Sri Lanka on right road to development? 

by Shiranee Dissanayake

There is an urgent need to re-orient governance to ensure that sanity prevails and history will not repeat itself. It should be realized that these dangerous trends if not handled prudently before it is too late, can snowball into conflicts of major proportions and pose a threat to the stability of our country.

Four years have passed since the conclusion of the 30 year war, which not only thrust the country into the economic doldrums, resulting in a complete halt to the development process, but also wreaked havoc in the hearts and minds of all peace loving citizens of this country. The collective effects of terrorism and the accompanying war not only retarded economic progress, but also inflicted deep wounds on the psyche of the people of all communities by sowing seeds of resentment and hatred among the once peaceful ethnic communities who lived in harmony with those of diverse cultures and religious beliefs.

No doubt, the end of terrorism and the trauma of a protracted war were reason enough to be jubilant, as it signaled an end to an era of suffering and fear. Therefore, it is in order to salute the President and all those whose strategic thinking and leadership helped to put an end to the curse of terrorism. Above all, we salute the bravery and dedication of our security forces who fought in the frontlines-many of them paying the supreme sacrifice so that our future generations of all communities will be able to realize their dreams for the future. 

Having tasted the consequences of a bitter ethnic conflict which spanned 30 long years and the resulting economic degradation, the dream of all peace- loving citizens, irrespective of ethnic community, religious conviction or political hue, was that Sri Lanka would tread the path of development in a manner that all communities can feel safe, secure and equal in the eyes of all, including the law.

It was the hope of everyone across all ethnic communities that the foundation will be laid to finally eliminate the inequalities, discrimination and social exclusion which arose from prejudices, misconceptions, biases and myths, not to mention insensitivity and indifference which have hitherto plagued the thinking of the political leadership, rebel groups, and civil society alike.   

Now that the war is over, it is of paramount importance that genuine efforts should be made towards healing the wounds of all communities that have suffered the effects of terrorism and war. It is true that efforts have been made by the government, religious leaders, as well as civic- minded citizens to bring about national reconciliation and a unified Sri Lanka. However, considering the current state of play in the country, it does not seem to have borne much fruit.      

Needless to say that it is amply evident that Sri Lanka has embarked upon a massive development drive, and one can clearly see the skyline of many parts of the country changing due to many development projects coming on stream, since the end of the war in 2009. Transportation is being extended with many super highways, road networks, airports, harbours, etc. being commissioned. The government’s policy of developing the tourist industry has seen many tourist hotels being constructed which can meet the highest international standards. Many other development initiatives, such as, rebuilding of the North and East, resettling the displaced and the beautification of Colombo, are all indicators of the development that is taking place.

 However, the course of events which have unfolded before our eyes during the past four years begs the question whether Sri Lanka is on the right road to development which will finally help accomplish the dream of lasting peace, prosperity, justice and fair play,  or is it meandering into dangerous territories which can spell disaster for the future generations?

Before proceeding further, it would be logical to redefine ‘development’ within the context of a Sri Lanka which has emerged from an era of untold suffering, insecurity and fear for lives, due to terrorism and war. In doing so, it is vital to take into consideration the factors which pushed Sri Lanka into war against a formidable force like the LTTE, which had succeeded in mustering strong support not only of the Tamil diaspora but also the international community. It should not be forgotten that it is suspicion, distrust and lack of confidence in the ability of successive governments to address the concerns of the people of different ethnic groups, particularly those in the North and East, that brought about this situation in the first place. It is this inability that fuelled the fancy of a despot like Velupillai Prabhakaran  to assume the self-proclaimed  leadership  of the Tamil- speaking  people and  turned the country into a terrorist battlefield.

It is of utmost importance to realize that development does not encompass only infra -structure expansion and economic growth. More importantly, it reflects the level of human development in being productive citizens and having the confidence that those in power have learnt from the mistakes of the past and that good governance, attitudinal change and reform form the basis of all acts of the state in its quest towards steering Sri Lanka towards real development.

However, the number of rape cases that have been reported in the recent past, particularly involving little girl children which has instilled  fear and a sense of insecurity among them, is a cause that should be taken very seriously,  not only by the people but the government as well. It is clear that the rising numbers of such cases indicate that the safety and mental wellbeing of our future mothers who will bring forth and nurture our future generation is in jeopardy. It is also true that those who represent the people and are supposed to work towards their wellbeing have also been shamefully involved in incidents of this nature. Further, the conduct of the offspring of high- ranking politicians leaves much to be desired.

Incidents of people taking to the streets in their numbers, protesting against issues that have not been addressed are reported in the media almost on a daily basis from various parts of the country. In many instances we see them taking the law into their hands and disrupting the smooth flow of traffic, causing immense inconvenience to the general public.

We hear of boat loads of young people, including women and children, risking their lives and future, embarking on dangerous voyages in an illegal search of greener pastures in foreign climes. The recent "halal" incidents and attacks on places of worship point to the fact that not only ethnic but religious harmony too is being splintered.

The people are plagued with discontent, due to their concerns not being addressed in a positive, constructive manner. Discipline and the rule of law have broken down and the spectre of ethnic/religious disharmony has reared its ugly head once more. 

The question is "does this reflect a developed or even a developing society?" 

Judging by the increasingly unhealthy trends that have been manifested with alarming regularity over the past four years, it is clear that those in authority as well as the general public, have descended to the depths of indiscipline and scant regard for their fellow beings. 

It is time that those in the higher realms of power took stock of the situation and looked back on the course chartered so far in their efforts in steering Sri Lanka towards peace and development. It is clear that a paradigm shift in the thinking of both the rulers and the ruled is imperative. 

Introducing a change in the education system of this country towards inculcating national values which reflect non-violence, sincerity, honesty, integrity, tolerance, empathy and respect for one’s fellow beings could well be a starting point.  Although reaping the benefits of this exercise would be a long term objective, it would certainly steer the generations to come in the right direction, in becoming productive citizens who could take the country forward towards peace and prosperity. 

There is an urgent need to re-orient governance to ensure that sanity prevails and history will not repeat itself. It should be realized that these dangerous trends if not handled prudently before it is too late, can snowball into conflicts of major proportions and pose a threat to the stability of our country.

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