As to what really plagues the paradise island of Sri Lanka even after it defeated terrorism and entered the group of middle-income nations, has been a topic discussed at many a fora– both private and public.
While mismanagement of the economy and the rise in the crime rate have often been attributed to the country’s economic woes, the ever-intensifying direct link between power and theft, the latter in its broader sense of interpretation, has often been cited as the latest tragedy of the nation.
A thought-provoking session of one of Colombo’s most respected intellectual gatherings, the Colombo Forum, on Saturday concluded that theft in Sri Lanka is now identified more with the powerful than the destitute.
It was observed that while an overwhelming majority of the nearly 1.6 million citizens who still survive below the poverty line avoid resorting to theft when starving, a sizeable percentage of those with political power engage in some form of theft. The latter may include the use of force to deprive others of their basic rights, misappropriating of public money, drug smuggling, bribe taking, misuse of state property and many other offences.
The panelists and the learned audience also brought home the point that it is often the alcoholics and drug addicts among the poor that commit petty theft offences and their addictions have made destitute even those who earn a decent income. The panelists and the audience - comprising distinguished academics, medical professionals, lawyers and other professionals, civil society leaders and media persons -- lashed out at alcohol and cigarette companies and drug barons for driving the vulnerable to thefts after emptying their pockets with the sale of toxic or lethal substances.The need to wean the people away from these vices and the approaches to be adopted in that regard were discussed at length by the forum members.
Explaining the global scenario relating to theft and corruption, the panelists explained how the secret joint operations of the transnational arms trade, the pharmaceutical industry and drug mafias, have made even global leaders almost puppets in the hands of a corrupt few. The poverty-stricken India is today the biggest spender on imported arms while the United States and Russia remain the leaders in the arms trade. Studies have shown how wars are created or catalyzed in various parts of the world to open new markets for the arms trade. Seven of the ten biggest arms industry companies in the world-including the biggest Lockheed Martin -- are based in the United States.
The forum no doubt was a Eureka moment for those who were longing to see the start of a dialogue that has the potential to change the mindset of Citizen Sri Lanka.