‘Work harder for your larder’ ought to be the slogan of the professional and working classes of a country that needs to come out of the hellhole of bankruptcy. Instead, the local slogans seem more on the lines of; “Diyaw; Diyaw” (give, give) calling for more benefits and “Epa, Epa” (no, no) for more taxes. [...]


Striking at the economy


‘Work harder for your larder’ ought to be the slogan of the professional and working classes of a country that needs to come out of the hellhole of bankruptcy. Instead, the local slogans seem more on the lines of; “Diyaw; Diyaw” (give, give) calling for more benefits and “Epa, Epa” (no, no) for more taxes. The problem for this Government and future Governments would be “how, how”. The country is broke, awaiting a bailout from the IMF and that too only on a phased-out programme with many tough reforms to be implemented.

The unions are resorting to strike action – the final act in labour relations. They either just do not understand basic economics and the predicament the country is in financially, or they do not want to. There is an onus on the Government as well to convince them of the futility of these strikes. Maybe re-negotiate with the IMF where necessary. Only the poorest of the poor will suffer by union strike action, especially the fruit farmer who must get his perishable produce to the market in time, the schoolchildren who cannot sit for their tests, and the daily-wage earner.

It is clear that last Wednesday’s call for strike action did not achieve the goals its organisers entirely hoped for. Government doctors are the set of professionals who opposed private universities for doctors and supported the disastrous fertiliser ban. It is time their members gave up the herd instinct and challenged the politics of their office-bearers. It seems there is movement in that direction with some willing to put their membership on line as  ‘blacklegs’ so that the country’s tax revenue is shored up to support inter-alia, the health services. There are government teachers complaining about increased taxes which they avoid paying anyway from their roaring private tuition business.

After World War II, the people of Japan and Germany did not keep complaining and blaming the Emperor and Hitler for the misery they brought upon their countries by going to war. They rolled up their sleeves to rebuild their nations to become economic powerhouses.

This is only the beginning of tough times. The country will never recover fully unless the loss-making SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) are reformed. Restructuring them is crucial and retrenchment of staff is inevitable. This will be fodder for unions to shout even louder. One hopes the Government is working on these restructuring plans. It cannot be unmindful, though, of the fallout on families and leave them in the lurch. Many quote the example of Sri Lanka Telecom as a success story in such restructuring.

In tandem, the Government has to show that it remains committed to fighting corruption. There has to be a trade-off for the sacrifices the ordinary people are being asked to make. That does not seem to be on the Government’s agenda. The President is clearly in a straitjacket as he needs the support of Government MPs for parliamentary support and can’t ruffle feathers. But for now, whether the strikes by the unions will wither away, or gather momentum will be anybody’s guess.

Commonwealth condemned to oblivion

The United Kingdom last Monday had a service at Westminster Abbey, the church in London associated with births, deaths and marriages of British Royal to commemorate Commonwealth (CW) Day. It was the first under the patronage of King Charles, the 54-nation group’s titular head.

Most countries now rely on regional groups or Quads, or dealing bilaterally with powerful nations of today while many bodies like the CW Development Council or the CW Technical Fund are struggling without funds. So is the CW Secretariat. Once apartheid in South Africa was done with, the CW missed several significant opportunities for future development and floundered around looking for new focus. Other international bodies took up climate and environmental concerns and global health and education issues. Election observance is irrelevant with others also in the field most of the time and like media freedom, has become an industry.

The service at the Abbey was more of a ‘Royal’ event – in other words, what the Royal ladies wore – and didn’t even make the BBC’s evening news. It, however, included a side show that celebrated Sri Lanka’s 75th anniversary of Independence with a duet by two Sri Lankan singers, which was touching. At the same time, it showed the sharp disconnect between the ceremonial CW and the real politics of the CW.

The Government of the United Kingdom, no less, is leading the charge against a fellow CW member state in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, putting it on the rack for alleged violations of International Human Rights law at the end of a national insurgency with a terrorist group that wanted to split the country in two by armed conflict, and now extending the crusade to other issues. CW principles like the CW Charter and the Latimer House Agreement are selectively quoted and all of this due to pure domestic compulsions of the British electorate and party politics in the UK.

Take Canada, another CW member-state. It has joined with the UK in Geneva for the same parochial domestic political reasons. Canada’s provincial assembly in Ontario has a ‘genocide week’ declared to teach the next generation of Canadians that there was ‘deliberate killing of an ethnic minority’ by the majority of Sri Lankans. This is without an iota of proof and from a country which historically has a demonstrably poor record of how it treated its own indigenous minorities.

There has long been a perception that there is a ‘white’ CW and a ‘non-white’ CW. Is it a club to be in?

The CW is a spent force, moribund and in terminal decline. One wonders whether all the multi-faith blessings from Westminster Abbey are enough for a group that once did some good work, but is now facing hard times financially, selectively whipping smaller members into so-called ‘international good governance standards’ influenced by modern-day domestic political compulsions. The CW seems to be fading sooner than later from memory, just like any vestiges of nostalgia for the complex history of British colonialism.


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