Reshuffle is one of many jolts needed to kick start Sri Lankan growth engine 


Confucius’s philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness personel and social relationships, justice and sincerity; had the Sri Lankan rulers embraced it on independence and followed his well-known principle: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” they could have prevented the polarisation of communities in the country. At least now, with a Unity Government in power, there is a “National Policy on Reconciliation and Co-existence” that all political parties should advocate their emotionally tuned membership to digest and bring the country together avoiding the low and unprincipled politics of the past. As many nations have accepted Sri Lanka as economic base in Asia Pacific Region under the rule of this unity government, while many political opponents are concerned about the China’s ‘One Road, One Way’ initiative. But the Sri Lankan President should remember the advice Confucius gave once: “As the water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, so a wise man adopts himself to circumstances” for the time is ripe for him to get done with the long overdue reshuffle to get his cabinet more productive and follow Confucius’s well-known principle of “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” and squash the rising divisive tendency caused by the anti-minorities elements and adopt to the circumstances to explore how China’s ‘OROW’ initiative can be best used to kick start the engine of growth to benefit all the communities in the island.

In the past, Sri Lanka lacked governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity emphasized by Confucius due to scarcity of wise rulers; it was that failed to give the peace loving population a prosperous life. For the rulers should have guided every able bodied citizen to make a contribution to build the nation utilizing the resources available to them, enabling the state to take care of the rest who are made up of the disabled, sick, elderly and children. When independence was granted in 1948, the naive elite rulers took the wheel of governance to continue from where the British left, without a proper development plan or policy of their own and the absence of British guidance was visible within a period of five years. The produce from the Tea and Rubber plantation assets left behind by the British were yielding enough foreign exchange and to stay in power the rulers continued providing subsidised food and other concessions to the people. By mid-fifties due to the dearth of good policies emanating from the rulers expenditure of food imports increased and for want of proper management of the plantation sector revenues declined. This caused the first foreign interference on the country, with the World Bank advising the rulers to remove all food subsidies. Option was available at that time to go for industrialisation and improve the service sector, which would have caused an economic revolution to put the already well placed country in the region on the right footing. But the government of the day with JR Jayawardena as the Finance Minister opted for a negative option of reducing the cost of imports. The free issue of rice was changed to sell a measure of rice at -/25cts, an easy way out for the rulers that was bound to affect the poor people. It is interesting to note Singapore few years later in 1959 took the challenge to industrialise and provide services; the whole world knows where it stands today.

The rulers fueled by emotion devoted most of their time to uplift the language and religion of the majority community and in the process divided the nation by alienating the minorities; only helping Sri Lanka to economically drift down and lose its position as a leading nation of Asia. That also ignited unrest in the country with the opposition left wing parties calling for Hartal in 1953 for removing the rice subsidy; that introduced changes to post-independent rule in the country. This first post-independence hartal led to violence and the government was forced to declare emergency to bring the situation under control; down south at Hikkaduwa, a policeman opened fire at an unruly crowd that killed a youth. Prime Minister Dudly Senenayake, resigned for the marred event; while the left-wing political parties commemorated it as a political tragedy by placing a wreath at his grave. It was first and last occasion in Sri Lanka a leader resigned accepting full responsibility for a tragedy; but the event itself marked the beginning of a political culture that grew in intensity and occurred frequently that kept the nation divided on political, ethnic and religious grounds that polarized communities causing many riots and uprisings.

The opportunity to industrialise the country was presented again with the open market policy of JR Jayawardena as the first executive President of the country and made considerable progress, but once again the opportunity was fumbled by the 1983 riots that could easily have been avoided, had the then government pursued an all-inclusive policy.  This time it was Malaysia that grabbed the opportunity to industrialise the country; many foreigners who had arrived earlier to invest flew out of Sri Lanka with the riots and all know where Malaysia is placed today in the economic ladder in the region. Sri Lanka instead continued pursuing with its exclusive policies neglecting the minorities, that finally led a bloody civil war that lasted over three decades with many external interferences that caused the country to bleed for decades when many thousands of people were killed and as many were made disabled, in addition to destruction of properties; last but not least was irreparable damage caused by the brain drain to the economy and loss of its top league position as a leading nation in Asia. When the guns were silenced in 2009, people were naturally relieved to see the miserable war end and there were no winners, only losers.

At different times of the war, that lasted for over three decades, the Tamil speaking minorities in particular those from North and East provinces, the Sinhala majority communities living in the border villages to these two provinces were at the receiving end of aggression from the parties who fought the war. They all began counting their losses and grieved for the loss of their loved ones along with the families of the two sides who had died fighting the war. As absolute power corrupts absolutely, in contrast the leaders of the 2009 government in power, celebrated victory in a grand scale after the war had ended and began an authoritarian rule with the active participation of family members of the ruler himself for many negative peace years. They prolong the agony of Tamil speaking minorities in the North and East provinces by retaining the armed forces without delisting any and placing ex-army personnel as governors of the two provinces to take care of the administration. Oddly, the government discredited the Army Chief, who had earlier commanded the tri-forces to bring the war to an end; by putting him in prison for not supporting their endeavours. All this caused yet another foreign interference into the affairs of the country that brought about a change of government in 2015, with the help of all minorities and half of the majority community who were all disgruntled by then.

Now in 2017, the wheel has gone round once more and the rulers should adapt to the circumstances to explore all the available opportunities presented by China, India, EU and others to evaluate how best they can be used to benefit the people. The National Unity Government in place since 2015 have taken most of the two years so far to put the country on the right footings; but they have a long way to go yet to bring the administrative machinery to desirable levels that could match to Confucius’s philosophy that emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. It is not easy with a population that has grown for almost for three decades in a war environment followed with a long period of negative peace years.  Wide gap left after the brain drain was filled by less able and ambitious people of whom many have by devious means moved up to position of authority and have accumulated wealth in the process. This new wealthy and powerful people are difficult to be up rooted are working against the state and prefer to restore prior 2015 conditions by helping return of the anti-minorities elements  to power; added to this are the nine provincial councils who with their own agenda are pulling in different directions. The Provincial Councils must accept the basic law of nature is that only when the pot is full everybody could enjoy a fair share of the meal. While the present leaders of these councils are working on their differing domestic issues, must at the same time be looking for opportunities to attract foreign investments to their provinces. This is best done if they can make their own bottom up plans for development, utilising their human and other resources to the center; than to continue with the current practice of receiving top down plans from the center and protest later preventing implementation. It is the hope of all the communities that the President will resolve all issues including the cabinet reshuffle expected to take place today, to clear the ground for proper development to take place in the country.

Fortunately, the prevailing global economic climate and with a high IT and communication penetration in the country the prospect of kick starting the engine of growth is once again high. As to the war affected North and East provinces, true there are many pots in the fire to attend; but all political parties should let their membership to digest the “National Policy on Reconciliation and Co-existence” to help bring the country together to avoid the low and unprincipled politics of the past, still pursued by extreme elements on either side of the ethnic divide. Many political opponents are all viewed with suspicion the China’s ‘One Road, One Way’ initiative, the opportunity presented by India and concessions by EU to receive Sri Lankan produce; the rulers should explore all avenues open and bring those with such opposing views to contribute to the wealth creation efforts of the state to yield enough foreign exchange to meet the cost of imports to benefit the people. The Northern Provincial Council in particular is exhibiting an over protection attitude and it was encouraging to read in the media of a plan to set up the much needed joint mechanism for the development of Northern Province; a positive move at a time when many nations have accepted Sri Lanka as economic base in Asia Pacific Region. Therefore opportunity to develop is available now and cannot be missed, all communities should be taking the great philosopher Confucius advise “As the water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, so a wise man adopts him to circumstances” to adopt themselves and join in the envisaged development efforts due to be undertaken in this tiny Island Nation.