Sri Lanka; A nation in shame, begging for survival

All non-essential cabinet positions, all State minister positions should be temporarily suspended. The emergency government should be given unfettered powers to get the country out of its dire predicament while the parliamentarians are kept out of such a government and directed, by the people, to get the 21st amendment passed and implemented. 

by Raj Gonsalkorale

Sri Lanka has defaulted on a foreign loan interest component for the first time in its history. It is a day of shame for a country that boasts of such a rich and ancient cultural heritage, and which has produced so many people of eminence in so many fields of expertise over the years. It is regrettable that the people of Sri Lanka had been remiss in their responsibilities and acumen not to have had accountability, credibility, and honesty as priorities in selecting their political leaders to govern the country on their behalf. It is shameful that the political leaders and their flock who were trusted by the people have been utterly irresponsible in allowing the country to sink to this depth of despair and hopelessness. A country that has no fuel, no cooking gas, no medicines and now, increasingly, no food, power cuts, water cuts, with all this contributing to the anger and anguish of millions of people. 

Whether the President of the country thinks or not, or like it or not, he has to take full responsibility for this shame as he had all the powers he needed under the 20th amendment to take early preventive action to avoid a catastrophe of this degree. The buck has to stop with him, and although none of his predecessors ever did that, he should have set an example. His immediate predecessor Sirisena did not even apologize to the nation for the Easter bomb fiasco that happened under his watch. The first Executive President Jayewardene did not either in the aftermath of the 1983 pogrom against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. This is the quality of leaders voted in by the public.

Despite being a nation of beggars now, undergoing such ignominy as looking for firewood to cook the next meal, standing in queues for hours for some fuel, foregoing some medicines as they are not available, facing possible food shortages and being unable to buy these even if available due to the astronomical price hikes, power cuts, now water cuts, political leaders and their flock are still placing their quest for power over the welfare of the country. They should have all thrown their party labels to the Diyawanna Oya and entered the Parliament without party affiliations to work together to save it from further ignominy. 

The ongoing IUSF protests and any other protest, while understood and empathized, are ill timed and unreasonable. These and the Galle Face Confab has brought about a significant change in governance, personnel associated with it and the style of governance. The civil society has been awakened and it is unlikely that they will allow a return to the past.  This is a very positive and an invigorating development and one hopes that the civil society will never ever go back to sleep, conjured by politicians steeped in avarice, dishonesty, and vulgar behavior. No doubt there is more to be done to institutionalize the changes and to bring about cultural changes amongst the public in order to ensure a governance model that has no place for the type of politicians who have brought the country to the state it is in today. There is no future for Sri Lanka if it is to be governed by the kind of politicians who are in Parliament today, of course with a few exceptions.

The crisis faced by the country today is such that if the immediate issues are not addressed, there will not be a sovereign country left to govern even for good men and women of the soil. The country will not disappear, but its sovereignty will as it could be taken over for all intents and purposes by a power that has the money and the strength to do so. In desperation, the country has turned to Ranil Wickremasinghe to save it from ignominy and a likely foreclosure by such a power or powers.

Wickremasinghe has placed the true situation of the country’s economy before the people. He has stated in no uncertain terms that it is bankrupt, it will have to face more hardships in the next few months, and it will face food shortages. All those leaders and political representatives who have brought the country to this state are an absolute disgrace and they do not deserve to be called Sri Lankans as they are still bickering about technicalities when they should have offered to work together unconditionally to avert the looming disaster.

The immediate, desperate urgency is to stay together and work together to avert the unthinkable, the loss of the country’s sovereignty. This message is primarily for the protestors and the public as they will be the biggest losers should the country lose its sovereignty. It is also not a time for Presidential and Prime Ministerial aspirants to place their ambitions ahead of the interest of the country. Whatever Wickremasinghe’s past failures when he held the wheels in his hands, on five occasions, this occasion is like no other past occasion, as neither he nor the country has faced a situation as dire as this in the past. He has stuck his head out and placed it on the block, a very brave thing to do given the perilous situation the country is in. If he succeeds in taking the country out of its desperate and hopeless situation, he deserves all the plaudits and a special place in history like no other. If he fails, he knows his head is on the block.

Wickremasinghe nor any other mortal holding the wheel will be able to steer the country out of trouble by himself or herself. He needs a small, competent, dedicated team of professionals to assist him as cabinet ministers and senior officials, and the Parliamentarians to take a break and stay home. The ongoing pretense of two tongued politicians that they can carry on, pretending things are normal and its business as usual, will have to stop if the country is to be saved from its ultimate disgrace. What Sri Lanka needs is an emergency government, with an emergency cabinet and an emergency task force of officials to manage a situation that is far worse than an emergency.

All non-essential cabinet positions, all State minister positions should be temporarily suspended. The emergency government should be given unfettered powers to get the country out of its dire predicament while the parliamentarians are kept out of such a government and directed, by the people, to get the 21st amendment passed and implemented. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe has indicated that this will be done within a few weeks.  The Executive Presidency has failed Sri Lanka and it needs to be replaced with a cabinet system of government and a Prime Minister responsible to the Parliament. 

Besides this, the 21st Amendment must include accountability measures for all politicians and public officials, particularly those in senior positions. Submission of annual assets and liabilities of politicians and senior officials has to be made compulsory with members of the public given free and unfettered access to such statements. Failure to do so and failing to account for their assets and how they acquired them, must be made punishable with harsh punishments including confiscation of such unexplained assets, fines and jail sentences. Besides passing the 21st Amendment as a priority, a new Constitution must be finalized in the next 12-18 months with input from the people, and a general election held within 2 years under the new constitution.

The shame must end and those who caused it held to account for not taking early action to avert it.