THE ALL PARTY CONFERENCE
(1998 October 21)
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, The National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka, The Ceylon National Chamber of
Industries, Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka, The Employers' Federation of Ceylon and
The Exporters' Association of Sri Lanka representing the big business community in the country have sent a letter
to the leaders of all political parties inviting their parties for an all party conference. This is the second
all party conference to be convened within about a month, the first being that convened by the UNP.
The UNP has indicated that it is unlikely that they will be present at the all party conference scheduled for the 22nd as Dr. G. L. Peiris who has allegedly worked against their all party conference is billed to attend it. However the six organisations are likely to meet the leader of the UNP on the 26th separately. On the other hand the Marx brothers, I mean the Marxists, some ex- Marxists, the neo Marxists, and the never ending re-readers of Marx are all very enthusiastic about this all party conference convened by the big business community (are they capitalists, dependent capitalists, incipient capitalists, weak national bourgeoisie in the periphery or what?) despite the fact that the latter would like the introduction of reforms in labour laws and practice to conform to current business needs. They have identified labour market flexibility, reduction in the number of holidays, equality of rights and obligations of both employers and employees and linking remuneration to productivity as specific areas requiring urgent attention.
I do not want to go into a discussion of the implications of the introduction of reforms in the labour laws but I must mention that I was puzzled by a comment made in "Yukthiya", a Sinhala tabloid published by an NGO. This particular commentator said that the capitalist class has for the first time admitted the necessity of solving the "ethnic problem" and that it was a good sign. So the capitalist class has now come forward to solve the "ethnic problem". This could among other things mean that the capitalist class does not act through its parties such as the UNP and the SLFP or that that the these parties do not represent the capitalist class or that these parties though they represent the capitalist class are not interested in solving the "ethnic problem". In any case it is interesting to note that according to the commentator the capitalist class in its raw form has taken an interest in politics without acting through the parties.
In any case what this enthusiasm shown by some Marx brothers go on to show is that in the final analysis Marxism is more concerned with anti national politics. In the name of solving the so called national question they work against the history and culture of nations. In this endeavour they are prepared to join hands even with the capitalist class. This anti national stance emerges from the Judaic "chintanaya" on which Marxism is based. (the chintanaya operates at a deeper level than the episteme of Foucault or the paradigm of Kuhn.) In this respect the readers with a knowledge of Sinhala are referred to the booklets Marxvadaye Daridrathavaya ( Poverty of Marxism) and Apohakaye Rupikaya (Formalism of Dialectics) .
The six organisations representing the big business community in their letter to the leaders of the political parties mention that they are concerned that "Sri Lanka has still not achieved the desired level of sustained economic progress" despite 20 years of open economy. They claim that "unemployment, lack of housing, poverty, lack of infrastructure development amongst a host of other problems , foremost of which is the ethnic problem , remain unsolved to the detriment of the country". Then they urge all political parties to "adopt a common policy framework to enable the private sector to perform its role more effectively and to ensure that future generations of Sri Lankans can hope for a better life".
Now it is not clear as to why the six organisations have included the so-called ethnic problem among the other problems such as unemployment and lack of housing. After having mentioned a few problems, which are mainly political and economic they talk of "a host of other problems foremost of which is the ethnic problem". We do not know what these other problems that they have in mind but the "ethnic problem" is certainly not an economic problem like unemployment or lack of housing. It is basically a political and a military problem though it affects the economy.
Reading the invitation sent by the six organisations one gets the feeling that the private sector is willing to help the government to solve the problems such as unemployment and housing and that they would like to see that all the political parties agree on certain proposals like introducing reforms in labour laws. But this is not the main purpose of the all party conference.
Let us take some of the propositions on which the organisations representing the business community would like to see a consensus among the political parties. In addition to the reforms in labour laws, they have listed the following among others.(1) The effective resolution of the North- East conflict, (2) Ensuring that there is no discrimination, ensuring equality for all Sri Lankan citizens irrespective of race, gender, political affiliations, religion etc., (3) Ensure personal security and peace for all Sri Lankans (4) Introduce the use of English as a link language and legislate for English to be also an official language.
Now they have listed 5 more proposals but nowhere one finds solution of unemployment or housing problem though the resolution of the North -East problem is laid down as the first proposition. The implication is that in order to solve the problems such as unemployment and housing that they have mentioned, it is necessary first to agree on criteria including resolution of the North - East problem and introduction of English as a link language and legislation for English to be also an official language. So the "ethnic problem" is different from the unemployment and the housing problem though mentioned together in the preamble. The big business community also appears to know that it is not an economic problem though it affects the economy.
One gets the impression that the big business community has discussed why problems such as unemployment and housing remain not solved in the country and found that it is not due to some of their policies as well or perhaps they do not want to divulge their deficiencies to the public. Are they, like the politicians, trying to cover up their failures with the "war" and also with the fact that English is not an official language? Well there was no "war" before 1980 and English had been the de facto language of business in the private sector and also in the government even after 1956.
Except for the garment industry what are the other enterprises that all these big business people have opened up even with open economy. Most of them are no better than the ordinary mudalali who is engaged in "buying and selling" business. They are English educated 'sophisticated' mudalalis with some borrowed social manners from the Europeans. Most of the people may not be economists or those with training and qualifications in business management but they cannot be fooled with lame excuses such as "war" and say, competition from the other countries and English not being the link language for the state of the economy. If the big business community wants open economy with or without the human face they cannot complain of competition from the other countries. Open economy should not be just importing and selling. If open economy has failed let us admit that without trying to find excuses and attempting to suggest solutions to the Tamil racist problem to the satisfaction of the Tamil racists and seeking to make English an official language.
It is interesting to note that the all party conference is convened at a time when there is renewed agitation by meddlesome parties for the two main political parties to come to an agreement on solving the Tamil racist problem. It cannot be denied that the main purpose of the all party conference convened by the big business community is to seek solution to the "ethnic problem'. The Foxes, Fachetts, Thathams, the Marx brothers are all interested in getting the UNP and the PA together to solve what they call the ethnic problem. Unfortunately no conference can find a solution to the 'ethnic problem' as there is no such problem. May I request the big business community to define for us what this ethnic problem is.
The six organisations want the political parties to ensure that there is "equality for all Sri Lankan citizens irrespective of race, gender, political affiliations, religion etc." I welcome this proposal as when I look at the names of the gentlemen who have signed on behalf of the six organisations and that of the co-ordinating chairman I find that the Sinhala Buddhists are under represented. In a society with equal opportunities I thought that there would be more Sinhala Buddhists in these high echelons of commerce.
The big business community is interested in introducing the use of English as a link language and legislating for English to be an official language. Now the first question that has to be asked is "who are the people that they are interested in linking?". We presume that they are thinking of people living in Sri Lanka for whom they advertise mainly in Sinhala. So Sinhala appears to be a good language for the purpose of advertising.
The next question is "what is meant by linking"? If it is communication between people then the link language should be the language spoken and understood by most of the people in the country. Sinhala people constitute more than 74 percent of the people (it has to be more than this with the exodus of Tamils since the last census in 1981) and as Mrs. Kamalika Peiris had pointed out in one of her articles the percentage of people who can communicate in Sinhala must be more than 85. So the link language in Sri Lanka has to be Sinhala and not English spoken by a mere 6 or 7 percent of the people, however powerful a few of them may be.
Why make English also an official language? As far as I can see the official language is the language in which the government business is conducted. However it need not be the only language that should be used by the government departments in communicating with the people. But why should the government conduct its affairs in English and communicate with the people in English? English may be the language through which most of the modern knowledge can be acquired. But that is not a good enough reason to make English the link language or an official language.
The problem in Sri Lanka is nothing but the reluctance by the English educated Tamil racists to accept the fact that the Sinhala people are the majority and that the Sinhala people have built a unique culture in this country over more than two thousand years. Under the influence of the British the Tamil racists and a few Sinhala Christians developed an anti Sinhala Buddhist attitude. Over the years these people have been assisted by the Marx brothers. No amount of all party conferences will solve the problem as long as this attitude prevails.