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Why is nothing being done about this acknowledged failure? 

The queues opposite the Department of Immigration and Emigration are long and winding. So are the lines opposite the Foreign Ministry where young people in particular gather to have their examination transcripts validated. Some of those who line up in hope of securing passports or getting their transcripts certified, stand in line from as early as 3.30 a.m.

Others try to get on boats illegally, and end up paying unscrupulous folk who profit from the illegal business of trying to smuggle people to Australia, on mostly unseaworthy vessels. Several dozens of such hopefuls were apprehended recently in Trincomalee. 

The numbers trying to leave this country have increased sharply this year, and the long lines described above and the story of the boat people is testimony to this. Some may say the queues are due to month-long lockdowns that had forced the closure of government offices, making obtaining travel documents an impossibility. So when the immigration offices were reopened, there was a natural backlog of applicants, and hence the opening of floodgates that caused the long lines, it’s reasoned. 

Although some of the queue formation could be explained away with this narrative, it’s impossible to argue that the constant long lines near the aforementioned offices are all due to a backlog. The lines are there till the afternoon hours and are persistently long which means no “backlog” is clearing up. That’s because it’s not just a backlog that accounts for these queues. There is a desperation among many who see a country they perceive as offering them no hope for the future, because of a badly managed present.

Is this the legacy that the current Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration wanted to leave behind some day, when the “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” policy was launched after the much ballyhooed inaugural period for the current President? Is this what was hoped from the new administration that was expected to bring about order from chaos, and usher in the era of the “functioning nation” (weda karana ratak)?

No, but it can all be put down to Covid! The pandemic and the global slump, and the resulting forex crisis, etc. due to decreasing revenue sources, they would say destroyed the hopes for a resounding success for the new administration – which almost from day one, they would say, had to go on damage control mode due to the rampaging pandemic.

Countries so far afield as Rwanda and Greece and Singapore and Vietnam have come out extremely strong from the pandemic which begs the question why if cash-strapped Greece can rebound, and sub-Saharan Rwanda can do well, Sri Lanka should struggle despite the fact that we have a literate population and a generally robust economy, which has withstood the travails of war, etc. in decades past?

It’s because the country was severely mismanaged despite the fact that there was a semblance of order maintained and there was food, water, electricity and fuel, and the bare essentials supplied. But staying above the waterline is no achievement – this economy could have been salvaged. It wasn’t. A forex crisis, it could be said, can be expected with revenue sources dwindling, but the domestic economy was brought to its knees too, with lockdowns that were sporadic and irrational, and a vaccination campaign that did not start with the neediest demographic of the over 65 year olds.

The pattern of disease transmission – among the aging demographic with those with comorbidities at high risk – was never properly identified, and arbitrary lockdown was the only answer to the pandemic. These tactics ravaged the domestic economy, but the administration apparently shut itself away from that reality and pretended that there was no choice in the matter.

The damage has clearly been done. The only damage control has been largely cosmetic – and limited to changing Cabinet roles, and making some scattered new appointments.

It’s not a game. But, we are told, there was a mea culpa of sorts from the President and that was a good sign that he was so self-effacing. This, however, was no consolation for those who were suffering from the consequences of mismanagement, and the death to an economy by a thousand cuts.

They say now that the slain economy could be resurrected, but at a time there is an unprecedented economic crisis, the regime is hell bent on pursuing an organic fertiliser project that is well motivated but is implemented ridiculously with no phasing out. The sudden transition is strangling mainstays such as tea and other cash crops, and what are the policymakers thinking?

That the best time to implement a pet project is when the economy is reeling? That the best time to make a display of stubbornness is when Covid-related closures have devastated lives and driven people to suicide because of the economic harm that has resulted?

Real competence is almost nowhere to be found in the regime anyway, and the state institutions are mostly manned by stooges who have been dressed up to look like they are subject experts and other hand-picked persons recruited on merit. The Government has succeeded in giving new meaning to the word merit, and that much can be said before any judgement is passed on the quality of the hand-picked policymaking elite.

What could be done? If people are self-effacing they should move over and hand governance to those who are more competent. But that’s not done as sycophancy is valued by the current regime it seems, before all else.

Also as said before, it’s not a game and if there is a feeling of remorse that things haven’t turned out well, the honourable could consider resigning outright. If you are out of your depth, get out of the water and make way for someone who can swim the nine yards. It doesn’t even have to be anyone from the opposite ranks – the people would decide who should govern them when the time comes. 

By the way, how is Rwanda for instance achieving a projected economic growth of 7.3% in 2021, in the throes of a pandemic? The ease of doing business has made tremendous leaps in the country where the leadership has been focussed on streamlining the bureaucracy, whereas the Government here has involved itself in a shotgun organic fertiliser project which has strengthened unnecessary bureaucratic controls, rather than weakened them. 

The Government’s approval rating, if measured, would have to be deconstructed. It would have plummeted, definitely, but more importantly what of the slogans of a functioning country, weda karana rata, etc.?

These are made laughable today and haven’t endured, whereas less resounding slogans such as Miracle of Asia in 2010-14 had far more traction even during the end days of the then administration.

Things are just not holding together for this regime, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that. Not for long will the governing cabal be able to blame everything on Covid.

When the fertiliser fiasco has nothing whatsoever to do with Covid, how can that be done? This situation has more to do with the utter personality failure of a leader.

The leader can only acknowledge a leadership failure by name; i.e by referring to it. Yes, I’m a failure of sorts, he says, expecting that this too would make him special, because that he thinks is the hallmark of a good leader. No, sorry, the hallmark of a good leader is not to say I’m a failure so that more marks can be added to the score column. If there is a failure, step away or at least do something about it. How can that be done when arrogance and stubbornness is written into the personality in the first place? 

(The writer is a former Editor-in-Chief of three national English language publications and a practicing Attorney-at-Law. He is an Editors’ Guild award-winning columnist, and contributing writer and columnist for the Nikkei Asian Review and South China Morning Post, while his editorials have been published in The Australian)

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.