There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Lanka

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Most people of my vintage or prior to that may be familiar with the song ‘There’s a hole in the bucket,’ which was made extremely popular by Harry Belafonte and Odetta, aired through Radio Ceylon in the good olden times (

In my own way I relate that bucket to my beloved country Sri Lanka and the hole to the political culture/system existing in the country. Because most natural treasures and almost all wealth accumulated through blood, grit and sweat of the working-class people for many decades or the wealth of our nation that was in the bucket called Sri Lanka was fleeced through that hole called the corrupt political system. 

For 73 years that hole had been in existence and consistently fleecing the nation, probably the only thing that was consistent for so long in the country. It has been happening for the past 70 odd years gathering momentum and has been happening more rigorously and aggressively with passing of time. It will continue to happen unchecked unless that hole is permanently and forever plugged using a political system change and not just fodder like individual change or a party change as have been practiced for over seven odd decades.

A haven for crooks, hoodlums and gangster thugs

In my opinion, the aforementioned political system has for over 73 years evolved to be one of the biggest consortiums in the world for fleecing any nation creating a haven for crooks, hoodlums and gangster thugs who are in the guise of statesmen with their unscrupulous practices. This century’s biggest and most lucrative consortium is in business partnering individuals from all segments of society. There are the clergy craving posts and luxury vehicles, the intellects fighting for high posts and undue recognition, Government servants vying for promotions and spoils and some wheeler-dealer statesmen who have a lust for deals, spills and commissions, just to mention some.

The consortium is kept alive and running by subservient voters who display their naivety by consistently voting between two equally similar consortiums simply due to ancestral allegiance, blind faith, monetary gains, employment opportunities, for deals and kickbacks, for a packet of rice or a pint of hooch and personal favours which most times are contravening the law of the land. 

Recently added concept is the inventions by obsequious political lackey groups who manipulatively propagate “if not him/her – who?” or “there was no other option” or else “saviour of ethnicity and religion,” etc. to create favourable vote clusters for their masters. This is even taking the word ‘subservience’ to a new low level. Although they well understand the damage they are doing to the society, their own future generations and the nation at large, they choose to ignore them for their petty, personal, corrupt gains and individual greed or out of sheer brainwashed misguided beliefs. 

Most in such groups resort to these actions for craving individual posts or power and not in the larger interest of the community or the country. At the same tone I am also compelled to say that some did so with all good and pure intentions which may have gone awry with their hopes remaining unfulfilled. 

Evolution of politicians

Recently renowned cartoonist Avantha Artigala has very creatively expressed the evolution of politicians in his masterly artistic skills. This cartoon caught my eye and I wish to share. He has very aptly comprehended and expressed it in his drawing in a very interesting and subtle way.

They, the ones in all political parties who we collectively call “politicians,” very cunningly, astutely and immorally have been dividing the nation for their vantage and profit. Initially a wedge was driven between the Sinhalese and the Tamils through the issue of the language and the blame was put on colonial rule when that was not the only cause. Thereafter, a new constitution paved the way to create political parties based on ethnic and religious divisions, further segregating people. Then unfortunately, a small segment of Islamic believers chose to practice fundamentalism or extremism isolating themselves from the respected moderate Muslims as well as the mainstream society. 

Standing tall among all these divisions the Sinhala Catholics and the Sinhala Buddhists shared a high level of understanding and respect to form one cohesive and united social block. Unfortunate plight of that block and what is happening to it at present is common knowledge. This is how squalid and sordid the system has become. The only division left to be created is the old, wisely discarded, cast-based division. That too may not be spared by these picaros in the guise of statesmen, if they feel that they can win a vote through it.

Oligarchy rule

The reason for such deplorable and woeful state may be the preference of majority Sri Lankan voters opting for an oligarchy rule switching between two such political groups for the past 73 years. It had consistently been a simple baton change between two almost identical oligarchical groups. The irony is that these oligarchical groups for their benefit prefer a kakistocracy system instead of meritocracy or any other form of formal, accepted, fair or honest system of governance. 

With kakistocracy they have simply replaced accountability and responsibility with indiscipline and corruption. They have changed governance to their vantage to facilitate what they do best – i.e. corruption. They scratch each other’s backs in all wrongdoings and cover up all misdeeds of one another. The common laws applicable to ordinary working-class citizens do not apply to them or they pay the scantiest regard to them. 

Our subservient voters willingly elect these same set of scoundrels knowing that they are corrupt, knowing their piety to hyper-religiosity and with the comprehension that there is very little benefit for themselves as well as the country. They know fully that the future of their next generations to come is robbed and is at stake.

Military backgrounds

Being an ex-military officer myself, I am obligated to defend military officers and also it gives me pleasure in saying that there are and there have been many successful leaders in many nations who have had military backgrounds and who had made use of such backgrounds to develop their respective nations. Thirty-one former US Presidents have had military backgrounds ( 

The best example I can give in today’s context is the Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He developed his nation by changing systems. As such there is nothing to say an ex-military leader cannot run a country effectively, in fact they are in a better position to do so than most mainstream politicians we have. Hence, as I have been emphasising in both my articles, even if the most divine, honest and patriotic person is elected there is very little that can be done to develop our nation under this prevailing political system, as we have experienced. 

Change of the system is needed

Masses have to realise that change of individuals in a corrupt system will not achieve the development they seek. Development can only be achieved if people deviate from the practice of changing people or parties and voice peacefully for a change of the system.  People have to have the interest of the country at heart. The country should come first! Not any individual or individuals! That is paramount.

Remnants of the nation’s wealth after ransacking and the best part of the revenue from taxation of hard-working people are mostly used to administer this corrupt system and not for the development of the nation. According to some one more reason is the burden of maintaining an administration system that our economy cannot sustain. 

Politicians conveniently blame it on our big brother neighbour, accusing them of forcing it on us. However, in my opinion that system helps these two consortiums to retain and change power between them, preventing any other source entering the fold. None of the political parties nor any elected party wants to discard that system because it is THIS system that guarantees their grassroot votes making it possible to fleece the nation.

How the nation’s wealth is fleeced and how it filters down to grassroot level has been portrayed through a cartoon yet again by the great cartoonist Avantha Artigala in a very creative way, although accuracy of the figures mentioned needs to be ascertained with all due respect to him. Hypothetically, if each member in these institutes gets a minimum of Rs. 100,000 per month (surely, they get many folds than that) the total amount incurred can be guessed, which is a sizeable sum of the entire income of the nation. If a comparison is run between amounts paid to them against contributions made by them to the wellbeing of the society and the state of development the country has reached, it tells only a sorry story.

Adaptive, survivable and resilient

Geographically we being islanders have proven time and time again that all Sri Lankans, as one coherent nation, are very adaptive, survivable and resilient. Uniquely we have been a united nation that has had its resilience tested and has proven our collective strength through many challenges. Even now the nation can revert to a track that will lead it to the light that is at the end of the gloomy protracted tunnel. This process has to be initiated by the people – for the people as denoted in true tested Democracy. There should be no politics in this endeavor and there should not be individual vested interests and agendas. There should be only true patriotism, love for the people, love for the future generations, love for the nation in distress and a lot of empathy for the suffering masses.

At last, after 73 years, a small segment of the society is now hit with the realisation that there is nothing left in that bucket I was talking of initially. The bucket is empty. Citizens endured this only when confronted with various shortages in essential commodities, mainly their luxuries, and when their dollars were pocketed by the State during various times. This segment may gather force like a tidal wave with the apprehension slowly trickling in that the answer to our predicament is not looking at “if not him/her – who?” but a complete change in the political system that can put a stop to all corruption and prevents deceitful bounders from being any part of governance.

With that objective in sight, a few strong-willed, deeply patriotic people have already started voicing their concerns or have started tolling the bell to awaken a society in slumber. The youth, which is the lifeline of a nation, has already started emigrating, including some matured pragmatic saner minds, creating a huge brain drain. Apolitical people of all classes have started grumbling, rumbling and protesting for basic needs and basic rights to see development. Their demands are just. Their demands are the right for better quality of life, basic right to survive and basic right to protect the wealth of their nation from being fleeced. All are fair, reasonable and justified demands.

A nation of missed opportunities

Ours is a nation of missed opportunities not by design or default but by subservient choice. Strangely, we are not alone there. There were many countries that have seen worse pits than us and recovered. Bangladesh to some extent, Ethiopia, Rwanda, some African nations and even Uganda are a few such countries.

Change in those countries was not brought in by merely changing individuals. The change for the better was achieved through discarding corroded corrupt systems and replacing them with honest practices uniting all natives by educated, patriotic and honest leaders through non-violent democratic processes. It was a 360-degree turnaround as I mentioned in my previous letter, but they proved that it is a possible and doable turn.

People should refrain from blaming any single individual or one political party for the predicament we are in for the simple reason that blame lies with the same voting people for electing such individuals and parties. People probably may have tested between individuals and parties looking for a better future. Now it should dawn on them that it is time to stop switching between people or parties and to try out what was never tried for 70 odd years.

People have commenced believing that they need a change in the system that destroyed our nation and to achieve that change they have a right to peacefully stir the water. Peaceful voice of the people, like that of stirred water, will gather momentum to form a decisive opinion just like a powerful tidal wave.  Hence, the time is now for people to comprehend the negatives of this existing and rather damaging political culture/system and compel their political faith to pledge that change. So time is NOW for the people to make a peaceful voice to plug that hole in the bucket preventing this cronyism from being continued.

(The writer retired as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army after an unblemished and an illustrious career of almost 36 years. He has served the nation through all conflicts since 1985 and participated in almost all ground offensive operations during conflict times as well as heart and mind operations during peacetime. He is a patriot who shed blood twice in the battlefront to protect the sovereignty of the nation. He was a renowned ambassador of peacebuilding and reconciliation.)

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Disclaimer: There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Lanka - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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