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Long term social needs

| by Victor Cherubim

( December 28, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) In Sri Lanka, we easily relate to and hardly question the novelty of ideas, as they may seem plausible. However, we fail to remind ourselves of the opportunity cost. The expression: “vinadiyen set kerannam” or literally “an accomplishment within a minute,” easily communicates the nuance in the realm of possibilities, rather than probabilities. Similarly, when we hear the latest novelty, “it will be set in 100 days,” there is an immediate rapport and perhaps a “perception of the future”. This rhetorical commitment may be to engage the community, raising the expectations of the ordinary man and women, of what they hope for, without cost assessment.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa however, unambiguously states, in one of his campaign speeches: “Sri Lanka has been facing stiff pressure locally and internationally. We should have confidence to fight these forces”. He added:”A leader should have the courage and fortitude to dispose of what is not useful for a country. He should also have the courage to embrace what is needed and useful to the country.”

What is myth and what is real is being debated and perhaps, rightly so?

For an overview of what Sri Lanka needed after the 30 odd years of war, it was evident there was a plethora of issues which had to be settled. It was no easy task and unlike the situation today every issue was urgent. The IDP’s had to be resettled. It was a drain on the nation. The mine clearance had to be completed expeditiously and assuredly for peace of mind. We had to rebuild confidence in our infrastructure, we had to fight inflation, we had to sustain our security forces, we had to keep our country intact, In short, this assignment could well have taken a decade or more. But it had to be done. There was a price to pay, but in hindsight, it couldn’t have been left undone.

The infrastructure construction of roads and railways were left to decay over a century or more. Many will remember the proverbial mound of rubble/gravel and barrels of tar, shifting from one site to another by unscrupulous Public Works Department Overseers, without anyone noticing it. This had to be was eradicated. The trunk road carpeting opened up Sri Lanka, not only to tourists but to residents all the same. The dilapidated state of affairs of our national railway lines, not only after the tsunami, but over years of wear and tear, naturally had to be replaced.

The kerosene oil lamps that lit our rural homes for eons, had to be updated and upgraded to bring us to the 21st century with generated electricity. Power lines and pylons had to be installed not for one town but for entire provinces.

Disaster Management and Social upliftment

Many will argue that in the last ten years or more, we benefitted much from INGO’s and NGO’s. International aid agencies and emergency aid from the world for tsunami relief work was offered and work delivered. There is no denial. But strangely, if not strategically and perhaps, sadly, international aid was only a relief, not by its nature a development programme for our nation.

As most will agree international aid, “commonly pursue a set timeframe for engagement and their withdrawal without proper transition arrangements in place to ensure that any efforts made to build community infrastructure necessarily have to be continued after they withdraw”. This had to be carried out and in its wake, many shortcomings were highlighted.

Among them was long term social need, a necessity to supplement relief and recovery. However, this “upliftment,” required painstaking preparation, hard work and hard currency. This work required extreme patience and a strategic focus which is more than an attitude of mind. Nothing comes about without a cost.

Dismantling authoritarianism

A recent news report admits: “Quite frankly no one knows who will do what, next”. With 11 days to go to dismantle authoritarianism, it is becoming clear it would take time whoever wins and the public know it well.