By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Could the continuous downpours of rain over the past few weeks and deluges hitting several areas in the country where people have perished, many have become helpless and marooned, thousands sustained injuries and hundreds lost their life-time possessions, whilst another part of the country experienced a severe drought affecting their lives in a different perspective, be simply put down to the wrath of weather gods due to the inability of finding a long-term forward planning programme to prevent such natural calamities by any government so far - previous or present?
On a different perspective, can it be presumed that the deities or semi-gods, who are supposedly protecting this 'Paradise Island' and her people, have lost their level of tolerance and turned their patience into wrath at the disgusting performance of the rulers, who openly display their level of impudence and selfishness? When disasters began to follow, one after the other, commencing from Salawa and then Meethotamulla rubbish dump and floods from one side, and severe parchedness from another area adversity taking its toll, Parliamentarians were caught up with their pants down and denuded of their selfish and greedy motives, when a resolution was being debated in Parliament regarding their duty free vehicle allocations worth millions, thus ignoring the country's President's appeal to visit the flood damaged areas and assist the helpless victims, knowing full well the country could not simply afford such extravaganza.
Due to public outcry, President Maithripala Sirisena initially had to take a decisive decision at least to put a temporary halt to the importation of luxury vehicles for Parliamentarians, despite some of them having already opened Letters of Credit and their vehicles were on the way. Such foolish actions will further weaken the already damaged Yahapalana administration when the public begins to judge such foolish actions only as "changing pillows for a headache" in a typical situation of "out of the frying pan into the fire."
A recent press report highlighted the preposterousness nature of the current administrative system in connection with the rejection of a 4-wheel drive car permit for the Tea Commissioner. Anyone who has visited a tea estate should know the rugged terrain one has to travel through. As the chairman of the Tea Board, part of his responsibilities lies in visiting tea estates to ensure that the quality of 'Ceylon Tea' is maintained. The revenue in tea exports up to five months in 2017 has been Rs 89.2 billion, an increase of 17 per cent from the entire previous year. Without proper supervision and good management, it will be impossible to reach such targets.
In this instance this officer's request for a 4-wheel drive vehicle has been turned down stating that it "requires the approval from a number of officials and the Cabinet." Added to such despair and heart breaking news, the government submitted yet another supplementary estimate on 7 July, seeking the approval of the House for a sum of extra millions to purchase more vehicles for ministers and to renovate several of their official residences. On 10 July 2017, newspaper headlines carried pictures exposing more heartbreaking news on hundreds of dengue patients lying on the floor at the Negombo General Hospital due to lack of resources.
Can any human being with a compassionate heart absorb and tolerate such shameful and aloof acts? After all, the Parliamentarians have been appointed by the very people who now suffer after promoting their representatives to such elated positions with the prime aim of expecting them to work for the welfare of the public.
One does not need to possess a university degree or a PhD to understand whether luxury vehicles for Parliamentarians spending millions of rupees, to travel on public roads at rocket speed, with lights flashing with security backup vehicles in the form of hell's angels, or a basic four wheel drive vehicle for an officer in the Tea Board who has to visit factories through jagged topography in the middle of tea estates, purely as part of his duties to preserve the good name of Ceylon Tea is more important. Tea has been an export earner from time immemorial and becomes a bloodline to the country's economy. If it requires going through such complicated routes and having to clear many hurdles to arrive at a simple decision as that of a car permit, then one could only say is 'God help Sri Lanka!'
The problem with Sri Lankan administration (both now and then) is that despite having umpteen numbers of rules and regulations, some of which are antiquated and date back to Colonial times, are ineffective. On the other hand, Sri Lankan bureaucrats have not been either trained or allowed to take authoritative and independent decisions to deal with any eruptive situation as responsible officers for the fear of losing their jobs or immediate transfer to godforsaken areas, do not shift from their administrative bible the FR (Finance Regulations).
Of late, public has been tempted to come on to roads holding placards concerning various issues and demands, most of the time motivated by political elements whose agenda, it is said to be to disrupt the commercial wellbeing of the country. But critics ask whether anyone has seen the same people coming out in a similar fashion to stage demonstrations against politicians who order luxury vehicle permits to import expensive limousines and then selling them at a profit of millions or wanting to get their official residencies repaired at a cost?
There appears to be a total contradiction to what the Presidential candidate's mantra before the elections that "the previous regime wasted much public funds in importing luxury vehicles and there is no need to import vehicles for a long time". This is seen today purely as an attempt to woo voters at the time, but the dismal aspect is that the infectious nature of the luxury limousine has begun to spread from head to toe, as it were.
Sri Lanka qualifies to boast about producing some of the world's most eminent doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, environmentalists and educationists, but the sad factor is that most of them are overseas enhancing foreign economies while freezing in cold climes. Why? Because this country has not afforded them suitable opportunities and conditions in which they could practise and do an honest job. Surely our engineers are quite capable of producing solar panels as Sri Lanka is blessed with sunshine 365 days of the year, while the government has failed so far (limiting only to talk) and still twiddling their thumbs to reduce the fuel import bill significantly. "Fast Track alternate energy" with government subsidies for solar firms / windmill generated power for the use of the small-scale industries and residential units / houses would be the simple answer to reduce fuel bills
In developed countries medical facilities are significantly upgraded offering concessions to senior citizens as well as on public transport, including school children that get student concessions. However, we seem to regress rather than progress in development when even some of the doctors, who are sympathetic towards the ill, having to knuckle under like beaten dogs due to political and trade union pressure.
As the President pronounced recently, it is the lack of ingenuity or the lackadaisical attitudes of those responsible that Sri Lanka has not been able to harness or to divert rain water to the Central and Northern / Eastern provinces so far, while the Western Province is allowed to flood devastating crops, infrastructure and human beings.
If the government is serious about developing the country to prosperity, greater use of IT and CCTV for security purposes will become compulsory. That would be to create a special task force comprising selected operational units, encompassing the armed forces, bomb disposal squads, and the police including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Fraud Bureau and all government offices, linked with the fire department / ambulance units to be electronically interlinked with a common computer database on a national basis. The monies that are being wasted at present on luxury limousine could well be utilised for such projects, only if there is a magnanimous patriotic will. Will such a transformation take place during our lifetime? I guess not!
Readers of this article are requested to log into the following URL to understand what honesty and transparency is, by listening to the Singaporean Prime Minister.