Suggestions for the future from a citizen

Gamini Ranasinghe

If we ask any citizen, he or she will come up with a list of what we should do and most of those in the lists will be good. The real issue is how to implement them. It is not that easy. There are certain serious tactical and structural changes to be done before we could implement many of these changes. These are my basic suggestions.
1. At the moment, the first and the non negotiable thing to be done, before anything else is to chase away Rajapkse family from Sri Lankan Politics. That is a precondition for any recovery and earning confidence from the world, which is essential even for a slow recovery.

2. Establish proper democracy – Democracy is not what many of our people think. It is not just that we go to poling station every five years and then leave everything to the politicians. It is a process. We do not have real democracy, like what we have in advanced, developed countries. That is why we have to resort to street fighting to chase a despot and his family. The most fundamental aspect is the separation of power, executive, judiciary and legislature. They should be independent and one should not be superior or inferior to the other. We cannot implement any serious changes, reforms or attract serious investment without establishing independent, equally powerful judiciary. As I said before, today we have no protection from the military or Police, which are in the middle of government and people, as they are under a dictator. In a democratic country we, the people have a powerful protection from the judiciary that is in between government and people. Without establishing independent equally powerful judiciary, our hopes will just be a dream. This needs a new constitution or constitutional change.

3. Make Sri Lanka a secular state – Some people blinded by their religious faith might see this as not necessary or against religion. But it is the other way. What this says is to decouple the religion from the state. The state doesn’t need a religion but if individuals need one it is up to the individual. No country in the world has become advanced, wealthy and developed by being non secular and having people with extreme high religiosity. We have extreme high religiosity even more than many Muslim countries so we must make the state non religious or secular. This doesn’t mean secular state is against religion. Quite contrary, it guarantees the religious freedom, that is individual right to believe or practice any religion of his or her choice, without hindrance, social stigma or abuse. It is completely non discriminatory. It doesn’t give any prominence or privilege to any one religion over another. When we establish secular state, the monk mafia will be dislodged from the special privileges they enjoy now and their ability to drive people like cattle.

4. Establish a free independent Auditor General’s office with real powers to audit any government institution and make all reports public. This is part of establishing democracy and good governance.

5. Establish independent commissions like Police, administrative, electoral etc. Yahapalana government established some of these but they did a con job. Out of 10 members, they mandated 7 should be from the parliament. MPs, if selected to be a minority but never majority. The composition should be legislated.

6. Enact a powerful racial vilification and non discrimination act with defined punishments for each crime. If we have an independent judiciary, enforcement shouldn’t be a problem. Long overdue is the decriminalisation of homosexuality and giving equal rights by law to LGBTQ community. From the state point of view, our identity should be Sri Lankan, though we have a multi ethnic, multi cultural, multi religious society.

7. Education of younger generation must be given very high priority. A minimum of 6% should be allocated for education from the budget. This is a topic in itself, which needs lot of discussion before implementing a proper education system for the future. More emphasis should be given to teaching Maths, science, economics, Finance studies etc though for a large number of less academically inclined students, proper apprenticeship based technical education system should be well established to produce the tradespeople who are extremely valuable for the country. First we should establish the dignity of labour and change the social view that trade jobs are inferior to white collar jobs. This is a big attitudinal change or a cultural change but these changes are essential for the country to move forward. We should no longer produce millions of unskilled 3 wheel drivers or non productive public servants.

8. Legislate the limits of expenditure by political parties and MPs at an election, with serious punishments for violations. With an independent legal system, implementation will not be too hard.

9. What we have today is not capitalism. It is crony capitalism. This should be transformed to real free market capitalism. it is a big job but if we have essential ingredients like proper democracy with independent judiciary, we can do it. The whole idea is to make the government smaller and the state huge and powerful.

10. The Culture of any nation or ethnic group is not static. It changes over time and it must, to move forward. Some of the cultural aspects of our country is changing very slowly and impeding the progress. Some aspects need changes through laws, for a certain time and then they will be absorbed in the culture. Nelson Mandela banned certain words like blackey, coolie, kafer, nigger etc for 5 years. It was not suppression of freedom of speech but what was necessary for that country at that time. Like wise we should ban terms like “thambiya, hambaya, mattaya, para dhemala, hadi dhemala, hakura, padhdhaa, rodiya, haaliya etc. Also we should ban the public to address politicians, senior government servants, senior police and army officers as sir, mahaththaya etc. The moment, one does that, he becomes subservient in the feudal sense, to the other guy. In very formal situations the word “Mahathmaya” (it has different non subservient connotation) could be used. At same token, the way many address trades people must change to suit the dignity they deserve. Basically what I am emphasising is to lay foundation for a true egalitarian society, decoupling the feudal remnants.

11. Few decades ago Man Mohan Singh identified the future prospects for India correctly. He is the pioneer of IT revolution in India. It is not just exporting professional and technicians but taking ownership of the new industry. Today India earns over US$ 135 Billion from that, more than Saudi Arabia gets from oil. We, with our dumb politicians missed that opportunity and now that bus has gone. But we should look new opportunities for the next 20-30 years and capitalise those. India last year produced 44 unicorn companies (capitalisation over US$1 billion each).

12. Proper social security system completely free from politics, should be established for the true disadvantaged people living below poverty line.

I can list thousand things but my priority list is the above. The most important thing to be done first, after chasing Rajapkses is to establish democracy. The key for our progress is the independent, equally powerful judiciary. Without that we cannot achieve anything significant. It acts as a protection between government and people.
Gamini Ranasinghe
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