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Less than 500 days


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 22 May 2018 00:00


People want to get on with their lives and not care about national issues or country specific issues; they would much rather sell their vegetables at a good price than applaud the capture of a former minister – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

 

 

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing” 

– Muhammad Ali

 

By Upali Ratnayake

There are only less than 500 more days before our little finger is once again daubed in indelible ink. Not all of us will be there to cast our vote unfortunately; 2017 estimated statistics show that annually our death rate is 6.2 deaths per 1,000. Therefore in 2020 250,000 of us will not be there to vote but a similar number of new voters will be there in the register. 

Predictions are rife about the outcome. No one is confident that the incumbent Government will come back. Many expect a democratically-elected, popular, well-liked candidate to come in and turn himself into a strongman with autocratic tendencies. They show that the current mandate for president could lead to such an opportunity. There are others who predict that a prominent Buddhist monk may come in. The popular belief is that there will be a vast and significant change after the elections.

The recent Local Government elections showed, if anything, that the Government is out of sync with the majority of the country. The voters rejected the Government even in their strongholds like Dehiwala and the suburbs. In doing so they voted for those who are popularly thought as corrupt. It seemed that past fraud and misbehaviour did not weigh for much with the voter.

At the same time an opinion that the current rulers are not above corruption gained popularity. This election showed that it is not in corruption that the people are interested – they are interested in their own personal well-being. This needs explaining. People want to get on with their lives and not care about national issues or country specific issues. They would much rather sell their vegetables at a good price than applaud the capture of a former minister.

Right now two prominent Government officials have been taken in for bribery allegations. This was after several months of surveillance. This will go to show that the Government does not tolerate corruption. However for people, this will be just a distant news item. While eliminating corruption is relevant to the educated middle classes (a minority voter base), the larger voter base expect a vastly-different activity from the Government.

Another point to consider is that these arrests show the extent of corruption in the country, especially in high places. The work of the FCID does not seem to have acted as a deterrent. In a society where there is large-scale corruption, it will be suicidal to be honest because the corrupt majority will eliminate the honest minority. The bureaucracy will now be alert and those who think these arrests are a threat to them will be non-cooperative with the Government.

While clean-ups must continue, the Government has to address the needs of the majority.

It is true that the Government has passed and is in the process of passing vital legislation. These include the Right To Information Act, the Inland Revenue Act, the Exchange Control Act and the Audit Bill. The recent local elections showed that the ordinary voter did not realise the value of these laws. The minority middle class will realise their importance and try to make use of them to their advantage.

What then must the Government do to regain its popularity? The answer is simple and not impossible and it reposes in common sense and not in rocket science.

Let us consider some areas of work that will win the hearts of the people permanently.



Farming and agriculture

From 1956 we have seen that the farmer is a composite part of popular success. Dr. C.S. Weeraratne says that there are two million farmers in Sri Lanka. Together with the wives they will form a four million voter base.

Farmers have constant problems, many real and some imaginary. But any Government must nurture them and relieve them of their problems. Perhaps the departments and infrastructure that are currently in place may be inadequate, inefficient and impotent. It would be necessary to make these efficient. 

Further more money has to circulate among the farmers. Generous loan schemes even if the payback is 70% must be inaugurated. Farmers must be encouraged to improve their products and to access foreign markets through Government trade agreements. 

Basic needs such as fertiliser and professional advice should be given to them. When a pumpkin farmer in the NCP is unable to sell his produce and has to distribute it free at a dansala, he indirectly builds animosity against the establishment.



Health

In the health sector, there have been several issues that have made the Government unpopular. Action taken against smoking has had mixed outcomes. 

Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South East Asia, says: “Latest estimates show that prevalence of smoking in Sri Lanka will be reduced from 16% in 2000 to 14% by 2025. This indicates that unless all stakeholders accelerate a joint effort, the country may not achieve the target of 30% relative reduction in prevalence of current tobacco use in people over 15 years of age by 2025 – which the country is committed to.”

Moreover price increases of tobacco products must have an effect on the rest of the economy. The labourer will want an increase in his daily wage so that he could continue smoking.

Price reduction of 40 odd drugs was indeed welcome.

However the real issue in health is in education. There is very strong resistance to expansion of medical education as was seen in the NCMC and SAITM protests. N.R. de Silva, K.K.Y.W. Perera et al project that by 2020, 1,097 doctors will pass out from colleges in Sri Lanka. This means that the Government must be ready to employ all these doctors. 

Available statistics show that over 45% of WHO Member States report to have less than one physician per 1,000 population while we have 1.4. Having more doctors will lead to efficiency and better service. There are 18,000 doctors working in Government institutions. However it is evident that we need more doctors. We must be ready to pay a wage that is befitting the profession. That does not seem to happen now. 

Also, much of the animosity towards the expansion of medical institutes stems not from medical issues but rather from economic ones. Will a greater number be a threat to the current job security and earnings? Therefore the Government must provide good compensation packages and job security. Since the medical profession is very closely linked to the people, doctors’ grievances come to be reflected on them.



Infrastructure

It was very clear that infrastructure development of the previous regime was very attractive, not only to the upper classes but to the masses as well. Highways had a direct impact on them. Walkways were very attractive to the health-conscious middle class.

I suggest that the Government must concentrate heavily on building roads, railways, parks, and better and cleaner means of transport. I don’t mean airports and the Port City. These are essential but the immediate needs of the people are housing, schooling and cheap food. Increases in essential items such as milk food, potato and dhal are interpreted as heavy increases in the cost of living. 

In the voter pyramid, what the Government must do is to woo the large majority at the base. The upper layers will in any case will convert.

 


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