The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

What is development? Are we on the right track?


A demonstration of a super concrete mixture pump by Micro Holdings at the BMICH. Pic by Amila Prabodha

Today, most politicians talk of ‘development’, and ‘hubs’ of excellence, without any clear reference to what they really mean. The true development of a nation is actually the improvement in public functions. Real development only comes if functional improvements are seen around ‘us’ in day to day life. Infrastructure developments in the absence of it being clearly linked to a functional improvement plans are bound to become white elephants. It is like a large hospital being built without any plans to train its staff or purchase essential equipment or in a dessert where there are no patients. What good is there in a marble-laid hospital, if there are no well trained doctors, nurses and allied staff to work there or have no patients to receive its services? Similarly, if improving education is our ultimate aim then the most important asset would be good teachers and motivated students and modern curricula catering to the nation’s needs and not state-of the art buildings that have neither quality teachers nor quality students or even modern educational utensils.

The real improvement in education will only be seen if the education process has improved. This is when more students pass their examinations (not by lowering the standards of examinations to fool the results), more students enter universities and when most are employed after qualifying.  If our graduates are on the roads holding placards due to unemployment, then there is a serious problem in our education process and policy.

We cannot consider that transport has improved when more and more people die on the roads and, a reliable, decent and courteous public transportation service is a thing of the past. The most cost effective transportation for the ‘common man’ and industry is the train all over world. This seems a low priority to us.  Mega studios are useless if no films are made.The same is true for ports without ships or cargo planes. It is unfortunate that all politicians alike, governing and opposing are only talking of giving endless benefits to the people and mammoth road or building projects supported by loans and donations without really thinking of how all that can be put to good use and enhance productivity. Some politicians talk of exorbitant living expenses and complain or blame the rest of the world for it, without focusing on why and pointing their fingers at themselves for driving us as a nation to the current state of this slumber.  Sadly, the same politicians who talk of law and order and equity are the very same people who openly flout the pillars of good governance.

They create a non working nation, by wasting public time by provoking protests and quarrel between each other for their own benefit. These actions will not bring a greener future to anyone. In the past, only a few political parties in the opposition prompted public workers onto the roads for protest marches and rallies as the last resort, but sadly today it is the rulers who are involved in these activities in the forefront holding poor government servants’ job security to ransom. In a way, it is funny that most ministers we have today cannot do any development activity without involving cement, tar, mortar or diggers.  I do not know how we can improve education, health, environment, welfare, governance, security, law and order, irrigation, agriculture, fishing, farming, etc just by moving earth or dumping concrete here and there. We are already seeing a sufficient number of mega structures that are stuck at various stages of construction, from airports to seaports, without a realistic, efficient and profitable function visible.

It is about time the public gives priority to political thinkers who can direct us in improving public functions through appropriate investment in education, and training and infrastructure development and not in projects that have no ultimate meaning. We should grow cabbage only if the nation is consuming cabbage and not because the politicians think they would be able to persuade the nation to consume cabbage. The development should aim to achieve equitable education, health, security and opportunity for all its citizens.  Just like the citizens, there are only two kinds of politicians in Sri Lanka, i.e. the ones who love thy country and the others who love themselves. Watch out for the latter as they will only bring more misery to us the ordinary citizens, the common man. Make sure that we weed them out of politics, irrespective of the party they belong to or what leader they follow. Politicians with jumping tactics for their own survival are true enemies of democracy. Such principled-less politicians are a curse for our nation.  We need politicians who would honour professionalism and not blackmail it and impose unlimited taxes on the common man to fund their wellbeing and irresponsible spending.

Sadly, we all are now in a quandary on how to take this country forward – trapped by economic loans, selfish politicians, officials unsuited for their role, and a public service that is falling into pieces with productivity at an-all time low and spiralling costs of living. In doing so, we are becoming easy prey for foreign nations with selfish interests. It is us, the ordinary citizens who can save this country through vigilance and selection of correct politicians and policy makers who can make our endless, gruesome efforts blossom. We need to develop the correct yard stick to measure our politicians and weed out the parasites.

(The writer is an academic at University of Peradeniya and presents  his views as a simple, ordinary citizen who like many responsible people,sees this country falling apart and hopes this contribution would lead to a new discourse and a positive future to upcoming generations).

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