With many people preparing for the festive season despite political, economic and social crises in the country, it may be prudent to reflect on the need for austerity and alpechchathawaya or a simple and humble lifestyle in keeping with Sri Lanka’s culture.
A movement working for the prevention of cruelty to animals has urged Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka to make an appeal that animals should not be slaughtered during the festive season. This will not only be a prevention of cruelty to animals but also an act of unity with the majority Buddhist community and a step towards celebrating Christmas in a simple and humble way without rich cakes or turkeys, balloons, bonbons and shopping sprees.
In any event the example for austerity or a simple and humble lifestyle needs to be set at the top by political, religious, social and other leaders. They cannot just preach to the people about learning to be content with basic needs and to avoid luxuries or extravagances. They need to walk the talk and practise what they preach.
For instance the Budget revealed that a staggering Rs.20 million is spent daily on maintaining the executive presidency at a time when the National Movement for Social Justice, opposition political parties and other groups are campaigning for the abolition of the executive presidency. They insist that this system introduced by the J.R. Jayewardene Government in 1978 and consolidated by the 18th Amendment is dragging Sri Lanka into a dictatorship without checks and balances, accountability, transparency and good governance.
When the UPFA won the general elections in 2004, one of the demands of the JVP – a major constituent party at that time – was that the Cabinet of Ministers be slashed to 25. But as usual, this pledge also was broken and today we have more than 80, at cabinet level, with a host of perks and privileges costing the people hundreds of millions of rupees daily.
For good values like austerity and alpechchathawaya to take shape in Sri Lanka, it is essential for the President, the ministers and politicians to set an example by willingly and voluntarily giving up most of their perks and privileges and to lead a simple life with basic needs. Religious and other leaders also need to do this, and most people are likely to follow the example, bringing about more savings, sharing and a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
Along with this, we also need to see commitment to servant leadership instead of domineering or authoritarian leaders who worsen the crisis by plundering the wealth and resources of the country. With Sri Lanka facing crisis within crisis and conflict within conflict at national and international levels, urgent and effective measures are necessary to prevent Sri Lanka from plunging into a bankrupt dictatorship, where instead of being a role model, we may be like a roll muddle resembling a Rwanda.