Greed and Disparity


by Ranil Senanayake

Our fundamental rights, a right to food, water and shelter, recognized universally, has now to be modified. In the environment that the current ‘development paradigm’ has provided for us today, the erosion of the planetary life support system has become so bad that we have to struggle to achieve a right to clean food, clean water and sustainable shelter. In addition, a resource that was taken for granted with our first breath, the air that we breathe has become so befouled that we now need to talk about the right to breathe ‘clean air’.

It is not that humanity had chosen to ignore these fundamental needs; most nations have enacted laws that protect the quality of the human environment. The ministries of health, water, housing and agriculture are but some examples. Armed with the legislation that is produced by elected legislators, the machinery of administration enacts the laws that protect our health, water, food and shelter.

In a well-managed and civilized society laws are held in respect and obeyed, resulting in the levels of well being that its citizens enjoy. The achievement of a caring society is one where laws to protect the fundamental rights of its citizenry are both respected and enforced. Interestingly, global studies indicate that countries with such attributes are not dictated by levels of income, but are dictated by income disparity. They present evidence of a correlation between the level of inequality in each country (or state) and a range of outcomes: levels of trust, mental illness, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, children’s educational performance, number of teenage births, murders, imprisonment rates and social mobility. More inequality goes with lower trust, more mental illness, higher murder rates and so on. It has nothing to do with total wealth or even the average per-capita income, the wider the wealth disparity, the lower the quality of life of the citizenry.

With these facts in mind we can now look back and see the path we have taken and where it leads. When we began articulating our journey, the goals set out by our founding fathers were clear. In a most telling statement the Rt. Hon D. S. Senanayake commented that the performance of government "must be judged by the larder of the poorest of its homes." This vision has been completely ignored by the greedy corrupt politicians who followed, promoting ‘consumerism as development’, creating a vision where the consumption of resources became the goal of development. The result is what Pope Francis observed this Christmas, when he exhorted Christians to " be mindful of the disturbing levels of disregard towards the immeasurable value of life and the culture of impunity that has crept into our society." This truth should have been obvious to Buddhists too who understood what the Buddha said when he stated that ‘Desire will always lead to suffering’. But as history demonstrates, the current vision of development has been the creation of edifices and activities that enrich legislators and entrap society in a culture of desire. The decline of the moral compass within the legislators has now become evident. When their greed is not satisfied with normal business practices, they demand exorbitant additions to public transactions to enrich themselves massively at the expense of the public.

How does this come about? How can a person, uneducated and possessing only an ability to strong-arm themselves into a political position, take office of any government institution and within days, be transformed into a financial success with complicated and subtle banking transactions? What magic allows people who were totally unsuccessful in various business ventures to become overnight successes immediately on achieving political office? It is a political axiom that that corruption arises with impunity. But however corrupt the individual may be, how can they learn so fast to gain and hide their ill-gotten loot?

The first thing that a newly appointed politico meets is the bureaucracy that is supposed to implement their political agreements. However, today there is a veneer of corruption within many national institutions, which harbour corrupt bureaucrats, who teach, not how to govern better but how to rob better. They are often a nameless, faceless, group relatively unknown by the public but in whose name they work, the public servants!

The Administration Service, once an independent self-governed entity has been turned into a politicized organization whose functioning is independent no more. Once they ran the machinery of government and helped implement the policies of government according to the laws of the land. This independent service has been subverted by the political system to assist the activities of corrupt politicians. In fact corrupt bureaucrats are in such demand by corrupt politicians, that individuals, often sacked for corruption, are resurrected tobecome their advisors.

If our fundamental rights are to be protected and a free and fair society is to be built, it is not only the cleaning out of the political stables that is required but the cleaning up of the bureaucratic stables too!

Will this country ever see a Government that treats "the immeasurable value of life" as important and the protection of our fundamental human rights as a goal of development? Will we see the "culture of impunity" that befouls our society today cleansed out and perpetrators dealt firmly by the law? In a democratic society, the choice of leadership is ours to make and our choices will determine the future for us and for our children.

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