17th August 1997

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Change in style, not substance

War and sports

Change in style, not substance

With a bread price hike as a sardonic birthday cake for the people on its anniversary and with a fashionable change in the design of its principal mouthpiece, the PA marks its third year in office today with little except the slips showing.

Significantly, the anniversary front page was more a change of style with little or change in substance. Perhaps it sums up the record of the government.

The three principal promises in the PA manifesto were the abolition of the executive presidency, eradication of corruption in high places and a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict. What we have seen on these issues for the past three years is largely a scratching of the surface. No wonder, people are describing this government as NATO — not because of the 60 billion rupees it spends annually on defence but because it is largely a case of 'No Action Talk Only."

On the economic front, the promise was a balanced economy with a human face — presumably meaning that the fruits of the market economy would be made to flow down more equitably to all the people. But what is seen today appears to be neither balanced nor very human. No major development project has been launched over the past three years — the unemployment and inflation rates are rising and many analysts feel the country is going haywire with no vision or little direction.

The war is dragging on and the political package is being drafted for the third year now.

One of the few boasts or plus points of the PA government was that the reign of fear had ended though infact in ended during the D.B. Wijetunga era. But during the past few days alone, there were several incidents that indicated we might be slipping back to the criminalisation of politics or politicisation of crime. In one such incident, the Sports Ministry media officer was waylaid and attacked by thugs after a dispute with the President's media staff over the arrangements for the reception to sprint queen Susanthika Jayasinghe.

We felt it was our duty to speak out strongly on this third anniversary of the PA government, not because we have any personal malice or animosity towards anyone in the government, but because we care for the people as much as anybody else, and want to see our country rise in unity, to greater heights with a more prudent use of our wealth and resources.

War and sports

While joining millions of people in sa- luting the Sri Lankan cricketers for their Himalayan feats in breaking several world records, we need to also ask today whether some politicians are using cricket as a means of escapism or as a distraction from political or military blunders.

In the afterglow of the Sanath Jayasuriya- Roshan Mahanama spectacular show that prompted the biggest ever rewrite in cricket history books, the government's decision having already made them Deshabandus to give 20 perches of prime land to each cricketer in the national team appears to be a political bouncer that may hurt others.

Besides great artistes and others who are forgotten or marginalised, there are the men and women dying or losing their limbs in defence of the country. It is surprising that Gen. Ratwatte kept silent when the Cabinet decided to give so much to the cricketers. What has the government done to symbolise the heroism of the soldier? Apart from the story of the Hasalaka Veeraya all we see is the glorification of the generals in starched uniforms at the battlefronts. Is it any wonder why we have thousands of deserters and recruitment drives are ranked among the most successful failures?

Is it national policy to glorify our cricketers more than the valiant soldiers who are making it possible for us to play or watch cricket matches in the midst of war?

Is facing bullets and bombs less worthwhile than facing bouncers? For example, families of troops missing in action, including hundreds in Mullaitivu still get only their monthly salaries because they are classified Missing- in-Action but playing cricket brings all the rewards and recognition. Should not cakes be taken to the troops in the battlefields as well?

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