Bring the poor into social business
Daily Mirror Editorial
Dec 3, 2011

When Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was elected as Executive President in 1994 with a historic majority, she pledged in her manifesto she would transform society by giving the market economy a human face and build a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country through unity in diversity. Unfortunately as in the case of most political leaders, the election manifesto pledges remain largely in the manifesto. When she stepped down or was legally forced to step down in November 2005, the gap between the rich and the poor had widened while the dream of a multi-racial, multi-religious society had turned into a bloody nightmare.

Ms. Kumaratunga must have now realised that one of biggest blunders she committed was the constitutional coup she staged in 2003 apparently under JVP pressure, to virtually cripple the then UNP Government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. A few months later she abused her power to dissolve parliament almost three years before the scheduled date and called a snap general election. What happened after that is history. A new government of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was formed with the JVP and with Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. The relationship between Ms. Kumaratunge and Mr. Rajapaksa gradually worsened to a point where she was reluctant to support his campaign for the presidency. When Mahinda Rajapaksa became the executive president in November 2005, he sidelined Ms. Kumaratunga till she found that she was not wanted even in the party which her father founded and her mother built up.

Now several years after those blunders or broken promises with the fifty-year Bandaranaike era buried at Horagolla, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has come forward again to bring about social equality and peace with justice at a time when we appear to have created two societies in Sri Lanka – an elite society of about 10 per cent of the population abusing about 90 per cent of the country’s wealth and resources while the majority of the people are suffering in different degrees of destitution and degradation. As chairperson of the South Asia Policy and Research Institute (SAPRI) she has arranged a one-day conference in Colombo next week on the role the corporate sector and non-governmental agencies need to play in poverty alleviation.

The main speaker will be the world renowned Bangladesh Nobel Laureate Professor Mohammed Yunus whose theme will be social business, which is based on identifying the basic needs of the poor and helping to address them through non-governmental agencies and the corporate sector. According to SAPRI every person has the power to create a world free of poverty, which has been identified as one of the major causes of discontent and conflict in South Asia, home to the largest number of poor in the world about 600 million, a quarter of the world’s poor. It is now accepted that in a globalised world, the private sector needs to play a leading role in economic growth and the national development process. It must also effectively play a major role in poverty alleviation. SAPRI says the concept of corporate social responsibility is beginning to be factored into the annual expenditure of a considerable number of private sector companies in the West and now to some extent in our region.

SAPRI is a think tank that holds workshops and conferences on socio-economic equality and conveys the results to decision makers. It is a pity that Ms. Kumaratunga has become aware of the need for a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources only after she ceased to be a decision maker. Most world leaders build sand castles in the sky when they are in power and become aware of ground realities only when they bite the political dust.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka