‘Awakening the Nation’ from Down Under
Posted on October 23rd, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala

‘Sri Lanka 2020 and Beyond is a forum that will provide Sri Lankans living in Australia with an opportunity to engage in a dialog with the intent of shaping the future blueprint of Sri Lanka. This forum will provide with an opportunity to directly interact with the panel of experts on specific topics and provide valuable feedback in shaping the future of Sri Lanka.’ – from the ‘Sri Lanka 2020 and Beyond’ forum’s website. 

A Lecture and Q &A programme on the theme ‘Awakening the Nation’ hosted by Sri Lanka 2020 and Beyond forum was conducted at the Rudsen lecture theatre of the Melbourne Burwood Campus of Deakin University, Victoria on October 20, 2019. Though it had been scheduled to begin at 2:30 and close at 5:00 p.m. local time, it went on till around 6:30 p.m. The hall was filled to capacity, with an audience estimated by one speaker at over 600. They were all professionals living and working in Australia. It was a very well organized promotion event in support of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s presidential candidacy. There was a pre-recorded video statement of the candidate (GR) welcoming the guests to the session and thanking them for their presence. As always, in the terse few words he spoke, there was this sincere tone of ‘I mean business. Here is the reason why you may trust me’. He appealed to the voters to do their duty and pledged to do his duty on election as president. 

Gotabhaya is a decorated war hero,who voluntarily retired from the military in 1990, as a lieutenant colonel, for private reasons, and who later worked as a highly qualified computer professional  in America, and finally as a prominent civilian state functionary in Sri Lanka during his brother Mahinda’s presidency. The panel of speakers/experts, who are definitely worthy of Gotabhaya, comprised the following four (in the order in which they appeared in the advertisement): Attorney at Law Udaya Gammanpila MP, Gotabhaya’s legal adviser Ali Sabry  PC, a distinguished former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivaad Cabral, and former UPFA MP Rear Admiral (Retd) Dr Sarath Weerasekera, who made a name for himself by upgrading, under Defence Secretary GR’s instructions, an earlier sparse, ragtag, hardly recognized, home guard brigade of uneducated rustic young men into a properly trained 41,000 strong Civil Defence Force, which earned respect as an adjunct to the regular army. 

The speakers were, no doubt, the best available for the Sri Lanka 2020 and Beyond forum (in fact, for any similarly serious conference for that matter) for providing an opportunity for the participants to listen to and to directly interact with them on the topics they had been assigned that related broadly to the fourfold domain, where the Yahapalanaya’s abysmal performance is now well known, of national security, economic development, political administration, and matters of justice. 

The compere made it clear that while only a very few questions could be entertained during the short period at the seminar’s disposal, further questions could be uploaded to a given email address and the panelists would use these for improving and streamlining the ‘Blueprint’ (Gotabhaya’s plan) for reactivating and modernizing the nation-building process that the Yahapalanaya suddenly aborted in 2015. It refers to the Blueprint, the writer feels, that Gotabhaya’s Viyath Maga (Professionals for a Better Future) organization has developed over the past 4+ years, working with experts including his fellow technocrats with whose assistance he made remarkable achievements in rebuilding the country after decades of devastating civil unrest. 

The organizers had boiled down questions previously emailed from participants into  a few representative ones flashed on the overhead screen, such as ‘What are the strategies that will be employed to counter 

  • false propaganda being spread within and outside Sri Lanka and in the UNHRC against the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, alleging that they have committed war crimes and genocide against the Tamil community,
  • threats posed by powerful countries directly and through their proxies to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and
  • extremism  

Two or three impromptu questions were also put to them, for example, ‘Were they going to accommodate in the new administration the dishonest characters (called by an insulting sobriquet which would literally translate into English as ‘rice ferriers’) who were close to Mahinda Rajapaksa and brought about his downfall?’ The answer was too obvious to be articulated. Udaya Gammanpila reminded the audience of how Gotabhaya, with the Urban 

Development Authority under the Defence  Ministry of which he was Secretary, ordered the pulling down  of an unauthorized three-storeyed building in Colombo alleged to have been built by a government minister, something a less conscientious person yielding to ‘same party’ favouritism would not have done. 

Gotabhaya with his unique administrative abilities, personal probity and strict discipline will be a godsend for the country in the current dire straits. He has a clear vision and a coherent plan for national regeneration drawn up with expert help from a wide range of patriotic intellectuals and professionals. Gotabhaya is not a politician or a party man. That is probably his greatest qualification for the job. The Yahapalanaya has tarred politicians of all periods with the same brush, a great injustice to the genuinely sincere few of them of the past and the present. Gotabhaya’s proven track record cannot be matched or challenged by his rival/s. Could we think of a better champion to pull the country back from the brink of absolute ruin, where it is now teetering?    

Of course, Gotabhaya’s blueprint will not be a return to the past. In fact, it is more likely to be a ‘springy frog leap’ (to invent a new expression) into an essentially knowledge driven future. The idea of forging ahead through strategies based on knowledge is reminiscent of the ADB sponsored Knowledge Society project of 2010-2014, forgotten since. This will at least partly compensate for the contrived disincentive of the dark period of failed ‘good governance’ of the past five years. Gotabhaya has been stressing the need for giving the highest priority to the education of the young under his future administration (which is a certainty now). As in other areas, Gotabhaya is likely to be interested in developing bipartisan policies in education, so that programs started by a government led by one party will not be disrupted by another led by its rival, as has happened to date with disastrous consequences for the nation (particularly during periods of UNP rule).  

On reflecting back on the meeting, the writer feels that had this level of attention been paid to the FB savvy young  floating voter component (particularly, the millennial section – 18 to 40 year olds) of the electorate (including Sri Lankan workers abroad), the narrow margin by which Mahinda Rajapaksa lost in 2015 would probably have been more than cancelled, and the rigours of the past five years avoided. Social media suggest at least 200,000 expatriate Sri Lankans working across the world will be coming to Sri Lanka to vote at this most crucial presidential election ever in its forty one year history. This Australian program is most likely to be repeated in other global centres. Participants who do not travel home to vote will urge and encourage their near and dear ones there to go and cast their vote without fail as this will be the last chance available for the Sri Lankan nation to survive as an independent unitary sovereign state.  

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