Economic prescription no remedy for social chaos

Saturday, 30 December 2023 00:10 –      – 29

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Greetings to all for a New Year, though little to celebrate. The year seems to begin with President Wickremesinghe making major changes in the top bureaucracy effective from 1 January 2024, according to news reports. Ten Secretaries to important Ministries would be shuffled the report said. While such changes would not have any worthy impact on Ministry work, it does say the President is not happy about work in these Ministries.

The problem with ministries, departments, authorities, corporations is not just about the top bureaucracy being inefficient or incompetent. It’s about a massive degeneration and breakdown of the whole State apparatus. It’s about a heavily politicised, corrupt, inefficient, and racially biased State apparatus from the very top to the very bottom across all State agencies. The level of degeneration and decay may not be the same everywhere. But it persists everywhere from the law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, public administration, social services including education, health, public transport, and everything else that is part of the “unitary State”.

During the past 40 plus years, the open market economy gradually turned the once socially responsible citizen into a selfish, reckless consumer, devoid of all social values, social concerns, and social empathy that prevailed pre 1977. Thus the State evolved into a mega corrupt, inefficient, undemocratic, and a repressive State with ethno-religious bias. It gave rise to a selfish atomised consumer that takes no interest in social issues as long as she/he feels they do not affect their personal comforts. We have therefore come to sustain a horribly devastated but never questioned Sinhala-Buddhist State with all its anti-social undemocratic behaviour.

In the process the State evolved as irresponsible and inefficient at every level to the extent that funds allocated annually are not even utilised. Funds transferred quarterly by the Treasury often end up being partly utilised during that quarter. The second quarter allocations being still used during the third quarter, the fourth quarter therefore is about finishing off funds received for the third quarter. Hence, the fourth quarter allocations are never required.

Corruption rampant in every State department 

Corruption adds on and is rampant at every level in many forms in every State department and agency. Undeclared commissions, under the table bribes, false and exaggerated or under invoicing to unearned overtime payments and bonuses, to state a few. With such inefficiency and corruption, no State could be democratic, secular, and apolitical.

There is also heavy deterioration of the State institutionally as well as in the public service right down to the grassroots. “One law, one country” therefore, does not necessarily mean that every citizen is equal before the law. Extrajudicial and custodial killings would not be a subject of growing concern if the law is applied equally to everyone at every instance. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on 3 February this year instructed the IGP to present guidelines to prevent “encounter deaths” that in effect meant “custodial deaths”. The BASL issuing a statement said, “In spite of such directions given by the Supreme Court, the BASL observes that custodial deaths and torture continue at an alarming rate”. The statement stressed that “One of the worst crimes in a civilised society under the Rule of Law is custodial deaths”.

With an increasingly heavy baggage of custodial killings, I doubt one could say, law and order is maintained tolerably well. If that be the case, there cannot be increasing crime in Sri Lanka. Macrotrends.com has it that in Sri Lanka crimes increased by 8.4 % in 2016 over that in 2015. Though in 2017 there was a drop of 8.7 % compared to 2016, in 2018 the increase was 5.4 % and in 2019 the crime rate showed an unbelievable leap of 43.9 %. (https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/LKA/sri-lanka/crime-rate-statistics)

Massive increase in crime rate

This massive increase in 2019 is self-explanatory by the 67,548 complaints made on rape of minors, girls below 16 years of age. Of them 10,765 were statutory rapes meaning with the consent of the victim. Consent of a minor is not accepted in law and amounts to rape. There had been 1,674 cases of rape of women over 16 years. Cruelty against children records a tragic number of 90,400 cases. Cases on hard and dangerous drugs account for 10,012 in year 2019. (From Grave Crimes Abstract of 2019, removed from police website in early June 2021 but quoted in Wikipedia as accessed on 30 May 2021 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Sri_Lanka)

Let us not confuse numbers in the complaint books in police stations with those in the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). Almost always they are two separate sets of numbers.  The NCPA says, the first four months of 2023 recorded 3,102 cases of child abuse as reported to them. Their statistics for this year until end October reveals 171 child abductions, 1,833 cases of cruelty to children, 328 cases of grave sexual abuse, 228 cases of grievous hurt and 385 cases of sexual harassments. Within those numbers are Principals and teachers mercilessly assaulting schoolchildren and also exploiting them sexually. Most school based abuses of children go without complaints for many reasons, including teachers ganging up against the child for complaining.

Undisciplined, uncivilised society

What do all these numbers say? Not only that State agencies are inefficient and corrupt, but also that society has lost its decency. It indicates that society is undisciplined, uncivilised, and cruel caught in a rat race to earn and amass wealth by any means. In this backdrop the State is accepted as it is, with all its deformities and degenerations. We therefore saw how the ICCPR is misinterpreted, the PTA slammed at will and how emergency regulations could be used as was evident in the arrest and detention of Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen of Kurunegala on fabricated complaints, the arrest and detentions of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah for 22 months, poet and writer Ahnaf Jazeem of Mannar for 18 months and an innocent woman Masahima of Hasalaka for her dress with a motif that was said to resemble the Buddhist “Dharma Chakra” that the police said is an insult to Buddhism. The COVID-19 epidemic also showed how the prohibition of burials was used against the Muslim community. We also heard of teachers and Principals in Sinhala South denying entry to Muslim teachers of their schools and how they ordered Muslim children to leave classrooms.

Militarisation in North-East 

The North-East is another tragedy. The situation there seems far worse than when President Mahinda Rajapaksa established the LLRC mandated to investigate post-war damage in relation to pre-war situation. The LLRC recommendations explicitly said, the North-East should be de-militarised and a civil administration established without delay. Twelve years after the LLRC Report was tabled in Parliament none of the recommendations have been honoured. (https://groundviews.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/FINAL-LLRC-REPORT.pdf)

Militarisation in the North-East is now alleged in facilitating colonisation of Tamil areas with Sinhala communities. The presence of unidentified armed groups in the North is still being reported. And 12 years later LLRC recommendations in terms of democratising of the State have now become relevant to the whole country.

Wrapping up this whole sad story about the majority in society, let me first say, economic crisis cannot and should not be alienated from the decay and degeneration of this dinosaur like State and spoken of as the only mess this country is struggling with. The State and this society remain as major problems to be resolved with far reaching reforms, for any economic recovery to take place.

It is common sense that a State awfully corrupt from top to bottom, does not count efficiency as necessary for its functional presence for the simple reason the State does not assume anymore that it is funded for social wellbeing and needs. Inefficiency is not just poor quality work and waste of time, but waste of funds and poor delivery of social services leading to corruption. Increasing crime is not mere breakdown of law and order, but corruption and crime going hand in hand. An ethno-religiously biased State is obviously undemocratic and one that denies equal treatment for the minorities before the law. A society that is ruthlessly selfish, has no decent values or social empathy, and does not demand a secular, plural State for a democratic and dignified life.

The question that remains is, can such a degenerated, selfish society that does not question the role of the State expect a corrupt, inefficient, and a heavily politicised State to implement a program efficiently and independently for economic recovery? None of our political leaders or economic experts have any clue that economic recovery requires a clean and an efficient democratic State. We would thus be left with the agony of demanding economic relief from a Government dictated by a mega corrupt and inefficient State.

The New Year call for 2024 should therefore be for far reaching State reforms to establish a decent, efficient State in an equally decent and civilised society.

 

 

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