“What’s the news these days?” I inquired from a gentleman who writes regularly to a leading newspaper. His reply was that for a few days it was ‘wintry weather’ where news was concerned, but of late it had improved. “Mr. Sarath Fonseka taught us to march left, right. That gave us a little warmth. Now, the university students’ issues have become hot topics. They are behind us!” When I heard this I felt sorrier for the future generation than for us.
Why couldn’t all those who were at the helm, service Chiefs, Army Commanders including Mr. Sarath Fonseka, end the protracted war for 30 years? How many innocent citizens, foreigners, members of the forces and children perished in the war? How many were maimed? How many displaced? There was the famous duel between King Dutugemunu and Elara. There was also a Mahinda-Fonseka duel. As the Head of the country, the President had the power not to retire Mr. Fonseka and he showed that he had no fight with him. He was not afraid of foreign intervention and was bent on bringing peace to the country. He was not one of those who supplied coffins and granted posthumous honours.
There were others who helped us with the war. Let us not forget the crucial role played by the President’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa in ensuring victory. There are some who wish to give life to fallen heroes, but the majority of our people are happy with the development. The story of the white flag was part of the campaign for leadership, but Mr. Fonseka should have thought and acted more judiciously. Mr. Fonseka became the common candidate of the UNP and the other parties. Did he choose to be that or was he pushed into this position? Was there a foreign hand in it? International funding has its own objectives and agendas.
Let us look at the other ‘hot topic’! Children entering universities were misled then and are being misled now. These children will become parents one day. It is the nature of young people, especially those in higher education institutes to be passionate about causes that touch them or injustices perceived. But it is an entirely different matter for those who should know better, to cynically manipulate youth grievances, to suit political agendas. Parents now send their children to university fearing for their safety and their mental health.
I have always stressed the importance of agriculture in the coming years. Agriculture holds great promise today. Even a home garden or cottage industry would provide useful lessons in self-sustainability. We have to learn to be innovative. Recently, with the blessings of the Tea Board, students at Sri Jinaratana Technical College converted two hundred thousand kilos of discarded tea powder to compost fertilizer. (That is how our students conduct a ‘protest’!) We need to review our strategies in agriculture and encourage organic fertilizer in place of chemicals and harmful oils. Since the tea market is healthy, why not reduce the tea subsidy and divert it for the production of milk and the cultivation of chilli and dhal? We should cultivate every inch of available land.
In the same way, let us also review our system of taxes and duties. There is much that happens at entry point in the country, which is harmful to the local manufacturer and entrepreneur. There is a need to reduce electricity charges and taxes on a number of essential items. Prices of some of the food items have increased and the cost of living is a problem for the poor. Today the labour rate is between 800/- and 1000/- and in excess of 2000/- for those with experience.
As a result production costs are escalating. This in turn results in the rise in the cost of living which affects the development of the country. We may not be able to attract foreign investment because our wage level is high.
Those in power must reduce the prices of essential food items especially those consumed by the poor, and raise the taxes on alcohol and luxury items. In this country governments were changed because of the price of bread, dhal and chilli, but the President who won the war should be able to change all that. We have a wonderful opportunity to rebuild our country. This should be our individual responsibility also. Let us not look to governments to do this for us.