An intriguing email/note was doing the rounds on whatsapp this week criticising the President, the Prime Minister and the immediate former President for dealing with trivial matters in the public domain when there are larger issues at stake. “This nation loves to talk but is slow to deliver. Our President talks all about trivial matters [...]

Business Times

National policies and trivia


An intriguing email/note was doing the rounds on whatsapp this week criticising the President, the Prime Minister and the immediate former President for dealing with trivial matters in the public domain when there are larger issues at stake.

“This nation loves to talk but is slow to deliver. Our President talks all about trivial matters whilst the Prime Minister travels from city to city and country to country talking about his ever-expanding vision for the country. The ex-President is in a league of his own and is testing new waters with the same old talk,” it said.

Titled ‘The Talking Nation’, the ‘missile’ urges that instead of nonsense, how about debating topics like:

  •  How to improve public transport?
  •  How to fix the rising cost of living?
  •  Fixing loopholes in the judicial system?
  •  Providing clean water for all citizens?
  •  Strengthening our irrigation system?
  •  Freeing this country from the clutches of corruption?
  •  Ending nepotism?
  •  Pulling poor people from poverty?


This note by an unnamed author (but discussing a lot of sense) and also doing the rounds on Facebook drew my attention after seeing a recent newspaper advertisement by a group styling itself ‘Intellectuals’ Movement for People’s Governance’, seeking public contributions towards compiling a National Health Policy.

At first glance, I was close to dismissing it as a vain attempt by a group of people trying to foist a national policy with a political agenda. But on closer examination, the group of 20 (which was also referred to as the National Intellectuals’ Organisation) consisted of at least 11 specialist doctors (some well-known names) while there were also former medical administrators (some doctors and others laymen). For the purpose of full disclosure, the name of JVP Parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa is also listed in the group and could give the impression that there is some JVP political agenda lurking behind. Or maybe not.

However, the purpose of connecting the whatsapp note and the call for a National Health Policy was to show that there is a large group of intellectuals who are, on one hand, fed up with the politics of a nation and their overfed politicians, while on the other, keen to engage in serious debate and discussion on non-political national issues.

As I put down my notes to start writing, the phone rings on this Thursday morning. It’s Kalabala Silva, the often agitated academic-friend, on the line for another (I presume) discussion on national issues.

“I say, my friend. How are you today?” he asks.

“Fine, fine, wonderful,” I reply, similar to the regular, positive response from a businessman-friend who, whether it shines or rains or the country is going down the drain, responds positively when answering any call.

“I was reading the other day about how speaker after speaker at the recent Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit referred to the lack of a proper policy framework. They were concerned that policies keep changing and there is no consistency in policy, one of the reasons why foreign investment is slow,” he said.

“They are absolutely right, and we in the media have also consistently flagged this issue of inconsistent policies. The problem is that national policies have become so politicised that they change when the political winds change. A country will never progress to the next level at this rate,” I said.

We then talk on other issues confronting the nation before ending the call, as his thoughts triggered more ideas for this week’s column.

In the meantime, the group seeking a dialogue on a National Health Policy has listed public meetings it plans to hold in Colombo, Matale, Galle, Kurunegala, Kegalle, Kandy, Matara, Moneragala, Badulla, Hambantota, Ratnapura, Ampara, Gampaha and Kalutara over the period September 19 to November 10 to seek views on the proposed policy.

Whether this would see the light of day is anybody’s guess but I was intrigued by the initiative since health policy would be the least tampered with, one may assume, by politicians compared to other policy formulations.

For example, some months back there was a dialogue for a national policy on trade agreements – a bone of contention amongst intellectuals with particular reference to the Sri Lanka-Singapore FTA — by some groups, among other issues. The opposition also joined in the protests against trade agreements.

What this country lacks is national policies on education, health and social welfare that would stand the test of time across any political changes in the country, to ensure a sustainable path of development. Politicians, when in power, change the policies pertaining to these three key areas and when out of power complain when changes are made by the new political masters.

In most of the developed west, national policies on key areas are virtually cemented in stone and remain unchanged apart from cosmetic changes to bring it in line with modern trends. Education and health see many changes taking place particularly in the context of advances in technology. So changes are inevitable but within a proper framework which remains the bedrock of a national policy.

Any group willing to engage in public consultations on an education policy (without any political bias) should be welcome indeed.

Back to ‘trivial’ talk and the whatsapp missile, two other developments reported this week make it imperative for the government and the public to engage in a discussion and formulate a national policy. This is about climate change and erratic weather patterns that are ruining crops and cause other destruction.

Barring a few in the country, climate change is not a politically-favoured topic, so there is very little discussion in Parliament and outside. It also doesn’t bring votes.

At a biodiversity forum this week, a top Sri Lankan professional working at an international organisation dealing with the green economy and business said Sri Lanka was losing billions of rupees due to the impact of climate change and urged the public to be prepared.

Dr. Lalanath de Silva, Head, Independent Business Mechanism at the Green Climate Fund (making comments which were independent views) was quoted as saying that “without extra adaptation measures, losses from the impact of climate change is estimated at Rs. 4,795 million annually by 2020”.

Climate change causes record droughts or high intensity rain in short spells, health issues, coastal erosion (from sea level rise), tropical storms, lightning, crop failures, landslides, etc.

Quoting figures from an international report, he said rice yields will fall by as much as 23 per cent many years later in Sri Lanka.

A 2017 World Bank report estimated annual losses and money for relief work at Rs. 50 billion as a result of erratic weather patterns in the country.

That is also showing sharply in tea production, which has other complications via lack of fertilizer use and a ban on glyphosate. In August, tea production fell to a 16-year low due to the absence of rain, dry weather patterns and strong winds. Do we need new tea clones that can withstand any weather changes?

Another more amusing development is that politicians who are neither economists nor academics (one such person was handling the subject of home affairs!) defending the fall of the rupee, a complex subject that needs to be dealt with by seasoned professionals. On the flipside, opposition politicians behave the same (barring a few) giving their two-cents’ worth on the rupee and its rapid fall.

Rather than ‘trivia’ talk by politicians, actually on all sides of the fence, there are more productive issues to discuss like –health, education, social infrastructure, etc.

The attempt by the public to discuss, debate and formulate national policies is a welcome development – in a sea of unrest and uncertainty in Sri Lanka — and should be supported.

All this while there was silence in the kitchen. How come? Kussi Amma Sera has gone to the village and possibly bothering her relatives and friends about her theories garnered from Colombo, where the discussion is all politics and nothing constructive. Enjoy the week ahead!

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