Sri Lanka: The present crisis- a way forward

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Aug 12 15:50:21 UTC 2006
The present crisis- a way forward
Commentary at 9:26 pm

By Lloyd F Yapa

The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to the plight of this
crisis ridden country and to try to indicate a path of achieving peace and
stability, which is a prerequisite for economic growth and alleviation of
poverty, the major planks of the Mahinda Chinthanaya. There is no doubt,
this is the fervent aspiration of every citizen, whether Sinhalese, Tamil,
Muslim, Burgher or any other. The country is actually going through
several crises. Of these the most devastating is the ethnic crisis. Most
people, though literate, are also ignorant of their rights, duties and the
democratic methodologies, which can be used to build a peaceful and
prosperous nation, despite threats.

It is this ignorance and inertia on the part of people of this country
that has led them to elect a long line of inept leaders, while other
countries in Asia have produced statesmen, who have led their nations
towards peace and prosperity by inspiring their people to overcome
internal problems, exploit opportunities offered by their external
environments, while avoiding threats. Whereas, the majority of the so
called local politicians elected time and again, happen to be semi
literate and corrupt without any leadership qualities of delivering
results. Over the years, they have been cunningly playing ball with the
ethnic issue to destabilize the country, just to gain political power.

They have also been spicing up this insidious approach with pernicious
fiscal and monetary profligacy to offer unproductive and inflation
inducing sweeteners demanded by the people in their ignorance of basic
economics, ignoring the need to invest for development of infrastructure,
health education etc. These politicians have at the same time been ruining
the efficiency and the integrity of the public service and the law/order
system, which are needed to support the implementation of development
strategies and provide security to the people. The major parties never
collaborate with each other in the national interest, hoping to solve them
single handed, when and if they come to power. Foreign investors, who
could create an increasing number of jobs for the unemployed and produce
more goods and services, especially for the world markets, have therefore
given a wide berth to this country seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
Most of the large local investors too have followed suit. Incomes have
therefore increased at snails pace, while inflation has soared. The per
capita income of Sri Lanka in 1960 was only US $142, though its purchasing
power was quite strong.

At present the Sri Lankan per capita income is over $ 1000 and its
purchasing power is plummeting day by day, pushed inexorably by spiraling
inflation. Official statistics do not reflect this tendency correctly. The
majority of the people therefore are becoming poorer and poorer in
purchasing power terms, while being deprived of basic human rights. It is
heartening, however, to note that the President appears to have set in
motion a patient and pragmatic process, which is bound to succeed, despite
being burdened with several millstones round his neck, provided a well
thought out consensual process s adopted to carry the people also with

First, the people should accept the fact that ours is a plural society and
unity in diversity is an asset. In fact the present impasse which has
developed into a military confrontation between the majority community and
the Tamils of the North and the East has been created by a complete break
down of trust between them due to a series of broken promises and human
rights violations over a long period of time, arising from an absence of
empathy . Now the next major step is to use this knowledge to solve the
burning problem of the day- the raging ethnic war, which is ruining the
economy.  The very first task in this connection is to develop a consensus
with all the stakeholders to devolve power to the various concentrations
of communities to the maximum extent possible in such a manner, that such
power cannot be unilaterally withdrawn by the Centre. The people must
insist, that this consensus should first develop from the South, as there
is unending selfish bickering among the parties concerned, exploited to
the hilt by the terrorists.

The people must realize that such a consensus, however, cannot be achieved
without an enabling environment. This has to consist of several actions,
especially on the part of the political parties in the South, one of which
is a collective declaration that all hostilities, will cease forthwith and
that a completely new professional and humane approach is to be adopted on
a sustained basis. It is also essential to ensure that any human rights
violations including those alleged to have occurred in the recent past
will be investigated speedily and that the culprits will definitely be
brought to book.

Another essential action is to assist the minority groups and others
adversely affected by the war and the tsunami, especially in the Northern
and Eastern Provinces promptly and generously, in consultation with the
people and the leadership groups concerned, lest the efforts fail. After
that, it is a matter of ordering all officials concerned to work hard to
keep all the promises made. This new approach will not only begin to
create trust and harmony among the communities, but also enhance the
international standing of the country, necessary to attract assistance,
investments and the arrival of large numbers of high spending tourists.

In order to create this consensus and enabling environment as well as for
quick implementation of the promises, a powerful action oriented formal
institutional mechanism consisting at least of representatives of the
major parties, is essential, as it will get the support of over 90% of the
people of this country. It can be disbanded when its task of building and
monitoring the implementation of a set of policies and actions to solve
the ethnic issue is completed. The unit should be as small as possible to
achieve speed of action with consensus.

It should be able to co-opt other leaders as and when necessary and
generally be advised by the APC already set up and others concerned, as
all stakeholders should necessarily be consulted. The APC in turn can be
advised by a team of local and foreign strategists in the relevant fields
with balanced views and a proven record of delivering results. All senior
officials concerned have also to be involved in the process to get them
committed to implement the proposals. As stated earlier, the authorities
should be commended for deciding to adopt a similar approach, despite
blood thirsty acts of terrorism.

The advantages of this arrangement are several. The present ministers and
deputy ministers will not lose their jobs, as in the case of a national
government being formed. Summersaults by MPs from the Opposition could be
avoided, as the government decisions will now be endorsed by the parties
concerned. When the results become discernible, the suffering people of
the country will be so grateful, that the politicians will gain immensely
in prestige.

Once this structure is prepared with goals, objectives, impeding and
impelling factors leading to strategies, talks can begin in earnest in a
more professional manner. The word professional also means that the
consensus should include a decision to treat those on the other side of
the table as a potential partner in development. They are also ignorant of
the fact that in this globalized world, a small internationally isolated
unit of land, constantly threatened by neighbors, can never hope for
prosperity without economies of scale and scope, which can only be
achieved with mutual collaboration.

This blue structure, which can also be used to prepare the minds of the
people to generate positive expectations, should be tabled at the talks to
be improved upon in a give and take manner, and for fleshing in the
details of institutions and other actions to be implemented on the basis
of the concerns of either side and the other ethnic groups, always keeping
in mind the identified goal of achieving a better life for all the

What are some of the key actions to be contemplated by the committee in
this process? Attending to first things first, the flaws in the
Constitution, which happen to be the root causes of most of Sri Lankas
problems, should be corrected. The proportional representation and the
district list system set out there, apart from creating weak coalition
governments, has a tendency to send to parliament hordes of incorrigibly
corrupt semi literates as members. It also prevents the voters from
identifying the MPs responsible for their own constituencies. The 13th
amendment, which was intended to devolve power to the provinces to permit
the management of local affairs speedily on their own, has been a costly
failure due mainly to the poaching of their powers by the Centre and the
existence of other district and divisional systems of administration side
by side. It is the constitution, which has allowed inept politicians to
ruin the efficiency and integrity of the entire public service including
the security forces and the police/justice system, since 1972.

Another essential prerequisite for development is integration of the
various communities into a single nation with a single set of goals. As
highlighted by Hemal Pieris in the Daily Mirror of 24/06/06, no serious
effort has been made to implement even the language policy of the country
to enable concentrations of communities to communicate with the government
and with each other, while transacting any local affairs in their own
languages. The abandonment of the teaching of English has made the problem
worse. School children are also not taught the basic skills of building a
strongly integrated nation, along with other relevant
techniques/principles such as EQ. It is therefore not surprising, some
communities still refer to themselves as different nations and continue to
feud, ignoring the rationale of working as a union towards the common
goal- poverty alleviation. [DailyMirror]


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list