Monday 1st May, 2023

There seems to be no end in sight to the ongoing Game of Chicken between the government and university teachers. The signs are that the GCE A/L answer script evaluation will be further delayed. The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) has said its members will commence paper marking poste-haste and finish the task within one month if it is allowed to have an audience with President Ranil Wickremesinghe himself. It does not want to go through any intermediary. One can only hope that the warring dons and the President will powwow and work out a compromise formula for the sake of the hapless students who are dreaming of university admission.

The government should not make the mistake of continuing to practise brinkmanship in the hope that public opinion will turn against the university teachers eventually to the point of compelling them to abandon their trade union struggle. Some self-proclaimed ‘kahunas’ of the ruling party have even threatened to declare the GCE A/L answer script evaluation an essential service and confiscate the properties of the university teachers who refuse to engage in paper marking!

One cannot countenance any trade union action that adversely impacts the future of the student community, whose interests must take precedence over everyone else’s. Equally, the government should stop shedding copious tears for students and carrying out propaganda attacks to vilify the FUTA; instead, it must address the grievances of university teachers as well as other professionals affected by unprecedented tax hikes, which have become rocket fuel for human capital flight. Universities are already experiencing a severe shortage of teachers. There has been a sharp increase in the number of academics leaving the country, according to media reports. Doctors are migrating in droves, and several hospitals have been compelled to close some wards and even suspend surgical operations. The situation is taking a turn for the worse, we are told. The deterioration of state universities and the public health system affects only the ordinary public. Politicians and their cronies can afford overseas education for their children and treatment at foreign hospitals.

Everybody agrees that taxes must be paid, but wants tax money to be utilised in a transparent manner. In a land, where waste, corruption and the theft of public funds are rampant, it is only natural that the people become resentful and averse to taxation, and protest, or even rebel, when taxes and tariffs are jacked up. Can anyone who makes an honest living be faulted for being reluctant to pay taxes when he or she sees the parasitic crooks in the garb of politicians, and their kith and kin, sans any legitimate sources of income, living like royalty at the expense of the public?

Many fixed income earners who obtained loans a few years ago, when nobody anticipated an economic crisis, are in dire straits today. They are facing a double whammy courtesy of the incumbent rulers, who have bankrupted the country. What they are left with, at the end of each month, after taxes are paid, is hardly sufficient for them to exist on.

They deserve some relief, but the government has chosen to turn a blind eye to their predicament and is bulldozing its way through. They are facing severe hardships and, worse, the prospect of being reduced to penury for no fault of theirs. It is the current SLPP-UNP regime that should take the blame for this situation. The Opposition is also not free from blame, for its grandees were in power in the past, and made a tremendous contribution to the aggravation of the country’s economic woes.

Ideally, what the government, university teachers and other stakeholders should be discussing at present is how to lower the age of graduation in this country and develop the university system and prepare it for changes and challenges in the next decade. Instead, they have locked horns over the GCE A/L paper marking! President Wickremesinghe has a vision of the future of the country’s education sector, as a former Minister of Education, and it is to be appreciated. It is all very well to set ambitious goals, but their attainment hinges on the availability of resources, proper strategizing, the commitment and perseverance of all stakeholders and a great deal of hard work.

Let it be repeated that President Wickremesinghe and university teachers on the warpath must meet urgently and thrash out a compromise formula so that A/L paper marking could commence without further delay.


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