Learning from history
Posted on October 26th, 2017

By Dr. Nalaka Godahewa

(Dr. Nalaka Godahewa is the former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of Sri Lanka and the former Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism)

Newspapers these days cover more or less the same subjects. Corruption allegations led by the infamous bond scam, opposition to the proposed Constitution, the cry for elections, the rising cost of living, student protests and Police violence, plans to sell national assets, and United Nations (UN) pressure on the government to deliver on commitments are frequently highlighted.

The author of ‘The Great Hand Book of Quotes,’ Israel more Ayivor says:

“If the problems you have this year are the same problems you had last year, then you are not a leader. You are rather a problem on your own that must be solved.”

Isn’t this true in the case of the current leadership of Sri Lanka? For almost 3 years, we have been hearing sad stories from our leaders. They keep blaming the previous administration for all their problems. They seem to have completely forgotten the fact that the mandate of a democratically elected government is only for five years and at one point you must stop complaining and get on with the work.

What is the current status of our economy? The national debt, which was Rs 7.3 trillion in 2014, had gone above Rs 10.1 trillion by June 2017. The current figure is worse. Inflation, which was 3.3% in 2014, has now reached 8.6%. The economic growth rate, which was above 7% in 2014, is below 4% this year. Unemployment had increased from 4.3% in 2014 to 4.5% by June 2017.

The Sri Lankan Rupee has depreciated by over 17% from January 2014 up to now causing a negative impact on the economy. The budget deficit which was Rs 591 billion in 2014 is expected to increase threefold to Rs 1.8 trillion in 2018 according to the latest Appropriation Bill that has been submitted to Parliament.

Bond scam

The economic impact of the bond scam is over Rs 1 trillion according to the State Minister of Finance and that has been confirmed by several other analysts as well. The number of people employed in the country in 2016 was 476,000 less compared to 2014 according to the respective annual reports published by the Central Bank. The three most reputed international rating agencies;

Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P have all downgraded Sri Lanka’s ratings compared to 2014. Bloomberg now ranks Sri Lanka as one of the highest risk countries for investment. These facts raise the question, why do people need a government? A government is needed to protect the rights of all the people. It should promote peace, harmony, justice, and equality. The government has a responsibility to provide people with the right economic development opportunities. It should facilitate what the private sector cannot or wouldn’t do like providing people with infrastructure and public services and continue to improve the living standards of people. The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from external forces and to hold together territory. To what extent is our current government living up to these expectations? In order to win, it is always important for political parties to bring novelty and excitement to an election campaign, but the real challenge goes beyond just winning the election. A government once formed cannot be catering only to those who supported them politically. A national government is responsible for all the citizens in the country. As President Abraham Lincoln said in his famous ‘Gettysburg Address’ in November 1863, “the government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Those inspirational words should be true for every democratically elected government in the world, Sri Lanka included.

Needs of people

To lead a government, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” the political leadership must understand the real needs of the people. These needs manifest in different ways at different times. In the most basic form, people want a government that can assure ‘peace, happiness, and prosperity’ for the citizens. Isn’t this what we say to our neighbours, co-workers, friends, and relatives at the dawn of every New Year? How can these expectations be translated into action by the government? We can identify three contributory factors in achieving ‘peace, happiness, and prosperity’ namely; stability, progress, and dignity. A critical analysis of these factors helps us understand the reasons for the defeat of the previous regime.

Stability means one’s ability to meet the basic needs of his or her family. Essential requirements include a regular income helping one to take care of basic requirements of oneself and the family such as food, clothing, transportation, medicine, and other needs, a place to live, a home which is in close proximity to schools, ease when it comes to admission to school for children, and availability of quality education, affordable healthcare, healthcare facilities in close proximity to the home, affordability of medicine, the ability to pay for hospitalization in the event of an emergency, not being subject to social crimes, ethnic violence, religious violence, social tensions and enjoying a peaceful, safe, and secure environment.

People not only want stability, they also want to progress in life. So, it is important that the economic management of the government create these opportunities for its citizens to progress in their lives which include; opportunities to supplement income, career advancement opportunities, opportunities to start a business, convenience of doing business, investment opportunities, advancement in living standards, better education opportunities for children, better housing, vehicle ownership, entertainment opportunities, and a clean environment.

Dignity of people

The third and perhaps mostly frequently ignored factor is the dignity of people. Dignity is the honour and respect one seeks in life which manifests in different ways such as national pride, need to be identified with an ethnic group, freedom to practice one’s faith, need for recognition as a member of a social group, need for respect as a citizen, freedom of expression, assurance that one’s rights as a member of the general public are not taken away, and satisfaction that one has elected the right leader.

The stability and progress of the society come with the implementation of the macroeconomic strategies of the government. There was an unprecedented focus on infrastructure development since the end of the war. There were clear signs that the country was on the path of economic development, but something was not right despite those economic indicators.

Better governance

It is quite interesting how ‘the need for better governance’ evolved to be the main theme of the last two election campaigns; the presidential and the parliamentary. The primary issue was not just the cost of living as in many other previous elections. It was also not patriotism as in the 2010 election. It was mainly the anger of citizens, who felt their dignity had been compromised. This had an impact on the results of the election.

A government should always aims at ensuring stability, progress, and dignity for its citizens. If the voter feels comfortable in all these areas then they are less inclined to vote against the existing government. When they are uncomfortable with any one of those factors they vote against the existing government. For example, it is the lack of stability or people’s inability to meet the basic needs of their families, which brought the 1970-1977 coalition government down. It was the opportunities for citizens to progress, which kept the UNP in power for 17 years thereafter. It was dignity in the form of national pride that helped the former President to win the 2010 election. It was the perceived violation of the people’s dignity that made him lose in 2015.

If the leaders of the present government were smart, their focus from the beginning should have been to ensure economic stability, opportunities for social progress and protection of personal dignity for all Sri Lankan citizens, but it looks like they are already 2 years and 10 months late.

When are they going to learn?

One Response to “Learning from history”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    USS Nimitz, arguably the world’s most powerful Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier, leading an immensely strong battle-group with a strong contingent of US Marines, attack and troop-carrying helicopters on board, is STANDING OFFSHORE Colombo Port, Sri Lanka …. even as I write this comment …. and WILL BE HERE during the DEBATE and VOTE in Parliament on the NEW TRAITORS CONSTITUTION!

    The last time a Western Carrier group visited Sri Lanka was DECADES ago!

    Why NOW, and Why when a Bill crafted by and Supported by the USA is being DEBATED in Parliament?? This DOES NOT SEEM like a COINCIDENCE!

    I ask, to WHAT PURPOSE is this task force here? Is it to QUELL ANY POPULAR UPRISING AGAINST the NEW TRAITORS CONSTITUTION?

    Is this a PLANNED PLOT by the Yamapalanaya TRAITORS in COLLUSION with a Foreign Country to FORCE the NEW TRAITORS CONSTITUTION down Sri Lanka’s THROAT?? Is this ANOTHER CHILLING ASPECT of the Yamapalana TREACHERY to DEPRIVE the Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka the RIGHT TO DEMONSTRATE & PROTEST to the MAXIMUM on the eve of HIGH TREASON?

    Be WARNED Patriots of Sri Lanka!

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