Challenges, solutions and leadership | Sunday Observer

Challenges, solutions and leadership

25 April, 2021

The 2021 Sinhala and Tamil New year was celebrated by Sri Lankans almost similar to pre-Covid-19 years, amidst the still prevailing threat. Despite continuous warnings by the health authorities and the Police, most of the cities were inundated with shoppers. The lower figures of Covid cases officially announced by the authorities seem to have immensely influenced the general public to drop the guard. Hence, gross disregard to the health guidelines was seen in many crowded places throughout the country, specifically in urban areas.

Challenges to Government

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fifteen months into the Presidency is facing one cataclysmic crisis after another, perhaps confronting more issues than any of his predecessors. The strong Government with a two-thirds majority is in an uphill battle to find solutions to the escalating public issues and to counter disinformation.

The biggest setback for the President and the Government was the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic that created a devastating effect on the country. Many countries in the world are still struggling to cope with the damage caused while Sri Lanka has controlled the second wave creditably.

The initial decisive steps were taken by the Government under the strong leadership of the President, including getting the government machinery aligned was the main reason for the success.

Despite the arbitrary and unreasonable criticisms by the politically influenced groups, the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine was managed efficiently by the health authorities. Due to the high world demand for the vaccine, the quantity received was limited, but the distribution was far better than many other countries as so far close to a million Sri Lankans have been given the first dose.

The issue of the importation of contaminated cancer-causing coconut oil has created a public outcry discrediting the Government. The critics have completely forgotten that the companies that are involved have imported the same products for many years. However, the opposition that attempts to cling on to any incident to attack the Government has made a heyday out of the incident, completely ignoring the timelines.

During the previous regime as well the said companies have imported the same product but the test results never came to light. However, the upside is that all future food imports will go through a tooth comb as the responsible institutions will take more precautionary actions in testing samples.

President’s decision to ban the importation of palm oil in the aftermath of the contaminated coconut oil incident also faced mixed criticism.

It must be noted that at the initial stages of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Dialogue with the village’ program, at several venues he was requested by stakeholders, environmentalists, and scientists to ban palm tree cultivation that is immensely damaging to the environment.

The oil palm cultivation is banned across the European Union. However, at the request of bakers, the Government has declared that a special system with specific permits to import palm oil for bakery products.

The issue of rice price also is another critical challenge the Government is confronting since their inception. To a layman, the Government seems to have given in to a few large-scale rice millers. For reasons not clear to the country, the Government so far was unable to tackle the situation. The alternative methods deployed by the two Ministries, Trade and Agriculture, have met with some success but inadequate in the long run. A permanent action plan to break the ‘rice mafia’ is expected by the entire citizenry without further delays.

Another pressing issue is the public outcry about the environmental hazards, particularly the felling of trees illegally.

Whilst some public claims are completely justifiable, many others are politically motivated to bring the Government into disrepute. The biggest problem is that the general public has no other method to verify these claims other than the highly unreliable Sri Lankan social media platforms.

The Government, since the beginning was weak and lame in public communication. Most often, the explanations about environmental issues, positive or negative, came long after the accusations are leveled at the authorities. Most often, the official announcements about the facts are given after the erroneous information is settled in the public mindset. Even the powerful Presidential media division does not seem to understand the behaviour of Sri Lankans as yet.

A fair amount of the environment-related incidents reported recently seems to be development-linked forest clearing and most of them were inevitable. This writer, in the previous week’s article pointed out that the clearing of a vast area of natural forests took place to complete the accelerated Mahaweli Project that has subsequently provided a massive amount of long-term benefits.

Disappearing forests

With the growing population and diminishing forest cover, the authorities must be concerned about environmental protection. Also, they must make the public aware of the actual situation of the scheduled development programmes.

The culprits who willfully damage the natural resources must be punished comprehensively regardless of their social standings whilst proper assessments of pros and cons must be done before the commencement of any development project.

Another damaging scenario currently emerging to the ruling party is the visible disharmony in the ranks. Some of the ruling party alliance partners openly criticized their own members creating doubts among the public about the Government they have voted to power.

Sustaining team spirit and harmony among the followers is one of the most important tasks of leadership. Therefore, the country expects the President who knows about leadership more than many existing politicians to take appropriate action to control such indiscipline among his team members. Seemingly, these disgruntled partners seem to be creating or causing issues inside their own Government.

The best example of effective leadership this writer can cite is the efficiency displayed by the late President J.R. Jayewardene during his entire tenure. Some of the tactics he has used came into criticism at the time. Nevertheless, he has held his team together as a tightly knitted bunch.

The opposition reaps the biggest harvest from the open disagreements among ruling party members. Whenever an unhappy associate makes a critical statement, he or she adds reasons to the seemingly feeble opposition to make a big uproar and create mayhem. This behaviour can provide the biggest assistance to the competition in politics.

With the lowest national vote base of once-powerful United National Party and heavily unreliable opposition sans intellectual inputs gets the best opportunity to attack with said internal conflicts of the ruling party.

Most of the speakers who appear on behalf of the opposition make their presentations based on hearsay and not facts, with malicious intentions. Most of the accusations can be countered easily if the Government media machinery is efficient.

In an extremely optimistic and timely move, the Government has made a bold decision to hand out Rs. 5,000/- to an estimated 2.7 million needy families as a special donation to celebrate the New Year. The move came under cautious criticism by opposition politicians as an election gimmick. Nevertheless, it was an immensely helpful gift to the masses at these difficult times.

Port City Commission

The proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission has come under strong criticism by almost all opposition political parties and some other NGOs. However, the State Minister of Finance in a press briefing presented facts to counter the opposing claims.

He categorically refuted the claims that the Colombo Port city becomes a colony of another country and that the Commission will have legal immunity. However, the general public is not aware of the full facts until the Bill is taken for debate in Parliament.

Despite the customary accusations by the political opposition that the general public is in dire straits without food and other essentials, the media reported that the citizenry celebrated the New Year festival joyfully.

The festive shopping was at the highest level throughout the country and the celebrations were impressive. The public has immensely enjoyed the New Year holiday season after the absence of festivities for over a year.