Mending our ways the Jap. way
It is rare for a diplomat to speak bluntly in public about the ills and evil ways of his host country. When they do so, it is either because it is part of their brief or because of a genuine, sincere concern for the predicament of the host nation and belief that were it to mend its wayward ways, it would be able to fulfil its full potential.

The remarks by Japanese ambassador Akio Suda at a Rotary Club meeting, reported elsewhere in this page, were probably prompted by both such considerations and are undoubtedly accurate.

As the envoy of the country which has provided us with the most amount of aid - be it grants or loans - the Japanese ambassador certainly has a rightful interest in the weaknesses and aberrations that are preventing Sri Lanka from making the most of such generosity and improving its economic position.

Pointing out that he dislikes the word donor, even though Japan is the biggest 'donor' to this country, he says Sri Lankans should snap out of our dependency syndrome. Foreign aid is meaningful only if the recipient country makes enough use of it to develop itself and come out of the poverty and debt trap - rather than being eternally indebted and survive by going about with begging bowl in hand.

The Japanese envoy has uttered some home truths about us that should make every right thinking Sri Lankan feel ashamed. He hesitates, he says, to stroll along the banks of our canals and lakes because of the stench of carelessly disposed waste.

He points out, quite rightly, that this lack of cleanliness affects the psychology of the people as well as the social and economic development of the country. For instance, a factory that is not kept clean cannot produce a product of good quality.

We as a nation are far too lethargic and uncaring in our conduct towards others and our obligations towards the country. A good example of our lethargy and hypocrisy is the casual way we discard our garbage. We don't hesitate to criticise the government or others of their inability to clean up garbage from the streets while we ourselves take the easy way out and dump our own waste in the most convenient way - by the roadside, into a nearby stream or even a neighbour's overgrown backyard.

This sort of mentality definitely gets reflected in the way the nation works and, although there may not be easy ways of measuring it, obviously has an impact on our economic progress.

Despite the depressing and gloomy picture painted by the Japanese envoy, his remarks about the way Japan overcame its own deficiencies and severe pollution problems offer some hope.

For instance, in the 1960s major rivers in Tokyo were so polluted by industrial waste there were no fish in them. This is somewhat similar to the way industries and individuals make our rivers and canals a convenient dumping ground for industrial and household waste with the authorities either turning a blind eye or too corrupt to do anything about it.

But a decade later Japan managed to transform its polluted rivers into beautifully clean waters full of fish and leisure boats. It is possible to transform Colombo's streets and waterways in the same way.

Likewise 19th century Japan imported intellectuals and professionals from the West at high cost but made full use of their expertise in building up it's own society and skills. And the reconstruction of Japan's devastated economy after its defeat in World War 2 with aid from the USA and World Bank offer hope for us to come out of our own predicament.

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