Sri Lanka marks the 66th anniversary of its Independence today amid mixed feelings among the people as to how independent we are and whether the benefits and rights of independence have real meaning and value in the lives of our 21 million people.
Looking at the issues in a positive or optimistic way, most people are thankful, grateful and feel secure because one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisations the LTTE was militarily defeated in May 2009. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government has resoundingly won every election after that, largely because it wiped out the menace of terrorism.
However, valid questions are being raised as to how free and fair those elections were with independent election monitoring groups reporting widespread misuse of state or public resources and funds. For decades, our Constitutions have proclaimed that the people are sovereign but often the sovereignty of the people has been restricted to the election day and with the alleged manipulation including some 'computer jilmart' at counting centres, there are questions as to whether the people are sovereign even on election days.
As for economic development, Government leaders and their main economic advisors are repeatedly giving high figures of gross domestic product and per capita incomes.
Focusing on independence or dependence relating to vital economic issues, we can see that even for the supply of milk, we are dependent on trans-national companies and are importing processed milk powder to the value of a staggering Rs 45,000 million every year. This figure might soar with the prices of milk powder being raised over the weekend by Rs. 61 for a 400 gram packet and Rs 152 for a one kilo packet. Last year, there was an intensive crisis over this after the Industrial Technology Institute of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technology found that some samples of imported milk powder contained excessive amounts of a potentially toxic chemical substance.
The Government then appointed a Cabinet sub-committee headed by Senior Minister D. E. W. Gunasekara and it recommended comprehensive ways to revive Sri Lanka’s fresh milk industry. This will help Sri Lanka to save billions of rupees in foreign exchange and provide ample job opportunities for thousands of dairy farmers. More importantly our children and other people will have access to fresh milk at affordable prices, with many people-friendly nutritionists saying fresh milk is much more nourishing than any processed milk powder though the trans-national companies give a different picture often through unethical promotional campaigns.
If we look at the food production area, we see a growing trend towards dependence on imported chemical fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides. As a grave consequence of this, most of the food we eat today—ranging from rice and other grains to vegetables and fruits are polluted by toxic substances. This means that with every meal the people including children are consuming toxic substances and that may be the main reason why more people are falling sick more often.
On the issue of medicinal drugs, we are still dependent on trans-national pharmaceutical corporations which are known to be making billions in profits by persuading Third World countries like Sri Lanka to buy thousands of varieties of non-essential drugs under highly expensive brand names. If the Rajapaksa government, as it has promised for about 10 years, implements the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) based on Professor Senaka Bibile’s concept, the people could be given quality drugs at affordable prices. The NMDP also calls for the State Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Corporation to use Sri Lanka’s resources to produce more medicinal drugs here so that the country can save millions of dollars being spent to import some 13,000 varieties of drugs.
Political independence for the people, civic rights and economic independence are the real measures of true freedom and if analysed in a proper perspective, Independence Day messages, pageants and air-shows might not have real practical value for most of the people.