|Friday, 9 April 2004|
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Business leaders' vote of confidence
As could be seen, business leaders are in the forefront of those offering their support to the new UPFA Government. Yesterday we took pleasure in publishing the views proferred by some of these personalities in our business pages. Their position, essentially, is that their assistance and succour are available to the Government in its onward march.
The Joint Business Forum, for instance, has been eloquent in its expression of support. So have been Dr. Lalith Kotelawela, Chairman, Ceylinco Consolidated, Hatton National Bank Chairman, Rienzie Wijetilleke and SAARC Chamber of Commerce head, Mackey Hashim, to take just a few.
While assuring the Government of their ready assistance to take the development process forward, a near consensus has emerged among them on the need for peace. Frankly, there is no possibility of Lanka forging ahead without peace. It should be obvious to all and sundry that it is futile to speak of development in isolation from the peace process.
In fact peace and reconciliation and economic development are mutually-reinforcing; one is powered by the other. Therefore, priority number one for the new Government should be the forging of a just, negotiated peace. Needless to say, this enterprise of peace should be fast-tracked and uninterrupted.
The business community has also spoken frankly on the need to wipe out corruption at all societal levels. As we observed yesterday, grandiose development plans and fast-track development would be of questionable value if parasitic elements in society are to continue to have a field day. We call on the Government to get the anti-corruption machinery going in a big way, particularly the Bribery and Corruption Commission.
The business community is also generally supportive of a mixed economy, while emphasizing the need to give business enterprise a fillip. While a State-centred, closed economy has proved a growth-killer, a Robber Baron-type, open economy, where only exploitative interests hold sway, has proved utterly counter-productive too.
So, Lanka has arrived at a near consensus on the need for a mixed economy, and the UPFA triumph is the proof of this. The challenge, therefore,is to give this economy concrete expression. We need to eschew both extremes and get on to a middle path to development. While doing this, opportunities should be created for the growth and prosperity of all - irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences.
Bringing peace to Sudan
While the world is preoccupied with Iraq, other conflicts and crises are going unnoticed. These conflicts barely cause a ripple in the Western media. The conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region is an example.
A rebellion erupted there last year, pitting the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement against Government forces. But the humanitarian implications are far greater.
One million people have fled their villages but remained inside Sudan while another 110,000 have fled to Chad. Some 500,000 people were listed as internally displaced. Several organisations and countries have urged Sudan to stop the war in Darfur and allow relief groups full access to the displaced.
It is encouraging to note that preliminary steps have been taken in this direction - talks have opened in Chad between Khartoum and Darfur rebel leaders, despite the failures of previous meetings last year.
The international community can only hope that the talks succeed, because Sudan will have to suffer even more if they fail. Aid agencies have warned that harvests could fail if farmers from mainly black African tribes were unable to return to the fields from which marauding militias had forced them to flee.
Many fields have been burned already, along with villages. Judging by current statistics, failure of peace talks will lead to a humanitarian crisis of horrendous proportions - in Mornier in West Darfur, for example, there is only one doctor to care for 100,000 displaced people.
In a sign that international leaders are at last realising the immensity of the problem, US President George W. Bush has expressed concern about the fighting directly to Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir.
As President Bush has emphasised, the Sudanese government must stop local militias from committing atrocities against the local population and must provide unrestricted access to humanitarian aid agencies. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has gone further, saying that decisive steps, even military force, should be taken if Khartoum fails to grant aid and human rights workers access to the displaced.
Sudanese leaders as well as the international community must be alive to the danger of a Rwanda-like genocide happening in Darfur.
This is because the violence, which has its roots in the rivalry between nomadic Arabs and African farmers, is taking on an increasingly ethnic aspect. All possible steps must be taken to ensure that the spectre of genocide does not engulf Sudan.
Produced by Lake House