Jun 11, 2018

It’s the development, stupid

* The lunacy of chasing behind 2020 Presidential Candidates
* We have to question the greed and selfishness of these urban middle-class political brokers

We have hit the rock bottom and cannot afford to go after odd personalities again

Everything national is everything that is decided as important to Colombo

None of these brought by Colombo middle-class had anything to do with serious issues of the people

Their burden is how he could be slotted in as a candidate for Free Market Economics

What is the most important issue or issues in Sri Lanka today? Going by mainstream and peripheral online media, one is the hype over a list of 118 MPs supposed to have received money from Perpetual Treasuries, now speculated to be around 164.

 Another is what President Sirisena said about the 100-Day -Programme.

 Yet another is the sealing of a transmission tower of TNL on alleged illegal transmissions.

There is yet another that keeps revolving around all these and that is about who the 2020 Presidential Candidates should be. They are all fringe issues of little importance to people’s daily life. What is wholly absent is the discourse on major issues that led to a socio-economic crisis.

This is a country where everything “national” is everything that is decided as important to Colombo. That too, to the Colombo middle-class.

They are the largest segment in urban life with a surplus income for shopping.

This urban middle-class is politically divided on ethno-religious affiliations showing how primitive they are despite their professional qualifications and exposure to the modern world.

Their hasty search for a Presidential Candidate for the 2020 Presidential Election proves beyond doubt that they are also selfish and greedy for political power with Sinhala Buddhist dominance.

 In the absence of Mahinda Rajapaksa for the 2020 Presidential Election, the extremist Sinhala Buddhist sentiments within the Colombo middle-class believe Gotabhaya could fit in well as another ‘Rajapaksa’.

 Their burden is how he could be slotted in as a candidate for Free Market Economics.

 Thus his ‘compassionate preaching’ about a peaceful society, that can promote investments and market freedom.

 Yet, the self-appointed civil society activists representing the moderate and compromising Sinhala Buddhist Colombo middle-class would not want to get thrown out from their jockeying saddle on this Yahapalanaya Government.

 Three and a half years gone and they still continue with the ‘Rajapaksa phobia’ with small talk about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe being their 2020 Presidential Candidate.

There is also the battered and bruised SLFP, wanting to contest 2020 Presidential Election, not knowing how and with whom. Sadly, all these claims for 2020 Presidency are about individuals; about picking and presenting another presidential candidate to suit the urban middle class. One who they believe could win the Presidential Election and provide them with the governing saddle to continue with this free market economy.

 In 1994, Chandrika Bandaranaike who with her popular Sinhala film idol husband Vijaya Kumaratunga broke off from parental SLFP and was thereafter stranded was brought back to the party to replace Sirimavo Bandaranaike as a ‘new face’ for the Presidency.

After two terms as President that had nothing for the people, she was forced to nominate Mahinda Rajapaksa for the 2005 Presidential Election.

Even her closest cabinet allies like Mangala Samaraweera backed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the most preferred candidate of the Sinhala Buddhist constituency.

In 2010, the same urban middle-class thought Rajapaksa could be ousted by a uniformed war-veteran. But for the ordinary Sinhala Buddhists, it was the ‘ever-smiling’ Rajapaksa with his maroon shawl, who remained their Sinhala King.

Again in 2015 January, Colombo civil society activism backed by international interests wanted a candidate who could defeat ‘Rajapaksa the dictator’.

Thus a ‘single issue Common Candidate’ emerged as a Sinhala Buddhist.

That Sinhala Buddhist Common candidate Sirisena won in 2015 January, not because the Sinhala Buddhists wanted Rajapaksa defeated, but because the Tamil people who made him president in 2005, wanted him ousted in 2015. So did the Muslim people.

None of these candidates brought by Colombo middle-class activism ever had anything to do with serious issues the people needed answers for.

Their campaigns to choose candidates never had any discourse on major issues that need far-reaching solutions.

Education is a total mess from school curriculums to teaching staff, from horribly competitive exams to university education and academia. Health Services, the medical mafia has turned into a sickening racket has preventive health miserably left out for a thriving private health industry.

So, is unplanned commuter transport with flyovers at a heavy cost to people leaving city traffic at snail pace. Housing is a massive private construction sector that pushes out poor people from the city.

The Plantation sector is left at the mercy of extremely corrupt and rowdy politicians, who exploit the poor labour, election after election.

The State, including law enforcement, the Judiciary and the Public Administration are inefficient, lethargic and corrupt at every level. The war-affected in the North-East is left without answers to their immediate issues and at the mercy of Sinhala Buddhist extremism.

There is no discourse in finding answers to these major issues that had gradually and continually grown within the ‘free market economy’ and is never challenged by any political party including the JVP.

These are never seriously discussed for answers by the Colombo civil society leaders, including professionals and the academia. Let us remind ourselves, we have been with this free market economy for 40 out of the 70 years, since independence. During these 40 years, beginning with the IRDPs in 1978 from Kurunegala, all district programmes carried out in two phases with foreign donor assistance had been complete failures.

From President R. Premadasa’s Gam Udava through Foster Parents’ Scheme for poor rural children’s education, from the 200Garment Factory Programme to the first direct focus poverty alleviation scheme Janasaviya turned Samurdhi under Chandrika Kumaratunga Presidency-everything had flopped on the rural poor. They remain poor within this free market economy, which is essentially city-centric. In short, rural development cannot get rooted in a city-centric free market economy.

It is in such context, this Government is once again promoting the same old free market theory in yet another new dressing – “V2025”.

It is in such context, Finance Minister Samaraweera believes he could revolutionise the village with his Gam Peraliya.

The irony in all this is the ignorance of urban professionals and the academia, who want to maintain the status quo within this free market economy.

They, therefore, want people to continue believing FDI is what helps ‘development’. Yet they fail to say what this society has gained during the past 40 years from trillions of rupees the people had to forego on incentives given to these investors as duty waivers, tax holidays, tax and duty concessions and billions spent on special infrastructure development with electricity 

provided free.

Added to all that is the violation of Workers’ Rights and environmental disasters.

There is no balance sheet on that.

This hazardous free market economy is only a city-based, city-centred market growth and it is so in all countries that tied up with the global free market economy.

It is so even within the mega growth that China is spoken about. During the past four decades after Deng Xiaoping opened the gates, the Chinese political bureaucracy has turned into one of the most corrupt leaderships on earth.

With that corrupt leadership, the Chinese economic growth is limited to urban areas along the South-Eastern coast. There is no discussion about massive poverty in rural China that would question what ‘development’ is, in a free market economy.

The 2015 Year Book compiled by the National Statistical Bureau of China says the major urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai on the SE coast have an annual per capita income of 48,532 and 48,841 Yuan respectively.

Neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang record an annual per capita income of 34,346 and 40,393 Yuan respectively.

In contrast, rural provinces like Gansu (6,277), Qinghai (7,283), and Xinjiang (8724) far interior in West China, and Guizhou (6,671) and Shaanxi (7,932) in Central China have less than 9,000 Yuan annual per capita incomes.

Meanwhile, a research organisation based in Shanghai that tracks the wealthy in China published their Hurun Report in 2016 that said 153 members of the Chinese National People’s Congress are worth 650 billion US dollars in terms of wealth acquired.

At an average, it is 4.2 billion US dollars per member. In the US Congress in 2015 the wealth of a Congressman was only 3.5 million US dollars.

Official Chinese reports accept, of the 3,000 members National People’s Congress 20 per cent are billionaires. On March 1, (2018) the NYT published an article titled China’s Parliament is a growing billionaires’ club.

Quoting Victor Shih, an Associate Professor at the California University, San Diego who is an expert on money and politics in China, it said, is a member of the National People’s Congress affords “considerable protection” to the wealthy.

Such is growth achieved by the new imperialist giant that is China.

In very comparative terms this degenerating growth that has little to do with decent development, is more or less the same in India and in other countries including ours in Sri Lanka.

We have to ask ourselves is this the ‘development’ we want?

We, therefore, have to question the greed and selfishness of these urban middle-class political brokers.

Those who are promoting handpicked characters for 2020, should be asked how they define development and how different will their economic model be from this free market economy.

We have hit the rock bottom in socio-economic and cultural life and cannot afford to go after odd personalities once again, at another election.

Vote for a stupid, who knows next to nothing about development and major issues people need answers for. It is ‘development’ and not Presidential candidates we need to discuss.