We are a rural country. Its heartland is the rural economy. We can only improve the wellbeing of our people by
developing the rural economy where over 70% of our people live and struggle to improve their wellbeing
– Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
We have been muddling along for many years. Still unable to create a society where Samurdhi relief is not required, and the rural community does not have to depend on remittances from abroad.
The SLFP team were not the type that would dream of chartering a new radical approach. No high flying think tanks. Their objective was to develop an approach to win elections. This they did successfully.
The UNP was controlled by Ranil Wickremesinghe. He had two obsessions. He wanted to be patted on the back by the big Western powers and would pursue policies to earn the pat on the back. He also believed in his own fairy tales, such as that FTAs will result in foreign investment pouring in. He was never a champion of new thinking.
So for years we did not have an environment conducive to new thinking.
Now we have a President who is different. He is neither spawned nor owned by any political party. He is his own man. Only adopted by the SLFP/SLPP to prevent the UNP winning the Presidential Election. He is very different from the old politicians of the SLFP and the UNP. He likes new thinking from clever people. He created the Viyath Maga movement to pursue the search for new ideas. There is a new whiff in the air.
Perhaps it is now a better time than ever before to ponder, to debate and to hopefully pursue new dreams to improve the wellbeing of our people.
What are we?
We are a rural country. Its heartland is the rural economy. We can only improve the wellbeing of our people by developing the rural economy where over 70% of our people live and struggle to improve their wellbeing.
What do we need?
We need a passionate commitment to create hundreds and hundreds of prosperous villages. That has to be the vision. The preponderant objective of any government should be to provide the entire rural community with drinking water, water for cultivation, good roads, electricity, excellent IT connectivity, preschools and maternity centres in each village; groups of villages to be linked to a minor urban centre which will have a secondary school, a hospital, a police station, a bank, and a State-run micro finance company and a Grama Niladari unit. The villages must also have all the other components that create a community. A temple/church/mosque, playgrounds, bars, restaurants shops, etc., the brothels will emerge on their own. The major urban centres will provide what is best provided through them like a major hospital, law courts, etc.
The rural community is the heartland for creating meaningful employment through agriculture, fisheries and the SME sector in a wide variety of diverse activities. The State also has a pivotal role to provide what facilitates dynamic growth, ranging from infrastructure like cold storage facilities for fish and vegetables and fisheries harbours, to funds for investment with a very supportive banking environment. Importantly to support the use of the best management practices, every minor urban centre should have a free management consultancy service and can be linked to the micro finance bank.
With a successful rural centric model there will be no poor people who will migrate to urban centres to work in industry and live in slums. Industry that need people will have to locate in rural areas. In time it will evolve into a prosperous agro industrial rural community and tourism will fit in seamlessly.
The many other things we should do
The core rural centric model must encompass many things that will create a better society. In a short article, it is not possible to knit together a strong persuasive argument for all the other things we must do. I will only attempt to dangle a macro picture which hopefully will stir some thinking and ignite some passion about the many things that will create a better Sri Lanka.
A people’s Movement to Curb Corruption (MCC)
A lot of our economic ills have been spawned by corruption. But still sadly, hardly any one ends up in jail! The Police, the Attorney General and the Courts crawl along like snails and lets cases drag on for years and years ,without anyone ending up in jail (Question: In the last five years how many accused of corruption are in jail after exhausting all lines of appeals?).
Lawyers have a pernicious practice of pocketing a full fee for appearing in Court when a case is postponed. This could contribute to delays and should be prohibited. No hearing no fee! This will hopefully see a greater determination to push ahead and not postpone cases.
We need a well-funded, aggressive, angry people’s movement to attack corruption. To name, shame, and boisterously demand action. There has to be an air of militancy about the movement. The forthcoming elections is a great opportunity to herald the arrival of such a movement.
There are some well-known politicians who have been charged (under money laundering) to explain the capital they have accumulated. These cases have been postponed and postponed, and has gone on like that for many years. MCC with posters all over must demand they explain to the public how they accumulated this money. If there is no explanation they should not be allowed to speak at public rallies. When they get up to speak and they should be drowned by the public chanting ‘ado hora’ or similar slogan. RW has been accused by Nivard Cabraal in his book of deliberately preventing action against the perpetrators of the bond scam. He too should through the poster campaign be asked to explain and if no convincing denial is forthcoming he too should be shouted down with cries of ‘ado hora’. This will create an awareness that at last people are aggressively rising up against corruption.
Schools and English
Providing a good education has to be a core objective. Teachers who cannot teach and suggest private tuition must be axed. The pernicious business of private tuition has to be banned. It is a burden on parents, children are deprived of the time they should be playing games, relaxing, and indulging in fellowship.
The absence of good teaching of English in schools has deprived millions of access to the great wealth of knowledge available in English. On every subject there are thousands and thousands more books than we have in Sinhala. We are a poorer nation in terms of knowledge in the wider population due to this crime of ‘Sinhala Only’ committed to win an election.
English must be restored with alacrity pursing every avenue to make progress quickly to bring English to both students and adults. There are millions who cannot access the wonderful world of knowledge on every conceivable subject in the internet due to the poor knowledge of English.
Managing the money
No more highways, mega urban centres and not a cent more on the Port City, etc. They create huge debt with crippling loan repayment problems. There is no acceptable payback on the investment, is of no benefit to our rural population and its impact on growth is barely minimal. Then why do they happen? Is it because politicians love major projects as they are the most conducive route to make money? The only major infrastructure should be for water and power
People need to travel, but they do not need highways at great cost. We can do that with roads and the railways at a much lower cost. Dual carriageways to connect major towns and good ‘A’ roads elsewhere should be perfectly adequate. We have railway lines connecting most major cities. Faster trains at a greater frequency will be an excellent solution.
This is a private sector economy. There are the big firms, smaller firms, the SME sector and the huge people’s private sector. The State should add on to this the various State enterprises (most of them loss-making) by selling them to the public.
An important task of a government is to remove all the road blocks that prevent growth. BOI one stop shops are a joke. They cannot deliver anything, as the problem that stifles growth are the numerous Acts we have to control this that and the other with regulations that call for approval for everything other than for passing wind. The many Acts must be amended and the meaningless onerous requirements for approval must be removed.
The private sector must be inclusive and the public must be able to participate in the equity. Firms above a certain size must have a public shareholding of at least 50% of the issued shares. If they do not become inclusive and share their profits with the public they will have to contribute through taxation and be taxed at 75% (when the good guys pay at 25%).
No more pensions for new Government servants
It is a huge long-term financial burden taken on with no corresponding benefit to the Government. The flood of new recruits before and after elections is the way politicians pay back their supporters. Giving them a much-desired Government job which comes with a pension.
There are three good reasons to justify scrapping pensions. It is corruption, these recruits have no skills, and it is a long-term financial burden on the Government.x
Death penalty for drugs
Judging by the vast quantities of various drugs that have been found it is clearly a dangerous widespread problem. Free board and lodging for some years has not had even the slightest impact. The drug trade marches on. Something else is required to protect society.
If found with possession (above some specified limit) it should be the death penalty. A special court, no appeal, the case to be heard within a month from arrest and the death penalty executed within a week of judgement. Take one life away to prevent thousands being destroyed.
The thrust of this article is to argue that the best model for us is a free enterprise economy with its heartland being the rural economy.
When the mists that conceal corruption get blown away and it is no longer possible for making money to be the prime objective of politicians big and small, we must hope that a new generation of politicians will emerge and feel passionate about creating a country with thousands of prosperous villages.