BY HEMANTHA KULATUNGA
Sir Winston Churchill, a great statesman, soldier, Nobel Prize-winning writer, and historian once said “success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”
True to the core, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown the entire world that he is a man of steel who is capable of confronting challenges head-on with a winning goal in mind.
Everyone will agree that President Rajapaksa has successfully dealt with the most damaging catastrophe the world has ever experienced, just over three months into his presidency.
He was forced to set aside some of his ambitious development plans due to the emergence of the gruesome health crisis.
Misinformation and disinformation
President Rajapaksa was subjected to opposition misinformation and disinformation campaigns more than many other Presidents in Sri Lanka in the past. Knowing that he is not vindictive, the opposition politicians have targeted him in constant mudslinging campaigns based on imaginary accusations.
However, from the day President Rajapaksa assumed office, despite the horrid pandemic, his successes in many spheres were not discussed amply in the society. This is perhaps due to his non-politician attitude.
The campaigns initially commenced as far back as 2012/2013 where the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was targeted to oust him from politics. Although he has lost the election even a single accusation leveled against him in opposition vilification campaigns was never proven.
The former President’s main adversary has repeatedly said that, once in power, he will close down airports and bring his opponent to the courts. That never happened as the accusations simply were malicious political propaganda.
Misinformation is usually incorrect, false, or misleading information given online, offline, or by word of mouth, often delivered without malice.
Misinformation can mislead people enormously depending on the receiver. In contrast, disinformation is much more harmful, usually fabricated, false, and sinister news deliberately spread to influence public opinion to deceive. The opposition is having a field day as a result of the President’s soft stance on the perpetrators.
The opposition collectively attempted to discredit the Government by targeting the President in the Parliament sittings. They were hiding behind parliamentary privileges by initiating scathing attacks personally on the President.
Timely and precise decision making
Since its inception, President Rajapaksa has taken timely and accurate decisions on the Covid-19 breakout.
His decision to close down the country during the early stages for a prolonged period was a new experience. At the time, imposing a lockdown was the best decision as the entire world presumed that the virus will cease to exist in a short time.
Similarly, he chose to lock down the country when the second wave surfaced in clusters in Gampaha and Peliyagoda for a shorter period.
However, the second wave also was curtailed successfully and the daily cases dropped to a minimum by early this year.
However, with the ‘New Year cluster’, the Government was compelled to lock down the country for the third time for three weeks in June 2021 and once again this month on the advice of the health fraternity.
All four times, although the total closure creates extreme hardships to the citizenry and the country’s economy, the President accepted the opinions of medical experts and the general public.
This is at a time when the Prime Ministers of both Australia and New Zealand openly admitted to the media that lockdowns are ‘not a pragmatic solution’ to control the pandemic, particularly the ‘Delta’ variant.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison clearly stated that when the vaccination is successful, locking down the country can produce negative results in many ways.
In Sri Lanka, the irony is that the same people who created an adverse situation by disobeying and disregarding the health guidelines to organise mass protests are now started complaining citing unjustifiable reasons.
Their latest slogan is that the Government must stop all economic-related activities instead of allowing certain segments of the economy to proceed.
These dubious and politically motivated bankrupt elements completely forget about the plight of the self-employed segment of the country.
Most of them earn living on a day-to-day basis and do not possess savings. The informal sector comprises 60 percent of the total labour force in Sri Lanka as per statistics. Any type of lockdown is detrimental to the self-employed segment.
The protestors completely disregard their fate whenever they demand closures.
An opposition political party without any considerable vote base or followership with only three representatives in the parliament, that opposes any or every move by the Government has criticised the Government’s decision to continue activities in the apparel sector.
The apparel industrialists vehemently condemned this statement.
At a time when the revenue of US$ 4.5 billion earned through tourism is deprived and a lull in expatriate revenue, the only avenue to earn foreign exchange is encouraging as much as exports.
The Government’s decision to persist with apparel manufacturing has come into praise by many people who understand the extreme importance of foreign exchange.
Common citizens are not aware of the fact that foreign reserves are required to import most of the daily public needs such as fuel, medicine, essential food items, raw material, and many other indispensable products.
The Government must direct its propaganda machinery to educate the people on this subject in order to stop the spread of misinformation.
Sri Lanka’s vaccination program is currently known as one of the most effective in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) more than once praised the Sri Lankan effort in this regard.
In addition, diplomats of several other countries also commended the speed and efficiency of the vaccination drive taking place in the country.
Particularly, the assistance rendered by the Sri Lankan tri-forces, especially Sri Lanka Army is applauded by the general public.
The program became exceedingly successful due to the sheer commitment of the leadership. As the President himself divulged in his recent speech to the nation that he has personally spoken to heads of Governments of some countries and also personally wrote to some of them requesting vaccines.
In Sri Lanka, the total doses given are nearing twenty million while the number of fully vaccinated has passed 5.3 million as of last week.
Sri Lanka so far has received every brand of vaccines manufactured in the world such as AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Pfizer, Moderna, and Sputnik.
In comparison to the global statistics, Sri Lanka has already fully vaccinated (5.3 million persons), with both doses, over 24 percent of the total population. In contrast figures of the other countries in the region read as India nine percent, Bangladesh 3.7 percent, and Pakistan 6.2 percent of the population.
The United States, with the best overall economy, has so far vaccinated 51 percent of their population even with all the capabilities behind them.
With approximately 44 million doses available in the country at present, the president’s goal is to complete two doses of the vaccination for the over thirty years old population by 10th September.
With the evident commitment and the dedication, though ambitious, the goal does not seem impossible.
The economic downturn started long before the pandemic when the previous government was in power in 2016.
The GDP growth stood at 4.9% in 2014 has dropped to a mere 2.3 percent in 2019 (As per World Bank data). The so-called economic wizards who were holding ministerial posts with the previous government have not raised their voices until they came into the opposition in 2020.
The criticism they level at the incumbent Government with loads of advice never existed or practiced when they were in power.
Due to the impact of the pandemic, the world economic growth projections were dropped to -4.9 percent by the year 2020. Similarly, Sri Lanka’s GDP output plummeted to an alarming -3.7 percent last year.
However, before the resurfacing of the ‘Delta’ variant, the Central Bank’s projection for 2021 was 4.01 percent.
Clearly, the figures have to be readjusted with the present unprecedented restrictions and the lockdowns.
With the spike of unexpected active cases have risen to over 4000 a day, the government has to spend many millions of rupees additionally to provide health care facilities and medicine.
Despite the cash crunch, the Government provided an allowance of Rs. 5,000 to daily wage earners predominantly and also others who needed financial help during lockdowns.
On each of these occasions, the Government coffers have set aside a staggering 30 billion rupees.
At the present lockdown, the Government has commenced the distribution of an allowance of Rs. 2,000 as a special payment.
Instead of appreciating the Government move at this crucial time with obvious financial restrictions, opportunistic politicians of SJB and JVP are crying out loud that the amount is not sufficient. The funniest story is that none of them have contributed anything on their own except unfair criticisms.
In addition, the Government is forced to incur several other additional costs as new health sector expenditure. With the increase of daily cases, the Government is compelled to provide additional facilities, establish new wards, provide medicine for new patients, and set up new treatment centers.
Although the health workers are bearing an extraordinary burden, the Government, with the direction of President Rajapaksa, so far has managed to keep the medical emergency under control.
Failures of the previous regime
The country has seen the total failure of administration, not only in economic matters but also in national security and other national issues during its tenure from 2015 to 2019.
During the entire period, there were no natural disasters or global crises like the pandemic.
Unlike the present administration, the previous Government did not have to spend billions of rupees on unexpected and unplanned events.
Nevertheless, as a result of the petty and chaotic state management, the economy crashed to 2.3 percent GDP, and the national security was compromised dreadfully.
The Easter Sunday bomb blast incident with many fatalities took place directly due to the lukewarm approach of the then Government on national security.
The Presidential Commission appointed to find facts, in their report declared that the security failure occurred due to the lapses in the then Government, from the then President downwards.
However, a new attempt is made through suspicious elements to pass the buck to the incumbent President.
In a YouTube program, an unknown person attempted to pin the blame on the present government.
The person who appeared on the YouTube channel said that he has come to that conclusion after interviewing only 100 people. Anyone with a shred of intelligence knows that a random sample of 100 is negligible for research.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has started an investigation and the person concerned was called to provide details.
This shady person seems to be attempting to create an unnecessary division between two religious communities. Therefore, if the contents of the media presentation are found to be fabricated and false, this person must be given maximum punishment for attempting to create religious disharmony.
Funding for the disinformation campaign
A prestigious national newspaper in its headlines last Sunday reported that a foreign organisation has distributed 850 million rupees to several local political parties, trade unions, and a well-known clergy to direct disinformation campaigns against the Government.
The paper states that they have received the information through a reliable source. However, the Government has not made any reference to the news as yet.
Arbitrary and slapdash statements constantly made by Cabinet Ministers and other partners of the Government help fuelling the disinformation campaigns of opponents.
Many such careless public statements have discredited the President and the government.
Stakeholders of the Government, as a habit, make various declarations and express opinions that can be detrimental. This practice must be controlled immediately.
Also, the Presidential Media Division with its new senior appointments has not yet shown any significant improvement. (This writer’s many attempts to reach the media unit to inform of a translation error of the President’s speech, appeared on the website, made on August 20 were unsuccessful.
The staff was inaccessible, telephone calls unanswered, e-mail messages failed, and FaceBook unresponsive)
President Rajapaksa, during the past 18 months, has shown that he is capable of facing any type of challenge on behalf of the country.
If not because of his robust leadership, the situation in the country would have been extremely vulnerable.
The Covid-19-related cases and deaths would have been unthinkable if a weak state administration was in power. The President’s overall strategic thinking with military precision has given a steady and successful leadership to the country.
He has never deployed Machiavellian practices although some people think some of those would have been useful.