Making Independence Meaningful for Sri Lankans

There are many things that can be improved throughout Sri Lanka. Despite a very large public service in place the biggest question is how far are they passionate about uplifting Sri Lanka? The words “regaining Sri Lanka” becomes meaningless unless as citizens we all chip and do our bit. Nothing will get done if we always wait for the other to do so first. Blaming and passing the pillow is unlikely to get us anywhere either. 

l by Shenali Waduge

(February 04, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As Sri Lanka marks sixty four years of independence, it is imperative that Sri Lankans are aware of the status of their own country. How many of us actually hoist the national flag. More importantly how many of us is really proud to be Sri Lankan? It is the right of every individual to be treated equally and any government tasked to lead a nation has to firstly ensure the systems & mechanisms of governance in place function properly while fine tuning areas that can be better improved. Prior to exploring the possibilities of incorporating any political solutions being suggested, we the people demand that greater efforts be spent on ensuring the administrative mechanisms function as they should. Dividing land, police are insignificant for the public and these provincial councils should first concentrating on achieving the targets that they are supposed to do without trying to bring new sets of activities. All political solutions that politicians aspire to promote which are being promoted by foreign sources for their own advantages does not serve the people of Sri Lanka at all.
There are many things that can be improved throughout Sri Lanka. Despite a very large public service in place the biggest question is how far are they passionate about uplifting Sri Lanka? The words “regaining Sri Lanka” becomes meaningless unless as citizens we all chip and do our bit. Nothing will get done if we always wait for the other to do so first. Blaming and passing the pillow is unlikely to get us anywhere either. Initiatives to become meaningful must have the wholehearted enthusiasm of everyone’s determination. The simple logic should be whatever good we leave behind is for our own children to benefit. This is why any leader should always have a family.
Education
One of Sri Lanka’s Millennium Development Goals is to ensure that every child has a right to education. Sri Lanka is one of the few developing nations that offers free education. Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate in South Asia. Nevertheless the challenges faced are the shortage of qualified teachers, disparities in teacher deployment especially teachers willing to teach in disadvantaged areas, incompetence of teachers, lack of practicality in school curricular, deficiencies in quality of education given, disparities in standards between rural & urban children, insufficient government funding, In the districts of Badulla & Moneragala children have to travel 4km to attend the nearest maha vidyalaya or jathika pasala.
There are 10,000 Government funded schools of these many are in appalling conditions with lack of facilities, lack of good teachers and very little attention paid by authorities or officials to even change the status quo.
The easy option has been is to always embark upon new projects without setting targets to bring all these poorly run schools to some sort of standard. Most initiatives end up forgotten or are usurped by another initiative that also meets the same fate. It is best that there is a proper national plan for education and this plan is kept clearly at arms length from all politicians & their stooges who end up making a mockery of Sri Lanka’s education system with constant changes that affect the future of our children. Education is not meant to be a political football neither is it meant to be changed or adjusted to the dictates of ministers who are given that portfolio for a limited term only. There are some things that politicians should not be allowed to change and that is education!
In the universities things are no better. Only 20,000 can enter university because there is no capacity to increase. Those qualified to enter but cannot end up following other qualifications or those with money go overseas as such around 10,000 end up enrolling annually to follow courses overseas. Not only does Sri Lanka loose gifted students a good amount of money goes out to finance these students by their parents. None of Sri Lanka’s universities have made it to Asia’s top 100 lists of universities. A solution to attract private universities sees it turned into a political fiasco with university unions deeming themselves the authority to decide whether private universities can be set up or not. If a government allows this type of high handedness from unions it is likely to lead to worse situations. We are all aware that these student unions are sponsored by political parties. These students do not study but end up holding student portfolios – why have they been allowed to continue. If any student has failed to sit or pass an exam is it not upto the university authorities to expel these students? Why are the authorities waiting to be given the nod by a Government? These student unions have not helped their colleagues at all – they are jealous, selfish, egoistic and bare a grudge against society…without resolving to beat the system and come up in society out of their own merit the course of action they choose to take is to deny all students their right to learn, to feel confident in themselves, to dress properly, to learn English…why would anyone want to welcome freshers by bodily harming them, humiliating them physically & psychologically tormenting them? What these unions are doing is taking fellow students to oblivion.
Health
Sri Lanka’s Millennium Development Goal with regard to Health is to ensure every human enjoys adequate nutrition, access to safe drinking water, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. By November 2006, the national poverty line was Rs.2240 per month. Sri Lanka’s target is to halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day & halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger. Nevertheless, the inequality factor has resulted with the income of the poorest 20% increasing by 36% & the income of the richest 20% jumping over 49%. This is clearly evident in the consumption levels. This means that the economic growth has benefited mostly the urban dwellers while the farming sector remains the poorest.
11m children die before they reach their 5th birthday. Sri Lanka holds the lowest rates in the WHO South Asia region with 19 per 1000 live births. Globally more than half a million women die during pregnancy/childbirth. However, Sri Lanka holds the lowest maternal mortality rate in South Asia. This is greatly helped by the efficient system of maternal & child care clinics with public health midwives visiting homes. However the distribution of health professionals is a cause of concern since more doctors prefer to remain in urban areas.
Another noteworthy situation is the number of rising sick in Sri Lanka. Walk into any private hospital channeling practices are booming and governmental doctors too enjoy running to various private hospitals. Why are Sri Lankans’ getting sick is a good question to explore. It appears the medicine flow into the country is also not properly evaluated. Another area of concern is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies & unsafe & illegal abortions that is also seen increasing.
Sri Lanka has been one of the few countries to be afflicted with the AIDS epidemic which has caused 25m deaths globally. As of 2004, 131 died in Sri Lanka due to aids. Most of the cases found in Sri Lanka were among housemaids returning from the middle east. However, the dengue epidemic has reached a level where authorities need to take accountability and much more than what is happening and households need to take equal accountability as well.
Shelter
In a population of 20m people 345,600 live in slums. Population in & around Colombo city has increased. By 2010 11m people were concentrated in urban areas. Currently 51% of urban population lives in the Western province
Poverty
There appears to be an increasing disparity in Sri Lanka’s rich – poor. Nevertheless, Uva, Sabaragamua &  Central provinces emerge as the highest in terms of poverty. Sabaragamua & the Central Province also have poor records for safe drinking water. District wise Moneragala, Nuwara Eliya, & Ratnapura tops the list for the poorest households.
80% of Sri Lankan households use electricity yet 2.3% of households do not have a separate room to sleep! However in terms of durable goods (television, mobile phone, electric fans, bicycles etc the statistics reveal a different story. 52% of poor in Sri Lanka own a television, 34% of oor in Sri Lanka own a bicycle, 70.6% of poor own a radio, 9.2% of poor own an electric fan. 5.4% of poor own a mobile phone in a country which has 15m mobile users! This explains why 63% households are in debt to banks, financial companies, leasing companies, retail outlets or money lenders.
The average monthly expenditure for food & drink is Rs.8956 in a household that earns Rs.9539 which equates to mean that hardly anything is left as savings or to be used in any other ways.
Economic status
In 2009, the IMF estimated Sri Lanka’s GDP per capita to be US$2041. Sri Lanka became the 119 wealthiest nation out of 180countries. However, 15% of Sri Lankans live below the official poverty line. The UN estimates that 45% of Sri Lankans live on less than Rs.226 a day. Clearly we have a situation where the richest 10% holds nearly 40% of the wealth & the poorest 10% holds barely 1%. Samurdhi is the poverty alleviation program where 1.6m people receive Rs.1000 monthly. This is costing the Sri Lankan government Rs.798m per month.
Sri Lanka despite being an agriculture country contributes only 17% to the overall GDP & employs one third of the labor (2.3m people).
The calls to generate a faster economic growth essentially does not mean a quick fix to reducing poverty. Economic growth plans to become meaningful and to realistically generate the desired results must ensure there are opportunities for employment.
Employment
Total unemployment stands at 400,000. 11.6% of A/L qualified and 6.9% of O/L qualified are without jobs. As of 2010, 113,087 left for jobs in the Middle East. As of end 2010, 266,445 have left for some type of employment overseas.
Most of Sri Lanka’s unemployed graduates (42,000) need to change their demands from obtaining free education to thinking that the state must provide them employment as well. Most of the Tharuna Aruna programs that have attempted to absorb graduates into the private sector have failed simply because these graduates do not desire to learn anything new and feel that their degree certificate should take them directly to the top seat. Many of the degree courses that these students take are also time exhausted and do not offer any of the soft skills that private sector looks for. In a state sector that is anyway too large with return on investment low & productivity lower, politicians are doing a great injustice by promising jobs in the state to these graduates. Graduates who take up professions like teaching without any love for teaching end up doing more harm to the children, the country and even to themselves and this is something that politicians need to be alert to.
Crime
Despite capital punishment being legal in Sri Lanka no execution has taken place since 1976 & death sentences are commuted to life imprisonment. It behoves to know why those found guilty of raping children, killing children should not be executed? The national child protection agency has been highlighting the steady increase in rape/molestations etc with perpetrators often being people known to the victim. Similarly we may remember a time Sri Lanka was known as the chosen destination for pedophiles. Today with cabana’s making lucrative businesses for politicos & their stooges most of its customers are very young girls who seem to be learning the wrong lessons in love.
Statistics on drug abuse is no better. Cannabis, Opium and heroin are the drugs most consumed. Large hectares of land in the East & Southern provinces cultivate cannabis. In 2010 close to 30,000 were arrested for drug abuse. Where are these drugs coming from, how & why is the flow increasing are good questions that need to be answered! In 2010 of the 2023 suicides 46% were as a result of drinking pesticides or insecticides. Similarly the divorce rates among all ethnic groups are rising which again showcases the need for leaders of society to play a bigger role in taking the citizens of Sri Lanka away from trends that hallmark of life in western society and towards meaningful existence adhering to proper cultural norms & values.
These are just a few of the areas that need to be highlighted to showcase the need to have all the stakeholders to be involved in efforts to step our own desire to make the hard one victory over terrorism meaningful. Half of our independence has been overshadowed by terror. We are at a golden age to make our nation rise from the ashes. We had a former chief justice enter history books by demerging the north and the east followed by our present President weathering all types of political storms and resolving to eliminate terrorism in Sri Lanka. He can further etch his name in history by ensuring all dubious legislations in place are cancelled and proper legislature is brought forward and passed in a parliament that has a two third majority which no other political party is likely to achieve ever. This will help seal the sovereignty of Sri Lanka forever.
The country is waiting

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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