The meaning of independence
What does independence mean to Sri Lanka? After 64 years, one would think that the value of freedom would have waned, but that is not the case. Yet the direction of this independence and what it means to people is undergoing a change and therein lies the challenge for the decades ahead.
It is true that Sri Lanka has ended the war and is experiencing significant economic growth. However, if one were to question whether all the ethnic groups of this country consider themselves to be equal, the answer is likely to be disappointing. Despite the end of the war three years ago, the move towards a political solution has remained stagnant and is likely to remain so in the near future.
On a different dimension, the democracy, transparency and good governance of the country has taken a strong hit since the end of the war. Corruption has been given a free head and is rampant in the country. Funds allocated for development are being funnelled into private bank accounts and few question the viability of the numerous projects that are undertaken.
Then there is the question of the erosion of the independence of the judiciary. The severe loss of law and order in the country along with the impunity of politicians to engage in any kind of corruption and get away with it scot free is growing daily. Even the recent protest over Minister Mervyn Silva’s corrupt action seems to have blown over, even though his political party promised action. One can point out that this investigation, which should have been more transparent and entrusted to the law courts, was finally sidelined.
There are increasing questions as to why people take to the streets when they want justice. The Government has remanded over 70 students and lodged cases against 70 more in an attempt to nullify protests against the establishment of private universities. Advanced Level students are forced to petition the Supreme Court to obtain justice after officials and politicians ignored their plight. From Sri Lanka Cricket, which is catalogued as the most corrupt out of 225 institutions investigated by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to continued losses of State-owned enterprises, the institutional failure of Government remains systemic.
Prolonged political intervention and corruption has made the system so diseased that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has to be appealed to at every turn to solve problems – issues that should rightly be sorted out by the institutions that are in charge of them. This bodes ill for the future as foreign investors and local businesses will suffer from not having clear procedures to continue trade. The recent cancelation of telecommunication licenses in India is one indication of how blatant and continued corruption can disrupt an economy.
Sri Lanka continues to lag behind in terms of Right to Information legislation and media rights. This conduit is essential to ensure transparency and keep the public informed. Regulations on all forms of media have meant that the people’s right to know has been infringed upon.
On the day when Sri Lanka is celebrating its 64th Independence, the pledge should be to honestly and impartially address the multitude of challenges ahead and help our motherland to have a prosperous and peaceful future.