Red herrings and real issues
Posted on January 22nd, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala Courtesy The Island

Ref. ‘Saving Sri Lanka!’/The Island/January 17, 2019 by Fr J.C. Pieris. It is a response to certain critical comments that I made in The Island of January 9 on a previous article published in the same paper on January 2 by T.M. Premawardana (translated by Fr Pieris). The Reverend Father cannot disown T.M. Premawardana by saying ‘I am only the translator.’ As can be understood by anyone, he translated the latter’s essay in order to make it available to the English reading public; this was obviously because he accepted Premawardana’s main argument, and thought it to be worthy of being offered to a more global circle of readers than a Sinhala language document would normally attract.

Premawardana’s main thesis, as I understand it, is that uncultured politics (i.e., the sort that involves dishonesty and  rowdyism in the securing and exercise of power) has obstructed the smooth functioning of the democratic system in post-independence Sri Lanka, and that this has impeded the country’s progress; he illustrates it with well known examples, though he betrays some personal bias in the choice of the latter. I set forth in my response article why I disagree with a number of Premawardana’s subsidiary points. Though in that article I described his essay as ‘admirable’, I considered it to be so only within its narrow context: it has undeniable topical relevance. Probably, never since 1948 has power politics in Sri Lanka been so uncultured, so corrupted and so antidemocratic as now.

However, Premawardana’s emphasis, with implicit reference to the present state of affairs, on what all sensible voters have already identified as a chronic evil  in Sri Lankan parliamentary politics, is almost pointless. Harping on that perennial theme will only serve to deflect attention from the most crucial issues that the country is really confronted with at present, which he doesn’t even care to mention.

We need to remember that corrupt politics or rowdy politicking is not the only factor that accounts for bad governance or  the less than desirable rate of growth in Sri Lanka’s national development in every important field. There are more potent matters than ‘uncivilized politics’ (which can some day be fixed within the country independently of foreign interference) that obstruct the country’s forward march towards the evolution of  a secure peaceful society with a tradition of good governance based on democracy, a stronger sense of national identity as Sri Lankans and a healthy economic environment, which incidentally is the ultimate  goal of all Nationalists. Neither Premawardana (‘Who can save Sri Lanka?’) nor Father Pieris (‘Saving Sri Lanka’) talk about the really important factors such as diplomatic and economic pressures exerted on Sri Lanka by Western powers in alliance with India in the interest of their own selfish geopolitical ends in the region. They do this internationally through UN agencies and Tamil expatriates in the West, and locally in Sri Lanka, through the elitist neoliberal UNP, the racist Tamil regional grouping known as the TNA and its opportunistic allies including the mercenary INGOs, and the Marxist millenarianists of the JVP who depend for their token parliamentary survival on their ability to form a partnership with one or the other of the two major parties. At no time before in post-independence Sri Lanka have these multiple forces been so united as they are at present against the nationalist camp spearheaded by the newly formed SLPP.

Father Pieris looks askance at my view that the UNP and the SLFP which ruled the country in turn over the past seven decades of independence actually did much to bring in some positive changes. My opinion is contrary to the oft repeated criticism circulating these days particularly among young media commentators, political analysts and even young politicians that these parties did nothing for the country’s advancement. No one can deny that a larger percentage of ordinary Sri Lankans live in better houses, eat better food, wear better clothes, have access to better education and health facilities, be it public or private, and generally enjoy a better quality of life than they did fifty years ago, though of course, things are not satisfactory enough.

Father Pieris argues that before we ask from whom Sri Lanka has to be saved we need to ask what Sri Lanka has to be saved from. His additional question ‘Who in Sri Lanka has to be saved’ is redundant (However, what he means by this is clear, as explained at the end of this paragraph). Sri Lanka means its geographical territory, people, cultures, resources, history, its status as a sovereign political entity in the comity of nations, etc. all indissolubly integrated into a single organic unit. But the Rev Father’s question implies that in his view only a section of the population is in need of being saved from the present ‘dire straits’, which, I dare say, is a wrong assumption.

Why he disapproves of my generally positive take on the respective national developmental roles played by the UNP and the SLFP (both, of the past), the hallowed memory of whose patriotic pioneers is being disgraced by the characterless clowns that lead them today,  becomes clear in the elaboration that he offers of the questions he asks (‘What Sri Lanka has to be saved from’, and ‘Who in Sri Lanka has to be saved’). There is nothing more than a mere articulation of what he deems to be the most central issue that the country currently faces, or, in fact, has always faced.) In the Rev Father’s opinion, the country must be saved from poverty and an alleged debt burden. Workers (both manual and office/professional), daily wage earners, plantation workers, and women working in the Middle East as housemaids, etc  need to be saved; the rich people, and the powerful and corrupt politicians need not be saved. Strangely, he fails to mention the largest and the most important group of toilers, the peasants of the rural agrarian sector, who are today being virtually abandoned to an orphaned state, caught up in a scheme of attempted neoliberal economic policy revolution, irrespective of its human cost.

To his own question ‘From whom the workers need to be saved’, Father Pieris gives the answer that it is not from China or India or the West, but from the politicians of the UNP and the SLFP. In support of his attribution of culpability to them for corruption he makes a random list of allegations such as those relating to Helping Hambantota, the hedging deal, what he calls Greece bonds, the Avante  Guard affair, and the MIG deal against the leaders of the pre-2015 government (which remain unsubstantiated), to which he adds a single extremely plausible charge against the Yahapalanaya regime the (Central Bank) bond scams (of 2015 and 2016). Father Pieris concludes:

That is why I always said that the two political parties the UNP and the SLFP, are dead and not yet buried. The rotten and stinking two cadavers of the UNP and the SLFP, are full of maggots who call themselves MPs. The two cadavers and the maggots must be buried for good. Only then SL can and will be saved.”

So, it is clear why Father Pieris questions my aforementioned generalization about the past performances of the UNP and the SLFP. But, as I have already suggested that negative estimation, shared particularly by the younger generations, is not correct. The positive achievements made by these parties (committed though they were to opposing political and economic ideologies) despite snags caused due to non-cooperation from certain racist minority politicians and impractical Marxist ideologists out of tune with local cultural attitudes,  are reflected in the general rise in the quality of life enjoyed by ordinary Sri Lankans over the past seven decades (as suggested above), something evident to people who are old enough. It is true that poverty still persists, particularly in the rural areas. All governments since independence have addressed this problem as best they could in their own ways. The ‘debt burden’ need not be made too much of an issue. Governments led by either party in turn have borrowed, both internally and externally. Properly managed borrowing is essential for development work to be financed. Debts incurred by a country should not be criticized as a crime. Most international lending agencies serving Western interests  are actually businesses. They usually lord it over poor countries like ours, imposing conditions that are hard to meet without causing privation among the already suffering poor. That is unfair. They only help the powerful nations of the West to exploit us for their own benefit. The lending agencies do not lend to a country if they decide that it is potentially incapable of repaying the loans.

It is true that certain corrupt politicians in positions of authority at any time can and do indulge in financial misappropriation. However, what usually happens is that allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement, true or false, have become part of the arsenal used by politicians against each other for electioneering purposes. They are apparently not concerned with the elimination of the crime. Ministers and MPs cannot steal without the involvement of civil functionaries. When corruption happens, it is normally the politicians who are charged with or without justification. Hardly anyone talks about the big bureaucrats serving under them, even if they also bear responsibility for the misdemeanours committed. Unless and until this problem is addressed as a national issue through a consensual approach based on a nonpartisan agreement between the government and the opposition (i.e., agreed on by the whole parliament) it will not go away.

Shortcomings of governments must be pointed out. Corruption in high places must be exposed. But they should not be used as red herrings to divert attention from the much more intractable real issues currently before the nation.

2 Responses to “Red herrings and real issues”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    We should compare our performance against comparable countries in Asia since Independence. We had a better healthcare, education and sanitation system than India and all South Asian countries at Independence. We are holding on to a lead in human development index only thanks to that. Credit must go to the British. However, the lead has gradually reduced. This reflects upon the uselessness of UNP and SLFP politicians.

    Our judiciary, university standards, corruption levels, debt levels (very high emphasis), foreign reserves, etc. have all worsened enormously since 1948. This is not the case with other Asian countries.

    We had competitive exports in 1948 terms compared to other nations but today our exports are primitive (housemaids, tea, rubber, garments, etc.). Compare this with other countries in Asia. They have come a very long way whereas we have gone backwards.

    May be the most appropriate comparison would be against Tamil Nadu. By 1950s it was one of the 4 poorest states of India. Today it is the second richest state. All our leaders failed us very badly against Tamil Nadu, let alone other Asian countries.

    Almost 5% of the Lankan population has left the country for good including the best brains and most talented. Another 5% works in foreign countries unable to get citizenship in those countries. This won’t happen to a successful country.

    We rank among some of the worst in failed state index even after the war.

    It is time to bury all existing political parties and clans and create new hope. Sri Lankans deserve much better. It may already be too late for the nation.

  2. Christie Says:

    Look our economy is in the hands of the Indian Colonial Parasites.

    The only thing that is left to the Sinhalese is a political job but sponsored by the ICPs.

    Unless we Sinhalese unite and stand up to India and Indian Colonial Parasites we Sinhalese are doomed.

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