A ‘To Do’ List | Sunday Observer

A ‘To Do’ List

1 January, 2017

As our planet begins yet another 365-day solar orbit, we habitually look ahead for the New Year and, we think of all the things that we could not do in the past 12 months and try to envisage our list of things to do in the 12 months ahead.

As Sri Lankans, ‘we’ means our island society with its political leadership in Government and Opposition, as well as its citizenry. ‘We’ must also include our beautiful island home itself as it continues to shelter us as it has done since humanity evolved.

Since New Year’s Day is a matter of planetary movement, we begin with things that need to be done for Mother Earth and, especially – for us – the Sri Lankan island. According to global environmental measurements, the Earth’s atmosphere is getting hotter by the year. The consequent melting of the planet’s ice caps and rise in sea levels means that our island is getting smaller while neighbouring islands, like the Maldivian archipelago, face obliteration if the current rate of global warming continues.

What this means to us is that, if Colombo’s real estate values are sky-rocketing today, in less than half a century, there could be no Colombo and, it will be the hill-country that will enjoy a property boom. In terms of human survival, especially, that of our children and future generations, high on our task list should be the multitude of issues affecting the Earth and the atmosphere – rampant heat emissions and toxic effluents, chemical pollutants (including plastics), deforestation, soil erosion, etc.

Have we correctly mandated our government to manage this process through detailed economic and social planning that will steer our nation away from a disastrous lifestyle to a model of ‘development’ that controls waste, damaging extravagance and, environmentally destructive economic practices? Will our business sector lead the way towards a more ecologically viable pattern of development? How will eco-sensitive business be profitable? How will Government facilitate an economy that makes it profitable? And what is the cap on profit-making that will complement the global cap on heat emissions?

As individuals, is our private lifestyle changing to match the health of the Earth we live on? What are the ‘caps’ that we impose on ourselves and, what are our new, Earth-friendly, lifestyle goals and aspirations?

Even as we add climate change to our ‘To Do’ List, by next week, we will enter a period of national politics critical to our stability and success as a nation. On January 9, our Parliament convenes in its historic first session as a Constitutional Assembly to begin formally deliberating on our future political system. As the many detailed and difficult aspects of constitution-making proceed, the Government and Opposition face the challenge of building a consensus on a new Constitution that will inspire the citizens with a vision of a society that upholds community, social equality and other norms of high civilization.

This must necessarily include political structures that celebrate and unify an ethnically and regionally diverse nation. It must also include new avenues of public participation in governance that enables better citizens’ oversight of, and inputs into, that governance so that we avoid the massive corruption and the easy recourse to authoritarianism of the past. Work to repair the social and economic damage of the internal war, especially, in those regions and communities most affected, must show clear progress in the coming months if bitterness and estrangement is not to revive as enmity.

For the Government, high on its 2017 task list will be the further reorientation of national management away from politically and personally opportunistic practices to systematic planning based on accurately discerned national needs – in the economy and in social management. We must move sharply away from that mode of ‘beautification’ to one of intelligent development as befits our civilization.

The war against corruption and, especially the political-criminal nexus, must proceed with greater vigour that sees results of significance rather than token, showpiece, prosecutions against small fry allowing the big-timers to escape. Justice must be seen to be done in this aspect more than in any other aspect of public life.

While the Government must get going on the task list for 2017, the Opposition needs to be more collaborative within itself in Parliament so that its watchdog and corrective role is coherent. Opposition politics should not be obscured by short term political survival interests, like the antics among some Opposition parliamentarians to escape justice and redress for past misgovernance. All Opposition parties and parliamentarians, while working to ensure the interests of their specific constituencies, must also ensure a proper monitoring of national governance overall, irrespective of sectional interests.

Civil society, too, needs to move in a similar direction of a convergence of interests. At the same time, privately funded social action and service organizations need to evolve new models of operation that rely more on citizens’ support rather than the support of resource-rich special interest groups, both here and abroad. The business community faces the challenge of reviving that culture of philanthropy exemplified by those great founders of colleges and hospitals and other social institutions in our recent past as well as in our historic civilization.

Our ‘government servants’, like the bureaucracy and the guardians of law and order, should, once again, make efficiency, integrity and humane care high on their task list for 2017.

As citizens, we will see that the List can be long and that we, too, as individual Lankans, must do our bit in most, if not all, these tasks. Life looks busy this year. Come next January 1, will our List be longer or, will we be able to sit back and relax with a good cup of tea and look back at a year of work well done?