Way out of the Economic Crisis may well be Democracy and Good Governance

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Commemorating the 30th Death Anniversary of Late Lalith Athulathmudali

Ever since Independence, we were taught to love our country and be proud to be Sri Lankan. Songs that promoted patriotism such as Lanka Lanka Pembara Lanka, Sasara Wasana Thuru  are just a few things that demonstrate this point. Countries in the entire Asia region were aspiring to be like Sri Lanka and indeed they have gone past the benchmark which was ‘Ceylon’. Seventy five years later, this lush green fertile country has become a ‘bankrupt nation’. Most certainly, we have made some errors in our journey since independence to end up in this situation. Without acknowledging and understanding these errors we will not be able to get out of this context.  


Autocratic Leadership 
All leaders in the past who led this country made a fundamental mistake. They probably believed that being elected by majority vote meant that they were given the powers to make decisions on their own. The Executive Presidency also gave ultimate power to the post holder without considering that the elected President may or may not have the bandwidth or headspace to know everything to make decisions in the best interest of the people and the country. From those who brought in ‘projects’ which ended up as white elephants to those who said ‘my word is the circular’, we have to acknowledge that decisions made without broad consultations have been disastrous .   


For Democracy to work in this country, there are a few things needed to be fixed. The first on this list, the establishment of rule of law. We have been failing at this for the longest time. Power has dictated terms to Rule of Law. Absolute Power has absolutely deteriorated the necessity to abide by the law


People’s Power
About an year ago, people took to the streets because they felt that their needs were not being met by those in authority. This was to be expected as the state let them down. How it turned into a more organized political ‘ aragalaya’ was a natural progression. However, an araglaya also has a “ time limit “. I believe it did achieve what it set out to do, to oust the top two leaders from office. It was admirable what the youth of this country was capable of achieving without bloodshed. But subsequently, a large number of youth left this country as they lost hope of any future. But what is our role right now? To run away from the issues or stay and overcome this together?  


When the current President made an appeal and an offer to join him to form a government, there were no takers. We have been segregated so much over the years; no party wanted to join in for the fear of facing the wrath of their supporters and the general public. It must be acknowledged that we do not have senior experienced capable people who can govern the country. At the time President Gotabhaya resigned, the current President took it up , and as a country, the right move is to support him. Pulling him down will only drag the country down . For example, the strikes that are currently being carried out are meaningless ! . We must remember that we have only a limited time to overcome this economic crisis. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to do our maximum to save the nation. So, the question remains, are we willing to change or are we working to bring the same results.?  
A change of government may appear desirable. But is this the right time for a general election? Sending all 225 parliamentarians home may be easier said than done as some want to be in Parliament until their life ends. They seem to have no desire to make way for the young, unless it’s their own.  


Selling of Assets
I am not at all in agreement to selling assets like poor women pawning their jewellery to feed their children. I am still of the opinion that State assets can be managed properly. If the airline Emirates which is a state-owned company can make profits, so can Sri Lankan Airlines. Any state-owned entity should not be a burden on the treasury. And selling assets is not the answer.   

So, the fundamental challenge we have is how to establish democracy in this country. After all this is the Democratic, Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Late Mr. Athulathmudali was forced to set up a new Party; Democratic United National Front, because democracy at the time was in grave danger. Democracy may not work hundred per cent of the time, but it is the best form of governance without a doubt. In a crisis like this, democracy is the key to overcome many issues.   


Rule of Law
For Democracy to work in this country, there are a few things needed to be fixed. The first on this list, the establishment of rule of law. We have been failing at this for the longest time. Power has dictated terms to Rule of Law. Absolute Power has absolutely deteriorated the necessity to abide by the law. For example, we hear of tourists being harassed, if we do not take action against the culprits, our tourism industry can be badly hit. Forbes Magazine has rated Sri Lanka to be the number 1 destination to visit in 2023. But a few bad incidents can turn this around in a matter of days.  


Establishment of Systems
We seriously lack systems in this country whether it is for employment, to reach a crucial decision, to get services from a government office or even to make a complaint and receive redress. However you will agree that the recent QR code system to issue fuel has indeed worked. It needs, a practical and creative approach and a leader who understands that. It is still not too late to introduce systems to improve the efficiency and effectiveness. When you have systems in place, then it can be monitored and any practices outside of the system can be prevented through accountability mechanisms.  


Managing Budgets
A simple economic theory is that if you have not earned, you don’t have money to spend. This is a lesson that our state institutions refuse to learn. In the past supplementary budgets were being presented regularly and these weren’t even questioned by the Speaker of the Parliament. We have also observed that allowances for parliamentarians have increased irrespective of the state of the country. Parliamentarians did not make sacrifices . This indicates that we have been very poor at managing the national budget which has left us in dire straits. From the Parliamentarian to the poorest citizens we do not have in our blood the urge to restrict expenditure.  

At present everything looks hunky-dory. But once Sri Lanka starts paying its debts, the US dollar will go up, life is going to be tough. We must not forget that the current situation in the world is not going in our favour. War between Russia and Ukraine, cold war between China and USA and a vast number of countries facing negative economic growth indicates, that every country has their own issues to deal with and may not offer us much economic support. So it is in our hands to come out of this situation. The only way to address this is to produce more and increase our exports and bring in more foreign exchange.  


Good Governance
Sri Lanka has been craving for good governance for the longest time. Corruption is rampant. The governing authorities have too many people. Elections must be held at the right time. Currently there are 8500 elected persons in local government which must be halved in order to have better governance. But this should not be delayed.  
I think it is appropriate to reduce the number of public holidays and return to five and a half day work week with a full holiday to rest and recuperate on Sunday. We must recognize that people need rest and the rest should be for all including business establishments .  


Joint Opposition or Joint Support
As all parties plan a joint opposition, it is imperative to think of how all parties can support the government irrespective of their party politics. Creating problems will not be the answer to solving the present crisis, but a pathway to destabilise the country. In turn the government should also demonstrate their genuineness by cutting down wasteful expenditure while promoting and supporting local enterprises which provides employment .  

Of the 75 years of independence, for 30 years successive governments have not being able to bring the murderers of Lalith Athulathmudali to book. These 30 years demonstrate the lack of lawlessness in this country which Mr. Athulathmudali was indeed fighting against. But this country is not without hope. For someone like Late Mr. Athulathmudali who always placed country before self, whose pragmatic approaches, political wisdom and proactive leadership is sadly missed at this juncture, it would be a tribute to him to bring this country back on track through democracy and 
good governance. 

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Disclaimer: Way out of the Economic Crisis may well be Democracy and Good Governance - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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