Rajpal's Column

31st December 2000

A failing state rides the Danish connection

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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A failing state rides the Danish connection

"Economic actors have great power and their relative power over states is increasing. Lord Acton's aphorism applies to economic actors as well as any other. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'.

That conclusion is from a recent global conference on "failed states''.

A "failed state'' sounds a clinical scientific term for a country which simply cannot get its act together. Sri Lanka is not a "failed state'' according to the best of assessments, but what is its potential to become one?

Though the observation that follows may not be rigorous political science, it is tempting to note that a failed state starts with a failed opposition.

Sri Lanka seems to have that already. When gas prices are being raised, and the oil - fouled landscape is generally wreaking havoc on the masses, the opposition goes on a cycle ride.

Royalty in Denmark regularly go by cycle. Danish parliamentarians have been riding on cycle to Parliament, long before Dr. Jayalath Jayewardene acquired his cellular phone.

Denmark is a rich country, and this was long before any gasoline price hike hit that part of the world. Cycling is considered to be healthy, and considered to be good environmental policy in Denmark.

The graveman of "protest'' has for long been to use a device that bucks or stops the system. Gandhi, and it's even doubtful that Dr. Jayewardene has heard about him, used the satyagrahas and sit-ins to disrupt public life, though non-violently.

By Dr. Jayewardene's logic, he should have used a device that the system approved. Maybe, if Gandhi was Dr. J, he would have used, say, batons instead of lathi's to pummel the violent Indians. That would have been his on-a- platter protest.

Take the cycle logic. Use bicycles, and the public is supposed to be sympathetic. Instead, the public is applauding because Jayewardene ( and copy the entire list of UNP MP's who mounted two wheelers ) should have been on push cycles ages ago, like the Danish royalty and parliamentarians. A) Physically they would have looked less hideous. B) There would have been less threat to road users, from break – neck Pajeros and inter- coolers. C) Simply would have been much less of a drain on the exchequer.

So, tell us, what the "protest'' is about, unless we just don't get it…….?

From the concept of a failed opposition then, to the concept of a "failed state.'' A failed state is defined by political scientists and various other political eggheads as an economy in which the government has lost control of the economy of the country, to a point where the country becomes a potential threat to its neighbours.

On both counts , we are pivotal.

(A Pioneer column in India noted recently that " if we ( India) are condemned to live with our neighbours, something should be done about the ( separatist ) threat in Sri Lanka''etc., etc.,.)

Most nations are becoming "failed states,'' due to neo-liberal economic policies which nation states are forced to follow due to the dictates of the world economic order, of which the World Bank is the watchdog. A Sussex University scholar who presented a paper at the symposium on failed states says: " The proponents of this economic system themselves have not understood their own logic properly.'' He adds: The oligarchy of MNC's (multi national corporations) is mistakenly thought to be "competitive economics'' which is supposed to rev up all developing nation economies.

Last week, Sri Lanka, the "pivotal state'' was at the wrong end of a severe pep talk by the World Bankers and the Aid Group.

Paradoxically, these kinds of pep talks help governments of pivotal or failing states, such as ours, because they give the impression that these governments are working against the general game-plan and strategy of the World Bank and the IMF.

Such pep talks help mask unabashed connivance. The government can cite "world oil prices'' and also state that the "World Bank has adopted a confrontational approach ( to it.)''

But, the World Bank, which does not have to be particularly demonized, has a good ally in a government which has self-aggrandizement as the key basis for its existence.

This is a "left'' government which has nothing left in it, and if the opposition has failed to "oppose'' the government, the government has failed to "oppose'' the forces of globalization, which are propped up by the World Bank and the lending agencies — institutions which do not have to be specially demonized. Demonize being brought in here, because this is what a particularly ingratiating , embarrassingly ambitious member of the capitulated press, told the World Bank meeting with the media, when the World Bank was at the receiving end of some blunt talk sometime this year. Deadpans our-media politician, "the World Bank should not be demonized.'' So much for light refractions.

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