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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

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In defence of public sector

Compared to the private sector the public sector is much maligned. It is accused of corruption, lethargy, inefficiency, bureaucracy and what not.

While there is some truth in these allegations it does not automatically follow that the private sector is the epitome of virtue, efficiency and skill. However, few accusing fingers are pointed at the private sector. This is easily explained by the fact that public sector bashing is usually associated with an ideology that has occupied a dominant place in this country and elsewhere for several decades. It is the ideology of neo-liberalism, which though battered is still dominant.

Though this column has also been critical of the shortcomings and maladies in the public sector they were not on ideological grounds. In fact much of the criticism that was leveled against the public sector could be equally leveled against the private sector too. This is true in relation to corruption, lethargy, mismanagement, inefficiency etc. Numerous instances could be shown to substantiate this claim.

In view of the barrage of criticism that was leveled, especially at election time for political reasons it is necessary to put the record straight. The public school system in Sri Lanka is much superior to the private school system in spite of the poor resources at the command of the former. The performance of students at public examinations, the G C E (O/L) or (A/L) amply proves it. If the public school system is inefficient and poor why is there such a scramble for admissions to popular schools? Or take the country’s professionals and academia. How many of their members are products of public schools both popular and not so popular? Or even take the best sportsmen and sportswomen.

True, there were serious lapses on the part of officials and administrators. Yet the system has produced results despite the shortcomings of certain personnel. What has to be done is to improve management, resources and skills to fit in to the 21st Century.

Another much maligned sector is national healthcare. However, Sri Lanka has recorded one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. It is much above the developing country average and is comparable to that of many developing countries. Could this have been achieved if we did not have an efficient healthcare system? True, there are defects and shortcomings in certain fields. Yet it is unfair to blow up stray incidents and blame the entire system. For example, the Sri Lankan immunization program is one of the best in the world despite isolated accidents causing a few deaths following vaccination.

The Accident Service of our National hospital and even outstation hospitals did an excellent job in attending to victims of terrorist attacks and natural calamities under trying circumstances. In this, our healthcare services are among the world’s best.

Take transport. Any unbiased observer could see the superiority of the services offered by the State transport services over that offered by the private transport services. The private bus operators are a law unto themselves. They have failed to provide even the minimum facilities to the commuters. It is no wonder many commuters still nostalgically recall the heyday of public transport when Anil Moonesinghe headed the Ceylon Transport Board.

Speaking of the public sector one cannot forget the Three Forces and the Police whose commendable contribution in defeating terror is world acclaimed.

Another commendable achievement of the public sector is its contribution in building the much needed infrastructure facilities for economic growth. The wide network of roads, bridges, communication facilities that span the country today speak for itself. The private sector has not shown any inclination to take up the challenging task of building both physical and social infrastructure that is a prime necessity for economic take off. Of course, it is “the engine of growth”. So let it be. However, it is time to recognize the indispensable and signal contribution of the pubic sector to the economy and the people’s well-being in the country.

Discrimination against Non-Western laws

Recent events like Google’s complaint about censorship in China, a British woman’s being prosecuted for having illicit sex in Dubai, and a British man’s being convicted of drug smuggling in China had received swift criticisms against the host countries from both governments and mass media in the West.

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If you can’t add and subtract you must quit politics

Somawansa Amarasinghe, perhaps more than anyone in the badly shaken Fonseka camp, demonstrated best the ridiculous levels to which the Opposition has fallen when he said that the election result was manipulated by a computer ‘gilmart’. It reminded me of something that a pro-Mahinda person is supposed to have told someone who campaigned for Sarath Fonseka: ‘you people will lose the next election and will continue to lose until you learn some basic mathematics’.

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A green Sri Lanka

Yesterday was World Wetlands Day. Tomorrow, we celebrate our independence from colonial rule. Both are significant and I believe are linked symbiotically to our nation’s well-being and future. We got our right to self-rule back from the British 62 years ago but with relative ease, for we were offered it on a platter following the success of the hard-fought Indian independence struggle.

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