Sunday, February 5, 2017

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A country of lost opportunities

By Gamini Abeywardane

Sixty nine years have lapsed since our country got its independence from Britain. Every year we have been celebrating it. Each time as the day approaches many questions come into our minds. One of the legitimate questions is whether independence has served its intended purpose. From the people’s point of view how much of their expectations have been met. In many areas there seem to be gaps.

The British colonialists managed to meet the expectations of the people at the time. The feudal system which was there when they took over the country had transformed into a freer society but with some semi feudal features remaining, by the time we gained independence. Therefore people had less expectation and the majority was happy and content as the country was efficiently run without wastage and corruption.

The freedom struggle was carried out by the educated upper class and the way they marketed the idea of freedom increased people’s hopes. They got new hopes and thought that local masters would give them a society which will be only second to heaven. A few years down the line populism and racism started plaguing the political spectrum with less priority for efficient management and economic development. And with that the rot started and today we are in a dismal status with regard to many important areas, let it be education, health, transport, general administration, law and order or justice system.

When we look back it is mostly a case of lost opportunities. It is no secret that at the time of independence, then Ceylon was relatively a prosperous country well managed and with a lot of prospects. In Asia we were ahead of many other countries including Japan and Singapore. We had one of the best education systems in the region and a well-managed railway transport network with steam engine being introduced here as far back as 1864. With a well-trained Civil Service government machinery was run efficiently.

With a wide array of state, missionary and private schools general English education was at a very high level with standards which no other country in the region could boast of. Ceylon University College, Colombo, the country’s first attempt at university education was set up in 1921 as an affiliate of the University of London. Soon after independence University of Ceylon, Peradeniya was set up under the guidance of Sir Ivor Jennings, a well-known British constitutional law expert who became its first Vice Chancellor. With all these early achievements the country had the potential of becoming an international hub for education earning huge revenue for the country, but instead we have moved in the opposite direction.

Take the simple example of road transport. We inherited a good bus transport system with several bus companies running the public transport system with each company being allocated a separate region. These companies were taken over by the government mostly for political reasons forming a government owned transport board which ended up as a failure.

The government which came into power in 1977 had no option other than allowing individual bus operators on the road which has become an acute problem today. Had we being sensible enough to continue with the bus companies we had and regulated them properly instead of nationalizing, by now we would have had one of the best bus transport systems in the world.

 At the time of independence we had a budgetary surplus and so much so the government of Prime Minister D S Senanayake could complete the massive Gal Oya development project with our own savings without having to raise loans. On the contrary today we are a heavily indebted country.

No doubt we have made advancements in some areas, however they are hardly adequate compared to the amount of progress we could have achieved if our leaders had acted prudently without pandering to populism. When we look at our post-independence period it is a case of lost opportunities than achievements.

That is all we see in hind sight but as a nation we cannot afford to waste time regretting over past mistakes. Probably realizing all this the two main political parties have come together to address some of the key issues facing the country. Despite lost opportunities a new opportunity has arisen to make up for the loss and develop the country and now it is our duty to use it in the most sensible manner.



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