Wednesday, 25 December 2013 00:00
“Tis the season to be jolly,” say the carols but for many people there is little to be jolly about. Many people will be celebrating Christmas today surrounded by their family and friends, grateful for what they have and hopeful things will be better in the New Year. But reality strains this time of faith and goodwill with economic worries burdening most households.
Since 2009 there have been statements released to the people by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and on Christmas and New Years’ Day many get unbidden and some would say unwanted SMS messages from the Head of State wishing Sri Lankan citizens a prosperous 12 months ahead. Yet there is a reason many resent this. It is because the public know there is no genuine regard behind the words; it is little more than a PR stunt.
Successive statements have promised peace but nearly five years on since the end of the conflict this is yet to materialise. The Tamil community still feels they are marginalised and meaningful devolution of power is yet to be implemented. Reconciliation measures including fulfilling the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), investigation into human rights abuses and ensuring civic rights move at snail pace.
Perhaps the most worrying is the intensifying religious intolerance in the country that was allowed to escalate to unprecedented levels, disturbing many moderates this year. The banning of Halal was the latest in a deeply disconcerting chain of events that have been allowed to be tacitly unrolled by parties that have links to the Government.
The concerns and indeed danger faced by minorities have received little constructive attention from the Government, despite inclusivity being a key message in every New Year message released.
This is only one dimension. Rampant corruption, mismanagement, wastage, cronyism, bad governance and continued deterioration of law and order continue to be the biggest challenge for the public. Most people see politicians and police as being utterly corrupt and have no faith in a system that is intended to bring them justice but often achieves the opposite. Special mention needs to be made of women and children who continue to be disempowered by a Government that claims to stand up for their rights but has no credible answers for the abuse and difficulties they endure.
As ever the Government’s economic policies continue to cause unease. The Central Bank has already unveiled plans to continue borrowing on behalf of the Government and the money is not necessarily spent accountably. In fact financial accountability has become as important as accountability on human rights though it is not often highlighted.
Recent statements in Parliament reveal public officials alleging that development statistics in Sri Lanka are incorrect and artificially enhanced by the Government. Policies that promote inclusivity in a sustainable manner are also essential.
For many people these are lofty issues that exist outside of their immediate battles. President Rajapaksa had already hinted at either a general election or presidential poll next year and the main battleground will undoubtedly be the cost of living. With almost daily raids on essential items and a shortage of milk powder the public wonder about their fortunes for 2014 with foreboding.
Yet Christmas Day is a moment to forget these weighty worries, enjoy with loved ones and feel hope for a better tomorrow.