Conquering challenges sans political duplicity | Sunday Observer

Conquering challenges sans political duplicity

22 August, 2021

There was perhaps no other President who has encountered more challenges soon after taking the office as much as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Even though some of the Presidents ran into confrontations of different types, none were as severe as the challenges faced by the current President.

The President was voted into the office by an enormous margin by the vast majority of the citizenry as they trusted him to be a statesman rather than a customary politician the country has seen over the past seventy years. More importantly, the masses expected him to be a strong-minded taskmaster who will not be afraid to make decisions without fear.

There is criticism that the Government is adopting an authoritarian type of rule in some of the pressing issues. How reasonable is this criticism? This is a dubious scheme the opposition politicians are attempting to drive in the public unsuccessfully. The vast majority of the population who voted President Rajapaksa to office in November 2019 expected him to be similar to what he was as the Defense Secretary. However, he has shown more resilience, maturity, patience, and empathy towards every national issue. Unlike most of the previous regimes since 1977, he has not ordered undue strong-arm tactics against any of the aggressive actions including constant political protests although the public would have preferred stronger enforcement of the law.

Inside out fuelling opposition

Therefore, it is totally unreasonable to allege that the President or his Government of authoritarian rule or subjective political culture. Despite the enormous pressure of the financial situation of the country, the Government is attempting to resolve national issues effectively for everyone. However, some of the Cabinet ministers who are dissatisfied mainly about their portfolios are not only making damaging public statements to contradict the Government actions but also provide ammunition to the weak opposition to hang on to.

Certainly, they are free to express their opinions but must do so after setting an example by moving out of the Government benches. Regrettably, the reality is that none of these weak and opportunistic ministers want to leave the luxuries of their lucrative ministerial benefits. Nevertheless, except for a very few state ministers, others are seemingly engaged in their subjects with interest and commitment.

President Rajapaksa has more than adequately proven his capability and capacity as the country’s Defence Secretary who spearheaded one of the most successful anti-terrorist drives in the world. Also, he has extremely successfully established his prowess in his administrative skills as the Chairman of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) by way of several successful development projects.

The President has presented probably the best development plan for the country through his election manifesto. He re-affirmed the same plan at the 2019 general election. However, the pertinent question is whether he was able to carry out his development plans smoothly and flawlessly? The answer is that the flow was disrupted by the pandemic that has created economic crises worldwide.

Situation same everywhere

The country’s political opposition knows that no government can function impeccably amidst the prevailing gruesome global and local state of affairs. The pandemic re-emerges around the world wave after wave, often evolving with renewed and more dangerous new variants. Similarly, the world economy as a whole has taken a huge plunge delivering an unanticipated and unprecedented sucker punch to the Sri Lankan economy. The economy that has dipped to a GDP growth of 2.3% dip during the previous regime has been further affected negatively by the global recession.

Within a span of a mere eighteen months, the Government was compelled to spend a staggering 260 billion rupees due to the Covid-19 pandemic according to the official sources. This was as health expenditure, medicine, purchase of vaccinations, and also pandemic-related public welfare such as special payments to needy families.

It is common knowledge that the country lost virtually the entire revenue that came through tourism and a sizeable portion of foreign exchange received through foreign employment. A total of approximately US Dollars fifteen billion were deprived. In a small economy such as Sri Lanka where a substantial amount of funds is spent on essential imports, the loss of such an enormous amount of foreign exchange was virtually unbearable. Even the ban of non-essential goods was not adequate to balance the deficit.

However, the critiques, mostly influenced by petty rival party politics, without offering credible solutions, keep slinging mud at the Government. The same critiques who were ministers in the previous regime have not come forward when the country’s economy was showing a steady downward trend from 2016 onward, even without any considerable economic issues or natural disasters. The most favourite getaway phrase of these half-baked financial pundits is that the ministers in charge of finance-related subjects were responsible, and not them.

Those who are lobbying the total close down concept entirely disregard the plight of self-employed people in the country. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Department of Statistics reports, the self-employed population in Sri Lanka is over 3.3 million, or 41.2% of the total employed. If the country is completely locked down for another several weeks, what can be the plight of them?

Self-employed and lockdowns

This country has already seen the horrifying experience of self-employed fraternity underwent during the past two lock downs. The economic loss per day is a staggering 41 billion rupees as per estimates. Therefore, the decision of locking down is not easy in the present circumstances, particularly, considering the country’s current economic status. Therefore, the Government is between the devil and the deep blue sea and compelled to strike a perfect balance between the two equally important factors when making decisions. Regrettably, the Government media machinery is ineffective and not adequately taking this message to the masses.

The opposition politicians, who invariably criticize every single move by the Government, whether right or wrong, know this fact perfectly well; yet go on slandering the Government.

The irony is that they also keep making contradictory public statements for political gains. When the Government imposes lock downs they shout out that the people are starving and if they decide on restrictions, the same politicians cry foul that the Government is inefficient.

Meanwhile, the World health organization has categorically declared that currently, vaccination is the best remedy to combat the pandemic if or until a permanent cure is invented. Therefore, vaccination is the most effective remedy for the moment for every community.

As an extremely consoling factor and despite steady disruptions by opposition politicians, the vaccination program in Sri Lanka forges ahead effectively. According to Health Promotion Bureau information, over 70% of the target population has received the first dose and nearly 30% of them have both doses. Total vaccines given are approximately over 15 million doses at the time of writing this article.

Considering both local and global vaccination drives, this is an extremely creditable effort by the health authorities with the assistance and the commitment of the tri-forces, predominantly the Army Medical Corps. The country is on an ambitious drive to complete vaccination of the entire over 30 years population by the end of September.

The lack of trust by the public in some of the senior ministers holding important portfolios is another seemingly weak factor of the Government.

Even though some of them can collect votes in their electoral districts most of them are largely unpopular in the country almost entirely. The practice of making arbitrary statements and contradictory sentiments must end as soon as possible and also credible people must be appointed to address the citizenry.

The much-talked-about renewed Presidents Media Division and the newly established Media Center are still lagging in responding to various allegations and criticisms. Ignoring public feedback is detrimental to a Government.

The President’s advisors surely must be aware of this fact. Considering all the prevailing factors of both health and economics, the Government is trying very hard to overcome the enormous challenges. Adding to the prevailing misery is the upsurge of politically inclined public protests, encouraged by the lukewarm response of the authorities.

If everyone stands together, leaving petty party politics, the Government, the opposition, and their supporters, the country can overcome the current challenge. Therefore, being flexible in reaching consensus on national issues is no longer an option, but an absolute necessity.