Pertinent issues for the coming year

The sound of firecrackers somehow seemed louder than usual as Sri Lanka ushered in the second decade of the new millennium last Friday. And that would perhaps be only too appropriate, we daresay, as we, at The Nation, reflect on what yet another year has in store for the nation.

It is true that most concerned adults in this country are, at this point in time, focussed on the implications of the outcome of the country’s sixth presidential election that is due in just over three weeks. However, regardless of who the victor in that contest would be, we wish to dwell on some pertinent issues that need to be addressed in the year that has just dawned.

In the six decades since Sri Lanka’s Independence, the first 30 years were spent striving to reach some kind of social, political and economic stability. Just when Sri Lanka seemed about to achieve that in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the spectre of terrorism emerged and grew exponentially to take a severe toll on the country, its people and its resources.

Last year saw the defeat of terrorism in a manner that few believed was possible. In the aftermath of the resultant euphoria, we must regretfully record that we have somewhat lost our bearings. That is why the year 2010 is crucial: It is a time to reflect, re-think and redeem ourselves as a nation.
And in this exercise, which we must indulge in, there are several aspects that the country must critically review - its political system, its economy and its attitude towards the different communities.

Right now, we believe the country is grappling with the first issue. The upcoming presidential election has become a referendum of sorts on the presidential system of government, with the incumbent opting for its continuation and his main rival pledging to repeal it. However, we cannot be complacent that resolving this vexed question of the executive presidency will be a panacea for all the ills that plague the country.

The proportional representation system of elections, while having it advantages, has spawned a political culture that feeds on corruption. Politics has become a pastime of the undistinguished, and patriotism has become a slogan of the opportunist. It is time then, to review the entire political system, and this is an appropriate time as any to do so.

Already, there has been much debate on the political reforms that are deemed necessary. The 17th Amendment is in place, but it has not been implemented in letter or spirit, and that has led to some concern and angst. Again, we do not see the 17th Amendment as the solution to all our political ills, and we hope the conclusion of the presidential poll will see a resolution of some kind to this issue.

With regard to the country’s economy, while we appear to have made some progress since Independence, it is also a fact that Sri Lanka still lags far behind in its potential. Corruption at all levels is a significant stumbling block and must be rooted out, if we are to take the giant strides that will propel us anywhere near our Asian neighbours such as Singapore and Malaysia.

For the past three decades, a convenient mantra for successive governments was that the war impeded their development efforts. This excuse was not without some justification, but it is an apology that no longer holds true. Now that the war is well and truly over, it is high time that whoever takes over the reins of government later this month, focuses on economic development, with no effort spared.

Also, over the past few decades, a major reason for Sri Lanka’s retarded progress has been the lack of cohesion among its communities, which reached alarming levels at the height of the separatist war. The war has been won, and many are those who are complaining that not enough has been done to win the hearts and minds of the affected people. There is already a process in place for this purpose, in the form of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), but that does not appear to have lived up to its promise.

Understandably, such an effort will require a mandate from the people, and thus will have to await the conclusion of the presidential election, but this is one chance that our leaders must not squander. Sri Lanka has bled enough for 60 years, because of successive politicians thinking of the next election rather than the next generation; we hope, they now have the sagacity not to repeat the errors of their predecessors.

Sri Lanka then, at the threshold of this year and decade, is poised for takeoff, if we, as a nation, use this critical juncture in our post-Independent history, as a launching pad for a more prosperous and peaceful country. It is our bounden duty, not to let that opportunity go a begging.