By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera*
“People who live in Sri Lanka are first and foremost Sri Lankans, then we have our race and religion, which is something given to us at birth.” – Lakshman Kadirgamar
On 17 August, Sri Lankans will elect their new parliamentarians for the next five years. It is important to elect the best candidates to transform this nation towards prosperity. The current situation in the country thrives on fundamental blunders made by some of the nation’s politicians. Today, most parliamentary proceedings have little or no bearing towards the direction and development of the country. The discipline and intellect displayed by some members are heinous. The use of inappropriate language and the conduct are clearly out of character and absurd. It has become a vicious circle of uneducated people elected to lead. Out of 225 parliament members, 192 has failed GCE A/L.
This has resulted in poor policy decisions towards the staggering unemployment rate, the rise in numbers of drug peddlers and barons with powerful connections, the depreciating economy, the brain drain and the spiraling socio-economic status of the country.
Today the people are deceived by the beautifications and development to cityscapes, major infrastructure, highways and buildings that promote development. However, in the midst, the poverty-stricken villagers suffer. Some rural areas are still not equipped with basic facilities such as roads and drinking water. Some children walk for miles over dangerous neglected bridges to receive basic education. Furthermore, now we have nearly 50 per cent students failing the GCE O/L mathematics – which is tragic. This has resulted in mothers, sisters and wives working under inhumane circumstances as housemaids in West Asia. According to recent news, a Sri Lankan maid was advertised in Saudi Arabia for sale at the price of 25,000 Riyals. Producing domestic help to West Asia has become a popular industry within Sri Lanka and also the only option of income for most families.
We need to change the present system and introduce meritocracy to our government institutes. If you assign the suitable person with due respect to their intellectual expertise to govern, it will be a positive step towards increasing the efficiency of the institutions. One cannot dream of a developed nation without strengthening government institutes. The vision for Sri Lanka needs to be followed-up by the development of a national strategic plan, one that doesn’t change from one political party to another.
According to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, “We have got to live with the consequences of our actions and we are responsible for our own people…When I went to Colombo for the first time in 1956 it was a better city than Singapore.”
We need to focus on moving towards the position Singapore and other such developed nations occupy in the world. It is important to improve investment in education for teachers and student’s classrooms and research. As we move to achieve a knowledge economy, we should develop our most precious resource: our human capital. We underinvest in these important areas and go for quick fixes. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) needs to be the primary focus to achieve the technological heights we wish to achieve by 2020 and/or beyond.
The development of STEM is a priority in countries such as Singapore that have already developed a world-class education system. Singaporean universities are listed in the top 75 slots of the ‘world’s best’ rankings.
Entrepreneurs, young leaders and innovators are nurtured and facilitated by the country with resources and supporting environments to achieve greatness. Many Sri Lankan youth are sent to foreign countries to study and most are encouraged to stay on and serve those countries.
In the end it is a losing battle. Our country is deprived of talent that could truly make a difference. We need to create an ecosystem for our educated youth to return to their country and include these young professionals in our force for change. According to US President Barack Obama, it is important for us to pave the way for the next generation. He says “I don’t understand this phenomenon of leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end…No one is above the law, not even the president,” he continued. Similar to any other occupation, it is important to provide an opportunity for the youth to lead the political arena whilst the seniors willingly and peacefully leave office when their terms end. Unfortunately, politicians do not retire in Sri Lanka to pave way to our young leaders.
Sri Lanka is slowly but surely rising from the ashes and into the development of the postwar era. In order to truly reap the benefits and move towards development, the political arena needs to be cleaned up. We need to refrain from pointing fingers at each other and focus on rebuilding the country. We need to gain the strength of the next generation to be the force of change. Beginning from the education system and educating the youth, rebuilding villages and rural areas to creating an innovative culture to sustain development. Furthermore, focus on creating different channels to bring in foreign investments and creating employment within the country will discourage the option of exporting our rich human resource as domestic help. This will result in the development and enrichment of Sri Lanka.
We need to follow examples of great visionaries such as Lakshman Kadirgamar that once spearheaded the direction of the country. 12 August marks the death anniversary of late Lakshman Kadirgamar, a legendary foreign minister who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam. We all should remember this remarkable politician who was committed to creating a better nation for all of us. He won the hearts of everyone around the world and was the best foreign minister we ever had. We need dedicated leaders like him for our country; we need to vote as one nation for politicians with the suitable values and intellect to navigate our country to prosperity.
* Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka.