Sri Lanka celebrates, if that indeed is the appropriate word, the 66th year since regaining its Independence as a free, sovereign state in the comity of nations. Yet this event is marked in a pall of gloom and a cloud of uncertainty with external forces baying at Mother Lanka’s throat overtly demanding war crimes tribunals [...]


The State of the Union


Sri Lanka celebrates, if that indeed is the appropriate word, the 66th year since regaining its Independence as a free, sovereign state in the comity of nations. Yet this event is marked in a pall of gloom and a cloud of uncertainty with external forces baying at Mother Lanka’s throat overtly demanding war crimes tribunals and covertly threatening economic sanctions, freezing of bank accounts and imposing travel restrictions on Sri Lanka’s leaders.

The Government is partially right when it says there is an “international conspiracy” afoot. When a Provincial Council known for its allegiance to a neighbouring country calls for war crimes tribunals in Sri Lanka, as the Northern PC had done last Monday, that fifth columnists are busy at work is also true.

That the country ‘celebrates’ its Independence with its External Affairs Minister having just returned from the Indian capital after lobbying foreign ambassadors ahead of the UN Human Rights Council meeting where an anti-Sri Lanka resolution, expected to be further tightened, hangs like the sword of Damocles over the Government’s head — and the President’s Secretary having just returned from the US capital saying there will be “chaos” if such a tribunal is established — is ample testimony to the empty shell that the much vaunted freedom, independence and sovereignty have become. To rub salt into the wounds, a relatively mid-level US State Department official arrived on the eve of this country’s Independence, like a school inspector to scrutinise if the Government has done its homework. And to cap it all, Sri Lankan fishermen were in Chennai last week to plead with their Tamil Nadu colleagues to stop poaching in Sri Lankan waters with the connivance of Indian political leaders. From all fronts, a state of siege has arisen.

No doubt, come Tuesday (Feb. 4) Government leaders will put up a brave face and a bold front to say, as they should, that this country will never ever bow to foreign interference in its internal affairs. Yet, it is time for reflection, for both the Government and the people. The weather is stormy, and the waters are turbulent; it is time to assess the direction of the ship of state.

Back in 1948, 66 years ago, Independent Ceylon’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake in his “Call to the Nation” said this;”Freedom carries with it grave responsibilities. Our acts and omissions henceforth are our own. No longer can we lay the blame for defects and errors in our administration on others. It is therefore the duty of every citizen of Lanka to grasp this opportunity and to strive and toil willingly for advancing the happiness and prosperity of the country. Our nation comprises many races, each with a culture and a history of its own. It is for us to blend all that is best in us, and to set ourselves with the resolute will to build up that high quality, and to join with the other nations of the world in establishing peace, security, and justice for all peoples”.

That would be a fair and accurate expectation for the people of this country after 400 long and often oppressive years of foreign domination. What have we got instead today?

Clearly, advances in the socio-political and even economic life of the people are many over the decades, but the greatest of them all is that Sri Lankans are a free people. Freedom is not to be taken lightly. Independence on February 4, 1948 must forever stay inscribed in the collective memory with abiding affection for those national heroes and heroines, generations of our forbearers who had but one dream for their people; Freedom. We must look at February 4 with gratitude and great pride; and yet today also with deep anxiety.

Last year, too, at this very time, delegations from the US and our erstwhile colonial master were in town with a checklist of the Government’s good governance and human rights track record. In a few weeks’ time, the Government will be hauled up before the UNHRC in Geneva and asked for explanations. The writing is already on the wall; the Government is, to put it mildly, in for testing times.

How much of this is self-inflicted? We had occasion to write in this very space exactly a year ago as the prosecution — and persecution of Sri Lanka — was on the cards; “Make no mistake, the country’s problems are not entirely external as some elements in the Government would try to make out to cover up their own lapses. Much of the hyperbole about foreign conspiracies can easily be negated if incumbent Governments can truly govern decently, efficiently and with respect for their citizens”.

The centralisation of power has seen a coterie running the administration making hay while the sun shines on them. Sycophancy and corruption vie for the top berth and what were to be the pillars of a democratic state — independent and autonomous institutions have been smashed to smithereens. The elder statesman of the Ceylon Civil Service, Bradman Weerakoon, wrote an open letter to the President in a publication put out by the US-SL Fulbright Commission that one of the things he saw in the US (where there is an Executive President but with strong institutions that also manage the country); “its political culture and society constitutes a self-correcting mechanism. We don’t seem to have that here”.

This week, when the Court of Appeal judges met the Chief Justice to complain that career judges were being overlooked for promotions, the response they got was that the Government does not trust the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is not meant to be an appendage of the Government of the day. Theirs is a duty to dispense justice to the citizen, but it betrays the direction in which the Government has set its course. And career judges, career foreign service diplomats, career public servants have to grin and bear as people with political connections “like frogs” jump over their heads demoralising and destabilising all these services.

It is this heavy-handed intrusion into the professional lives and institutions that kept this country a democratic nation for so long that has now forced many to seek recourse in foreign intervention. This is the great tragedy that has befallen this nation, that despite 66 years of independence, foreign intervention is seen as a panacea for the country’s ills.

The rise of political interference and the collapse of these institutions have seen thousands of men, women and children giving up hope and fleeing this country for greener pastures risking their lives on perilous seas in fishing boats. More than a million Sri Lankans slave in the harsh climates of West Asia sending in monies that prop up the economy. Is this what we have to show for 66 years of Independence as a free, independent and sovereign nation?

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.