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An Open Letter To Me And To My Fellow Citizens

Jul 3, 2010 2:34:35 PM - thesundayleader.lk

But you slaves — it is too bad to be slaves, I grant — but you slaves dream of a society where the law of development will be annulled, where no “weaklings” and “inefficients” will perish, where every inefficient will have as much as he wants to eat, as many times a day as he desires……..”   Martin Eden by Jack London

Celebrating our sovereignty?

It just struck me, what if we were not ‘slaves’ and ‘did not wish’ to annul the law of development and did not want the weak and the inefficient to gobble down what others produce, all day through?

If that was the case, despite what this half year 2010 budget speaks, this would not be the ‘paradise isle’ it is today. If we were not ‘slaves’ and did not wish to annul the law of development and therefore do not accept that the defence budget of Rs 186.3 billion for the remaining six months of this year, one year after the war, has to be almost the same as that for the 12 months in 2009 that was Rs 187.2 billion, this would be a different ‘paradise’ to live in.

If again, we accept that the law of development had never been annulled in this country by us the ‘slaves’ but by our ‘masters’ of politics to live without development for six decades and more, that we accept all numbers in all budgets are fake, that tax revenue of Rs 729 billion is not there to be achieved, that tax revenue had never been achieved even in half ever before, but merely read out to balance numbers in the budget, well then, we would not be calling this isle the ‘tear drop’ of the Indian Ocean.

Yes. As people, we would then have to change our whole approach to life and adopt a more intelligent and a more consciously realistic approach in seeing, understanding and reacting to all the fantasies created by powerful family regimes and their finance ministers. As socially responsible people who fund and finance governments through direct and indirect taxes, we would have to take upon ourselves the responsibility to question and prevail over ‘elected representatives’ on all issues around us, as never done before in this society. In very plain language, for a new dimension in politics, for a new approach in social living, we have to take our own fate and future into our hands, instead of leaving them to outsiders, to tell us what to do and how to do.

Let’s be honest. At least to ourselves, if not to others. We as a diverse society have never been working towards the benefit of the larger society and for all. We had let that responsibility slip through at every election, allowing powerful political dealers to subordinate us, as voters. Regimes that beat the rights of this society into their own fancied shapes and sizes. Today, we have our own life being taken for granted by the ruling regime to negotiate what they want for them and certainly not for us. Have we not forfeited our ‘sovereignty’ to a ruling ‘kleptocracy’?

That incidentally is today’s battle of wits between this Rajapaksa regime, the EU and the silent us, as society. While the government tries to talk development and growth with its new half year budget, we are told by the European Union (EU) that we need to effectively democratise our society and its governing process. We have been written to, through the government (if a government after election, still represents us, the people) that for our exports to the European market to be accepted in Europe, we need to honour human rights and democratic norms of living, for our own selves in this soil, called the ‘Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’.

Why should the EU want us to be democratic and honour human rights in our own society? It is that, their tax payers who keep them financed as the EU parliament, do not want to be customers of products that come from countries violating human rights and democratic life. It is their choice in life. But, does it not question our own social conscience?

Let’s at least focus on few of the 15 issues raised in the letter sent to the government by the EU on June 17, through the External Affairs Minister, to peep into our own conscience.

We keep grumbling that the public administration machinery, from ministry secretaries, through department heads to the Grama Seva Niladhari, is inefficient, corrupt and incompetent in delivery. We keep grumbling that this degeneration is due to politics that by itself is corrupt by the billions. That all state agencies have been unduly and heavily politicised to be as negative and bad as they could be. So much so, even politicians when in the opposition, promise cleansing of state institutes and agree its bad politics that have ruined the system.

This was the reason why, the whole parliament was compelled to agree on the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, 10 years ago. Society needed a state apparatus that was devoid of politicking and corruption, one that worked independently and efficiently, which formed the basis of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Ten years ago when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted unanimously, the degeneration of state agencies was definitely not as bad as it is today, after five years of Rajapaksa rule.

Today, the administration is so awfully inefficient, irresponsible and corrupt, that money below the counter is what often pushes things fast for deserving ordinary citizens that otherwise go missing or gets delayed by weeks if not months. Today, top public servants are found guilty of heavy corruption, removed from posts as ruled by the Supreme Court and then brought back with only a plea to a different bench. Today, there are numerous petitions against massive corruption by politicians and public servants, lying with the ‘Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption’ (CIABC – popularly known as Bribery Commission) that gather dust, again due to politics. It is common talk that corrupt politicians cross sides to avoid investigations.

Today, most officers in the very department that has to police the society for law and order, are into the most bizarre of businesses and it was none other than a minister who said, of the three most corrupt institutes in this country, the police is one. There have also been very many cases of custodial killings that have got away with lame excuses, many instances where people took the law unto their hands as they do not trust the police and the latest, a CID Inspector arrested for dumping a dead body in the sea, after a couple of policemen were previously accused of killing a mentally retarded person by ‘force drowning’ him in the sea.

Is not all this enough for this society to ask for the 17th Amendment to be implemented without any further delay and without any tampering to kill the spirit of it, that has to be further improved? Why should we wait for the EU to tell this Rajapaksa regime that the 17th Amendment should be implemented? Why should we allow this government’s arrogance in refusing to implement the 17th Amendment on the basis of ‘sovereignty’? Sovereignty is not a government’s privilege to rule, but a people’s right to enjoy.

Why don’t we, then ask ourselves if this sovereignty that the Rajapaksa regime harps on as their holy cow, would solve all inefficiency, incompetence and massive corruption in state agencies? Why don’t we ask ourselves, where that ‘sovereignty’ was, when the 17th Amendment was openly and shamelessly violated by the Executive, in appointing commissions that was the constitutional responsibility of the Constitutional Council?  What happened to ‘sovereignty’ when the Rajapaksa regime avoided the appointment of the Constitutional Council that was deliberated by the Supreme Court on a petition filed by a few concerned citizens?
Is it, that we as citizens, DON’T NEED an efficient, competent and a clean administration, that we have allowed the powerful and the corrupt to rule us, as they please?

We are an irresponsible society, no doubt. We have allowed us to be ruled under Emergency as the rulers wish. This society has been more under Emergency Rule than under normal law of the land. From April 1971 to date, for almost 40 years out of 62 years since independence, we have been ruled under Emergency Law, except for few intervening years now and then. All police officers have thus been recruited, trained and set to work under these Emergency Regulations, they can not possibly think of their duty now, sans Emergency Regulations that give them enormous power.

All these years, till the end of the war one year and two months ago, all regimes wanted Emergency Regulations enacted, more for their own convenience than for what the situations demanded. The society never debated or discussed whether such Emergency Laws were actually necessary. Not even in the media was it open for discussion, with all opposition parties too wanting Emergency enforced, except the Tamil politicians in parliament.

We therefore allowed crude and unjust methods in detention and arrest to continue. We, in our ‘atomised’, sectarian world, did not stop to think how inhuman it is in this modern world to allow a person to be held in detention without trial on mere suspicion. An arbitrary act made legal under emergency law and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. We do not know or don’t want to know that these Emergency Regulations gazetted in May 2006 as Gazette number 1474, could restrict freedom of movement as well. We don’t believe that law has no ethnic and religious differentiations and could be clamped down on any individual, as decided by those who enforce law. It is only that, we have not had their perverted impact in the larger Sinhala society, after 1987 – 90 and we have short memories, as once told by Prabhakaran.

We’ve become so numb and indifferent to law enforcement with due respect to human rights that we did not, as a democratic society, question the right of the regime to kill in cold blood; when Wijeweera, Gamanayake and others were arrested, brought to Colombo and summarily eliminated in the dark. We therefore don’t wish to question killings of any possible ‘surrendees’ in this war, either. We’ve perhaps taken ‘physical elimination’ of persons as the right of any ruling regime.

Now, we have to be told by the EU that we don’t have democracy, that we don’t honour human rights. We have to be told what we have to do, is to start redemocratising our lives in this country, if we want to be part of the global market. That in fact is part of the discussion on development too.

Development that we have restricted to numbers like “per capita income” being Rs 225,830 (US $ 2,053) in 2009. We don’t ask ourselves whether ‘Samurdhi’ recipients have been included as Sri Lankans in this calculations. We don’t ask whether the Northern Tamil citizen still living under heavy military guard and whose income generation is axed ruthlessly, have been included in this luxury number. A teacher has to wait 20 years to claim eligibility to that per capita income with a Rs 21,000 salary. There are 217,000 teachers in public schools. Need I say more about all other public officers and their annual incomes? We don’t ask, whose development these numbers speak for.

Is it that WE DON’T NEED a decent, democratic life in a realistically developing society but instead wish to be pushed and prodded by political elements who have no sense of what governing a modern democratic State is? Don’t we accept that it is a sacred right of every citizen in this modern civilised world, to be treated as humans with access to all rights and democracy? To create our own social path for development with dignity? I wish I would not be labelled a failure and held responsible by tomorrow’s generation that would have to clear the gory mess, we leave today.

I presume, you would wish the same. So, it’s time we act now.