Whither Freedom, Whither Leadership

Whither Freedom, Whither Leadership

Seventy two years of Independence is just about upon us in Sri Lanka. We have been in
charge of our own destiny since February 1948. We are led to believe that in Sri Lanka we
practise democracy or something that resembles democracy for all of that time. We have
had a civil war of sorts in the northern parts of our land and a few half-baked but potent
enough insurrections in the other parts of the island.

Through it all one matter had shone – the resilience of the people of our nation. Even if the
Colombo Consumer Price Index has risen to 5.4% in January 2020 up from 4.8% in
December 2019 and in layman’s terms the cost of living has shown only an upward
movement, the people continue to have some faith in its leaders.

Fed up to the core of in-fighting between two people who came together based on a series
of promises loosely labelled good governance, the people elected a man who is closest to
being an “independent” non-political leader in our independent history. Notwithstanding the
fact that he was elected with large dollops of help from his rather well-known former
President brother.

In any democracy the government of the day must – for the betterment of its people as a
whole – have an opposition that is as dynamic and as robust and vibrant as the majority in
power. In this instance, we must have a parliament that is well balanced so that the best
interests of the people come to the fore.

We do not pre-suppose an electoral defeat at the parliamentary polls for the United National
Party for a moment. However pragmatic analysis of the goings-on at the UNP in terms of its
current crisis forces us to believe that the people of the country will be focused on strong
leadership to get the island’s economy moving, get its foreign direct investment up and for
the creation of an environment which will be conducive for entrepreneurs to increase
employment opportunities. The people want a set of leaders committed to educating the
nation, to drive our nation out of the US$ 4,000 per capita gdp trap that we are currently in.

Sri Lanka sadly after 72 years of independence has slowly but certainly given up its
independence in favour of foreign powers. This is not journalistic flourish but fact.
Hambantota has been given away for 99 years – way over an average lifetime – on the
alleged basis that the government could not sustain the repayment of its loans. The previous
government did a deal that saw the Chinese invest their money and reclaim land just off our
capital city’s shoreline. We bemoan the fact that the government negotiators then were
unable to structure a transaction that would have better served Sri Lanka’s long term

A series of events including ACSA and SOFA and the much touted MCChas seen the
legislators selling off pieces of our sovereignty and we dare say our independence too.

Our people have believed this freedom of speech, freedom of movement hook line and
sinker. Yet a tiny nation like Dubai and the Emirates have built their country out of nothing
other than a very sandy desert to economic greatness. Their leaders paid scant attention to the niceties of democracy, accountability and responsibility. They were however focused on
improving their lot and that of their people. History now records all of that. It is only now that
they are making a move towards the finer points of democracy, human rights, anti-
corruption and even the franchise for their populace. Progress is admittedly slow.

In Sri Lanka we have had successive legislators who have paid scant attention to long term
policy stability, education, healthcare, housing and opportunity for its people.

Instead we have had political families and individuals who have made good for themselves,
accumulated wealth and political power not just for themselves but for their own future
generations too.

Our primary export is in a great deal of trouble. The government appears comfortable with
the current export figure for tea. Yet the industry is facing ruin. There has been little long
policy measures to increase production, productivity and increase profitability. How many of
the regional plantation companies have arrears of statutory dues? What is their incentive to
replant when their leases have not that long to run? Is there merit in protecting the import of
tea from outside? What are the measures the government is taking to actively bring in
foreign investments in large scale industries in order that Sri Lanka can not only increase
employment prospects but also increase their knowledge base.

The judiciary is supposedly independent and strong. So strong that we had judges
negotiating for want of another word with politicians to better their prospects. It is as though
the word meritocracy and professionalism does not exist in this island. It is an island that the
travelling world clamours to visit for its raw beauty, diversity and its people. It is not yet a
country that the travelling scouts representing global corporates would consider for
investment and establishing their businesses.

The leader of the UNP appears to want power for himself and his small coterie of chums to
last their lifetime. The other side of the political dispensation are comfortable in the main
because their line of succession is based on “familial” values.

The people of Sri Lanka must realise now even after 72 years that the difference they seek
can only be made by themselves. They cannot leave it to their existing proxies. They must
elect fresh new faces who have age on their side, professionalism on their side, vision on
their side and a natural feel for their people and their aspirations.

It is only then that Sri Lanka can consider itself a truly independent nation. “Jayawewa,