Intellectuals with Independence, Integrity, & Initiative Where have they all gone?

Intellectuals with Independence, Integrity, & Initiative Where have they all gone?

-Chandra Jayaratne-

A recent e-mail in circulation states “The greatest value in life is not what you get, but in what you become” and refers to ‘John F. Kennedy holding a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time, believed to be all of the then living American Nobel Laureates, where he made the statement:

“This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever together at one time in the White House, with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” The mail then goes on to refer to some famous quotes of Thomas Jefferson, some of which are detailed below with author’s comments in the brackets);

• The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. (Brings to mind some recent actions of our political leaders outside the UNDP office and in Kelaniya)
• It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world. (Unrestricted foreign borrowings of the state for investments in projects/spends with long term cash flow returns inadequate to service such commitments)
• I predict future happiness for Americans (Sri Lankans) if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors (and national resources) of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. (purported investments in reclamation of the sea off Galle Face and the investments in Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Air)
• My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government. (Despite having the highest per capita public service employment, continuing to grow the public service rather than improve its capability (Knowledge, skills and attitudes), quality and productivity. Ignoring public private partnership options and resorting to establishing new public sector institutions and expanding the public sector)
• The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.  (policy and regulatory framework as well as governance processes and  practices with  equitable sharing of national resources not being remodeled to avoid the causes that gave rise to southern and northern insurrections)
• To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical. (Government spends targeting the promotion of selected religious, cultural and purported  heritage linked identities and supporting the ego trip needs of leaders in governance)
Democracy and Rule of Law
Media reports that a political big wig, with extremist views and unpredictable actions, has thrown his fists about whilst arguing with the agents of law enforcement, during a fracas outside an accredited diplomatic office in Colombo. This had led his supporters too to threaten and jostle the accompanying police team. The official cap of a Deputy Inspector General of Police who had come with the police team is believed to have been displaced in the process of the reported fracas with the politician. This police team had come to the scene, with instructions from the Head of the Police force, following a call from the diplomats to facilitate safe passage out for the locked in diplomatic and office staff. The recorded voice cuts heard over the internet thereafter, of a telephone conversation purported to be between the Police team at the scene and the big wig boss of internal security was so revealing of the state of democracy and the application of the rule of law prevalent at present. The recent show off for the benefit of media enacted by an egoistic clown thug capped it all and reflects that law breaking is permitted publicly and even in the presence of on duty police force so long as the offending party has the protection of the crown and there are no formal complaints against the wrong doers.

The sad part of the above incidents is the realization that there are no self respecting “Officers and Gentlemen” in charge of law enforcement. Further there is also a lack of “Good Men/Women” to publicly complain and raise the ‘voice of disdain of the community’. In this situation are there any options for “public interest litigation” by the affected community, whose rights to due protection under the law have been impinged by the acts of persons in power and the apparent inaction of the law enforcement personnel.

Yet another Hedging Deal
The Intellectuals remained silent whilst the famous petroleum hedging deal was put before them for review and critique. They preferred to let experiments be undertaken with open ended unmitigated risks to the state, so long as knowledgeable and regulating bankers were there to underwrite it. The same intellectuals have not raised even an eye brow despite the media announcing that one billion rupees worth of guarantees are being afforded by the state to allow a ministry to forward commit to import at a specified prices one year’s supply of coal for the Norachcholai plant due to commence production of electricity in November this year. This commitment is justified based on an assessment that coal as a commodity will be subject to an upward price movement in the first twelve months after the plant under construction begins operations at the year end. Is this also not a form of hedging? How transparent were the mechanisms adopted in agreeing the deal terms? What were the price advantages, competitiveness of terms, quality assurance and settlement terms? Were these evaluations unequivocally supportive of extension of a state guarantee? Does a state guarantee of this magnitude require parliamentary oversight? What tracking systems are in place and who is accountable for continuous monitoring and control? If it was so important and so obvious an hedge, why was this price hedge limited to one year’s supply and not an extended term? Oh where are the good men with intellect to ask these questions?

Transparency of Power Purchase Agreements
Where are the Intellectuals whilst the CEB staff are publicly complaining as per media reports that ‘the CEB has contracted via power purchase agreements to purchase from private companies 95 MW of Wind Power at Rs.25/= per unit, despite instructions to reduce the purchase price to Rs.16 per unit. The Engineers are reported to have commented that this price is well above the prices in other countries (lowest in some countries stated at Rs 4 per unit) and perhaps the highest tariff paid anywhere in the world. In addition, they point out that these power purchase agreements have exceeded the limits set for standard PPP’s, which are restricted to 10MW to be purchased from a single source. These contracts are purported to be valid for a four year term and not restricted for one year as per standard PPP. Despite the governing Act specifying that tenders are to be called for PPP’s above 25MW these contracts have been awarded outside such a framework”.  Alas, where are the intellectuals who should be asking some critical unanswered questions in connection with this contracting without transparency?

Globally much respected Elders have criticize the clampdown on domestic critics and disdain for human rights in Sri Lanka and described the international response to Sri Lanka’s worrying approach to human rights, good governance and accountability as a ‘deafening global silence’ that may encourage other states to act in a similar way. They believe that the Sri Lankan government’s domestic conduct, as well as its recent unacceptable treatment of the United Nations in Sri Lanka warrant a firm, public response from its most influential friends and the non aligned group of countries.

Any right thinking intellectual or trained diplomat would have extended the hand of warm greetings to the Elders and offered to work with them in tandem with the positive strategic initiatives planned by the government. It is sad that these intellectuals have not taken cudgels with an MP from the governing coalition, who criticized the retired elders over the BBC referring to their actions as “simplifying and preaching” instead of making recommendations to build on the positive change. The intellectuals have also not taken umbrage with the defence head for getting irate by the media questions relating to the strategy in dealing with ‘KP’.

Can We Afford To Host the 2018 Commonwealth Games?
Why have the Intellectuals not raised any questions or sounded an alarm with blinking amber lights about Sri Lanka bidding for the Commonwealth Games?  The Commonwealth Federation Website reports “The bidding process for the XXI Commonwealth Games began in 2010 when two cities submitted a formal nomination to the Commonwealth Games Federation to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The Gold Coast in Australia and the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota met the CGF’s deadline of March 31 to nominate as a candidate city. Each will now build their candidature in the hope of being selected as the 2018 host city by the CGF General Assembly, consisting of representatives of all 71 member nations and territories, when it meets in St Kitts & Nevis in October 2011.” It was reported that the remodelling and upgrade of Keththaramaya and Pallakelle cricket Stadiums in time for the World Cup games next year (not including the costs of the new stadium in Hambantota) was about Rs. 2.5 billion. How much the Commonwealth Games related infrastructures will costs? At least for the sake of good governance and transparency have these been evaluated prior to the submission of the bid? Important answers to critical questions of cost vs. Benefits, affordability, sources of financing, long term use new infrastructure and expected cash flows from the investments have all escaped the blinkered eyes of the intellectuals.

NGO Operations supporting the war Displaced Persons
It is rumoured that the two leading Sri Lankan NGO’s operating in the North and East and currently engaged in supporting rehabilitation and resettlement of war displaced families have been asked to cease all the work they are engaged in. This is believed to be as a consequence of their and the supporting independent donors unwillingness to channel funds mobilized from foreign sources via the government. If this be true why have the well known leaders and intellectuals not raised a whimper, organized public voice of concern of the affected community to be heard and even organized a peaceful Gandhi style protest?

Appreciating Sri Lankan Rupee
The most appalling failure of the intellectuals is in regard to their voices of deep concern not being loudly heard as the Sri Lankan Rupee appreciates? Are they willing to participate in the process of killing the value added exports sector and leverage the export of low level people skills to service the balance of payment challenges of tomorrow?

 “Perhaps an intellectual is someone who thinks big — who delves below the surface as well as scans a large context, sees links and connections, and integrates disparate parts into a systematic thought” said the Academic T. Kaori Kitao, comparing Inttellectuals to Artists. If intellectuals had the independence, integrity and initiative they would be the Voice of Rationality, promoting and assuring Democracy, Rule of Law, Equity, Equality, Justice and Good Governance. Sri Lanka today badly needs the Voice of such intellectuals! Where have they all gone? Should finders be rewarded?

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