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3rd January 1999

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    Why late, why the hurry?

    We join our people in welcoming the New Year, though having witnessed the passing of yet another Annus Horribilis the continuing war with no political or military solution in sight and the economy on a downturn. Even the national cricketers who rose to spectacular heights and gave us something to believe in or be proud of are now down under both literally and otherwise with the silver or the golden lining coming only from athletes Damayanthi Dharsha and Sugath Tillekeratne.

    Punctuality in Sri Lanka is known to be a waste of time and it is not surprising because of the bad example being set at the top. President Kumaratunga wound up the year in characteristic fashion keeping VIPs and hundreds of people waiting in India and entering into an agreement not even her own Cabinet of Ministers know anything about.

    It is a well-known joke that when the President invites a person for lunch, it ends up as a dinner. Senior government officials are made to kick their heels waiting and waiting outside in the corridors of Temple Trees. The wiser ministers get 'signals' from advance security men when to come. Very few if any go to see her at the scheduled time.

    Diplomats are known to have left before meetings started because she comes late. She had kept the visiting Princess Anne waiting after inviting her to her residence. Now comes the news that she has left many of India's VVIP's and captains of industry waiting.

    During her three-day official visit to India she made bigger news by her chronic delays in keeping appointments than what she went for.

    What she went for to sign an agreement on free trade between India and Sri Lanka has come in for sharp criticism from Sri Lanka's main trade body and others. The government that boasted of transparency has now done one worse than its predecessor, the UNP.

    If the UNP hatched the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord in secrecy at least it was put to the Cabinet and made public before it was signed.

    This government has incubated in darkness a free trade agreement with India. Very few people know much about it. Even Cabinet ministers were kept in the dark. They had to telephone Treasury officials to ask what in hell was going on.

    What was the indecent hurry to wrap up this deal which Sri Lanka's trade chamber bosses say might swallow up lots of local industries? Is this the way an open, democratic government is run? Some government ministers and officials, opposition and media received details of the agreement from the Indian High Commission.

    This goes against the principle of a participatory democracy and does not augur well for the country. Everyone has personal faults and shortcomings as strengths and capabilities. When such persons assume high public office they must surely endeavour to correct those shortcomings. The twin issues that of the chronic inability to keep appointments and the hush-hush trade agreement borders on a devil may care attitude being adopted by the leadership of the Government. Not an auspicious way to start the New Year and certainly not the way to run the country.


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