Sri Lankan’s are often heard to say “We could have been more advanced than Singapore” if not for the politicians, if not for the corruption, if not for the British, if not for the LTTE , if not for the this and that…
So what does the founder of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, a true pioneer of the Asian economic miracle, have to say about the current choices facing Sri Lanka?
In his opinion, Sri Lanka “is not a happy, united country” and he is not optimistic about its post-war direction.
“The present President of Sri Lanka believes he has settled the problem; his Tamil Tigers are killed and that is that.” And in a rather controversial assessment by an Asian and global superstar, Lee Kwan Yew refers to the Sri Lankan President’s ideology: “I’ve read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind”.
This is damning criticism indeed given the attempt by Rajapaksa clan and their apologists to hide behind the “Asian values” argument, as if that could be an excuse for gross human rights abuse and war crimes.
The crux of the issue for Lee Kwan Yew is that “the Tamils deserve more respect than the Sinhalese have given them”. And he is not alone in talking about the importance of respect
Some other former world leaders, who are members of an elite group called The Elders, have also focused on “respect” which is the polar opposite to the collective punishment approach which has underpinned the Rajapaksa clan strategy for several years.
At their recent meeting, the Elders again highlighted their concerns about Sri Lanka. In the words of former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson: “My friends Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi have written about the urgent need to build trust in Sri Lanka; respect for minorities, human rights and the rule of law are the only way to secure lasting peace. They have also called for an independent, international inquiry into violations of humanitarian law by both parties to the conflict.”
Back to Lee, what does he think “respect” means in practice? Sadly he didn’t answer the interviewer-author’s question direct. But Prof Tom Plate – who has been highly critical of the Tamil Tigers in the past – concludes in conversation with Lee that “your system of government is much softer, consensual and intelligent, whereas what the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are doing is a caricature of an LKY who never existed.”
If Sri Lankans – and those who are taking an investment punt on this new “post war economy” – really want to know how Sri Lanka can become “better than Singapore” – they would be well advised to stop playing the usual blame game and read the book carefully. Today, this is a pipe dream – the World Economic Forum ranks Singapore 3rd and Sri Lanka 77th – and with the seeds of never-ending conflict being sown each and every day, it will remain so.