Will a confession clear the air for our country?

When true patriots and genuine nationalists think of Sri Lanka’s future these days, they usually muse on how best the island-nation can now be re-integrated into the global mainstream. Especially in relation to tea, garments, tourism, BPOs, IT and ICT, such Sri Lankans are constantly asking themselves and each other how their country can be positioned most advantageously. The romantics and idealists and dreamers among them wonder when this “land like no other” can take its place in the sun.

These naïve folks assume, of course, that their political servants desire equally fervently to pursue such a truly nationalistic and patriotic agenda. Ironically, those latter worthies think of themselves as our sovereign masters – and sadly, the state’s interests feature way down on the agenda of most politicos today. This is true of our elected representatives as well their political appointees. Truth be told, petty and personal and partisan – to say nothing of plutocratic – interests prevail.

Being an intelligent breed, our islanders have long since figured out which way the wind is blowing. Most have abandoned whatever principles or political opinions they may have once entertained and held as dear, and clambered only too eagerly aboard the bandwagon. Lock, stock, and barrel (with a three-ringed circus, to boot). The Opposition is dead, sleeping, or merely emasculated by dint of sheep-stealing – and never mind that it was mostly the black sheep who were stolen! Now, the lot has fallen to other thinking and feeling citizens to voice their dissent at the perilous slide of national politics down an undemocratic slope.

To their credit, a few diehard professionals and intellectuals emerge from their self-enforced slumber to sound a warning now and then. But even when they raise red flags in the most conspicuous or meaningful manner, they are shouted down… or, worse, dismissed as party-poopers on the lunatic fringe. Does anyone even remember the last time that, say, the OPA expressed its opinion in no uncertain terms on executive decisions in regard to amendments, constitutional councils, or a burgeoning cabinet?

Then again, from time to time, and equally unequivocally, senior academics with a spine have been at pains to point out that the country’s laws must cover all its citizens without exception, fear, or favour. Constitutional experts, in particular, have strongly suggested that since the 17th Amendment is legally binding as it is, there is no reason why the 18th should take pride of place in terms of implementation.
Regrettably, however, the one power bloc that has the potential to be an independent influencer of the nation’s fortunes has chosen to go with the flow, keep its head above water, and hold its peace – even on matters of business and the economy, on which topics it has a right, if not a duty, to speak out in the national interest. Something seems to have pre-empted its potential to express any other opinion than that it is not the business community’s mandate to run the country. The politicians whose favours they seek seem to be doing a good enough job of ruining – er, running – Sri Lanka (into the ground, perhaps?). “So please don’t pester us with pesky questions about the true state of the economy, how to fight inflation and the cost of living better, and what more can be done to fast-track investment into the country!” (Isn’t that a sad copout, gentlemen?)

To be charitable to our corporate tycoons, such an attitude is fair enough, one supposes – for good times, that is! When all’s well, business can hide its head in the sand… like the ostriches which we are going to import! But when the ship of state is in danger of foundering on misguided currents of politicking rather than pure policy-making, then it’s time for all hands on deck. But our captains of industry have yet to flag the incumbent administration that the nation’s economic fortunes are already floundering in dire straits. Why else would a newly mooted Senior Minister say, as he did recently, that it remains for Sri Lanka to win the economic war?

With the island’s GSP+ accreditation increasingly under a cloud, and given that sleeping ‘garment dragon’ China’s quota was withdrawn in 2009, now more than ever may be the time to position Sri Lanka on the world stage as an ethical manufacturer. That’s easier said than done, when a Damocles’ sword is hanging over our heads again – vis-à-vis the not so economical war that was fought of late…Not only the apparel industry – value-added tea, IT products and services, scaled-up and targeted tourism, trans-shipment hub status, and a host of other clearly conceptualized and executed enterprises come to mind… or could come to mind, if the Cabinet were to apply their – um, mind – to it? While you’re mulling that over, dears, don’t forget to spare a thought for the manner in which we export our semi-skilled women to labour without love in the modern slave markets of the Middle East. It’s literally a crying shame, and for the love of the people of our land it has got to stop…

Given recent events, one may here pause to ask what comes to the mind of the international community when Sri Lanka’s name is mentioned these days in the courts of the world (albeit in a scandalized whisper). In this context, one suspects that we have already carved out something of a niche for ourselves.

We may have botched our copybook no little at the UN, but the Oxford fiasco – if nothing else – should caution us that our true status is not so much a little fish in a big pond, but a pariah in a milieu where dog eats dog and fat cats dislike Cheshires whose perennial smile is now possibly slowly beginning to fade…

Who agrees that as a nation, we simply have to stop swimming with sharks, alienating erstwhile friendly fellow-swimmers, and stop acting like bottom-crawlers in desperate need of spare cash and a pat on the back?

Well, all we have to do is clean up our act in one fell swoop of collective soul-searching and humble contrition followed by a cathartic confession time… that, and only that, will help us not to continue sinking to the bottom in a morass of greed, hatred, pettiness, self-loathing disguised as aggrandizement and chest-thumping which only hurts the heart.

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