TamilWeek, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2005
A tale of two promising gentlemen poles apart

By K. Godage

Who was it that said, “Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy tales are not on the same
street as the Manifestos of our aspiring Presidents”?

The two leading candidates are indeed ‘promising men’, they claim that they would
transform this country into a Utopia or a Shangri-La; we have no quarrel with them on
what they wish to believe but they have unfortunately chosen to insult our intelligence
and consider us to be naïve to think that we would believe and put store in their
promises. They must surely be thinking of our people in scornful terms, do they think
that we would believe them and vote for them on the basis of their promises? They are
out bidding each other with their promises to deliver heaven on earth to us.

Promises they say are more brittle than lover’s oaths but I wonder whether there is
any love involved here other than love for themselves. I believe it was Jonathan Swift
who said promises and pie-crust are meant to be broken; we the people are not so
foolish as to expect them to keep to their promises but nevertheless let us discuss a
few of these promises, so that we can tell them that we were never fooled.

Was it not Lee Kuan Yew who said that elections in Sri Lanka were an auction of
unavailable resources? How right he is. The UNP candidate has promised to create
200,000 jobs in one year; it is not something within the control of the Presidential
aspirant for, as he himself knows there are many factors in this globalized world, which
are beyond our control. He also pledged to create a million in the next five years and a
further two million in the next five years when he is next elected.

One wag states that the future President W may be thinking of holding a Referendum
and extending his term by five years. His rival meanwhile has pledged to commit hara-
kiri and put an end to the Presidential form of Government; have we not heard that
song before and was there not a written pledge too? We believed that didn’t we? She
must have laughed over the past ten years whilst she pulled that one off. No wonder
Mahinda is also doing the same.

What is the next big promise of the UNP –a tall story if ever there was one; to build the
tallest Dagoba in the world? This is only to break our own record for the tallest brick
structure in the world- the Jethavanarama is 325 feet in height, established by King
Mahasen (276-303 AD) in Anuradhapura.

Those who proposed this may perhaps not have known of this fact for I cannot think of
one sane reason why we would need to build yet another such Stupa if it were not to
win the support of Buddhist monks and illiterate ‘Upasaka Ammas’ but I doubt they
being fooled either. With the millions of bricks that would be needed for the world’s
tallest Stupa we could build a new “Wickremesinghepura’ for the homeless; a far more
meritorious act than adding to the hundreds of Stupas in the country. Does Ranil
Wickremesinghe and his Hora Upasakays know that the Stupa is a monument
enshrining the relics of the Buddha; where may I ask will they find relics? --- there is
no doubt that but for a few Dagobas or Stupas, the hundreds of other Stupas cannot
possibly have relics of the Buddha enshrined in them for surely we know the quantity
of ash and bones left after a cremation.

What we need today is the practice of Buddhism particularly by our politicians, who
should live by example, not by the building of new Dagobas; Buddhism is to be lived. I
do hope that some clown in the other camp would not promise to build the tallest
Buddha Statute in the world to out bid his rival. We already have a problem with the
erection of Buddha statues in every nook and corner of this country denigrating the
Buddha, seeking to transform him into some sort of God, so please have some sense
and stop playing silly bees with objects of reverence.

There is another really ridiculous promise in the UNP Manifesto; it is to set up an
Astrological Council to “disseminate such knowledge to the world”! And this is in the
21st Century! Why do they have to go to such lengths to make themselves look
ridiculous; surely did the 50 million who died in the Second World War and the 60,000
who have died in our war or the 38,000 who died in the tsunami here and the
thousands more who have died in Pakistan in the earthquake have ‘Makara Lagna’ in
their Astrological charts (if they had any)? Or did the hundreds who became
millionaires after Mr. J.R. Jayewardene and the UNP came to office have “Sikuru Maha
Dasava” and those who made good after CBK came to office also have the same
‘Sikuru Dasava? What errant nonsense, perhaps old Royalist Swami Chittananda may
have infected them to believe that the Planets (Scientists are finding new ones in
addition to the twelve) are deciding our fate!! At a time when even the Chinese are
intending to put a man on the moon, our politicians and their lackeys seem to be
affected by the moon in terms of their own beliefs of course. Incidentally, have these
persons who crafted this so-called Manifesto, who wish to build the tallest Stupa in the
world heard of the first Dhammapada which translates as follows, “The mind is the
forerunner of all things; All that man experiences springs from his mind; If his thoughts
are pure his or her words and deeds would also follow and be good.

The result of good thoughts, words and deeds is Happiness. Happiness will follow one
like his own shadow; similarly if his thoughts, words and deeds are impure suffering
would follow him or her as the wheel follows the hoof of the ox yoked to the cart”. Let
us reflect on what the mind of man has helped him achieve in the last hundred years
alone and move forward and not go back into the age of superstition and belief in
Mythology.

I am happy to note that an absurd promise, which was contained in an unofficial
version of the Manifesto published earlier, to teach Pali (not English) to Buddhist
Monks to enable them to go abroad and preach Buddhism, has been dropped. I am
also happy to note that there would be a programme to take English into the rural
areas; I do wish the next government of whoever would also have Centres or
Language Labs for the teaching of Tamil in all the provincial capitals and also offer an
incentive to those offering Tamil at the O level.

To another issue in the UNP Manifesto, whoever was responsible for including a
promise to transfer ownership of tenanted paddy land to the tenant cultivator does not
know the situation on the ground. I would urge whoever comes into office to appoint a
Commission to study the situation on the ground not only with regard to Purana lands
but also ‘LD land’ and Viharagam (temple) and Devalagam (a Commission has
recently been appointed to inquire into the situation relating to Temple and Devale
land but suffice it to say that this Commission should be reconstituted) before seeking
to prescribe remedies to non-existent problems.

I wish now to make a reference to the Foreign Policy statement in the manifesto of the
UNP which would no doubt have embarrassed my friend senior Diplomat and
Ambassador for many years, C. Mahendren, who is the principal Advisor on Foreign
Affairs of the UNP. The drafting committee may perhaps not have had confidence in
him!

The statement on Foreign Relations in the Manifesto reads as follows:-
“Sri Lanka’s policy will be determined by our national interest. We will maintain friendly
relations with all countries” (Comment: “absolutely” –that is certainly how it should be).
Next comes the section which must have raised a laugh in Diplomatic circles in
Colombo. ”We will strengthen relations with our South Asian neighours by:-
1) A full implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with
India
2) Strengthening the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement
3) Entering into an economic cooperation Agreement with the Republic of the Maldives.

4) Holding discussions to enter into and establish an FTA with Bangladesh Nepal and
Bhutan”

We will discuss with the US and the EU to export Sri Lankan manufactured garments to
these markets duty free”

Suffice it to say that the UNP has till the last UNP Administration looked at Foreign
Affairs through a Municipal drainpipe. It was only in relation to the peace process that
they showed sophistication and maturity, but the ‘Statement’ in their Manifesto quoted
above exhibits no such sophistication or understanding of the world of today and how
they intend to pursue our national interests in our relations with the rest of the world.

I would not be surprised if all manner of political parasites have already booked their
places in our Missions abroad. Readers would recall how the last UNP administration
appointed a man who spoke Sinhala only as a Counselor to an English speaking
developed country. There were many such appointments of their stooges at all levels
during the period of that administration.

Whoever comes into office as President should seriously consider introducing
legislation in the form of a Foreign Service Act, as found in many countries, not merely
to protect the Service from itinerant predators but also to build a professional Service
that would promote our external relations and protect our national interests.

Neither the UNP Manifesto nor ‘Mahinda’s Chintanaya’ (Vision) has any reference to
any commitment to implement the 17th Amendment; the first Constitutional Council
completed its term of office some months ago but a new Council has not been
appointed and all the other important Commissions which have to be appointed by the
Council go out of office this year (the Election Commission was of course aborted by
the President herself). We urgently need a commitment on this account; there is also
no reference to any commitment to make the intentions/ objectives of the 13th
Amendment a reality, by removing or amending the Concurrent list in the 13th
Amendment. There is also no reference to amending the electoral law to make
elections to Parliament more democratic. There is really no commitment to the pursuit
of value based politics, to a real strategy to wipe out corruption, to enthrone honesty
and meritocracy all of which we the people consider vital to our interests.

Let me now deal with ‘Mahinda’s Chintanaya’ –not a Manifesto or is it? He commences
with a most laudable intention “to eliminate hatred….” He intends to totally eradicate
the drug menace in three years, eliminate child abuse etc. Then he moves on to
making his promises to transform our country into Shangri-la or a Utopia or what have
you?

Mr. Rajapakse refers to the 33,000 vacancies existing in the Public Sector which he
intends filling and promises to provide 10,000 more jobs in 2006; (has he given any
thought to the concept of productive employment?) There is certainly no difficulty in
creating jobs but the issue is whether these ‘jobs’ are an immoral political pay off at
the expense of the taxpayer.

In the past State Corporations were bankrupted by this irresponsible policy of giving
jobs for the boys. Mr. Rajapakse also states that he would create 50,000 job
opportunities in 2005 and a further 50,000 job opportunities in 2006.

He states that he would create 2,400,000 job opportunities in the next six years;
fantastic; is it within his power to create these jobs? We would very much like to know
how he intends to create these employment opportunities.

His figures are in the same league as that of his rival who has promised to create
200,000 promised in the first year and a further one million jobs in the next five years.
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe states that he would create conditions for the private sector
to prosper and create jobs, but in the case of Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse who is saddled
with the anti private sector JVP, he is apparently thinking essentially of the State
sector. Where may we ask would he find the money to pay salaries for the people he
intends to recruit, and also to make the additional payments promised to members of
the public Service including pensions to all Public Servants and future recruits? I
presume they intend to print money. Both promises seem well intentioned but hare
brained.

The ‘sections’ titled, “To ease the family burden” and the “Samurdhi Programme to
eradicate poverty”, the “Jana Sevana Programme to provide shelter”(under which
65,000 housing units are to be constructed in Colombo city; I was under the
impression that the infrastructure in Colombo city is at breaking point); also a further
125 houses in every village in this country; schools will be developed; electricity will be
provided to every village including communication systems, pure drinking water, roads
and other infrastructure; all these goodies would of course involve billions of rupees;
where would the funds needed come from? We do not have the revenue to meet this
expenditure. Do we intend to borrow (our debt service ratio has almost gone through
the roof) or once again would it be the ‘printing press’ and double or is it triple digit
inflation and chaos?

To put it mildly the promises of our candidates beggars my imagination. Is this all pure
fantasy? Martin Luther King said, “I have dream”; to me this election and the promises
being held out presents not a dream but a nightmare not for me but whoever emerges
victor on November 18th morning.

The writer is a retired diplomat

[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]
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