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76 Years of Independence - Looking Back in Retrospect - EDITORIAL

31 Jan 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Sunday, 4th February will mark 76 years since our country gained independence from the British. Unlike India and Pakistan, we Lankans did not suffer a bloody struggle to free ourselves from direct colonial rule. Whether this was good is debatable. 

For one, we Lankans’ did not unite as men and women of one country to overthrow the yoke of imperialism. To this day we remain Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher first. Being Sri Lankan often takes second place to our individual race, creed and religion.  
Most times we lose sight of the fact that the Veddah community (Lankan aborigines) are in fact the original citizens of our motherland. 

But there are many things we as citizens of Lanka can be proud of. 
We gave the world its first female Prime Minister. But, according to the World Economic Forum, Sri Lanka ranks 55th in the world when it comes to the gender equality gap and 30th in political participation. Today in a Parliament of 225 members, only 23 are female!

For long we have been known to have the highest literacy rate in Asia and enjoy ‘free education’ from Montessori to University - a product of ‘free education’. 
Our people are provided with ‘free health services’. We have had one of the best healthcare systems in the region. World Bank statistics show only 29 women in Lanka die per 100,000 live births due to pregnancy-related causes.Maternal mortality in Sri Lanka is lower than its regional average. UNICEF statistics show the maternal mortality rate in India is 97 per 100,000 live births.

We could proudly boast that all governments since independence provided our people with heavily subsidised food and fuel. But like all good things, it has come to an end.
Though we, one and all, believed we were enjoying free education, free healthcare, subsidised food, fuel, etc, someone was in fact footing the bill. 

Our free education, free health services and other subsidies we enjoyed were at the cost of frittering away of foreign reserves and foreign borrowings. Nothing in this world is free. It has a cost attached.
The ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic literally brought the economy to a standstill. Together with the Easter Sunday terror attacks, the most important segments of our economy which brought in the all important foreign earnings which paid for the state welfare measures we enjoyed were killed off.
And so it was by 2022-2023, our expenditure far outstripped our income and our ability to repay our creditors. The country declared itself bankrupt, and the bubble we were living in burst. We found ourselves without even basic essentials.

We, as a people, faced job losses – with nearly 500,000 persons losing employment – the closure of businesses, food, medical and fuel shortages, rolling 12-hour power cuts and a descent into near anarchy.
However, thanks to an Indian credit line, an IMF debt restructuring facility and an unexpected political leadership change, the ship of the state was steadied. 
But today we are faced with rising costs while wages have remained static since the onset of the Covid pandemic. Prices of basics are skyrocketing, as subsidies have been cut to meet creditor demands. 

As we mentioned earlier nothing comes free and so it is with the IMF facility and Indian credit line. We have to repay our creditors. The government’s strategy has been to increase taxes imposed for essentials on an already over-burdened populace who can barely keep body and soul together.
UNICEF statistics show two in five households (41.8 per cent) spend more than 75 per cent of their expenditure on purchasing food, leaving little to spend on health and education.

Yet corruption among the ruling classes is rampant and unchecked. Our current President who came into power almost accidentally, has brought about a certain amount of stability and has been able to control people’s anger.
Unless corruption is eliminated, the people’s anger may once again boil over and push the country back to square one.
It is up to the President and the forces of law and order, to ensure the corrupt are brought to book and justice meted out to wrong doers who at every turn keep putting self before country.