A ray of hope



Thursday 18th May, 2023



Sanity seems to have prevailed at long last. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and a delegation of university teachers are scheduled to meet today, according to some media reports. The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) is expected to discuss with the President a range of issues its members are facing due to the unprecedented tax hikes, etc.

The scheduled powwow between the President and the warring dons is long overdue, and we fervently hope that it will take place. They should have met weeks ago and thrashed out a compromise formula without resorting to brinkmanship, which only prolongs disputes and engenders animosity. Their game of chicken adversely affected the GCE A/L answer script evaluation process. Thankfully, the dons suspended their boycott of paper marking albeit with a military caveat.

It is hoped that today’s talks will help the President and the university teachers find middle ground, which is a prerequisite for adopting a lasting solution. Intransigence on the part of both warring parties or either of them will only make the task of arriving at a negotiated settlement well-nigh impossible.

Taxes must be paid and no room should be left for anyone to evade them. One of the main reasons for the current economic crisis is the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government’s harebrained decision to slash taxes. The incumbent administration has gone to the other extreme; it has jacked up taxes exponentially. Professionals including university teachers are not refusing to pay taxes. Their protests against unusually high taxes emanate from some genuine grievances that have gone unaddressed. They say they have to repay loans they obtained years ago when nobody anticipated an economic crisis or steep rises in inflation and interest rates. Today, most professionals are left without any money to feed and clothe their families after paying taxes, loan installments and bills. Many of them, especially doctors, university teachers and IT professionals, have already left the country for fear of being reduced to penury here. True, university teachers are not alone in this predicament, but that is no reason why the government should refuse to heed their call for redress. Other professionals troubled by unprecedented tax hikes, etc., also deserve relief and reassurance.

There are some allegations against university teachers, the main being that some of them hardly do any teaching and their performance is abysmal. These issues must also be taken up when President Wickremesinghe meets the representatives of university dons. It is incumbent upon the FUTA to ensure that all its members earn their keep and maintain high professional standards while fighting for their rights.

People’s resistance to the new tax regime also arises from their antipathy towards the current dispensation, whose leaders have earned notoriety for incompetence and corruption. Most of the present-day rulers and their kith and kin are living the high life despite their humble beginnings, which they hype up during elections in a bid to appeal to the grassroots. Their ill-gotten wealth consists mostly of stolen public funds. It is only natural that intelligent citizens who make an honest living become resentful and reluctant to pay taxes when they see the members of political families sporting expensive designer wear, moving about in flashy cars and living in palatial houses. A failed, corrupt regime lacks legitimacy and can never inspire the public to make sacrifices. This is why the SLPP-UNP administration has to hold an election and seek a fresh mandate.

The ruling party politicians and advisors to the government on trade union affairs had better stop provoking workers. Instead of trying to settle industrial disputes amicably, they try to intimidate trade unions into submission. If these abrasive characters are allowed to attend today’s talks between the President and the FUTA, they will make the task of finding an amicable solution to the university crisis even more difficult.