YAHAPALANA AS A WAKE UP CALL Part 4
Posted on August 26th, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Yahapalana government, under instruction from the USA, planned to crush the public into submission, as fast as possible.  But it did not work like that. Yahapalana antics have somehow led to an increase in self esteem, a self esteem based on disappointment and fury.  ‘Sri Lankans are a resilient people who sustained a sense of optimism about the potential of their country even in the darkest moments of our history,’ observed Harsha de Silva.

China was encouraging. ‘You have 65,000 kilometers of land, yet you     always say a small island country. No. Sri Lanka is a big country, it is a great country’, said China’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, at a news conference in 2016. .”You have good culture, you have long history, you have a legal system. Education is okay. You should be proud of the culture, history and your country’s conditions. So why do you call yourself a tiny island,’ he asked.

Professionals emphasized Sri Lanka’s positive achievements. ‘On this 70th anniversary of independence, it is appropriate to dwell on the economic and social achievements of the nation since regaining independence in 1948, ‘said economist Nimal Sanderatne. The structure of the economy has been transformed from a predominantly agricultural one to a more diversified one, which includes industrial and services sectors. We have reached middle income status with a substantial increase in per capita income. Attainments in health, life expectancy, literacy and education are impressive.

The British colonial period of the nineteenth century introduced plantations and neglected paddy and other food crop agriculture. This process was reversed from around the third decade of the twentieth century. Paddy and food crop production became the centre of growth in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Paddy production increased due to an area expansion and increases in yields with high yielding varieties adopted by farmers. Consequently the country has achieved self-sufficiency in rice in spite of a threefold increase in population, continued Sanderatne.

The country’s social and human development has outperformed countries with higher per capita incomes and earned the country a high position in the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Sri Lanka  ranks 99 of 177 countries in Human Development Index 2015.This ranking is above those of most countries at similar levels of income and higher than other South Asian countries said Sanderatne.

Sri Lanka‘s social and human development indicators are impressive. Mortality rates are low, life expectancy has reached 75 years, adult literacy has increased to over 90 percent and education has expanded significantly. Life expectancy in Sri Lanka is significantly higher than those of countries with similar, and even some countries with higher, per capita incomes.

Adult literacy increased from 57.8 per cent in 1945 to 93 per cent in 2016. Female literacy improved more sharply during this period from 43.8 per cent in 1945 to 92.4 percent and male literacy increasing from 70.1 per cent to 94.1 per cent in 2015. School enrolment of children between the ages of 5 – 19 years increased from 54.1 per cent in 1945 to 75.2 in 2016. However, concluded Sanderatne,  most countries in East Asia and South East Asia, such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea that were behind the achievements of Sri Lanka in the 1950s and 1960s, have overtaken us.

Economists also pointed out that Sri Lanka has ‘immense advantages beyond geography,’ it has ‘extraordinary vocational advantage’ for financial and other services. For one thing, Sri Lanka has a strong tradition of banking, where virtually all of the teenage and adult population is banked.  And for another, there is an output of 100,000 university graduates annually and the island ranks first among the region in producing accountants. Sri Lanka   is strategically located, ideal for a major communications center and it has Trincomalee, they added.

Yahapalana rule has functioned as a very unwelcome wake up call for politics. Sri Lanka would have preferred to stick to its cozy style of two alternating political parties, both well known and familiar, each sticking to its own line,, but due to Yahapalana’s influence on both parties, the electorate now had to look for an alternative.  They turned to   Podujana Peramuna, a new,   fledgling party, with no history behind it, except for numerous rallies all over the island. Podujana Peramuna won the Feb 2018 local government elections with a resounding majority. The established political parties, such as UNP, SLFP were rejected in favor of this utterly new, untested party.

Podujana’s sole attraction was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, The public has shown that they now see the difference between visible development and empty promises.     Rajapaksa’s   clearly visible, positive contribution to the development of the country, is now belatedly appreciated, despite the many weaknesses and alleged corruption in his government. Also, life was better under Rajapaksa than it is now.  Rajapaksa is now back in favor and foreign governments recognize this. Podujana Peramuna continues to be popular. Mahinda Rajapaksa got a terrific welcome at the Podujana rally at Horowopotana in June 2018.

Up to now, Sri Lanka public simply accepted the political structure it was given at independence. The public are now asked to consider for the first time, what they want in a government and in a modern sovereign state. There is now a fleeting discussion on ‘the State we need.’

We want a Buddhagamen poshana wu deshapalanayak’ said one observer. The political culture of this country has been built around an adversarial confrontational politics without regard to the national interest, observed another.   Change of government in Sri Lanka means a change of policies, said a third.

The intelligentsia quickly left this difficult issue of ‘the state we need ‘and turned instead to the more attractive subject of ‘policy’. There is now a public call for a national policy”. ‘Sri Lanka has set a world record by having no national policy for anything’, said Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratne .   There is no national plan for anything in Sri Lanka said respondents in the street poll conducted by Business Times and Research Consultancy Bureau (BT-RCB) in Colombo and Galle in October  2017. Sri Lanka lacks national policies for most sectors, said GMOA president Padeniya.   There has to be a firm single stance  for the  entire nation, as the ‘national stance’, said Capt Ranjith Weerasinghe .This national stance  should be repeated everywhere, it should be one voice in every event in the country, loud and clear.

There is an urgent need for a national economic policy, said the intelligentsia. A national agriculture policy directed towards shifting from traditional low value agriculture to modern high value agriculture is needed.

National Chamber of Commerce said it was an absolute necessity to have a national trade policy for Sri Lanka, which will govern trade agreements. Chamber of Young Lankan Entrepreneurs (COYLE) also said there is a need for a National Trade Policy and all international trade agreement should be in line with this.

In 2017, Professionals’ National Front appointed a People’s Commission to formulate a policy framework for international trade and treaties. In 2018, the United Professional Movement (UPM) submitted a comprehensive proposal on National Policy Framework and National Registration Process identifying the major legal shortcomings in the Sri Lankan legal system in terms of trade liberalization. It included large number of amendments to Acts and enactments of new acts in a wider range of areas/subjects.

We need a national trade policy which decides our policy on international trade and our SME and retail trade, said analysts. The national policy on retail trade should ensure 100 per cent ownership for national retail trade in goods and services by citizens of Sri Lanka.   This National trade policy should also be mindful of mergers and acquisitions that may ultimate lead to monopoly market positions.

Critics pointed out that tripartite agreements could benefit Sri Lanka in theory, but the present government is not geared for that.  Yahapalana government is living in a dream world where every global or regional economic conglomeration is considered wonderful. That is not so. A strong national economy is important before all international deals.

Critics   point out that industrialization means the creation of factories, where the foreign firm uses our natural resources such as water, used our land, pays low wages to the locals and sends the profits back home.  A country should try to sell what it produces best, products that have the optimum inputs at the minimum price, said analysts.

Lastly, the country   lacks a proper manpower regulatory mechanism to monitor and control the manpower needs of the country, said analysts. It also lacks a single regulatory body to monitor and control foreign investments. There was also a need for need for anti dumping legislation to control dumping of product causing severe injury to domestic industries, said critics.

The public are now wide-awake regarding the country’s national assets, primarily because they are about to lose them.   Yahapalana government is planning to hand over Sri Lanka national assets to other countries, notably India, warned critics.   This has woken up the general public. There is now a wave of concern about our ‘national assets’. A newspaper cartoon showed the island cut into three pieces, each under India, USA and China with a smiling President Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe looking on.

The Sri Lanka Association of Political Economy (SLAPE) held a symposium on divestiture of strategic local resources. It identified the leasing out of Hambantota Port as only a forerunner of a series of such handing over of country’s resources to foreign companies. Yahapalana seems ready to put strategic resources of the island on sale in the near future and has given an assurance that the US and India will get their share, the symposium said.

The general public and the trade unions are against the alienation of national assets to foreign parties. National assets must remain the property of Sri Lanka and they must be exploited for the benefit of Sri Lanka. A policy framework was needed to prevent leaders and governments make arbitrary decisions with regard to national assets, said analysts.

The national assets that have come under discussion include Hambantota port, Mattala airport (described as a white elephant) Trincomalee port and the Trincomalee oil tanks. I think that Pulmoddai sands, Eppawela apatite, and our graphite will also go the same way.

Trincomalee harbour is one of Sri Lanka most valuable assets. Its deep-water harbour can accommodate a whole fleet of military ships and submarines. Tissa Vitarana said that US is working towards establishing Trincomalee as its base for its seventh fleet. Sri Lankans now visit the naval dockyard at Trincomalee in busloads, on holidays, and are alert to the implications of getting Trincomalee . Trincomalee is also promoted as a whale watching tourist destination and beach tourism.

Yahapalana‘s tilt towards the USA has forced the public to wake up and take a look at our foreign policy. Critics start by giving the history of Sri Lanka post-independence foreign policy.

From 1956, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was one of Non-alignment, explained Kamal Wickremasinghe. The Non aligned Movement (NAM) originated in 1955 during the Bandung Conference in Indonesia. ‘Non alignment’ wanted peaceful settlement of international disputes, abstaining from joining big power alliances and opposition to military bases of world powers in foreign countries. NAM   started losing its appeal from the 1980s. Only 10 developing country leaders attended the 17th NAM Conference in Venezuela in 2017, with India a notable absentee, Wickremasinghe   said.

Sri Lanka adopted a non-aligned approach in its international relations and used it to Sri Lanka‘s advantage. This helped to keep the contending super powers at arm’s length, manage our neighbor, India and attract development assistance from both major camps said Palitha Kohona.

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has demonstrated a maturity out of proportion to its relative size and the country has played an impressive role in international affairs said Kohona. Sri Lanka, with its non-alignment policy   exerted an influence in the international arena, disproportionate to her size,  agreed Jayantha Dhanapala.  From   the 1950s upto 1977, Sri Lanka‘s opinion was sought at UN discussions.. Sri Lanka was a country to be reckoned with at the United Nations and in multilateral affairs.

Sri Lanka played a key role in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and in calling for the declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace (IOPZ). Sri Lanka also had a reputation in the diplomatic world for unusual success in explaining and clarifying the concerns, concepts and complaints of the South, said Tissa Jayatilaka.

Sri Lanka‘s Non alignment policy was dropped by President J.R. Jayewardene in 1977. His foreign policy was tilted towards the west. He gave the US greater facilities for the Voice of America station, offered the Trincomalee Oil tank farm to USA’s Coastal Corporation  and   permitted the entry of US naval ships to Trincomalee.   The ‘carefully nurtured geopolitically balanced approach of the Bandaranaike governments’ was disrupted.

Sri Lanka returned to non-alignment under President Kumaratunga and President Rajapaksa. But something had been lost and Sri Lanka’s image was blemished, said Palitha Kohona.    Friends in the diplomatic service told me ‘the UN consulted us regularly during the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike but after JR came, we started voting  all over the place at the UN, like in the Falklands issue, and they stopped consulting us.’

Today, Yahapalana is openly linking with the USA and generally doing as USA says. The intelligentsia is suspicious. We need to have a foreign policy that ensures our security, safeguards our territorial integrity and sovereignty, said one analyst.We need not be intimidated by the west, said another. Our foreign policy must at all time, ensure that national interest is safeguarded, including its territorial integrity and sovereignty, said Palitha Kohona

An additional factor must enter our calculations, today, said Kohona. We possess a 200-mile exclusive economic zone and, possibly, a vast area of seabed to which we have lodged a claim since 2009.  The wealth of this area could make Sri Lanka a prosperous nation. This could also be another attraction to Sri Lanka’s suitors.

Sri Lanka has always guarded its separate and distinct identity from its much bigger neighbor, India said Dayan Jayatilaka.  The Rajapaksa regime that took over in late 2005, despite its relative lack of experience, managed the relationship with India with impressive dexterity, said Palitha Kohona.

Mahinda Rajapaksa  was successful in managing his government’s foreign policy to such a degree that he could prosecute to its end the war against the LTTE overcoming all obstacles thrown in his path by the Western powers and other interested parties who were trying their best to save the LTTE, said N.A. de S Amaratunge.

USA was about to send its naval force to Sri Lanka’s Northeastern sea to rescue the cornered Prabhakaran and other LTTE leaders. Tamil Nadu was pressurizing the Indian Central Government to intervene on behalf of the LTTE and it was developing into a matter of political expedience for the Central Government to do so at that juncture.

Rajapaksa Government sent a high-powered delegation to India at that crucial moment and they managed to hold India at bay until the war was brought to a successful end on the Nandikadal beaches. Apart from the victory at war, it was a great victory in foreign policy management. Isn’t what Rajapaksa achieved an excellent example of how to manage a country’s foreign policy at its most perilous moment, asked Amaratunge.

The Indian Ocean region is likely to become a theatre of war, in the near future, said India’s Col Hariharan. There is now a military buildup in readiness for a possible World War III, with China on one side, the USA, India and Japan on the other and Sri Lanka in the middle. Sri Lanka’s location, coupled with Trincomalee port, is important for military activity, observed Tissa Jayatilaka. A cartoon showing USA, UK, India and China warships converging on Sri Lanka, appeared in the newspapers.

The Yahapalana government is openly on the side of USA.  The Sri Lanka navy is now coming under the influence of the US Pacific Command.   The intelligentsia are worried. The question today is how a small country like Sri Lanka could survive in a big pond such as the Indian Ocean in the midst of geopolitical interests of great powers, said Ladduwahetty.  Sitting in the middle of the Indian Ocean at the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka occupies an enviable strategic position. This is its bane, not its strength, said N.A. de S Amaratunga.

Sri Lanka is unlikely to be able to change the geopolitical realities of the region surrounding us. But through a pragmatic foreign policy based on avoidance of alliances with any one power bloc and maintaining friendship with all, we should be able to play a constructive role as in the past in the emerging new order, said Tissa Jayatilaka, hopefully .

But that is not all.  Yahapalana wants Sri Lanka to play a heroic role in  Indian Ocean politics. Sri Lanka is located in a strategically important position in the Indian Ocean with regard to trade, shipping and naval movement. The sea routes, from East Africa,  Middle East, Pakistan, West India,  East India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, and Indonesia all converge on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka therefore sits in the middle of one of the busiest sea-lanes in the world. They are vital sea lanes, feeding some of Asia largest and rapidly growing economics. These sea-lanes are also strategically important for international relations.

Sri Lanka must play a heroic role in looking after these sea lanes, said Yahapalana.  The most important Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) runs past Sri Lanka making it a strategic location for the control and safety of the sea lanes and communication lines, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.  Sri Lanka could take the initiative  in keeping sea lanes of communication open  to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean.. Sri Lanka could  use its location as well as its friendly relations with the key maritime nations to lessen tension in the Indian Ocean region, he  said. ( Continued)

 

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