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An Open Letter To Sri Lankan Voters In 2015

| by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( January 1, 2015, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) First off, my best wishes to all fellow Sri Lankans for a happy new year. May you be well and happy throughout 2015 and have the wisdom to make the right decisions.

Speaking of decisions, I am writing to you from a land far away from wherever you might be, where I have lived for more than 25 years. Although I may not be as politically savvy as you are about Sri Lankan politics or the Sri Lankan life style, I believe that does not make me any less a Sri Lankan. In my adoptive country my family and I have been treated over the years with fairness and justice, equality and empathy. My two children received quality education which is made available equally to every child in the country, both in standard and opportunity. We have not been subject to any form of corruption or thuggery; discrimination or threat, or any other form of intimidation. Of course, being so far away, I have no proof of any claims that I read about in the media about Sri Lanka and, being burdened with a legal education, I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to those who are accused, unless someone can prove otherwise. With this in mind, I would prefer to refrain from any innuendo or accusation and try to be apolitical in my observations.

You will be facing a major election in a few days even before you have settled into the new year. This election would, in all probability, define your future, and more importantly the future of your children. Therefore you should vote wisely, with the following in mind.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP which includes goods, services, property et al) of Sri Lanka as at 2013 was US $ 67.18 billion according to the World Bank. This is your wealth: your asset as a nation, and does not belong to any person or group of persons. It cannot be used at will and for personal benefit by anyone who assumes power in 2015. As Sri Lankans we should be proud of one fact - The World Bank reports: "The Sri Lankan economy has seen robust annual growth at 6.4 percent over the course of 2003 to 2012, well above its regional peers. Following the end of the civil conflict in May 2009, growth rose initially to 8 percent, largely reflecting a “peace dividend”, and underpinned by strong private consumption and investment. While growth was mostly private sector driven, public investment contributed through large infrastructure investment, including post war reconstruction efforts in the North and Eastern provinces. Growth was around 7 percent in 2013, driven by a rebound in the service..."

The question is, how has that affected you and your family. Are we headed to being a rich nation with poor people, or are we better off than we were before as a nation both collectively and individually?

Of course we got over the biggest headache, in defeating the terrorism menace in 2009. But that was the duty of the government to give good governance to the armed forces who pulled it through. Here, you must make the distinction between government and governance. The government runs the country through good governance. Governance is a set of principles, responsibilities and duties that makes leaders lead its people toward a strategic direction. In the war against the terrorists, government gave that strategic direction to the armed forces who defeated the terrorists.

The government in its leadership did the right thing but the armed forces did things right. That is what got us out of that mess. And that was your right under the social contract theory and does not obligate you in any way to be coerced one way or another in your vote.

Another thing about governance. Francis Fukuyama, a distinguished Harvard professor says governance need to be measured by " gauging the ability of governments to make and enforce rules, and deliver services, regardless of whether that government is democratic or not. The critical dimensions of executive branch quality are capacity and autonomy...other considerations, such as impartiality, have limitations as indicators of state quality".

Have services been delivered? and will they be delivered by the incoming President? Is the executive branch autonomous? that is for you to decide.

But the most important thing to consider in the election is, WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU.

Of the two candidates, who would make you happier? Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate from Harvard University says that happiness depends on what he calls "capabilities". The latest issue of the Economist defines capabilities as something a person might have reason to value. The Economist identifies some of these capabilities as " a long and healthy life; freedom to take decisions and to take part in political life; and not be in need for food or shelter and other basic amenities". Governments or Presidents should not decide for you what these capabilities are. You should be able to decide and demand the government to deliver them to you, fairly, equally and without self interest. It is also noteworthy that the Human Development Index of the United Nations cites education and health as primary indicators.

I believe the greatest "capability" is the welfare of the future generation. This is essentially driven by good governance toward a strategic direction, using your GDP prudently and selflessly. Beware of those who talk about things of the past. Open your arms to those who would deliver your capabilities in the future.

I have had my capabilities delivered to me. There is no reason why yours should not be delivered to you by whoever YOU elect. I wish you much wisdom, courage, fortitude and safety when you go to vote.

The author worked in the United Nations for 25 years as a Senior Legal Officer.

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