A visionary plan | Sunday Observer

A visionary plan

7 August, 2022

Statesmen think of the next generation but politicians think of the next election. This is a universal truth. Sri Lanka had so far lacked leaders who belonged to the former category, but President Ranil Wickremesinghe has shown to the world that he is a true statesman in every sense of the word with his recent speech to Parliament which was well received even by the Opposition.

President Wickremesinghe spoke in terms of a 25-year plan titled the National Economic Policy (NEP) to rescue and develop Sri Lanka, which will hopefully survive any changes of Government in the meantime. This, he said, was essential in the light of the “great danger” facing the island nation at this juncture. Yes, no one should have any illusion that overnight solutions are available to the multiple woes facing Sri Lankans. Rather, it will be a long, hard road to recovery, which could actually take several decades.

This is indeed the first time that any Sri Lankan leader has laid out such a comprehensive and visionary plan for the future. Indeed, some of us might not be among the living by the time the plan bears fruit somewhere in 2048, which is exactly the 100th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence. But that is the very essence of a multi-generational plan – to think beyond the next election cycle and even our own lifetimes for the benefit of those who will inherit the country one day.

There is no doubt that this will need broad consideration and consultation. Academics, intellectuals, professionals, politicians, Diaspora members and ordinary members of the public should actively contribute their ideas to make this 25-year plan viable. In this regard, the People’s Assembly alluded to by the President in his speech can play a major role.

We should study the 25-year development models that have been successfully implemented in other countries. We should also learn lessons from the current economic debacle to shape our development trajectory for the next 25 years – for example, instead of the current 2035 deadline for halting the import and registration of fossil fuel powered Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles, the Government could go for an “electric vehicle only” policy once the import ban on vehicle imports is lifted, perhaps next year. Of course, a grace period will have to be given for commercial vehicles, as electric commercial vehicles are still in short supply worldwide.

Moreover, public transport should be given priority, with permission given hereafter only for the assembly and import of fully electric buses, along with the possible revival of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project in Colombo (mentioned by the President in his speech) and the electrification of railways islandwide. The Government should also take a policy decision to implement only renewable energy projects from now onwards. We would not be facing hours-long power cuts today if previous Governments implemented more solar and wind energy projects on time. All these measures combined can potentially cut our fuel import bill (nearly US$ 500 million per month) by a considerable margin.

But in the light of what Sri Lanka is going through, there is no time for debate, discord and rancour in taking decisive action. All political parties represented in Parliament as well as those outside it must now project a united front to resolve our current problems. This was, in fact, the very crux of the President’s speech where he called for unity among all political parties and other relevant stakeholders to extricate Sri Lanka from the present quagmire. For far too long, our political parties and even the people have been divided along political, ethnic and religious lines, stifling the nation’s progress. This status quo cannot remain any longer.

Hence the President’s clarion call for the formation of an All-Party Government (APG) consisting of representatives of all political parties currently represented in Parliament. We earnestly hope that all political parties will eventually heed the President’s call, though the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (NPP) has expressed negative sentiments regarding the proposal. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has discussed the APG with the President, who clearly mentioned in his speech that problems and grievances faced by the minority communities must be resolved expeditiously. Some parties, such as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) have said that they will not accept any Ministerial portfolios, but help the Government through Parliamentary Committees and other such initiatives. But all parties are likely to allow any MP who wishes to accept a Ministerial portfolio if his/her knowledge and expertise can be of use to the country at this vital moment. No disciplinary action should be taken against such MPs by the relevant parties as the country’s interests should come first.

It is also advisable to bring in outside professionals to Parliament and possibly to the Cabinet via the National List, including a few genuine representatives from the Aragalaya, whom the President has vowed to protect. However, Cabinet portfolios should not be granted under any circumstances to certain former Ministers implicated in cases of fraud and corruption.

Unity is the only option available now and the only way forward. Political unity and stability is a sine qua non for seeking urgent short-term and medium-term assistance from international lending agencies and donor nations, for no one will come forward to give us a hand if political and social volatility is the order of the day. The President emphasized this aspect too in his detailed speech. The Government and the Opposition should thus lose no time in arriving at a common framework for an APG to take the country forward with courage and vigour.