Plus - Letters to the Editor

A blundering leadership and a bungling opposition

By Nayantha Wijesundara Via email

This letter is an attempt to make some sense of the current political turmoil prevailing in Sri Lanka. It does not attempt to be exhaustive by any means, for such a toilsome task would demand a tale no shorter than “The 1001 Arabian Nights”, and no less disturbing than “The Satanic Verses”.

My idea is to address a couple of key issues concerning the governing party and the main opposition. I would be more than happy if this letter strikes a chord where a chord needs to be struck. Consider this an open letter to politicians of all hue, to a republic of lost identity, and to the citizens of a bleeding nation.

The Sri Lankan economy is almost in shambles. With inflation at 30 percent, the Government continues to borrow from international banks at an insanely high rate of interest. Furthermore, there are “rumours” that the Government is tapping into its gold reserves. If true, then this is a sign of economic desperation. Added to all this, we have premature elections tailored to suit the whim of a leadership obsessed with political mileage, billion-rupee tamashas, and a war I shall not comment upon, for obvious reasons.
The burden of all this must be borne by the tax payer, which largely constitutes the middle class, of which the lower end is ailing from dire poverty. It is true we are fighting a war against terrorism and that food and oil prices in the world market have hit unprecedented highs. But does this alone justify an inflation of over 30 percent, and counting? My humble opinion is that nothing quite justifies financial mismanagement of these proportions.

With the SAARC Summit in mind, it would not be too harsh to say that the country is being subjected to severe financial mismanagement. Spending Rs. 2.8 billion on an event at this volatile hour is incomprehensible to any prudent-thinking person, especially when you know that it is not even our turn to hold the summit.

Meanwhile, the event is posing a serious security threat to the country. More than 12,000 police officers will be distracted from their ordinary duties to provide protection for the visiting delegates. These are not auxiliary officers that are being deployed, but officers who man our police stations. For more than a week, we will have to be satisfied with an under-staffed, less-than-efficient police force to attend to our problems. In addition, we will have to restrict our already restricted freedom of movement. The Government must know its priorities. Citizens should not be inconvenienced, unless there is a justifiable excuse. A tamasha of this kind is no excuse.

Talking of financial mismanagement, one cannot ignore the flamboyance of the Foreign Ministry. In just six months this ministry has succeeded in emptying its coffers, and then it has the gall to ask for more! The achievements of our Foreign Office do not justify the expenditure. It even failed to secure a seat in the UNHRC, although it used this as a pretext for a “magnificentourage” that travelled the world.

More and more countries are turning away from Sri Lanka. Some of these countries are vital for our international trade. If British Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown’s comments are anything to go by, we have seen the last of GSP+ concessions. Regardless of what the government says, the discontinuation of concessions will have a seriously negative impact on our export market.

The reason the international community is turning away from us is because of alleged human rights violations. The finger is being pointed at the Government. All allegations of abductions, disappearances, suppression of media and intimidation have fallen on deaf ears. On the subject of human rights violations, one cannot omit mentioning the “white van syndrome”. This menace that once disturbed the country during a certain black era in our political history has resurfaced. So far the Government has failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. If we go with the assumption that the Government has nothing to do with the phantom vans, why then is the Government not putting an end to this mockery of the rule of law? And how can we expect the government to wipe out the powerful LTTE?

Turning from the Government to the main opposition, one cannot help but ask: “Where have all the Elephants gone?”

The UNP, as we all know, is only a shadow of its former self. Having lost one election after another, one wonders whether the end is nigh for the party. It is truly our misfortune to see the one party that could have delivered us falling apart. Today the UNP is divided and struggling with internal conflicts. With its arbitrary notion of governance, the government is giving an opposition enough and more ammunition, if only the UNP knew how to fire its big guns. But it does not. It surrendered its guns to the government some time ago, and what is left is muffled.

It is a known fact that Mr. Wickremesinghe stepped into the UNP leadership prematurely, if not by chance, after the loss of a string of UNP leaders. But a decade and a half in those big shoes should have taught him a thing or two about leadership. But he was too stubborn and wrapped up in his own fantasies. This leadership has cost the UNP its power, glory and now its dignity. At no point will I question Mr. Wickremesinghe’s brilliance as a strategist, but I doubt that brilliance alone can fill a vacuum that only a true leader can fill.

No other party has as much potential as the UNP. But potential without guidance can result in self-destruction. If the UNP is to bounce back, Mr. Wickremesinghe should either change his attitude or step down from the leadership. But stepping down alone will not solve any problem, because, even after 15 years with this leadership, the UNP has failed to groom a second line leadership to take the reins from Mr. Wickremesinghe. So it is advisable that he change his attitude. He owes it to the country, and to himself.

Our prospects are bleak, with little promise for the future, and the world is giving up on us. Sri Lanka is a failure in the eyes of the world. The course it has taken is not too different from that of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or Idi Amin’s Uganda.

Right now, we have a self-interested government with a locust of a cabinet, and an inefficient opposition with no voice. This could result in totalitarianism, for a country with a voiceless opposition is no better than a country with no opposition at all.

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