Colombo, Elections, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Parliamentary Elections 2010: Living through a kleptocracy and not wanting an alternative

Are we honestly serious in wanting democracy, our rights and human development, to live in Sri Lanka ? If we are, how are we seeing to it, that we do really enjoy such a luxury in this beleaguered nation ?

All what had been happening and allowed to happen, don’t in any way even hint that this country is at least serious about living by the day, leave alone democracy, rights and development for the future.

If the people were serious, this society would not be entertaining any of the rubbish that is doled out as politics and promises by political leaderships, blue, green or red, at every election for 62 years. If the people are serious, this country would not have had all this riff raff in society coming forward to contest elections and also get elected to be part of government and often be called “Ministers”. If there was any semblance of seriousness, the type of humbugs that have been voted for at all elections in all these years, would not have been misusing State power and public money, the way they have been.

IF this country had been any serious, a racist kleptocracy would not be asking for a popular vote with confidence, while the Opposition is happy left playing the fiddle on the side walks of the same Sinhala politics of a government, they only accuse as obsessively corrupt and undemocratic, but nothing else.

Yes. Corruption in governance, not only by politicians but with top Administrators involved too and often and almost always in partnership with business leaders, had been an issue that had never been taken seriously by the people. Policies and development plans are other factors the society and social leaders have not been interested in, to question, demand and develop a social discussion.

They have not been issues the constituency gets divided on policy terms and decides at elections. Therefore, elections how ever free and fair, have not been utilised to demand and discuss future policy and plans. Again, and because of that disregard, this society does not discuss rampant poverty that never gets alleviated. Elections, even if peaceful all through their campaign period, don’t discuss why almost the same percentage of the population still live under poverty since independence, that was 62 years ago.

The first major focus on poverty alleviation was in 1990 under President Premadasa, with the launch of the Janavasiya programme and its Trust Fund. Then it was highlighted, poverty was a rural phenomenon with about 80% of total poverty being rural and the percentage under poverty calculated at 26.1%. The poverty line then in 1990 was drawn at a monthly family earning of Rs. 1,100 in all.

Janasaviya was given a total facelift in 1995 and was established under a separate Ministry as “Samurdhi”. A massive poverty alleviation empire was created with public funds, employing around 26,000 “Samurdhi” officers. The poverty line was raised to Rs. 1,400 in year 2002 and the percentage living in poverty had increased to 28.8%. The poverty line was again raised to Rs. 1,650 by the year 2005 and those living under poverty was said to be 26%.

Obviously the “Rupee” in 2005 could not buy what it could buy in 1990 and there were no reduction in poverty in Sri Lanka. Nothing different and better had happened ever since “Mahinda Chintanaya” was peddled as a “pep up” syrup for all ailments.

From 1990 since Janasaviya was first launched, now in 2010 and twenty years after, with “Samurdhi” claimed as a better programme for poverty alleviation, we still have almost the same population under poverty all through the past years, with an increased “Samurdhi” employee network touching or more than 30,000 that did not adequately cover North and East. North and East comes as “projections” or as special basic information with a foot note to say “not enumerated as …….” even in census and statistics tables, in the department.

That being so on poverty that is never questioned even during the elections, this society exists with the bottom 20% of the population restricted to a per capita income of 8.0 and the next 20% just above them with 11.8, while the highest or the top 10% of the population enjoys a per capita income of 42.8 and thus have access to all social facilities including political power.

It is within such massive and undisputed disparity that this society is ignorant and apathetic about their health and their children’s education.

Health in the government sector is one area that is under heavy fire, mainly for corruption as being reason for its serious slump in quality, efficiency and availability as a service. People have been told and is made to believe that its the politician head as minister who is always at fault, while it is not the “only” and the major issue.

Will a red shirted, supposedly honest comrade substituted as minister within this set up, solve the health issue in this country ? Its far from a “single person” issue. Its a systemic chaos, where professionals and technicians in the sector are also corrupt and don’t stick to their basic responsibilities. Most who should be in their hospital ‘wards’, are busy “channelling” patients for big money at private clinics. Most who have to be in their labs and machines, are handling private work in business medical centres. Most don’t even declare their incomes proper, while the GMOA accuses politicians and monopolises its magnified power for the sake of its membership only.

There is no health planning even at provincial level where health is a devolved subject under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The health sector unions including the GMOA are never in favour of such ‘provincialisation’ of the health sector and therefore don’t contribute for provincial development, in their own health sector that would benefit them as well.

Corruption is rampant in this health sector in very many forms and at all levels with top administrators also involved. Top administrators and the many health sector unions don’t therefore ask for a “national health plan” that would base the hospital and the medical practitioner on a “Referral” system. One that would allow general practitioners and the out-patient departments to play a vital role in hospitals, that would then make “specialists” less important and this obese “private channelling” allowed for government employed specialists to lose weight.

Who would discuss these issues publicly ? Who would propose their plan of recovery for the health sector ? Who would, for that matter ask for such planning ? Not this society, for sure.

So is it with education in this country. Any person with some money and a bank guarantee to raise loans for investment, could open up a business for “child education” and label it an “international school”. Have they got any regulatory mechanism that lays down standards on teaching, facilities necessary, management, fees and recruitment ? None for sure. That is another business at large in a society that is unable to cope with the education mess, with urban middle class parents wanting to have their own private salvation.

Public education is definitely in a mess. The central ministry nor the provincial ministries have answers for even Grade I (one) admissions. Nor can they even organise a mid term schools’ exam, efficiently and without corruption.

Its the system again that needs complete overhaul and not, any more change of faces. In general, the present population of pupils sitting the G.C.E. O/L exam totals over 500,000, including private admissions. According to the Examination Department, at national level, over 51% of them don’t qualify for A/L studies.

To talk about schools’ candidates, in educational zones like Bibile, the percentage qualifying for A/L studies and almost all in the Arts stream is just 34.08%, in Passara its 34.76%, in Dimbulagala its 31.73%, in Galenbindunuweva its 33.73% and it goes on that way in practically all rural areas.

After the G.C.E A/L examination in an education system that does not talk of a strong tertiary level, again only about 20,000 students are admitted for universities that don’t in effect provide degrees which make graduates competent for employment. That again leaves the question, what is the fate of the 500,000 children who sat the O/L exam, minus the 20,000 admitted to universities, who are never taken care of within this “Free” education ?

From that huge number, well over 64% are from the rural society and that numbers over 320,000 children each year. Where do they go in an economy that can not absorb them into economically viable livelihood projects ? Its obvious therefore, we don’t have any poverty alleviation in reducing the numbers living on Samurdhi support.

None of it is discussed in this society and certainly not on election platforms that only tell people the “opposites” are weak, are corrupt and are worse. No explanations given nor asked for. Election platforms, TV talk shows and media interventions with political “stars and celebrities” are entertainment at a cost, most voters habitually enjoy. That for sure leaves the people without alternatives they are not provided with and they never ask for.

With all that social ignorance, impotence and disregard, the next most important question this society would have to answer is, what relevance have “free and fair” elections in deciding winners without programmes ? Without alternatives ? This society is ready to live with any kleptocracy, never mind its colour.