White Man’s Burden

Island Editorial

Much as Rudyard Kipling has been reviled for a racist streak in his poem, The White Man’s Burden’, where he, apparently in good faith, urges imperialists to send their best men to ‘dark’, ‘uncivilised’ parts of the world to look after their captives, successive Sri Lankan governments have justified his call; they have demonstrated that the assistance of the west, especially its largesse, is a prerequisite for their very existence.

Our political leaders, given to loquacity and hypocrisy, celebrate the country’s Independence on a grand scale, and never miss any opportunity to wax eloquent on their outstanding contribution to the nation over the decades. But, we are stuck in debt and dependent on foreign aid and they shamelessly grovel before world powers begging for loans and grants. They cannot even fix a leaky sewer without foreign assistance. The only thing they are apparently adept at is selling family silver. It looks as if the UNP and SLFP leaders, ably assisted by their coalition lackeys, had taken turns to prevent national progress and keep the country at the mercy of neo-colonialists.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government came to power promising to prevent the country from becoming a Chinese colony. But, today, its leaders, driven by their yen for yuan, have overtaken their predecessors in appeasing China; they are busy handing over national assets including a vital port and a vast extent of land to Chinese firms.

Now, we are told that the incumbent dispensation has agreed to let a US firm ‘strengthen democratic governance and accountability’ here. We reported yesterday that, in keeping with an agreement with the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, the US had chosen Development Alternatives Inc to implement a public sector reform project at a cost of USD 13 mn presumably at the expense of the American taxpayers. The previous government stood accused of having contracted a US PR agency to shore up Sri Lanka’s image internationally at an enormous cost to the public purse but in vain.

The public sector in this country is rotten to the core. It is characterised by inefficiency, callousness, corruption, political interference; needless to say that drastic action is called for to transform it into a people-friendly, vibrant institution. This is a task which, we believe, can be accomplished without the world being made to think this country deserves to be bracketed with Liberia, Haiti etc. Most of the developing countries, where the aforesaid American firm has been operating, have suffered under dictatorships. The situation here hasn’t been that bad.

No foreign government or company can help increase transparency and accountability etc of the state employees here so long as the political authority keeps the public sector under its thumb. What is really needed to achieve the goal of developing the state service is not foreign assistance but the implementation of the existing laws. Time was when the public sector, free from political interference and appointments, lived up to people’s expectations.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition made a solemn pre-election vow to clean the Augean Stables (read the public sector) by appointing Independent Commissions, the appointment of which, it said, hey presto, cure the state institutions of all their chronic ills. It introduced the 19th Amendment for that purpose. But, there hasn’t been a discernible improvement.

The onus is on the yahapalana government to fulfil its election pledges without running behind foreign powers seeking their assistance. First of all, it must stop shielding corrupt public officials and sweeping rackets under the carpet.

One may wonder whether the US-sponsored public reform project is aimed at bolstering the argument being peddled in some quarters that Sri Lanka is a failed state and cannot carry out its UNHRC commitments without foreign involvement. The proponents of the project may argue that gift horses should not be looked in the mouth. But, the fact remains that it was a fatal mistake for Trojans not to examine a wooden horse the crafty Greeks had left behind. Hence, the pressing need for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to tread cautiously in dealing with meddlesome foreign powers which advance their hidden agendas on the pretext of exporting good governance etc!

Cartoon from Divaina