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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

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The spirit of democracy and public consultations

In a democracy which is as robust as that of Sri Lanka, taking the people unawares on crucial national issues could prove exceedingly counter-productive. The controversy-ridden Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 is one of the latest cases in point. Earlier we had the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987 which too met with a stormy public reception, to express it mildly.

In both cases, we did not have in this country a wide consultation process featuring the state, the public and other relevant sections on the accords and the issues of the moment which stemmed from them. Instead, they were adopted by the governments of the times in unilateral fashion and this accounted, among other factors, for the public resentment with which they were greeted. In both instances, the governments of the day gave the public the impression that they had no choice but to adopt the accords because they were under duress to do so.

Therefore, it should not have come as a surprise if the agreements were doomed to failure. The fundamental flaw in both agreements consisted in the fact that the people were not allowed to debate them prior to adoption and implementation.

Nor were public views on the matters in question sought and deliberated upon. In the case of the 1987 accord, we had a second bloody Southern youth upheaval coming in its wake which thoroughly shook Sri Lanka. In the case of the CFA of 2002, it was arguably so one-sided that it enabled the LTTE to inexorably strengthen itself and pose an unprecedented security challenge to the state, besides according tacit recognition to ‘LTTE-administered’ areas in the country.

Accordingly, it should not have come as a surprise that both initiatives ended in disheartening failure. Whereas, the public needed to have been consulted if the spirit of true democracy prevailed, the decision was taken, instead, to keep the public in the dark virtually and the repercussions which followed were grim and unsettling in the extreme for the country.

The two accords in question which ran aground are a reminder that the democratic process cannot be side-stepped or aborted when governments are confronted with the task of making difficult political decisions.

Consulting the people or their representatives is very much part of the democratic ethos and way of life and a tendency to violate these time-honoured requirements could have a deleterious impact on the state concerned.

These reflections are occasioned by some observations on these and related issues which were made by Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, which we highlight today.

Speaking on the present government’s efforts to address and resolve the issues faced by our communities, he said that Sri Lanka ‘needs the time and space to discuss these issues in depth and find solutions to them.’ In other words, solutions just cannot be forced down the throats of the public. The proper democratic procedure is to deliberate on them with patience and wisdom.

Likewise, it is of crucial importance that Sri Lanka transforms its current, mainly, adversarial political culture, which prevents constructive discussion and debate between the government and the Opposition, to one of constructive cooperation on issues of national importance. We need hardly say that thus far in our post-independence political history it has, largely, been a case of the government ‘proposing’ and the Opposition ‘disposing’. Destructive politics of this kind have prevented far-sighted and wise decisions being taken by governments for the country’s sake.

It is time to take stock of the damage unwise political postures and decisions have engendered in this country. Apparently, this country needs to get back to basics. If democracy has to be developed, then, we cannot remain mired in a species of politics that has as its end power and power alone.

Politics, which is a most precious activity, must be geared towards serving the national interest and that too in a most inclusive fashion, which means that it must provide for informed public debate and discussion prior to the taking of crucial decisions.

Forging a Lankan identity towards national unity

At a recent ceremony where 2000 housing deeds were distributed to those who had paid up their NHDA loans, President Mahinda Rajapaksa requested all Sri Lankans, whether they are from South, North, East or West to rise against the situation that has arisen in Geneva. He added, "It is the paramount duty of Opposition political parties to rise with the people to protect the country putting aside religious, ethnic and political differences".

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Trail-blazer in development thinking

This week’s Reminiscences features Godfrey Gunatilleke, a distinguished former civil servant and the founder of the country’s oldest independent think-tank, the MARGA Institute. In our interview he wished to talk little about himself but more about the times he lived through.

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Tuberculosis detection, treatment and control:

TB toll: two million lives annually

Tuberculosis is probably the most ancient and vicious foe the world has ever had the misfortune to encounter. The disease has afflicted mankind from the time man first evolved from the simian species (i.e; the ape), proven by evidence of the disease in mummified remains of Neanderthal man and Egyptian mummies. The disease has killed more people than all the world wars combined, and depressingly, more people die of the disease in the 21st century, despite astronomical advances in medicare and therapeutics, than during any of the preceding millenia, when no treatment at all was available.

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Police Day and Malays’ contribution

The Police Commemoration Day fell on March 21, 2012. Every year PC Sahaban's name, appears in the print media on Police Commemoration Day as the first policeman who was killed by, the Lieutenant of Sardiel, on March 21, 1884 at Mawanella.

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