Sri Lanka still at square one

By Chris Edirisinghe (Daily Mirror)

We got Independence from the British in 1948. I vaguely recall as a tiny tot, when my late father was reading a newspaper and sharing with his great friend Gabiriel Appu (Gabriel Mama) that British wanted to make Ceylon like Switzerland. As I was growing up, my father was dead and gone, but our local politicians kept saying that they would make Sri Lanka another Singapore. Thank God! We have not been turned in to Somalia in the process! Saved by some fortune…

When the British left the shores, we became very popular in the world arena for our Tea, Rubber and Coconut. When we were schooling, we hardly heard the word ‘inflation’ or the term ‘devaluation of rupee’. Our economy was sound at that time. At school we learnt our lessons and came home and played to our hearts’ content. Our parents might have been thrifty and economical but we were looked after pretty well. God bless their souls and now that they are gone eternally. We never expected the schools to be taken over, but kept studying well. The free education was introduced when we were small, but do not remember nagging our parents for school or facilities fees. We had never paid school van transportation charges, because we happily walked to and from school.

“Apparel industry has started its countdown due to global backbenchers such as Bangladesh and Vietnam have overtaken us and are sending their (garment) finished products to Sri Lanka! By now a large number of garment factories have put up their shutters”

Our politicians started appearing one after the other as we grew up. I do not remember whether D.S. Senanayake promised electricity to the whole country with his Gal-oya or Inginiyagala projects, but his colonization schemes were very popular. He wanted the Sinhala and the Tamil communities to live in peace and harmony. Unfortunately, the great man fell off the horse and that was the end of the golden era. Many years later, J.R. Jayewardene came to the scene, and I heard him saying openly that we could export electricity to India generated by his Mahaweli project. No one laughed at the time. Apparently I have no idea about how the Indians had reacted to his statement. However, everyone took him very seriously.

Before JR, Dudley, Sir John, SWRD, Mrs. B controlled our affairs. During their time, slowly, without anyone’s knowledge, Tea, Rubber and Coconut industries died their natural deaths. Politicians of the calibre of SWRD, Mrs. B only wanted the schools to be taken over by the State, Buses nationalized, Ports, Petroleum Corporation and other industries taken over. After DS, everyone thought; according to my late father, that the disciplinarian Sir John Kotalawela would put our country on the path of development. But sadly it wasn’t to be. Our voters were too gullible and accepted alternative policies upon our own ruin. Luckily for us, paddy cultivation grew, and for a certain period of time rice was not imported. I remember both Dudley and Mrs B vehemently fighting over the rice issue. Mrs. B promised rice even from the moon but couldn’t find even a lone grain from there when the Americans stepped on the moon in 1969.Image result for Square one cartoons
Image added by TW from internet

Dudley Senanayake promised and he gave one measure of rice free. Mrs. B did away with the London degrees and many had to find alternate paths. Those who had money took a flight and went to the UK, waving at us who were left in the lurch. Our rupee was devalued several times and JR floated it, and it is still in that mode. Mrs. B and N.M. Perera got together and did the demonetization, which many acknowledged to have been a good exercise as it brought out a lot of hidden money.

On and off we had disturbances created by various communities for some demand or the other, of course instigated by politicians for their personal gain. Emergency rule was in force and curfew had kept everyone behind closed doors. 1971 saw the JVP insurrection, and all were confined to their homes for several days. A large number of youth who were misled lost their lives and the government was in total disarray. I watched hundreds of corpses of youth that were floating in the Kelani river with horror when I was travelling to and back from work. This issue dragged on for many years right up to late 1980s, and fortunately came to an end when both former President Premadasa and the then defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne eliminated Rohana Wijeweera. By that time, the LTTE separation issue had escalated. The Tigers massacred many leaders and even former President Chandrika Kumarathunga had lost an eye during a Tiger attack on her.

The country couldn’t forge ahead with any development activities during the conflict. Only with the defeat of the LTTE and wiping out of its leader Prabakaran in 2009, did any prospect of peace becoming a reality. People expected the country would be developed by leaps and bounds after the LTTE was ousted.

Except for a few, namely highways and fly-overs, the country has thus far failed to witness any productive and/or visible development activities. The runway at the Bandaranaike International Airport was repaired/relayed after three decades. In the plantation sector, the condition is pretty awful. The Tea industry has already started its nosedive towards irredeemable depths. The Rubber industry had perished long time ago, and about coconuts, their prices are soaring higher and higher and almost at the touching distance of the sky! There will be a possible shortage of coconuts very soon.

Katunayake FTZ, which was a brainchild of JR, has lost its lustre and the apparel industry has started its countdown due to global backbenchers such as Bangladesh and Vietnam have overtaken us and are sending their (garment) finished products to Sri Lanka! By now a large number of garment factories have put up their shutters. Many a paddy field has become fallow. The construction industry is booming. But building sky scrapers alone cannot be considered as development.

Even during our childhood, we had seen politicians arguing and fighting. And they continue to do so. The present leaders have many plans and dreams. Let’s not talk about Switzerland and Singapore.

Through an article about a year ago, I attempted to draw the attention of all politicians about an issue related to flooding and drainage. Until this moment, and it’s pathetic to note, no tangible actions whatsoever have been taken to save the public from becoming would be flood victims with heavy rains which is forecast in May.

Unless and until we find a leader who is capable of injecting stringent discipline to our system and see those shortcomings are addressed, our beloved Motherland will, inevitably be a failed nation.