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A country of wishful thinking and post-mortems


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Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith clearly stated that if the information already available with the intelligence had been made known to him, he would have cancelled Easter Sunday services. But our wise people did not want to lose an opportunity for a post-mortem - Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

By C. Maliyadde

I can remember as a child watching a Sinhala film titled “Adata Wada Heta Hondai” (Tomorrow is better than today). I cannot remember the story but never can forget the title. Because it represents the nature of the thinking of an island nation called Sri Lankans. We Sri Lankans are ‘wishful thinkers’.

Read the following statement (forecast) which appeared in an Annual Report of a Statutory Board: 

 “The ……….. Board has set an ambitious target of fetching $ 20 billion through merchandise and services exports in 2019, a goal that has been set following the export revenue moving towards a positive growth trajectory in the last couple of years.”

Doesn’t it prove what I said above? 

Wishful thinking describes decision-making and the formation of beliefs based on what might be pleasing to imagine, rather than on evidence, rationality, or reality. It is a product of resolving conflicts between belief and desire (Bastardi, A.; Uhlmann, E. L.; Ross, L. (2011).

Forecasting is the process of making predictions of the future, based on past and present data, and most commonly by analysis of trends. Forecasting is said to be a technique that uses historical data as inputs to make informed estimates that are predictive in determining the direction of future trends. 

I will leave it to the reader to judge whether the above “forecast” on future exports would fall in the category of forecast, or in the category of wishful thinking.

Now let us look at the following statement which appeared in the same Report:

“Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings from exports of merchandise and services have grown by 10% during the year 2017 reaching the $ 15 billion milestone, compared to $ 13.7 billion in the year 2016, recording a substantial increase in exports in the year 2017. Merchandise export earnings have recorded $ 11.4 billion for the year 2017, compared to $ 10.3 billion last year. Estimates in the services exports of ICT/ BPM, Construction, Financial services and Logistics sectors show an overall growth of 8.1% to reach $ 3.7 billion.”

I cited two statements which appeared in an Annual Report of a Statutory Board. I merely cited them to demonstrate how unprepared and irresponsible we are in making forecasts and reviews. Forecasts have become wishful thinking; reviews have become post-mortems. This type of statement is not rare in reports, statements and media.

This is only a prelude to what I am going to say next.  

 

Our forecast is wishful thinking to please ourselves. Our response is a post-mortem to absolve ourselves and find scapegoats. Both are to pass the buck. “Hey, it’s not me; it’s him/her.” The nature of forecasting and post-mortems is not accidental; it is our culture. It is in our blood mixed with glucose and cholesterol. Instead of taking action to prevent, we let it happen, and deliver voluminous explanations, justifications, and accusations. We are a nation which would like to talk but reluctant to act. What we talk does not make sense or result. It pleases ourselves and we think it pleases the other as well. We do not see the impediments, roadblocks, and changes. We make plans on clean sheets. It pleases us; it pleases the boss.

 

Let us draw the attention to the carnage which happened on Easter Sunday, which is not yet history. Open a newspaper, and read statements made by different categories of people, holding titles such as President, Prime Minister, Minister, State Minister, Secretary, IGP, CEO, Chairman, etc. 

“Those who weakened the military and intelligence services responsible; Defence Secretary and IGP shirked responsibility”

“I told Defence Secretary in January”

“NTJ splinter group linked to blast”

“We would have avoided the carnage of Easter Sunday”

“I thought my father came up with a rumour”

These are only a few; there are more and many such statements made in the wake of the fatal incidents on Easter Sunday. I can go on, but do not want to fill this page with more and tire the reader. They speak to the attitude of a nation. We are very competent in making post-mortem statements. None can disagree with any of the statements. But unfortunately, the timing of making them is wrong and a bit late. It is usually the case for Sri Lankans. If these wise ladies and gentlemen had this wisdom just a week before the carnage took place, the nation would have been able to save hundreds and thousands of victims. Unfortunately, wisdom had to be knocked into their heads (if it has been) only by a bomb. Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith clearly stated that if the information already available with the intelligence had been made known to him, he would have cancelled Easter Sunday services. But our wise people did not want to lose an opportunity for a post-mortem. 

Our forecast is wishful thinking to please ourselves. Our response is a post-mortem to absolve ourselves and find scapegoats. Both are to pass the buck. “Hey, it’s not me; it’s him/her.” The nature of forecasting and post-mortems is not accidental; it is our culture. It is in our blood mixed with glucose and cholesterol. Instead of taking action to prevent, we let it happen, and deliver voluminous explanations, justifications, and accusations. We are a nation which would like to talk but reluctant to act. What we talk does not make sense or result. It pleases ourselves and we think it pleases the other as well. We do not see the impediments, roadblocks, and changes. We make plans on clean sheets. It pleases us; it pleases the boss.

May I take you down to ten years ago? The LTTE was crushed. We ate kiribath. Mahinda Rajapaksa won the elections. We ate kiribath. Maithripala Sirisena won. We ate kiribath. UNF won. We ate kiribath. MR was appointed as Prime Minister. We ate kiribath. Ranil W was reappointed. We ate kiribath. Sinhala Tamil New Year came. We ate kiribath. Easter Sunday came. We faced the carnage. We stopped eating kiribath. Instead, we started to talk. Excusing ourselves, blaming others, and conducting post-mortems. Everyone says that s/he knew, had information, shared with friends, brought to the notice of authorities, prevented attending Easter Sunday Mass and on and on. 

Sri Lankans are great in many things. Making wishful thinking, conducting post-mortems, sharing and transmitting news and information with an added pinch of salt, making oneself absolved, finding a scapegoat, pointing the finger, what could have been done, what was not done, blessing in disguise are only a fraction of the thinking of a great long civilisation. Every citizen out of 22 million who can speak talks of what s/he lost, what s/he would have done. 

This is a national crisis; a national blunder; a national calamity. A nation has perished, suffered, and lost. But who speaks of a nation? It is always me and/or I. If the Treasury gets an extra dollar, the Treasury is happy and forgets the national loss. If a tourist smiles for the camera, people in the tourist trade are happy and forget the tears in the eyes of the tourists who lost their dear ones. If the number of deaths reported can be brought down, the Ministry of Health is happy. As someone said, the death of one person is as bad as a death of scores. Everyone wants to find fish in the troubled water. We never think, talk, and act as a nation. No united unanimous voice comes. 

I was watching a television program recently. Some blamed the Moulavis for not warning their faithful to prevent extremism. Who has been blamed, sacked, requested to tender resignation, charged, and taken into custody, in addition to those involved in this dastardly crime? They are all non-Muslims. So why blame Moulavis alone for dishevelling their responsibility? 

After the calamity, how many swords and knives were found in every household and in every mosque? How were they imported? If they were imported, who authorised them? Have no eyebrows been raised? Were they smuggled? If they were smuggled, are there any holes in the net? Who would answer these questions for the nation? Incidentally, “introducing execution and getting the nation on a war path to combat drug menace” is forgotten. The very same people, in the very same tone, in the very same words, in the very same appearance, and with the very same emphasis tell the nation we will ensure the eradication of jihadist threats and punish those who were behind it. But those who are behind it wearing the Muslim dress are taken into custody. Those who are wearing the positions of Governor, Minister, and Coordination Secretary are released from custody faster than they were taken in. The penalty for the crime depends on not what was committed but who did it. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines a post-mortem as “an analysis or discussion of an event held soon after it has occurred, especially in order to determine why it was a failure.” We don’t forecast and take timely action to promote what is needed and combat what is disruptive and destructive; we go on a merry-go-round with a basket of wishful thinking. We don’t do post-mortems to find out what and where things went wrong and learn a lesson. But the Oxford Dictionary definition is for learning English, not for learning a lesson.

After the Easter Sunday Suicide bombings, many post-mortems were conducted. Many Committees were appointed in a competitive manner. But so far, nothing concrete has been found. Instead many spokesmen and heroes were born. They issue statements, berating each other. When one spokesman states the number of deaths is over 350, the other spokesman denies it and brings it down to 250. We learned addition and subtraction in Grade 3 in the school. Our spokesmen are still learning simple arithmetic.

This is Sri Lanka, a country full of wishful thinking and post-mortems. We are determined to seize the opportunity, and build up unity and prosperity. This is not the first time. We had a series of opportunities since independence; we made more statements of seizing the opportunities; we ended up losing. Mark my words, we will forget the incident and the promise of seizing the opportunity, and add to history and record another opportunity missed. It is not a physiological or psychological character, but a national (I mean the nation not the dress) character.

Soon after the incident, all public and private places went thorough strict security check-ups; days went by, a month passed, and I witness the rigor of security check-ups are fading, like the fading memories along with the calendar. 

(The writer is a former Secretary of the Ministry of Plan Implementation and can be reached on chandra.maliyadde@gmail.com)


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