(The first part of this article appeared last week) The Government’s popularity has fallen steeply. The ruling clique, comprising an all-powerful Executive President, an uncrowned king, head of a jumbo cabinet of ministers who actually wield little or no power; an executive presidency bolstered by a triumvirate of siblings, together ruling over the entire Island [...]

Sunday Times 2

Law and disorder in Sri Lanka: That tourist paradise!


(The first part of this article appeared last week)

The Government’s popularity has fallen steeply. The ruling clique, comprising an all-powerful Executive President, an uncrowned king, head of a jumbo cabinet of ministers who actually wield little or no power; an executive presidency bolstered by a triumvirate of siblings, together ruling over the entire Island being in firm, unchallenged control of the legislature, the economy and the armed forces and the police. They see no evil, hear no evil, but permit the free perpetration of evils by other unscrupulous persons; some holding responsible public office and others being plain thugs and members of a dangerous mafia.

Good governance and law and order issues are more important than beautification of the city

Everyone can appreciate and enjoy the pleasure of living in a beautiful city, not just Colombo; they would like to see the beautification of all of Sri Lanka. But the question is, at what cost and for whose benefit? The mass of the people are being crushed under the burden of the increasingly difficult business of daily living to appreciate this beautification.

People are waking up

The rulers could be deluding themselves that the masses are content with their lot, even quite happy and still singing silent hosannas in their praise. The absence of mass protests should not rock rulers into sleepy, comfortable, dream filled sleep.
The people are waking up. They whisper among themselves. They gather and talk in undertones (for obvious reasons) in the kopi kades and sillara kades. Our people are not morons. They are beginning to awaken to the true meaning of the constitutionally enshrined words that read ‘Sovereignty of the People’. There are widespread murmurings, and the murmurs are building up. The sycophants that surround the rulers, to safeguard their own interests, often hide the truth from the actual power wielders; honest advisers lose their advisory role! There is no dearth of Presidential advisers. The important question is how honest is their advice? Does it really help the people? Does the Government not realise that the truth will slowly, but surely surface at some point of time?

When the murmur referred to above grows into a rumble of discontent it can grow into an explosive roar. Repressive measures, while giving temporary relief, cannot stop a disillusioned, disappointed, hungry and angry people for all time. The mildest worm will slowly seek its legitimate turn to worm its way up through the earth into the sun. When that day comes, this worm will surely turn.

The Government seems to have a plan, a strategy involving infrastructure development, large scale development plans and plans to make Sri Lanka a Tourist Paradise and ultimately the Wonder of Asia. The economic advisers confidently predict a coming economic boom with increasing foreign investment and a rapid upsurge in tourism.

I am in no position to comment on the fruition or otherwise of these predictions. I have made my own comments and attempted to reflect what I perceive as the common man’s perception of one vital aspect, in particular, of life in Sri Lanka; namely, what I refer to as the current ‘Law and Disorder’ situation in the country.

I believe, that the success or otherwise of any strategy adopted by this Government will hinge around the Law and Order situation in the country. No amount of incentives offered to investors and tourists, no amount of beautification of the land, no amount of expansion of tourist attractions, will produce results, if Law and Disorder is not replaced, as rapidly as possible, by a clearly visible state of Law and Order. It is true that all over the world, at all times, a certain degree of lawlessness prevails, but it is the intensity of this and the evidence that the Government is taking strong and effective steps to ensure that lawlessness is kept to a tolerable minimum that is essential to attract investment and tourism on a large scale.

Genuine change

Finally, I have not attempted to probe, in depth, a most important issue; the issue, in general, of inter- ethnic and inter-religious harmony. I have refrained from doing so, because the issues are complex and emotion swayed; the complexity is further increased by the rapid, world-wide attitudinal changes occurring in these matters, particularly with the increasing ease with which news travels these days; so, what happens ‘there’ could impact very strongly and rapidly on our problems.
Yes, there are commissions, recommendations, discussions and learned dissertations on these issues. No doubt these are important, but in my humble opinion all these above mentioned attempts to find a solution to these problems cannot produce lasting results without a fundamental and genuine change of past, fixed mind sets; without a profound appreciation of one’s needs as well as the recognition of the seemingly different needs of the ‘other’; without a clear comprehension that commonalities exceed differences; without the incontestable need for tolerance and forbearance and above all, the realisation that the future of this bountiful nature-gifted country, so fortunate to be a fertile soil peopled by those of diverse cultures and creeds, cultures and creeds saturated with the wisdom of the ancients, rests with the acceptance and encouragement of the beneficial cross-fertilisation that can and should occur among these seemingly diverse groups.

The creation of a united Sri Lanka, where all citizens irrespective of ethnicity or creed, enjoy equal rights and equal freedoms, where a majority is not permitted to dominate the ‘other’, is an urgent necessity for the maintenance of the health of our Nation.

The maintenance of a sound state of health cannot be left to politicians who are saddled with their ideologies and ambition or to intellectuals controlled largely by their learning and intellect, untouched by the real heart of the matter. This is a crisis situation where a good, sound, yet sensitive heart must be ever present to guide, if not control, the sharpest minds. Only the mass of all the people of the land, working collectively and genuinely, prepared to shift from fixed, age-old positions, feeling strongly that this land belongs to all of us, can come up with a viable and permanent remedy that is made palatable enough to be accepted by all right-thinking and right-feeling people, to save the health of our ailing nation.

Many may accuse me of being a hopelessly pessimistic prophet of doom. On the contrary I am convinced that given time the vast majority of the people of this land, hopefully all, will realise the futility and poisonous nature of confrontation and conflict and come to feel strongly and with conviction that our future lies in amity and understanding, in a complete sense of unity and togetherness, and when that time comes, hopefully sooner rather than later, once again Sri Lanka, a country which historically has shown remarkable resilience, will rise up, spread its wings and once again be The Island in the Sun, that Resplendent Isle, that Paradise Isle.

Finally, each one of us, rulers and ruled alike, would do well to keep in mind the profound wisdom in the words of that renowned poet, John Donne:

‘No man is an island entire of itself…
Every man is a piece of the continent
A part of the main…
Any man’s death diminishes me
Because I am involved in mankind
Never send to know
For whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee.’

(The writer was Orthopaedic Surgeon, General Hospital, Kandy (1961-1983) and Senior Lecturer, Dept of Anatomy, University of Peradeniya (1986- 1997).

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