Wijith DeChickera challenges a coronavirus embattled country to make the most of the ‘political ceasefire’ in favour of the wider national interest

Much recent virulence has hamstrung our public health and safety record while economic prospects plummet in the background. Our cash-strapped country has looked into the abyss of insolvency as a result of decades of profligate spending, and paltry reserves bolstered by empty rhetoric, grand fiscal posturing and poor policy-making.

This government contributed to accumulating woes by being long on promising technocratic professionalism but short on effective delivery – from proactive healthcare; through sustainable development balanced with conservation; to tourism and commodity policies.

A perplexing lack of efficiency by such a militarised regime threatens to turn our potential economic miracle into a backwater economy (bar Port City power – be it good, bad or ugly: time will tell) pursuing a mixed bag of outmoded socio-economic, environmental and political strategies.

China rescued us repeatedly through outright aid, soft loans and debt swaps; and now billions of dollars in pending FDIs – at a cost that only future generations would know… although the writing on the wall is definitely neocolonial like never before.

Visits of the People’s Republic’s defence and foreign ministers show how seriously its politburo takes our strategically placed ports infrastructure and ocean dominating location.

Part of a beleaguered India’s apathy towards us may have this tangible Sino presence in its backyard at its root. Of course, Big Brother’s own coronavirus woes of late (its Serum Institute will not export vaccines this year) contributed to its inefficacy. One hopes its present inability to meet commitments won’t turn to future hostility.

Foreign policy mandarins and the national defence establishment need to keep our ambivalent and potentially aggressive neighbour convincingly appeased because the subcontinental giant is lately aligned to the Quad… whose other Western member nations not only have a lion’s share of our export markets but also the potential for bailouts – from financial assistance to a bank of vaccine stocks.

CHECKPOINT The plethora of mask-less citizens arrested during ‘travel restrictions’ underlines our native retardation as a race. Who’s more to blame: a lax administration turning a blind eye on seasonal festivals; political strongmen twisting the arms of authorities to favour their electoral mini-economies; or a public ignoring regulations like there’s no tomorrow?

The authorities’ failure to act on early warnings after detecting more transmissible strains, its laissez-faire attitude at Avurudu time and indulgence when ruling party bigwigs don’t toe the regulatory line highlights how little we are a law-abiding country.

A nation once priding itself on its stellar literacy rate – illusory given that it means a vast majority of islanders can simply read, write and cross ballots, vesting power in charlatans and chauvinists – still struggles to exit from the chaos of quiet desperation amidst inefficiency and low levels of technological deployment.

Facing a firecracker explosion inauspiciously branded as the ‘New Year Cluster,’ 90-plus per cent of Sri Lankans not inoculated yet may well feel insecure. Until and unless a regime that relied on rhetoric and triumphalism streamlines its vaccination importation and administration, as well as community spread containment strategies.

IDEALISM Apart from kneejerk responses such as building 1,200-bed hospitals overnight after a year of self-serving politicking, the state needs to speak and act with one voice over SARS-CoV-2. The politically motivated ‘ceasefire’ must count for something more significant than bipolarising rhetoric.

If government and opposition can suspend agendas together with egos for longer than it takes to win the war against COVID-19, how blessed our isle would be!

DILEMMAS However, other vexed issues persist. Was the ‘Itukama’ (COVID-19 national fund) effectively utilised? Have we too many specialist-doctor ministers where one epidemiology expert would do, backed by the military rather than headed by spokespersons clearly influenced by politicos?

And where does the buck stop? Is leadership humble enough to face failure as it was to flaunt first wave success?

How (in a supposedly newly technocratic nation state modelled on the maxim One Country, One Law) are there multiple levels of permissibility especially for those in government who lack discipline?

Will blatant violators of emergency health protocols among the ruling classes including family members be carried away feet first together with those haplessly errant hoi polloi? Which will win – favouritism or a fierce new nationalism?

Is it too much to ask our political masters that state resources targeted at electorally popular infrastructure development projects and monies meant for bulking up the military be urgently diverted into battling the epidemic?

No amount of ‘coronavirus politics’ can rollback future waves of this virus. Not even a formidable presidency bulwarked by the unassailable 20th Amendment can command those tides, like some 21st century despot ordering the seas to recede! That ship has sailed.

There is a tide in the onslaught of SARS-Cov-2 that waits for no man or strongman. Supermen and women of power politics today grovel before the grim reaper the world over.

At home, let’s hope the political ceasefire would propel integral leadership one step farther in a nationally salvific direction.