And so, a dreadful year in the Gregorian calendar has just passed and 2021 has dawned. Every New Year heralds new hope; this new year there’s greater anticipation but perhaps somewhat sober expectations and for good reason. This generation worldwide has little patience and the stomach for a protracted war with an unseen virus, of [...]


2021: “Be positive, stay negative”


And so, a dreadful year in the Gregorian calendar has just passed and 2021 has dawned. Every New Year heralds new hope; this new year there’s greater anticipation but perhaps somewhat sober expectations and for good reason.

This generation worldwide has little patience and the stomach for a protracted war with an unseen virus, of curfews and food lines and restricted travel. Unless under an authoritarian regime, they are unwilling to submit to the rules and regulations of a disciplined society for too long. Their parents and grandparents may have endured a world war twice over for years in the last century and faced the vicissitudes and hardships those conflicts brought with fortitude, but people nowadays can hardly bear the thought of another year like the one just past.

The world has faced such ravages before — the deadliest pandemic of the 20th Century that went on from 1918 till 1920 took the lives of some 50 million. Advances in modern medicine have seen a vaccine come sooner than was expected which hopefully will be able to reduce the intensity of the devastation the pandemic has caused worldwide, including in Sri Lanka. How soon is the big question.

With the changes this global pandemic has necessitated in society, the shift to working remotely, online education and e-commerce as trade is now called, and other aspects of the ‘new normal’ are likely to continue in some form. The challenge for the New Year is to adapt and even embrace the positives. But what is evident is that many can’t wait to resume their old way of life. That way of life is the subject of much debate.

Despite a whole year gone since the pandemic first laid siege to the world and no definitive conclusion on how it all started, mankind will have to prepare for a future that will not be the same. That preparedness is going to ask for sacrifices from everyone, even with enlightened leadership. Currently, environmentalists and scientists howl to the winds and the deaf ears of those at the helm of nation-states. Nature around the world had time to breathe, free last year, even briefly from man’s rapacious intrusions, but the climate challenge still remains urgent and crucial. Ice caps are melting in Antarctica, the Amazon forests are being slashed and in Sri Lanka, forest lands are being cleared and illicit sand mining continues unabated — all disasters that will have potentially terrible consequences.

Locally, COVID-19 has pushed other health issues to the backburner. Health officials point out that Non-Communicable Diseases like cancers are on the increase — and even the growing problem of adulterated food stuffs, whose consumption causes deleterious effects on people’s health, has been all but forgotten. Government authorities have been slow to take action against errant manufacturers and traders despite such products being consumed by so many.

The economy will be the most important factor alongside, not secondary, to health for the Government and people of this country in the new year. There are huge foreign debts to be settled and there is a limit to printing local currency without hyper-inflation. These are testing times for the populace and the administration. A foreign video clip gave some good advice for 2021; “Be positive; stay negative”.

 Loyalty to country – and ruling party

 Last week’s front page headline in this newspaper may have escaped the attention of many but its significance was unquestionable. The news item stated that state officers (public servants) were required to take an oath of allegiance to the President’s election manifesto titled “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, which was spelt out later as State policy. Our front page picture today shows them doing just that on January 1st.

State officers of the past had to take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Then came a practice begun in 2008 by the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration to take an oath to serve the public. This year they had to not only swear to serve the Constitution and the public, but also to implement the President’s election manifesto.

The departure from the previous oath which read; “I, as an employee paid by the public and partner of corruption-free state apparatus,” has been modified to include the title of the President’s election manifesto and words from it.

Formerly known as government servants, it was for no mean reason that their designation was changed, first to public servants and then to state officers. There is a distinction between the State and the Government and particularly the ruling political party unless there is now a move to erase that.

Students of modern history will recall another country where civil servants (state officers) were ordered to swear a similar oath of loyalty which then extended to the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces) having to swear a personal oath of loyalty to the Fuhrer from 1934 to 1945, more than the Constitution of that country.

The independent Public Service has been battling politicisation for a long time now. What was once the backbone of the country’s administrative system has been ridiculed as a colonial hang-up of civil servants whose Holy Book was the ARs (Administrative Regulations) and FRs (Financial Regulations). It was felt that those who worked by the rule book had no pulse with the problems of the ordinary people — whom the politicians laid claim to understanding better.

It can be argued that at the end of the day, an oath may mean nothing tangible. One can take an oath and work against it. During colonial times, freedom fighters would be paid by the ‘King’s shilling’ working for the colonial service but clamour for Independence.

Steps to restore the public service to its rightful place through an independent Public Service Commission have once again been dismantled with the 20th Amendment. The military is being told they will have to perform “various public duties” and administrative posts are being filled by retired military officers. Public servants or state officers were granted political rights but now all of them have to take an oath to follow the agenda of one political party, almost as party apparatchiks.



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