The State and the bulldozer

Friday, 30 August 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 In a figurative sense, the life of the citizens of Sri Lanka is more or less similar to that of the people living around garbage dumps. The way things happen in the country has invariably led to oppressing people and undermining their dignity. Everything in the country is handled in a manner more or less similar to the State policy on garbage management – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

The State of Sri Lanka can be compared to a mindless and brainless bulldozer. It knows only to destroy, not to create. It does not know how to bring about reforms, except to crush and bulldoze. 

The citizens of Sri Lanka can be compared to a community of people dwelling near huge garbage dumping sites. People living around garbage dumping sites do not like garbage being dumped in a manner which affects their lives. Like the people of Kolonnawa, they too would have protested, initially, against the garbage being dumped in their areas. Yet, they may have been rendered helpless, with no choice except to tolerate it when the garbage is dumped forcefully in their areas despite their protests. Gradually, they may have got used to a life of annoying odours exuding from garbage and flies infesting their homes, landing on their food plates when they have their meals. 

In a figurative sense, the life of the citizens of Sri Lanka is more or less similar to that of the people living around garbage dumps. The way things happen in the country has invariably led to oppressing people and undermining their dignity. Everything in the country is handled in a manner more or less similar to the State policy on garbage management. In this backdrop, citizens have been compelled to tolerate all destructive and repulsive things that happen in the country. 

A probe into this issue can be initiated with the garbage problem Sri Lanka is facing.


Garbage crisis 

The quantity of garbage generated in Sri Lanka is around 2.3 million tons per annum of which 60% comes from the Western Province. Although the garbage issue of a country can be considered a matter to be resolved with the support and participation of the people, there is hardly any program to make the people aware of the issue.

There is no proper system for separation of garbage before handing them over for disposal. Sri Lanka does not have a proper system of producing fertiliser, bio-gas and fuel from garbage. The most popular method of disposal has been to dump them in a selected site. 

Australia which has a population of 24 million discards 45 million tons of garbage per annum, while Sri Lanka which has a population of 21 million discards only 2.3 million tons of garbage per annum. The quantity of garbage discarded by Australia is 19 times bigger than that of Sri Lanka. 

Australia has been able to recycle the entire quantity of garbage generated in the country. Sri Lanka, despite the volume of garbage generated being very small compared to Australia, has failed to recycle or to resolve the issue in any other means. The extent of inefficiency, ignorance and negligence of the rulers of our country can be understood from this issue. 

The biggest garbage dump in Colombo was at Kotahena before it was shifted to Kolonnawa. Due to a Court decision issued in the aftermath of the explosion that occurred at the garbage dump at Kotahena in March 2009, the site was relocated at a selected location at Kolonnawa. Initially, a two-acre land was allocated on a temporary basis, in keeping with the Court order. However, by the time the tragic explosion occurred on 4 April 2017, the land area of garbage dump had increased to 21 acres while its height had soared up to 300 feet. Consequently, Sri Lanka has entered into history as a country where people die due to catastrophic collapse of garbage dumps. 


Abstinence from finding solutions 

Sri Lanka did not work out a permanent solution to the garbage problem, even after the tragedy at Kolonnawa. Instead, what the authorities did was to change the location and implement a policy of dumping garbage in a selected site in Puttalam. 

At first it was said that garbage would be transported to the landfill site at Puttalam by train; but now they are being transported by 10-ton tipper trucks. There are 30 10-ton tipper trucks used to transport garbage to Puttalam and the cost of transportation amounts to Rs. 100,000 per truck for one journey involving 340 kms up and down. 

Consequently, the garbage transportation cost incurred by the Colombo Municipal Council amounts to Rs. 3 million a day. Accordingly, the cost of transportation is Rs. 10 per kilogram of garbage. When the collection fee is added, the cost will be around Rs. 20 for disposal of one kilogram of garbage.

Sri Lanka has never made a serious attempt at any level to introduce a garbage recycling program; at least to launch a national level campaign to raise public awareness considering the importance of educating people to solve the garbage problem. This cannot be considered a situation peculiar only to the garbage issue, rather it can be considered as the policy adopted with regard to all other important issues the country is facing. 


Education system 

The education system of the country is in a terrible mess. The school system operates in a manner in which children of well-to-do people are admitted to good schools while those who cannot afford it will get into marginalised schools which lack even basic facilities.

From Grade 1 up to Advanced Level, children are made to learn by rote i.e. memorisation based on repetition. This system of education prevailed in the long past when there were no written languages and no other ways except memorisation to transmit knowledge and information from one generation to another. We are living in the 21st century, but the students of Sri Lanka are still learning through memorisation.

No one seems to be concerned about the harm done to students by a system of education based on memorisation. Teaching methods and content of knowledge disseminated to students as well as the methods adopted by students and what they learn, are all extremely backward. 

Education is the most important factor that affects the future of the country. But the system of education in Sri Lanka is deplorably backward and outdated. Neither the rulers nor the education authorities seem to have an interest in developing the education system to suit present-day needs except for maintaining the status quo with superficial, piecemeal changes made to it. 


State of agriculture 

Agriculture in Sri Lanka is also in a bad state of decline. Most of the land allocated for agriculture is used for paddy cultivation, which can be considered as the least productive crop. Land area used for paddy cultivation is 922,025 hectares while the extent of land used for all other crops stands at relatively lower level. Tea, coconut and rubber plantations occupy 732,442 hectares while the land used for other field crops and chena cultivation stands at 146,161 hectares and 284,025 hectares respectively. 

The plight of the farmers who depend on paddy cultivation is worse. If the farmer is lucky, all he can earn from cultivating one acre of paddy is approximately Rs. 40,000 per season. A significant proportion of paddy lands in the wet zone are not cultivated. They are not used to cultivate any other crops either. Farmers get a very low income from paddy cultivation. 

It can be said that the farmers of the Dry Zone have been deprived, to a great extent, of the income they can generate from dry lands due to threats of wild animals. Though the damage caused to agriculture by wild animals has been estimated to be as high as 40%, Sri Lanka can has failed in managing the threat, due to the stupid policy of the Government with regard to wild animals damaging agricultural crops, which has been maintained for a very long time on religious and moral considerations. 

The line of thinking of the present rulers of Sri Lanka with regard to agriculture is very much similar to the way King Parakramabahu the Great thought about it. The amount of water used to produce one kilogram of rice in Sri Lanka stands at 600 litres. Sri Lanka is a country that has completely ignored the need for transforming agriculture to suit the requirements of the modern age.

The plight of the peasantry in Sri Lanka is pathetic and the plight of the rural women who are trapped in microfinance debts is even worse. 


Question of race, caste and religion

The problem of race, caste and religion in Sri Lanka can be considered as another major explosive problem that had been left to rot, persistently, without making an attempt to introduce the necessary reforms to resolve it. This can be described as a problem caused by the failure to build the nation since independence and a critical issue which has led to create violent conflicts. 

Following the country being liberated from colonial rule, it remained an essential condition to build the nation by integrating people of different ethnic groups, castes and religions into one unified nation where everyone is entitled to equal rights and recognition, in order to ensure the healthy survival of the nation-state. Regrettably, Sri Lanka failed miserably to fulfil this requirement. 

The two uprisings of Sinhala youth in the early ’70s and early ’80s, the rebellion of Tamil youth that persisted for nearly three decades, growth of anti-Muslim attitudes among Sinhalese and Tamil people after the civil war was over, and the recent tragedy of Easter Sunday of 2019 can be considered as ruthless events of bloodshed that occurred as an outcome of the failure to build the nation. 

The State of Sri Lanka knew only to bulldoze the uprisings mercilessly. There is no doubt that the uprisings should have been defeated. But at the same time the State should have investigated into their root causes, brought about remedies to the cause/s and introduced the necessary reforms.

A large number of Sinhala and Tamil youths were killed in these uprisings. Besides that, Sri Lanka was plunged into a state of extreme incivility for a very long period of nearly three decades in which there were persistent violent clashes between the rebels and the security forces. 

Following the victory of the civil war, as a priority need, the distorted society and State should have been reconstructed. It was something that any state facing a similar crisis ought to have done. But Sri Lanka did not do that. Not only did the leader who won the internal war fail to do it, the Yahapalana Government that came to power defeating the Rajapaksa regime also failed to do it. Instead, what all of them did was to leave the crisis to rot further, without attempting to resolve it.


Bribery and corruption

Bribery and corruption can be considered as one of the major reasons that caused the failure of the country, its poverty, underdevelopment and excessive indebtedness. It can be said that looting of public property has become a permanent feature of State rule of Sri Lanka while the entire system of State institutions has fallen into a state of degeneration rampant with corruption.

The extent of corruption and deterioration of public institutions in Sri Lanka and the negligence of the rulers in this regard can be explained through the corruption associated with the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Department of Registration of Persons, two of the most important institutions as far as national security is concerned. 

Passports and NICs are issued by these two institutions from two different counters; genuine passports and NICs are issued for a fixed fee from one counter and the counterfeit passport and NICs are issued for a large sum of money from the other. This can be described as a long-standing process in operation which even the rulers are well aware of.

Recently, the Passport Office replaced its old computer system with a new sophisticated system at a great cost. But the old game has not stopped yet. The travel document used by Madush, who was deported from Dubai, was found to be a fake passport issued by the Passport Office. Further, the passport used by Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi who was alleged to have abducted and caused the disappearance of 11 youths during the civil war to obtain ransom and had fled the country while he had been charged for the offence and was subsequently arrested after his return to the country, too, was revealed to have been issued by the Passport Office after introducing the new computer system. The mystery of how people whose passports have been impounded by Courts of Law are able to flee Sri Lanka can be understood by these incidents. 

There is no difference in the situation that prevails in the Department of Registration of Persons. In 2004, the Auditor General’s Department discovered a massive tax fraud involving the refund of VAT by a group of people appearing in the name of 20 companies. This fraud had been carried out for more than two years. The sum involved in this VAT refund scam was Rs. 3.5 billion. The 13 National Identity Cards used for this fraud were found to be fake ID cards issued by the Department of Registration of Persons.

Another terrible story that can be cited in this connection is as follows. During the LTTE civil war, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) had discovered that the head of the National Identity Cards issuing office (Vijaya K.V. Ranasinghe) had issued a large number of identity cards to the LTTE. This horrible truth came to light when checking the National Identity Card found in possession of the suicide bomber who came to assassinate Douglas Devananda, who was a Minister during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s regime.

When the Head of the NIC was called to the CID to obtain a statement after the discovery of the issuance of ID cards to the LTTE, he managed to obtain a restraining order preventing his arrest by using his contacts with Sarath Nanda Silva, the then Chief Justice. Thereafter, it was found that the ID used by the suicide bomber who had attempted to kill Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was also one of the IDs issued to the LTTE by the Head of the NIC. 

It was rather late when this person was taken into custody, which was due to political protection he had. Subsequently, he was indicted before the High Court and he died before the trial ended. 


Government’s failure

Even after these horrifying incidents, the Government has failed to take appropriate measures to cover the loopholes and eliminate the possibility of fake IDs being issued by the Department of Registration of Persons. It can be said that it has become a permanent feature of the State of Sri Lanka, which has become a failed State, to leave mistakes to take root in the system, without rectifying them as and when they occur.

At this moment, what Sri Lanka needs most is structural reforms and not elections. Elections are needed only after effecting structural reforms. Therefore, the people of Sri Lanka should seriously consider the possibility of making the forthcoming Presidential Election an election that goes beyond the object of electing a nominal president and making it an opportunity to win structural reforms for the country which it badly needs. Only then that it will be possible to recreate the brainless bulldozer – the State of Sri Lanka.

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