An impartial body of advisers is urgently required - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An impartial body of advisers is urgently required

The complaint of ordinary people, however, is that these persons and organizations fail to play their expected role satisfactorily. The general public who are at the receiving end of intense propaganda unleashed by competing political parties, are today placed in a quandary. Even on matters such as economics where statistics and data should lead to common conclusions, there is no agreement. These statistics are either distorted or the same data are used for reaching different conclusions.


by Milinda Rajasekera

(May 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Persons and organisations dedicated to intellectual pursuits have been many throughout history. Their efforts have been to reduce the widely prevalent ignorance among people and to enhance their level of rational and logical thinking on human affairs. The importance of intellectual pursuits was accentuated by Francis Bacon thus: “Seek you first the good things of the mind and the rest will either be supplied or its loss will not be felt.” 

The words and deeds (of course, more words than deeds) of those who have attained high states of intellectualism throughout have infused inspiring thoughts into the minds of people who strive to reach higher levels of thinking. Intellectuals are basically philosophers whose aim, according to Henry David Thoreau, is to love wisdom so as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust.” There have been and there are those - although the percentage is small - who had fully attained or come close to this standard of wisdom. Most of them, however, shun publicity and live in isolation.

This brief introduction to the nature of intellectualism is intended to focus attention on the role of intellectuals in this country. Sri Lankan society is not bereft of those falling into this class of people who could broadly be described as intellectuals. They are those who have obtained higher education and ascended to high administrative and executive positions. More advanced among them occupy various positions in institutions of higher education such as universities. Apart from these persons there are those belonging to various professions who could be identified as those belonging to the intelligentsia.

This category of people contributes to the enhancement of public awareness and enlightenment, individually and collectively. Some have organized themselves into associations. Among such organizations that have come into being in recent times are: Sri Lanka-Alliance of Progressive Professionals and Intellectuals (APPI), The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) and the Friday Forum. These groups add to the plethora of such voluntary organizations of public spirited persons who make an effort to raise public awareness on matters of vital importance to public life.

The complaint of ordinary people, however, is that these persons and organizations fail to play their expected role satisfactorily. The general public who are at the receiving end of intense propaganda unleashed by competing political parties, are today placed in a quandary. Even on matters such as economics where statistics and data should lead to common conclusions, there is no agreement. These statistics are either distorted or the same data are used for reaching different conclusions. So it is in this situation that the intellectuals have to examine the pros and cons of these issues objectively and analytically and present to the public their assessments and recommendations.

Unfortunately, these intellectuals and their associations seem unable to play this role effectively mainly because some of these organizations also have fallen prey to divisive party politics, instead of being above narrow divisions. They often betray their political party preferences and prejudices while declaring their assessments and decisions. The high quality of independence and impartiality expected of them is thus sullied. Some among those considered intellectuals unfortunately follow the example of some politicians whose main concern is self-aggrandisement. Some have become obsequious sycophants singing the praises of persons at the helm of affairs for personal gain thus throwing the required quality of independence and impartiality to the winds. What is necessary, therefore, is for all these public spirited organizations of real intellectuals to band themselves into a group to examine the present national problems and issues objectively and dispassionately and to declare their opinions and conclusions for the benefit of both the administration and the public. Great care has to be taken to exclude from this group all those who have close political party connections and affiliations. It becomes then the duty of the opposition and the media also to give due respect and consideration to views expressed by this body.

If these intellectuals fail to act in this fashion, the government has to intervene to accomplish the task of forming a body of this nature to look at national issues objectively and make recommendations. The galaxy of numerous advisors that is employed at high cost today to advise the President and ministers could be disbanded after the creation of this new advisory board. The members of this advisory board should be picked from among those outstanding scholars and experts who have shown independence and impartiality on national issues. Extra care has to be taken to exclude those with political party connections. This proposal will, no doubt, seem idealistic in the present context intensified politicization of all segments of our society. But this is an urgently required step if the country is to emerge unscathed from the whole complicated entanglement of impediments it is confronted with today. 

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