The President and Prime Minister coming in one car for the launch of V2025 (Vision 2025), the blueprint for the future of a “rich Sri Lanka” was clearly to deliver a message. ‘We are in this together – till 2025.’ This was against all the evidence to the contrary that the two coalition partners of [...]


V2025 success is in its implementation


The President and Prime Minister coming in one car for the launch of V2025 (Vision 2025), the blueprint for the future of a “rich Sri Lanka” was clearly to deliver a message. ‘We are in this together – till 2025.’

This was against all the evidence to the contrary that the two coalition partners of the National Unity Government, viz., the SLFP and the UNP were drifting further and further apart and only on a ‘holding operation’ till the end of this year. The more than symbolic ‘coming together’ as it were at the BMICH on Monday, was also in the immediate afterglow of the SLFP’s 66th year convention the previous day where President Maithripala Sirisena told his followers that there is now a Government that talks in one voice. In Hakmana the same day, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa told that faction of the SLFP opposed to Mr. Sirisena’s leadership that the party had sold its soul to the UNP under the incumbent President.

How much President Sirisena’s heart is in V2025 remains in question. He hardly spoke on economic issues in a Q and A session that day. His backers in the SLFP openly voice opposition to the UNP’s economic policies of privatisation. Had V2025 received the endorsement of the SLFP convention the previous day, it would have added more weight to this eight-year plan, but that might have been political hara-kiri for the President vis-a-vis his own party.

He has had to, from time to time, pull the reins on the UNP’s economic initiatives, and he has not always been wrong. The lack of transparency behind some of the UNP moves, especially through the CCEM (Cabinet Committee on Economic Management) headed by the Premier has resulted in the President neutralising it with a National Economic Council, which he now chairs himself.

The bane of post-Independence politics in Sri Lanka has been what A/Level economics students were taught as the ‘thattu maru’ system. This has its origins in the Tamil lexicon for shared agricultural cultivation practices among different owners, especially brothers who tilled the land the way they wanted when they had ownership of the property for a given period with no long-term consistency. It was the same with political parties when in power doing what they wanted while undoing what the previous occupants had done.

Thus, at least this Government is trying to show there will be long-term consistency in economic policy. The whole world has moved away from the State monopolising the commanding heights of the economy; the best example being China. The second biggest capital-driven economy in the world today now advocates global free trade with Communism only a façade. Once Marxist-Leninist Russia is not far behind.

While a common economic plan is essential for economic development, equally so is an economy which is not riddled with corruption at the top. The State-private sector status quo was maintained during the Rajapaksa era but they put this country into a debt trap like never before. From next year (2018) when repayment of the loans taken by them start kicking in, to the tune of US$ 4 billion by 2019 – reaching nearly 80 % of GDP, Sri Lanka will become an “outlier among its rating peers” in the words of V2025.

In the midst of this impending debt crisis, the country has fallen into continuing reports of further loans and inflated Government infrastructure projects be they the now nearly aborted Jaffna housing project or the Central Expressway.

V2025 frequently refers to a “social market economy” and emphasises the role of the private sector and of the PPP (Public-Private-Partnership formula) to deliver a million new jobs and a per capita income of US$ 5,000 by 2025. Notwithstanding President Sirisena’s presence at the launch of V2025, the SLFP has yet to give its imprimatur to it, as a party. The proof of the V2025 pudding will be in its implementation – long-term.

Thus, the nagging question among diplomats who attended the launch of V2025 was the stability and the longevity of this Government beyond December 31 this year – not 2025.

Breaking the glass ceiling in local government councils

For a country that received the right for women to vote even before Independence, and also produced the world’s first woman Prime Minister, it is an irony that her Parliament had to legislate to bring a minimum quota of women to fill the seats of local government councils in the future.

The Chairman of the Elections Commission also lamented the fact. He said the country’s female population was 52 percent, but their representation in local bodies was less than 2 percent. When asked by an interviewer if this would only see more sisters and wives of male politicians fill those seats, he reacted sharply by saying if it is in order for sons and siblings of male politicians to do so, what was the issue with the ladies doing the same.

But of course, he did not justify this in the overall sense and said that there must be a wider spread across the socio-economic and professional spectrum for representation in local councils – and even in Parliament for both male and females. The fact that there has been a general decline in the quality of people’s representatives is widely spoken of leading to disillusionment among young adults in particular.

The fault lies both with political parties who pick candidates who can win elections by hook or by crook – and the voters who vote for them and later repent at what folly they have committed.

Western countries that actively push for this ‘gender-equality’ agenda in countries such as Sri Lanka where they believe women are oppressed and not given their due place in public affairs, don’t have such quota systems. Not that women’s representation in their legislatures is on par with their population ratio. The US refused to elect a woman President. In Canada and France it is fashionable to pack a Cabinet of Ministers with women and the male PM gets the kudos for it. India last week promoted a woman Minister to the high-profile job of the country’s Defence Minister and PM Narendra Modi has become the darling of women activists.

With quota systems – be they in university entrance or employment (they did away with a much talked of quota for youth for local councils), merit takes a back seat. However in the case of Parliament, there is very little to argue with the existing system of so-called “merit” for entry. Therefore, in such a context, a 25 percent women’s representation in local bodies cannot be anything worse than what prevails.

One only hopes, political parties will not have to drag women from their homes to contest simply to fill this new quota with the promise of duty-free car permits and other perks and privileges associated with elected representatives who serve themselves rather than the people they are supposed to serve.

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