Wednesday, January 20, 2010

why can't a man in a beat up pick up truck win an election in Sri Lanka, whereas in the US he can?

The staggering result of the Massachusettes special election for Senator for the vacant seat of Senator Edward Kennedy, prompted me to write this entry. The winner a Republican drawing mainly from Independent voters (those not aligned to either of the two main parties) was unexpected as Ted Kennedy a Democrat held this seat for nearly 50 years. Even though President Obama carried the state with 62% of the vote the new senator Brown got a convincing 52% of the vote.

There appeared to be a backlash against the ruling government after a short period of control of both houses and the Senate with a 60 vote filibuster proof majority. Now the whole health care bill that is going through the House of Representatives is in doubt, as many Congressmen fear losing in the coming November elections. Remember that in the US lower house is elected only for a 2 year term, while a Senator is elected for a 6 year term.

What drew me to write was that the Brown campaign ads had him with his beat up pick up truck, showing him as as an average Joe fighting the establishment, which must have stuck a chord with the voters.

Well I too am an average Joe with a much beaten up pick up truck, and I too would like to seek the vote as one who is more aware of the needs of the people, than most of the elected of our land, who just pretend to know the pulse as well as the suffering that they undergo. However my issue which I still fail to comprehend is that the electors like a show, a padashow if you like! to show that the person they are electing is a man of means with goons in tow, pajeros by the dozen and arrack by the barrel and money to burn on cut outs of himself by the truck load, and scurrilous literature of the opposition by the closed van load to be painted on walls overnight.

Should I for one go against the grain of this thinking and be proud of my weather beaten workhorse and promise if elected, to first deliver my thambili to my long standing kade customers near the parliament, before entering its gates as their new MP!!!!! I believe it is time that genuine humility and an income earner enters parliament and not one who has income, or is given income!!

Tell me what you think. Is it possible in Sri Lanka that we can rise above the con and go about our electing on a basis of a real program and not outrageous promises.

Tell me what you think. We need to have a dialogue before we go any further in persuing this avenue.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What I observe on provincial roads excluding trucks and buses

I am on the roads a lot of my time, day and night and as it is mainly out of the Colombo district, it never ceases to amaze me that there are so many vehicles on the road belonging to the non-private sector. Needless to say most of the encounters are during the day, as the non-private sector drivers and their vehicles are fast asleep at night during the only time I can spare to drive!
A point to note is that all these vehicles have drivers who are permanent staff with social security and pension benefits. They charge overtime when they stay beyond regular working hours. (whether the authorizations are true or false, it is the state sector that pays their wages) Their monthly net exceeds Rs20,000, which is rare for private sector drivers who work longer and often do not have the pension benefits. Is it hardly a wonder that I cannot afford the services of a driver?
They drive their vehicles recklessly, as the insurance and repairs are also paid by the state sector, and they are not penalized for bad driving. The insurance is on the vehicle and not the quality of the driver as is the case in western countries that penalize bad drivers. Often there are family members along for the ride and many a state vehicle is misused by both the person assigned the vehicle and the driver who sometimes drives it home. Remember the person assigned the vehicle does not care how much mileage is done, or charged as he is not paying the bills. All the private drivers I know are not allowed to drive their vehicles home. If they are lucky they have a motorbike to go home, if they can afford one.
A driving job in the state sector is a prized occupation, as very little responsibility goes with the job. Come to think of it I may be better of financially if I had a job as a driver for a government department!! Most of the time is spent reading the papers or passing the time of day as a completely useless citizen of the land.
Once I was at a police station, and the OIC (officer in charge) was complaining that his jeep was in a seriously poor condition, and had put in a request for a replacement. I heard from the police driver assigned the vehicle that it is primarily used for the OIC and his family’s personal use and no subordinate would rat on the superior as the code of secrecy applies to such abuse of privilege and power.
It may sound like sour grapes as I battle to survive in a beat up uncomfortable vehicle loaded to the gunnels with produce, trying to earn a living for myself and my staff, while these fancy state sector air conditioned vehicles whizz about the roads with near do well occupants eating into the entrepreneurial drive of the nation, come to think of it I should join the state sector!!!

He who hoodwinks the public most, unfortunately comes to power- the case for a smaller bureaucracy

Truth is the first casualty in a democracy. This is because obtaining the majority of votes or seats in parliament are the prerequisites for power, and doing or saying that which is necessary to obtain the vote is the all consuming game.
If I say that I will cut the bureaucracy in half, and pay the remainder an extra Rs 10,000 a month on average which is performance related, none of the government servants or their families (4 million voters) will vote for me as they all know they would be in line to lose their jobs. Those that don’t get the axe will have to do the work of the rest and be more productive to earn extra and even that is not enough incentive to vote for me as lethargy and job security is the preferred option.
As one in the private sector I know how hard it is to earn one’s living as all my remuneration is performance related, and if I fail to sell enough products, I will not be able to meet my payroll and essential overheads. What more incentive does one need to work when doing nothing is not an option when one has commitments and obligations to others.
It would be so refreshing to put out a manifesto for growth and real development which is honest and clear, so that we do what is necessary to attain the country’s true potential and not pussy foot about the greater lie. The problem with Sri Lanka as is common with countries in this stage of development is that power is the all consuming prerequisite for effecting change as well as providing and acquiring largesse. This is due to Government forming a large part of the economy, both in the provision of infrastructure and in the disbursing of welfare to those who support the party in power.
One hopes the electorate will finally realize that promises of handouts is a self defeating prophecy that has bedeviled this country over the past 60 years, and promises only of infrastructural development will only set the stage for private sector driven structural long term sustainable growth based on sound economic and financial principles.
A master plan of short and longer term intentions will assist in setting up a visionary policy framework to follow, not a jingoistic Mahinda Chinthana or the rudderless policy statements of the Sarath Fonseka campaign. The problem with an honest plan is that political opponents will create a fear psychosis based on areas like job losses, where the true intention of net job gains that arise out of cutting bureaucracy and red tape is more difficult to explain to a doubting electorate than real cuts in recurrent expenditure by downsizing the oversized bureaucracy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I am in an alien world and I am actually saying it – I never thought possible

Last weekend, was spent with some friends in quite a glamorous setting at a seaside villa in Pamunugama. The villa had a sea frontage, with 5 air-conditioned bedrooms and a swimming pool. There were 11 adults and 5 children in the party. It was a gorge fest of delectable eating, bites wine and spirits, walks on the beach and buying from the fishermen for bites with drinks. All very bourgeois and in the past I probably would have found it quite up my street. Now having lived in Polonnaruwa for 5years, and on the farm in Meegoda, I eat regular Rs100 meals at road-side cafes or ‘dara lipa’ cooking of basic bath curry that I somehow found that my system could not cope with three rich meals a day. One is my max!
What I found quite alien was the extremely westernized nature of these kids, who are used to a level of toys and gadgets that no one I know in the village can aspire to. These are kids who have English accents similar to the programs they watch on TV, with little in common with the kids I meet in the village whose one ambition is to get a small bike they can ride around in with their friends. The village kids are unsupervised whereas these kids (especially with a pool at hand) had to be completely under watchful eye of protective parents. I know my sisters’ children are also in the same boat, but as I have not vacationed with them lately I have not noticed the contrast with them.

This peep into another world of pampers, swim suits, and Thomas the tank engine and not a Sinhala word spoken is one I can understand how my rural friends feel when I bring them into contact with my suburban friends. I am caught in two worlds where there is little common ground between them in the same country. I really love my rural life, but I find it hard to survive there for financial reasons, as I am unable to be financially independent there, though that is my real desire to be there with my Sinha Bahu( The problem is that they see me as an alien in their surroundings as much as I feel the same in this situation, and lo and behold I have either become a man of no worlds not one of both worlds!!
I have shown my Polonnaruwa neighbors my Colombo world, and the World Trade Center where I also work, to show them another side of society, staying at my flat on chic Gregory’s Road. They must also have some out of body experience on the same lines. They would not know how to handle my wine and cheese parties at my flat, but I so want the two worlds to meet there to try and understand each other in our surrounding not us to go to theirs which can appear patronizing. It is all a social experiment, the results of which are still to be ascertained.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The rumor mill is rife Sri Lanka style – Presidential Election

As we all know SL does not lend itself to credible and independent opinion pollsters, due to the notorious double speak of the electorate, so the usual collection of drama queens are filling the vacuum in a way that the information is going all the way to the top. It is interesting that unquestionably there is a swing SF way however one would prefer it or not, but whether it will be enough to make a difference on election-day is anyone’s guess.
This basic fact is always inevitable, especially when one is the under-dog and the top dog is doing everything possible to ruin his chances. Analyse the Sinhala press and TV that the Government owns and the most die hard supporter will be embarrassed by the one-sided sycophantic praise heaped upon another human.
This fact does not seem to have gone completely unnoticed by the man himself, and this is a rumor from a supposed insider!! “I hear that he is frothing mad at a host of his ministers and advisors who are in the hasty make believe state of cockiness, and are spoiling his chances by making unpardonable bold face lies, hoping they are true. This has resulted in some of them being blasted in filth, and due to the patronage they enjoy and now with nowhere to go, have no self respect but to hang on even when the boss asks them to vamoose from power!!”
Of course this leaves the SF camp, who really have come up with no real concrete alternatives, plans or manifesto, a chance of gloating over the self-inflicted gunshot injuries, hoping that by some miracle the anti vote will push them over hill.
As you know all the above is pure conjecture, but both parties hold strong opinions which drive their followers to frenzy and irrational logic. All I can wish for from now on till election-day is to permit all our eligible voters the chance to cast their secret ballot as they wish, and not be coaxed by monetary or illegal acts to go against their true wishes. These ballots so cast, should be allowed to be counted correctly with no fraud, thereby permitting everyone to clearly say that the election was a free and fair one, and despite the overwhelming arrogance and misuse of power during the run up, that the citizenry on their own made up their minds on whether they wish the incumbent to be re-elected or not.
We must accept the outcome with dignity, knowing it reflects the will of the people and carry on developing the country and not individuals, so that its citizens of all ethnic background can live in peace and freedom, where as at the same time improving their prospects to enhance their lives and those of their children to fulfill their personal goals within this serendipitous country not having recourse to leave.