Come Independence Day next week (February 4), and what ought to be a day of joyous celebration, a day to pay homage to those forebears who went through 450 years of colonial rule and to all those who paved the way for freedom, alas, is being marked in a pall of gloom. A damning report [...]


Independence Compromised


Come Independence Day next week (February 4), and what ought to be a day of joyous celebration, a day to pay homage to those forebears who went through 450 years of colonial rule and to all those who paved the way for freedom, alas, is being marked in a pall of gloom.

A damning report by a controversial international agency dubbed a “cesspool of political bias”, cherry-picking on events in Sri Lanka hangs over this nation. The country is not being toasted by the world community, or a part thereof. It is being roasted.

As this country regained its freedom 73 years ago, D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of an Independent Lanka, addressing the nation said; “Today is a special day….. the control of our Lanka has again come back to us”.

But has it, really? How much of that control over the country’s affairs remains with its leaders and how much of it continues to be dictated by external forces.

Ironically, these forces are spearheaded by Britain, the very nation that handed back our sovereignty taken by force at the turn of the 19th century. Struggling with its own problems at home, refusing to investigate gross human rights abuses by its own soldiers abroad even in modern times, British governments are dancing to the drumbeat of its vote-base.

Yet, this is the real world today that those in high office in Colombo have to come to terms with. Sri Lanka has allowed itself to be a soft target for sanctimonious ‘bleeding hearts’ abroad, but the volleys of cannon fire come not only from across the seas, but from fifth columnists at home – no different to the fifth columnists who helped colonial powers to subjugate this country.

In the North, minority politicians are actively engaged in partnering international brigades to haul this country over the coals. While their illustrious predecessors joined hands with the majority community in the quest for freedom, these modern-day politicians are hard at work at the dismemberment of this island-nation.

Every Tom, Dick and Jane is now contributing their two pence to the report by the former Chilean president now head of the UN Human Rights Council that has charge-sheeted the Government not only for its ‘state of denial’ of allegations of human rights violations during the armed insurrection by a terrorist group, but also for new dictatorial tendencies.

Recent Governments no doubt pussyfooted with accountability issues that were raised at the UNHRC. The LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) was viewed with suspicion initially, but later acknowledged by the Geneva-based agency, and yet its recommendations were not vigorously pursued.

The LLRC, however, failed to name India as the country that sponsored the armed uprising in Sri Lanka, scuttling the country’s economic ‘take off’ in the post-1977 period. Nor did it refer to the discrimination within the Northern community — an oppressive caste hierarchy that marginalised those in the ‘lower’ spectrum of society and kept them away from the parliamentary process, forcing them on a different extra-parliamentary path.

All of this does not exculpate successive governments for not having turned the searchlight inward. They did not recognise the fact that foreign predators are hovering like vultures to prey on this country, especially when it is seen as tilting towards their own enemies in the world of global politics.  Neither did they learn the lessons from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia — even the Soviet Union, Sudan etc., and how Western powers have changed the internal dynamics, and instigated regime changes in West Asia. In short, they have consistently refused to read the writing on the wall.

The Government is not investing enough in either personnel or resources for its foreign policy. Think-tanks expected to provide strategic studies are dormant and of no help to decision-makers. Professional Foreign Service officers have been sidelined in favour of political apparatchiks and relatives of ruling party members.

In the process, short-sighted decisions of political leaders for short-term benefits have propelled the country into long-term debt traps compromising the country’s bargaining power. Economically, it is in a deepening hole. To remain non-aligned, as it once was, has become a huge effort.

All the gains since Independence, especially in the spheres of universal education, health and welfare measures for the poor have been whittled away and the incumbent Government is facing a virtual firestorm. Trending towards authoritarianism is a fact. The ‘monkey on the back’ is not only a UN resolution in Geneva, but a massive foreign debt burden; political freedom on the one side and economic freedom on the other are compromised.

A role for private sector in vaccine programme

And so, a plane-load of vaccines has eventually reached Sri Lanka from neighbouring India. Priding itself as the ‘pharmacy of the world’, India has deployed ‘vaccine diplomacy’ to good effect by despatching half a million phials to Sri Lanka, a million to Nepal, two million to Bangladesh and lesser amounts to Bhutan and the Maldives in the South Asian region and even to the Gulf and the West Indies. On the day the Indian gift arrived, by a happy coincidence, China announced it would grant 300,000 of its vaccines to Sri Lanka.

COVID-19 vaccines have already become an international issue. The European Union is accusing one of the frontrunner manufacturers of violating contractual obligations, and the UN’s health agency, the WHO, is urging economically poorer nations, especially in Africa not be ignored by the richer nations bulk buying available stocks in some sort of ‘Vaccine Nationalism’ for this is a global fight against the virus, is not limited to one hemisphere.

The Government has just announced it will buy three million more phials but does not say when and where from. Private hospitals have been prevented from being partners in this exercise. No reasons for this exclusion have been forthcoming. Ugly stories of scrambles for agents abound. The Government took a year to get private hospitals engaged in the quarantine process. It must act faster to involve the private sector in what should be a national vaccination programme, not merely a state vaccination programme.


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