The modern world prefers less government. We are unfortunately overburdened with it. It is obnoxiously omnipresent in this country; so much so that the state has come to be mistaken for the government in power. State institutions are referred to as government institutions and state employees as government servants. Government interference knows no bounds and has become a huge nuisance. It is perhaps the biggest impediment to national progress. But, strangely, one finds no government around when one needs its intervention most.
The crisis in the education sector is a case in point. Teacher unions are boycotting the GCE (A/L) answer script evaluation. Teachers' protest, the Examinations Chief says will adversely affect many more examinations scheduled to be held during the next few months. Unfortunately, those teachers who have put children's interests before theirs and chosen to evaluate answer scripts have come under threats from unionists. But, the government pretends it does not exist; it is doing precious little about the issue. Trouble shooting is certainly not its forte. Instead, it seems to specialize in shooting trouble makers, as could be seen in the military operations in the Wanni.
The judiciary finds itself in an unenviable position. It has had to clean the mess that successive governments have created in the education sector from school admissions to paper marking. Chief Justice Sarath N Silva on Monday advised teacher unionists who appeared before the Supreme Court to uphold the interests of students and undertook to help find a reasonable solution to their salary anomalies. Teacher union representatives undertook to do as the Supreme Court said. About 250,000 children who sat the GCE (A/L) this year, twice that number of parents and millions of their well wishers will ever remember that kind intervention gratefully.
The teacher unions, in keeping with the Supreme Court order, will have to discuss their problems with the Secretary to the President and the Secretary to the Ministry of Education anew and report back to the SC next Monday. They will also have to apply for paper marking. It is hoped that on Monday some good news will bring a smile to the sad faces of students eagerly awaiting their results.
That teachers' grievances are legitimate is known to one and all. Equally known is the government's callousness as well as its lackadaisical attitude. It continues its ostrich-like posture trying to wish away problems. The Education Minister told this newspaper a few weeks ago that teachers deserved better. But, he cannot wriggle out of the crisis he is trapped in by way of flattery. Old birds, he needs to be told, are not caught with chaff. Teachers are too irked and frustrated to be sweet-talked into softening their stand. Their salary anomalies are, we are told, over 12 years old. How many pay hikes, fuel allowance increases and new vehicles politicians have received during this period! We hear they are going to shower more pay hikes on themselves shortly! This, they are doing without solving others' problems.
The government is notorious for driving workers to extreme action. The public sector has come to such a pass that unless workers strike, they cannot have their grievances redressed. When the situation gets out of hand, problems are referred to the President, who seems to believe that his PR is panacea. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, having undertaken to solve teachers' salary problem, tried to reinvent the wheel and predictably nothing came of his meeting with teacher unions.
The government has played a great deal of ping-pong with the Salaries and Cadre Commission (SCC) over salary anomalies affecting teachers. The Education Ministry has. through a process of obfuscation, created the impression in the public mind that it proposes and the SCC disposes and therefore it is innocent. Finally, the Supreme Court was told on Monday that the SCC had submitted a revised salary structure to the President and it was being considered.
The government may have had some technical problems in addressing the issue. But, for a government which has dared fly in the face of the basic law of the country to do as it pleases, removing legal and technical snags blocking the rectification of salary anomalies must be child's play. The Constitution Councils has not been appointed and its powers have been usurped by the President to act according to his whims and fancies. Ruling party lawmakers have become lawbreakers of the highest order. A court jester turned political brute is slamming everyone and everything on his way like Hurricane Gustav-with impunity. Not even the IGP can deal with him! There are many other breaches of law that the government may boast of as its achievements! So, we don't want to be told that such a government baulks at technical problems in tackling a small problem like salary anomalies.
The government's failure has made teachers align themselves with ultra radical political elements bent on wreaking havoc on the country. They have thus become prisoners of a group of political hit men they contracted to deal with the government.
There are two stumbling blocks to solving teachers' salary problems-the government's cussedness and the JVP's intransigence. However, it needs to be stressed that nothing can be claimed in extenuation of the on-going boycott of paper marking at the expense of the country's children. Students' interests, as the Supreme Court has rightly said, must take precedence over everyone else's. That is the bottom line!
Whether teachers' protest-holding children to ransom-amounts to a punishable offence, we the laymen do not know. That is up to the learned judges of the Supreme Court who have spoken loud and clear to decide. All that we know is disrupting a child's education is a sin and those who commit it will invariably face a different trial before a bench of different judges when they cross the Great Divide, or, maybe, even before that.
Allow children to realize their dreams!