Kusal Perera (Daily Mirror)
THE POINT: ………………..Can the President release the Experts’ Report by the Japanese team on the Meethotamulla dump handed over to him?……
This is pretty interesting-and frustrating too-when we look back on what they keep philosophising with messages.
Few days ago in his “World Environment Day” message President Sirisena says, “….at present, due to the frequent occurrences of natural disasters, we have to admit that humans cannot survive without a sustainable environment. Nature reminds us of its message through landslides, devastating floods.”
PM Wickremesinghe issuing a similar message on World Environment Day says, “We need to rediscover the manner in which our ancestors were able to co-exist in harmony with nature….”
One is head of State according to the 19 Amendment of the Constitution and the other is the Head of Government. One is in charge of Environment and the other is in charge of the economy and development planning.
To begin with, can they both tell how serious they were about Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) on revised the Colombo Port City Project and the Hambantota Port expansion programme?
The urban middle class opinion makers who claim the right to represent society therefore champion issues that are irrelevant for actual change.
If they were ever done the right way, can they both be transparent and accountable to the people and organise a good and open public discourse on the EIAs to honour their World Environment Day messages?
Can the President release the Experts’ Report by the Japanese team on the Meethotamulla dump handed over to him?
They simply cannot. Not in this unrestricted free market economy, where everything is decided on bigger and bigger private profits. This therefore is nothing new for political leaders. It is just customary they issue messages on all and every internationally and nationally important days.
Can they both tell how serious they were about Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) of Colombo Port City Project.. and the Hambantota Port expansion programme?
We have thus over the past 40 years reduced State machinery to facilitate and work with massive private investments for profit
Their messages being messages only, in practical life we were thrown into devastating tragedies one after another. First the landslides in Aranayake that killed 127 people and then the Kelani river floods in the Colombo low lands in May 2016 that accounted for 92 deaths. Next was the Meethotamulla waste dump disaster that accounted for over 23 deaths and now is almost forgotten. The collapse of a multi storey building in Wellawatte, Colombo accounting for three deaths and over nine seriously injured, compelled UDA to accept there are over 1,000 illegally constructed buildings in the city. Now the Southern and Sabaragamuwa landslides and major floods taking the death toll to over 300 and around 75 persons missing, with epidemics predicted.
From the 2014 October Koslanda Meeriyabedda landslide to the present Southern landslides and floods, both the previous Rajapaksa Government and the present Yahapalana Government tend to blame nature, calling them “natural” disasters. Environmentalists nevertheless blame successive governments for unplanned “development” causing environmental degradation. JVP is back with their old “Indian expansionist” theory, blaming plantations in hill country.
It’s a “I blame you. You blame me” game that takes us nowhere except through increasing tragedy.
Yes! Politicians are to be blamed. They are elected to Govern and Govern properly. To improve the quality of life of all citizens. Development should mean just that. If they don’t govern to establish socio political stability and peace with development for improved quality life, they have to take responsibility for their irresponsibility, their incapability and mismanagement. And they have to be voted out.
Voting out a Government needs a general election and people in this country have been changing governments at elections. Since the first parliamentary election for an independent Ceylon in 1947, people have changed governments at 10 out of 13 parliamentary elections held. Changed the political party at two Presidential Elections to elect a different President. Once they retained the same parliament through a “Referendum” in 1981.
Once elected, people have to live through the mess they create during five years. Unless, the people decide to oust the Government on “street power”.
But that is a different scenario. If there is actual “social space”, the elected Government can be kept in “check” in a politically aware society.
How politically aware is our society? In Sri Lanka, Governments have not been changed for want of better Governance, for better accountability and transparency. Governments were always changed on a protest vote against the incumbent.
So, was it in 1956, in 1970 and in 1977. It was so, even in electing Presidents in 1994 and again in 2015 January. In all such changes, it was just ousting the incumbent to bring another and nothing more.
There was no serious development alternatives offered even at both 2015 elections. Only promises to eradicate corruption, abolish the executive presidency and to change the electoral system based on proportional representation and the preference vote.
There are two major reasons for this sorry and miserable lapse. We don’t dialogue and discuss the need to change the economic model that for 40 years out of almost 70 years had brought us no peace, no rule of law, no good governance and no holistic improvement in the quality of life of the citizenry. We don’t discuss the economic foundation on which political leaders promise to construct a clean and decent house for all, but cannot. A rickety foundation does not allow for secure construction of a decent house for quality life for all, whatever the shape, size and colour the construction takes.
Massive constructions and the greed for large infrastructure projects is for big contracts through direct political affiliations.
Over the past 40 years with the massive Mahaweli development programme, Samanalaweva Project, FTZs, Sri Lanka has not gained any significant development in the lives of the people. Education and health have been wholly neglected with private investments allowed to encroach without any planning and regulating. Funds committed by IBRD and IDA from 2013 to now for numerous projects total 1,642 million US dollars. In rupee terms it would roughly be 229,880 million. Where have they gone? What have we gained?
The answer lies with political parties that gain a stake in governments. All mainstream political parties are no more independent and democratic entities with alternate political programmes. Within this neo liberal market economy, they have all become partners of big business, funded by big time businesses for business interests. Political leaders are dependent on and are part of the business life. Over the past few decades, fast growing corruption into mega unaccountable plunder that this government promised to eradicate is directly related to political parties getting entrenched in big business funding.
That could be an interesting subject for social research. This inter-marriage between big profits accrued with political patronage and political parties living off a share of it is a politico-economic necessity in any neo-liberal free market economy. It is especially so in countries like ours where democracy is only procedural and not functional.
We have thus over the past 40 years reduced State machinery to facilitate and work with massive private investments for profit. The bureaucracy at the top where policy is defined and implemented is thus a corrupt lot working with politicians sitting in Ministries. In sum, we are being left at the mercy of big private business. They accrue and usurp wealth and profit. We are governed by political leaders who are funded more by those big businesses than by tax payers’ money.
The second major issue is the intellectual impotency of the utterly corrupt urban middle class, which has settled well within the free market economy.
It is always the city that creates new knowledge and new thinking. It is always the urban middle class that drives political opinion. The rural society is canvassed for what the urban middle class decide as answers.
But within this free for all market economy the urban middle class don’t need a change. All what they need are reforms that may provide a more comfortable living.
That allows them to remain as lofty opinion makers to sustain the neoliberal economy. The urban middle class opinion makers who claim the right to represent society therefore champion issues that are irrelevant for actual change.This is now quite apparent from all their anti-corruption demands and proposals for Constitutional reform. All with personal political agendas like the call to abolish the Executive Presidency. This fraud, the proposal to abolish the Executive Presidency, has no logic and no rational in a neoliberal economy. While mega-corruption during Rajapaksa rule is credited under the powerful Executive Presidency, mega-corruptions including the Bond Scams and very many others under this “Yahapalana” Unity Government have to be credited under the Head of Government in Parliament.
Corruption under this Government run by the PM during these two-and-a-half years surpasses corruption under the first three years of Rajapaksa, making the call for abolition of the Executive Presidency another political fraud.
All blame therefore for all that is going wrong in Sri Lanka has to be borne by the politicians, who promised a neat and a clean government after Rajapaksa is ousted and those Colombo middle class pundits, who campaigned for a hybrid rule, promising a decent, civilised rule if Rajapaksa is voted out. They usurped the right to represent people to promise all things nice and refused to accept ousting Rajapaksa with a hurriedly collected corrupt and opportunist cabal serves no purpose in ousting Rajapaksa.
It is now time to dump them in the bin for nondurable waste and begin a new discourse for a more people oriented development model-an alternate to this neoliberal free market that can be inclusive and more democratic; a development model that provides a level playing field for all and one where crude competitions are not the means for survival.