Memories are short? It is time to learn from mistakes not vilify leaders
Posted on April 29th, 2022

By Raj Gonsalkorale

During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time at the helm of Sri Lankan politics, the 30 year war was won, GDP growth reached 7% by 2015, per capita income rose from USD 1065 in 2004 to USD 3843 by 2015 and GDP rose from USD 20.66 Billion in 2004 to USD 80.6 Billion by 2015. These are World Bank statistics and should not be forgotten. Mistakes may have been made, but the challenge now is to learn from them and move forward and not to vilify Mr Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka seems to be a Nation with very short memories. Perhaps dementia is more common than what is believed. The significant achievements of past leaders have been forgotten and whatever mistakes and errors of judgment they made as human beings have taken center stage. The reasons why SWRD Bandaranaike introduced a Swabasha policy and many other nationalistic policies which moved the country closer to its people has been overlooked and forgotten and instead the erroneous slogan Sinhala only in 24 hours” has come to define Mr Bandaranaike and as the epicenter of everything that went wrong in the country due to him.

Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s socialist policies especially from 1970 to 1976 where she embarked on a food production and industrialization drive to make the country self-reliant and less dependent on imports, were vilified and forces that gathered to do this paved the way for Mr J R Jayewardene to become President in 1977. His policy of an open economy opened the stable doors and the horses that fled have created havoc. Mr Jayewardene cannot be blamed entirely for this as those who succeeded him made no attempt to identify shortcomings in his policies and refocus on food production and selective industrialisation.

Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga’s defining policies in education reform, among other things, have been forgotten and she is remembered for whatever personality squabbles between her and her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s achievements, stated at the outset, are now forgotten, and he is vilified for robbing the country although there is so far no proof he has done so. It is true that the debt accumulation began under his leadership and continued to increase after him. However, the economic data given by the World Bank demonstrates a hefty economic growth during his time, and that debt had been used to fund this growth. Among other things, if one were to pick a hole in the economic strategies adopted during his time, investing in projects without well considered return on investment (ROI) studies, and not building the country’s foreign reserves using its own money and not counting loans as reserves, could perhaps take center stage, in hindsight.

More than anything else, the fact that Mr Rajapaksa gave political leadership to end a 30 year conflict, and for all Sri Lankans to be able to walk freely anywhere in the country, protest freely, and practice democracy, Sri Lanka style of course, cannot and should not be forgotten. Had Mr Rajapaksa followed his war victory with a peace victory and laid the foundation to bring an end to the reasons for the conflict, he would have achieved even more of a victory. Being a forgetful Nation, no doubt that too would have been forgotten even if he had laid that foundation.

The clamour for Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign from his Prime Ministership is one thing but vilifying him in the way that clamour is being orchestrated is another thing.

Whatever responsibility he bears for the sorry state of the country today and any consequences arising from that is a price he will have to pay. People do have a right to seek accountability from him, the President, and the government. However, the degree of vilification demonstrated is an indication of a flaw in the character of those who are spearheading this vilification campaign as a means of seeking this accountability. It is a reflection on the superficiality of people who clamour for moral and ethical behavior on the part of leaders but who are unable to adhere and practice such morality and ethical behavior themselves.

There are constitutional and legal procedures that are available to remove leaders from office. Unless these are employed, the country could descend to anarchy and be in a worse position than now. It is possible that this maybe exactly what some in the political arena want as their end objective. A chaotic, anarchic situation where the constitution becomes worthless and a new so called peoples revolution” takes over and gives way to a one-party State based on Marxism. There are elements within the political arena which has tried this before and failed. They could well be making another attempt, cashing in on a situation created for them by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the errors of judgement on the part of the country’s leadership to manage the consequences of the pandemic.

The increasing number of protests, strikes, marches spurred on by the hardships faced by the people point out to a scenario that is being choreographed by unseen hands. They all know that a change in the Presidency or the Prime Ministership will not solve the food, medicine, gas or diesel shortages overnight although that is the message they are giving to ordinary people who are participating in these activities. When a new government, for example should one led by the Opposition take over, they will not be able to solve the immediate issues overnight, and it is as clear as mud as they say, that protests will resume with greater intensity against the new government.

Protestors should ask themselves, what then? Who does one turn to?

A chaotic and anarchic situation could also be the work of unseen external hands. It is no secret that this has happened in other countries and an opportunity for such an external hand to get a foothold in Sri Lanka which they have not been able to get through normal bilateral discussions. Sri Lankans should not be naïve and should not be deceived by such external elements. As the saying goes, one has to be beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

Protestations are important and peoples’ voices should have been heard and heeded. However, protestors should be aware of the dangers that unscrupulous and opportunistic elements pose which could well hijack genuine protests, and in fact discredit their efforts.

If all political parties represented in Parliament are genuine about a solution, and not give way to chaos, anarchy, rendering the constitution useless, and the emergence of a one-party State, they should all join in forming a multi-party government for a given period like 12 months by forming a multi-party governing council. This council should determine policies that should be applicable for the next 12 months, and also develop a long term economic and social policy for at least the next 10 years in consultation with industry, business leaders, unions, academics, women’s organisations and grass root representatives drawn from agriculture, fisheries, local industries etc. An election in 12 months will determine who gains office and carries out the long term economic and social policy agreed to by all parties in the governing council. In such a situation, it is the governing council comprising of party leaders and not who holds the office of the President, Prime Minister or a cabinet minister that assumes greater importance for the next 12 months.

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