The Meltdown of Divided Sri Lanka and the Urgent Need of Solving Tamil Question
The economic and political meltdown in Sri Lanka has come down like an avalanche and caught those in power unguarded.
After the devastating war that ended in 2009 with the loss of over 200,000 lives, economic mismanagement has been brewing for a long time. Past and present governments have been borrowing billions of dollars from both China for its vanity projects, and then from India to make ends meet by playing these countries off against each other. Whenever the country has had its back to the wall, the IMF has rescued it, to date, at least sixteen times. Current indecisiveness and the delay in seeking foreign help has caused not only chaos but also, inevitably, bankruptcy.
The current fuel shortage has brought the country to its knees. Ever-increasing petrol and diesel queues, shortages of food (even at exorbitant prices), a shortage of medicine, daily power-cuts etc. all came as a battalion on an unprecedented scale, forming a recipe for disaster. The writing for a root and branch change of the Government was on the wall. People fed up to their back teeth, took to the streets up and down the country culminating in a violent uprising. This should have sent shock waves down the spine of the President and his cohorts.
In a democracy, people have the ultimate power, and they utilised that weapon to organise effective campaigns in the Galle Face Green in the capital Colombo. The turnouts, for the first time, laid bare the widespread public resentment from all parts of the country against the Government for banning fertilisers which had allowed farmers to bring food to the table, these bans bringing untold suffering to the masses. The Galle Face Green was littered with many cut-outs and placards with the main message 'Gota Go Home' meaning people wanted a change of government and to free themselves from hardships caused by mismanagement of the country's economy and politics.
The President delivered a speech during the crisis blaming the pandemic Covid-19 and previous governments including the Mahinda Rajapakse's first government. Fortunately, or even charitably, he didn't boast about finishing the 30-year war as this doesn't hold much water anymore.
Now people are demanding food, fuel and medicine from the world. But Sri Lanka is blessed with fertile lands, producing rice, tea, rubber, coffee etc. If managed properly, hardworking farmers would be able to feed the country with the use of right fertilisers. Again, as Sri Lanka is surrounded by the sea, there is no need toimport fish from abroad. Tourism is another source of income, particularly for foreign exchange, meaning Sri Lanka could be turned into a land flowing with milk and honey.
The same goes to the mismanagement of the Tamil diaspora who have so far kept themselves away from nation building. The Tamil diaspora with its economic power arising from their successful businesses abroad, highly qualified work force and the wealth they have amassed whilst in exile, have not been utilised to help build a peaceful and prosperous country. This would require the longstanding Tamil political question to be successfully addressed. If the country could only solve the Tamil question in the North-East of Sri Lanka through a federal governance free of Central Government interference, the Tamils could return to their homelandand, alone, rebuild the country especially North East, through pouring in billions of dollars in investment.
Tamils living around the world continue to help bring prosperity to their host countries through perseverance and hard work. If we look at the countries like India or Singapore, just to name a few, Tamils not only work hard to bring prosperity to their respective countries, but also hold the foreign and finance ministries thereby furthering the prosperity of India and Singapore. But racism and nationalistic Buddhists do not allow this in Sri Lanka; they would rather go bankrupt!
In order to gain independence from the British Government, Tamils and Sinhalese tirelessly worked shoulder to shoulder. After the independence of Ceylon, Tamil intellectuals occupied key positions in the Government and in the Civil Service until the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. Working together had continued from the days of the British administration when hardworking, educated people were rewarded without any discrimination. The country was running smoothly even though a lot of goods were imported from overseas. At that time, Sri Lanka was ranked well ahead of Singapore and Tamils worked hard to bring prosperity to the country.
After Sri Lanka became a Republic, however, Tamils were marginalised, discriminated against, and disenfranchised. Those youngsters who couldn't enter university or secure a job made the exodus to foreign pastures where their hard work was amply rewarded. This caused the brain-drain from the country.
At the same time, Sinhalese rulers flooded the Civil Service and other key positions with their own kith and kin, nepotism taking the place of expertise and qualifications. Even Cabinet positions were filled with cronies or 'yes' men for political reasons irrespective of relevant qualifications or experience.
Again, the underlying racism, discriminations and the desire to have a Sinhala-only country, resulted in disenfranchising the workhorse Tamils and forcing them into exile and, tragically, mass murdering them during the civil war. Sri Lanka is happy to continue with this even while at the brink of bankruptcy.
In Sri Lanka, the politicians of late, have brought about ruin to the country by clandestine deals with foreign governments and companies for which the ordinary people are paying a heavy price. Today, the country is forced to pay back the huge Chinese loans taken ten years ago by Rajapakse's first Government; payments which are now in default.The irony is that all those hundreds of thousands of protesters venting their frustrations against the President and his government on the roads throughout the country don't know anything about those secret deals. Transparency in public finance is so vital. The protests that have engulfed the country now is the result of accrued corrupt administrations.
In order to overcome the country's current debacle, it needs to manage its finances prudently and bring back the Tamils to help rebuild the nation. The obvious conclusion is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the country has been administered and, without harnessing all the talents in the country, in particular the Tamils, things cannot improve. The problems people are experiencing is unprecedented and the first of its kind since the independence in 1948. The people also want to root out the culprits who have been profiteering from secretive diabolical projects.
The way to break free from this quagmire is to pool all resources together from all parts of the country under a United National Government and deliver the final political solutions to Tamils with a federal state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Then, the Tamils will invest billions of dollars which could not only help pay off its huge debts, but also bring prosperity for all in Sri Lanka instead of it being seen as a sinking ship.
Tamil Writers Guild Editorial Board