social segment in varying degrees with a cancerous growth.
Within this politico economic orgy, we are being used by the US and China for their geo-political battle for supremacy in the Indian ocean.Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that is being pushed through by the US for acceptance and this government’s inability to resist, explains the government’s vulnerability and its dependency on US economic handouts. In that background, I wrote a FB post in Sinhala that reads as, “Economy in total chaos, education is far worse, health under a medical mafia, public commuting is a rowdy mess, rural economy is for the poor, State agencies are corrupt and inefficient, political parties are lodgings for racists and robbers, the educated and the professionals are utterly selfish standing to gain in this awfully corrupt free market economy while the media with no ethics and morals is like a cesspit. The country is divided into three with Sinhala Buddhists believing they can benefit running along with a lumpen and an uncivilised political culture. A dumb society that is not concerned about any of them and does not work towards a serious alternative, is searching for a presidential candidate who could develop the country with the filthy rich running this economy. Perhaps the whole country would end up in the death row in 2020.”
We certainly cannot go on this way. We cannot allow religious or ethnic extremism to dictate terms to us. We cannot go on electing politicians who are proven failures whatever their colour. We cannot go on with a city based free market that breeds and nurtures a “filthy rich” clan. We need a serious and a thorough programme for total development. To improve the quality of every aspect of life in a modern, culturally rich society with new values. We need a real and total ALTERNATIVE.
Two years and eight months ago in October 2016 I therefore wrote, “Within this disparity lie growing restrictions on access to health, education, public commuting, access to markets and cultural and intellectual life. Break down of moral and social values have to be accounted for, in such socio-political and economic context. We thus have to re-define ‘Development’ people need to have and enjoy. Development should not be ‘economic growth’ in a market in which 20 per cent enjoy 52.6 per cent of the per capita income ….. Development should gradually diminish these serious anomalies and disparities, while improving the standard and quality of life. ‘Quality of life’, not only in terms of material improvement but also in terms of access to cultural and intellectual life.”
Thereafter I said, “Accepting such as ‘holistic development’ we need to work on a ‘National Policy on Socio-Economic Development’. A national policy that should include proposals for (a) education (b) health (c) transport (d) national and rural economy (e) agriculture and (f) cultural life.”
This is no easy task I accept in a madly deformed society driven by rabid extremism. Yet we need to stress the necessity to ensure a new Constitution as a “people based process” that should include,
1) Fundamental rights as ratified in the UN Human Rights Charter and the Core Conventions of the ILO with provisions to establish a national minimum wage commission.
2) Citizens’ right to culture and cultural rights accepted as a fundamental right, while all religions should be declared as the right of citizens to practise either personally or collectively and without any State patronage. Thus, all schools, public and private will not include “religion” in their school curricula.
3) Constitution to provide for all registered political parties to declare annually, their audited income and expenditure and declare publicly their election funds in detail with sources, at all elections.
4) The Constitution to guarantee a minimum forestry “green” cover not less than that of 1977.
5) The structure of governance to be three-tiered with elected representatives and LG bodies provided with people’s participation through “Ward Committees” on annual budgeting and policy issues to strengthen democracy and accountability, based on power sharing between the Centre and the Provinces as proposed in the Final APRC Report. (for details check http://kusalperera.blogspot.com/2016/10/a-manifesto-for-dignified-democratic.html)
This I believe needs urgent and more attention than selecting presidential candidates to all those who wish to live with pride, dignity and decency in a country that equally belongs to all.