by Gnana Moonesinghe
When reflecting on warring Sri Lanka or post conflict Sri Lanka, the predominant thought that comes to mind is the need for harmonization of Sinhala Tamil relationship. What is it that is necessary to achieve this goal that has eluded this country for over six decades, a sad epitaph for our political leaders?
Obviously our leaders we have had to date, were not able to provide solutions to a problem that would have been less complex had it been dealt with in the first attempt at resolution with the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayagam pact. Consequently, this country has to continue to echo with Plato that "until philosophers are kings or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and wisdom and political leadership meet in the same man, ..…cities will never cease from ill, nor the human race". In being critical of the political leadership over time we, the people of this country, also have to share in the complacency with which we have watched over the sluggish attempts at resolution, of a burning problem which in the end scorched us all.
The state finally is a reflection of its citizens and therefore "we need not expect to have better states until we have better men; till then all changes will leave every essential thing unchanged." How true has this been in this country’s experience where we think changes have been made which will change whatever is necessary to make relationships better but then we look again only to find that nothing has indeed changed. Even today in the aftermath of the end of the war the pious hope of all has been a quick political solution to this Sinhala Tamil equation. But again, something, somewhere, in the inclination or implementation of decisions, intentions had gone astray, again for want of political will.
We have many dilemmas to face after the war. The end of the war is an achievement never to be minimized despite whatever problems facing post- conflict Sri Lanka. Having said that, it is imperative that we create conditions that will not permit a repetition, for unlawful elements to raise their head again to act as saviours, to rectify the leadership problem amongst the Sinhalese and the Tamils, both in the North, the East as well as in the south. However this has to be managed by creating the right conditions in the North and the East for the Tamils to gain trust and confidence that their place in the country will be restored to them with dignity and security. As of now, there remains nothing or near nothing, in terms of modern calculations for an acceptable quality of life in the war torn area in the North. Delays in logistics will be acceptable if sufficient faith is placed in the sincerity in the policy dialogues taking place between the Government and the Tamil leadership.
Sometimes it is difficult to be sure of who represents whom or in fact who does not represent the people living in these areas who have been cast aside to swim or drown; fortunately their fortitude may enable them to swim and keep abreast even if the waters remain somewhat murky. But one thing seems certain as pointed out by Rt. Rev. Chickera (20.06.2010, Sunday Island), that growing militarization will not help. It only suggests somewhat cruelly that armed presence is "necessary in these areas since the winners distrust the losers;" this becomes counter- productive because the people here who are emerging from living through such a dark period can certainly do without the armed presence. They just need the space to walk around, be free, may be, to take a wrong turn quite unwittingly, without having to fear that if questioned they have no valid answer for the direction they took, except that they perhaps simply liked to wander around. Would the answer create trust?
The missing feature – the spirit of patriotism
The purpose of citing these instances is not to continue to stir up the muddied ethnic broil but to find ways of coming out of it if we are to become the ‘Asian miracle’ which we are hoping for and can by all accounts be able to achieve. Apart from the investments and management capabilities what are the basic ingredients we need to accomplish this task? We will need a leader who can take decisions boldly and with conviction and take the risk to put the fear of possible adverse repercussions in the back burner. Unfortunately we are a people who will not come together even to celebrate our national day if we do not belong to the party that is in power and is taking the lead role in the planning of the celebrations.
I do not think there is another country anywhere in the world, where conflict of interest is seen in joining in the celebrations for the National day. This day belongs to all of us individually and collectively and nothing should deter us from joining in the celebrations. Also, is there a country where when national honour is in jeopardy over accusations of war crimes when there will be one’s own countrymen who will fuel the fire? One recalls the incident when Rajiv Gandhi was nearly attacked by a Sri Lankan navy personnel on guard duty, all of India stood by their Prime Minister and members of Parliament from every party went to the air port to receive their Prime Minister on his return to India. Such a show of solidarity is something this country is missing.
While referring to political leadership one has to set the course clear of the roles of policy makers and the managers of policy decisions. The latter is the role of the bureaucracy and since this important role is assigned to them it is necessary that we ensure that no man or woman "hold office without specific training, nor hold high office till he has first filled a lower office well". A sound education for the bureaucracy is essential to guarantee excellence. "the essence of higher education is the search for ideas: for generalisations, laws of sequence, and ideals of development, …..we must discover their relation and meaning, their mode and law of operation, the function and ideal they serve or adumbrate; we must classify and coordinate our sense experience in terms of law and purpose; only for lack of this does the mind of the imbecile differ from the mind of Caesar."
The strengths of the bureaucracy
It is essential that recruitment be based on meritocracy if the country is to draw from the wisdom of the best among the officers. This would make politicization of the bureaucracy difficult and encourage the spirit of independence that would permit discretion in decision making, free the officials from serving their political masters and permit them to serve their country, the coffers from which their salaries and emoluments are paid. The competent officials will be able to advice the leadership to choose appropriate information on which to base their decisions, exploit the information that officials can provide in the fields of developed information and communications technology along with superior management techniques. Knowledge today is highly specialized and leaders must tap such expert sources to enrich themselves with what is made available to them by the bureaucracy.
Considering the need for a specialized bureaucracy the concept of permanent civil service must be conceded; a service that has security of tenure will be able to be independent and can offer advice and implement policy decisions without fear of interference from the political leaders. Most importantly such a bureaucracy will give the country continuity in the event of a change in political leadership as they themselves do not change with a change in government. This will put a stop to every new government that comes in from making a clean sweep of policies adopted by the outgoing government.
It is therefore obvious that the bureaucracy must have access to quality education, sensitized to suit the requirements of a specialized bureaucracy. In this context it will be unacceptable to think that young boys and girls will not be interested in the monetary aspect in their pursuit of higher studies. The government aware of the importance of English and communication technology has declared English and IT to be introduced in schools. To think as has been suggested sometimes that either the parents or their children will be willing to be satisfied with following the traditional Buddhist way of life in all its simplicity will be to forget the reasons for the 1971 insurgency and the more cogently orchestrated one in 1987-89, that posed armed challenge to the governments of the time; all this fury was released by the frustrated children from rural Sri Lanka in the South.
The loss in terms of human lives, public and private property, cost to the government to overcome the rebellion were immense. In terms of time, one year in the first instance and three years in the second, it bears comparison proportionately to the large outlay of losses incurred in the three decade conflict in the North and the East. Alas, man is acquisitive and avaricious by nature and no amount of religious influence will help to abandon monetary interest in this world. We no longer live in a society where the barter system operates but in one where money plays a large part and the lack of it leads to several problems in society, primarily to the destabilization of the social structure quite apart from threat to state security. What the country needs is investment in quality education to the entire educational system. With free education every child is assured of equality of educational opportunity. This access it must be emphasised is to study and not to do politics in the universities, disrupting the system which often leads to closing of the university and loss of time for those interested in their studies for which purpose they enter college.
War shrinks freedoms
The political leadership has to intervene to establish law and order in the country. One of the ill effects of the war is the leverage it provides for travesty of justice, and more so for the culture of impunity to be tolerated in the absence of relief from law enforcement personnel; this allows the abuse of the norms of justice embodied in the constitution of the country. The introduction of a just society will require the wheels of justice to roll on so that men and women "will fall into that order which constitutes intelligence and organization; justice is not the right of the stronger but the effective harmony of the whole." Fears are expressed that the ‘judiciary is in jeopardy" and that the systems in the judicial process are controlled by means that are not legitimate.
In any country the balance of power is based on the evenness with which justice is dispensed, a basic factor in strengthening democracy. It is the hope that corrective measures are taken with a great deal of publicity for the lapses in law enforcement and there is reinforcement in our attitude to the judicial authority as an integral part to defend basic rights of the people rather than the "interests of powerful actors " in the country and this too is brought to the attention of the public . The fact that sections of the emergency laws have been removed is a first step in providing some of the civil liberties to the people. In addition, greater responsiveness from the political leadership to calls for personal security and media freedom will put the country well into a take off mode for progress because the inhibiting influences on free expression and enhanced levels of freedom will become less restrictive.
The international factor
When greater freedoms are put in place the enthusiasm for participatory development processes particularly in economic development can be facilitated by the central or provincial authorities and the citizens. Poverty caused by disparate development spread has brought in charges of elitism and bias; western province is much ahead of the other provinces and the poverty levels are grater in some areas like in Badulla and the hill country amongst the plantation workers. The nutritional levels also show similar variance and this deprivation can be corrected only by focussed development of these areas. The leadership while concentrating their attention on the war ravaged areas must see that partisan politics for political advantage do not engineer another element of division by raising hostility to the efforts put to improve the war ravaged economy as inhibiting growth in the south.
This is but a humanitarian need and the leadership while placing emphasis on economic growth must place equal emphasis on transparency and accountability so that extraneous players as in the case of Tamil Nadu do not lift an accusative finger demanding accountability. At no time is it conceded that Tamil Nadu has a voice in anything that happens here, one because we are sovereign country and two, how we manage our business is our concern ours alone. Without being offensive it is time that their attention is diverted to the pitiful conditions under which some of their people are living in Tamil Nadu. Charity must begin at home and it is timely that we are allowed to manage our affairs and Tamil Nadu be persuaded to turn their attention to their domestic politics. This comment is not to detract from the invaluable support and aid we receive from the Indian Government during and after the war and the distinction is made between the central government and the State of Tamil Nadu and some elements within the State of Tamil Nadu.
Responsibility of the government to foster national identity
Although we have political problems with the state, our ethnic identities and other differences must not surface above our Sri Lankan national identity. A sort of nervousness, some degree of temerity or reluctance is seen in some to admit to this truism but the quicker we accept this, the fewer will be the problems we face. The interfering ‘hands’ reaching out from all over the world to stir and muddy the pot but give no permanent solutions, can then be stopped.
It is up to the leadership to generate trust and confidence to the minorities so that assertions for inclusivity can be made with confidence by all the people. The nation belongs to all of us citizens and the sooner that we all realize this and take our rights to ownership the faster will be the healing and unifying process. The onus is on the type of leadership that can be provided to make the people stand up to attention for the national anthem because we are all part of the whole. The positivity in this attitude is exhilarating when all round one hears nothing but negative vibes. Where there are shortcomings let us point out but let us not make it the whole picture. Let us not talk of a Sinhala Buddhist country but of a united Sri Lanka where everyone has an equal place and where there is hope for amity and kindred spirit.