Dateline Colombo

Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome

08 Sep, 2015    ·   4910

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera writes on the importance of a comprehensive collective national plan to tackle the hurdles of nation-building in Sri Lanka

"Don’t think the enemies are weak as there are pro-Eelam forces on one hand while forces belonging to the last regime are also waiting to sabotage the destiny of the national government,” Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

One of the largest catastrophes in modern human history is unfolding in Syria owing to the meteoric rise of the Islamic State (IS) that is now in control of more than half of the Syrian territory. According UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the country has lost the equivalent of four decades of human development.

The suffering of the Syrians running from the IS trouble and a picture of a lifeless Syrian boy on the beach has caught the attention of the entire world. According to reports, one of every five Syrians lives in poverty. The Syrian nation is in chaos, thus leaving no choice but to flee. It is time international communities collaborate in crushing the root cause, which is the IS. With Western and Middle Eastern political will, the IS infrastructure can be dismantled and by building international partnerships, global harmony can be restored.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka was going through its own political transition. After the January 2015 presidential election which overthrew the Rajapaksa regime, Sri Lankans reaffirmed their verdict in the recent August 2015 parliamentary election, defeating Rajapaksa yet again. This secured a clear victory for the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) that took 106 seats while the opposition could secure only 95. The new government with the leadership of the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be ready to introduce good governance and fight corruption to bring economic prosperity. It is time he executes the promises made while electioneering, with the right kind of cabinet ministers. Sri Lanka is seen by the outside world as a shining example of democratic peaceful elections and political transition. The democratic values in our society are far superior to an individual politician.

R. Sampanthan, a minority party leader was appointed opposition leader. 48 Cabinet Ministers were elected from the two main parties, the UNFGG and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). For the first time, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, who should have been according to the people’s mandate of more than 4 million UPFA voters, has been moved to a minority regional party due to the MoU to create a national government. This move garnered both positive and negative reactions but at this critical juncture, with the upcoming decision on Sri Lanka at the UNHCR and the absence of a clear majority government, this was the best option chosen, because the people had not given enough votes to form a majority government.

However, the Sri Lankan government, under UNSC Resolution 1373, proscribed 15 Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam fronts with effect from 1 April 2014. The order enabled funds, assets, and economic resources belonging to the listed persons and entities to remain frozen until the removal of their names from the designated list. It is important to continue the ban and to not review it this point because these fronts still could be a threat to our national security.

In the next few days, some members of the Tamil National Alliance will leave for Geneva to pressure for an international investigation. Sustaining the national government model will be the next challenge as we know what the capabilities of some of our politicians are and how fast they move from one side to another. For a country that has gone through peaceful political transition, it is now important to quickly move towards the nation-building process to double our per capita income by 2020. To this end, two important factors need to be considered:

First we need to move as a nation to a higher collective outcome. The four-time prime minister who understands and knows most politicians in his political sphere would have to find the art of moving away from playing prisoner’s dilemma as he needs to get everyone to cooperate and move forward instead of stagnating.

“If you and I were to change our ways together, we could both get to a better place. However, if I was to change and you were not, I’d be much worse off. And because I can’t be sure that you will move, I won’t make the move either,” Lutfey Siddiqi, Adjunct Professor, National University of Singapore.

These words demonstrate a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ where groups of people settle for a sub-optimal outcome because they cannot ensure coordinated action that could take them all to a better outcome. Great leadership, especially in the context of national leadership is about orchestrating coordinated movement away from the prisoners’ dilemma to a higher collective outcome.

We need to introduce meritocracy into our system, which, in essence is appointing suitable and qualified individuals for the job and ensuring strong government appointments to strengthen our institutions. All appointments will go through a recommendation committee of president and prime minister – a brilliant move to screen the most appropriate person for the job, in the absence of which one will witness ad hoc appointments by some ministers. Chairpersons, directors and all executives’ political appointments need to be carefully decided as they are the key individuals who will work in the ministries and developing the institutions that run losses.

As a nation, we have underwent a lot of pain, firstly during the independence struggle and then fighting terrorism for nearly three decades, and secondly through the youth insurrections and the many political transitions over the past several decades. It is important to develop a national plan by all political parties for the next several decades to take our nation towards prosperity.