Two days ago, an interesting photo went viral in the social media. The photo featured a group of young and not so young men, taking a ‘group selfie’ in front of the Crime Investigation Division of Sri Lanka Police. One young man in the picture had been summoned to the CID to be questioned over the statement he has written on his Facebook wall, claiming that President Maithripala Sirisena had fallen terminally ill. His claim was rendered baseless, as the President attended a dinner held in a Colombo hotel, later that evening looking as fit as ever. Apparently, the man questioned over spreading the false news about a critical illness of the country’s president is apparently safe to the extent, that he can take a selfie in front of the CID mocking at its power.
Imagine the response this young man would have got, had he dared the same bravery two years ago.
The photograph of young men behaving so freely in front of the CID, after an interrogation is probably the most valuable garland to the achievements of President Maithripala Sirisena during his tenure of two years, completing today. The first two years has been about restoring democracy. The fruits of that effort are best reflected in the faces of those young men who can pose for smiling selfies at the doorstep of one of the most dreaded institutes in the country. A citizenry that is demystified of the country’s public institutions is one of the highest indicators of a good democracy. Their photograph shared all over the internet is stronger testimony than the establishment of independent commissions and professionalizing state institutions, in contrast to the policy of the previous regime, to treat the CID and the other state security institutions as private property.
The country’s situation reminds us of an evergreen Aesop fable ‘The Frogs Who Desired a King’. The story concerns a group of frogs who called on the great god Zeus to send them a king. In response, Zeus threw down a log, which fell in their pond with a loud splash and terrified them. Eventually, one of the frogs peeped above the water and, seeing that it was no longer moving, all the frogs hopped upon it and made fun of their king. Then, the frogs made a second request for a real king and were sent a water snake that started eating them. Once more the frogs appealed to Zeus, but this time he replied that they must face the consequences of their request. In contemporary Sri Lanka, those who challenge state institutes and desire stronger rulers are in fact asking for a water snake like those frogs in the story. Having lived for two years in a country where freedom was felt in the air, nobody wants to return to the pond of those frogs, but to build on the platform of democracy to achieve overall success of our nation.
The Economic Turn
Freedom is, however, not complete upon the unhindered availability of the right to speak, think and believe. It is also the right to live a contended life and feel that we’re making progress. Often, in countries like ours, where people feel that collective rights precede individual rights, perceived economic growth is valued over political rights. Therefore, having duly redirected the course that the previous regime was taking, to become ‘an increasingly authoritarian regime’, the government should re-focus on prioritizing economic growth.
By the time the President celebrates two years in office, the government seems to have understood the need to shift its course towards economic growth. On January 2, President Sirisena addressed the nation for the first time in 2017, declaring his wish for a sustainable Sri Lanka. In a well-orchestrated speech, the President referred to the sermon of the Buddhist missionary Arahant Mahinda who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka from India in the 3rd century BC.
The great monk preached to the King Devanampiyatissa. “O King, you may be the king of this country, but you are not the owner of this land. You are its trustee and you hold this land for the benefit of all those who are entitled to use it, both, now and the generations to come”. In this phrase lies the cardinal principle that the resources we use today, are not only for our consumption, but also for the use of the future generations, capturing the essence of what we today call, sustainable development. This is the cardinal principle of environmental law which the modern world tend to think it has discovered after experiencing the endless exploitation of natural resources, since the Industrial Revolution”
President Sirisena, outlined his vision for a sustainable Sri Lanka and handed over the task of spelling out the vision to a group of experts headed by Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, an international authority on the subject. This vision document, once completed this year, will provide a framework for Sri Lanka’s inclusive development journey, incorporating all economic, social and environmental aspects, within which all actions by the government, private sector, and civil society will find their place in the large picture of the country’s sustainable vision for 2030.
A poverty-free Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s poverty is an elusive thing. It evades most yardsticks and blinds us with pretentious prosperity of a lucky few. Their luck, however, is not an inheritance but the result of pro-rich economic policies followed by successive governments. In a nutshell, many who stay above the Official Poverty Line don’t actually have enough to educate their children or provide healthy food to them. They are the ‘Just About Managing’ class. They are the majority in our country. They have managed to keep their noses just above the water and may lose poise and sink any time.
President Maithripala Sirisena has declared 2017 as the year of poverty alleviation, resonating the first goal of sustainable development agreed upon by world leaders. Ending all forms of poverty everywhere, is the goal to be exact. The poverty alleviation program to be announced today (8) in an event to be held at the BMICH, must aim at elevating the poor over the dependency-syndrome that keep people immersed in poverty in the South Asian region.
During the past two years, the journey so far, has been one of making boats; the rest should be, launching it for achieving prosperity.