Precious as democracy is, the multitude of elections can sometimes be more of a chore than a privilege. A case in point is the impending local government election, which comes in the midst of a World Cup and devastating floods.
No matter what arguments are put out, one point cannot be denied. The local government elections, World Cup and flood relief all require massive amounts of funds that at the moment are scarcely being met. The United Nations has reiterated its appeal for US$ 50 million to provide relief in the next six months, while the International Red Cross has expressed fears of a funding gap after only 17% of its appeal for US$ 4.8 million was met by donors.
The Sri Lankan Government estimated in early January that as much as Rs. 50 billion in damage had been caused by floods, but the number is likely to be higher with the second deluge. Mismatched statistics are doing the rounds, but what is clear is that long term funding is needed for the rehabilitation to be done with any level of completeness.
Not only do the 1.2 million people displaced by floods need swift assistance, around 15,000 homes that have either been damaged or destroyed need to be repaired, hundreds of dams and thousands of anicuts have to be rebuilt, around 500,000 acres of paddy have been ruined and will need to be replanted and countless other livelihoods have been affected.
The to-do list is almost endless at this point, especially with the cost of living escalating and fears of a severe food shortage taking root. Experts are worried that the Yala season will also produce a low harvest since seed paddy for cultivation has been lost with the current floods. Exorbitant global prices also push imports into the unlikely category, making for an insoluble problem.
Under these circumstances, it is very important for the Government to stick to its pre-flood economic plan and continue with important infrastructure projects and exports while minimising inflation as much as possible and meeting fiscal deficit targets. Finding extra funding to support the flood victims becomes a massive challenge, but it can be allayed to a certain extent if the local government elections are used wisely. There are two steps the Government can take. One is to cancel the elections outright and the other is to impress upon the candidates the importance of channelling their respective campaigns to assisting the flood victims.
When considering the former option, the fact that around Rs. 1.8 billion has been allocated for the election creates the possibility that the monies can be funnelled into flood relief. Even though it would be a fraction of the total cost needed, it would certainly help to minimise immediate suffering and give the Government breathing space to find more funds. It will also clearly show the people the serious intentions of the Government and encourage other stakeholders to focus more intently on the disaster. This could possible jolt more funding from various partners. No elections would also mean that adverse publicity of candidates fighting each other, arson and other election violations will remain out of the media and concurrently notice of the world while the tournament is ongoing.
Vast amounts of money are spent on political campaigns and this election is not an exception. Elections can actually help the flood victims if the candidates are encouraged to spend their campaign money on providing flood relief rather than putting up posters or holding rallies. Word of mouth is said to be the best form of advertising and those candidates who can best impress the people through their philanthropic activities stand a better chance of winning the elections. Therefore, let us let politics really help the common man.