04 August 2015

Let's enjoy the Season of Exaggeration

It's all about size.  When you have arms that can be stretched, you can keep them as wide apart as you wish.
It is par for the course.  Election time is about making mountains out of molehills when it comes to one’s legitimate brags and the errors of one’s opponents.  ‘Mega Deals’ was a term that had currency during the run up to the last Presidential Election.  The claims were of such magnitude that people expected the wrongdoers to be tried and punished by the dozens.  And fast.  Lots of complaints, some arrests, but it all adds up to much talk and little action.  
True, there’s a thing called due process.  You can’t pick people off the streets just like that and put them behind bars, especially not when ‘respect for proper procedure’ was mouthed as though it was a prayer by the Lords and Ladies of Good Governance.  Tellingly, though, there is very little talk of ‘Mega Deals’ this time around, just seven months after the Presidential Election.  
Exaggeration, though, has not lost currency.  The ali-koti (elephant-tiger) slogan has been brushed of dust and is tossed around, but with far less conviction.  The ‘Mega Deals’ charge has been countered by a Mega Mega Deal charge referring to the Central Bank bond scam whose stink seems to grow in proportion to the effort expended by the UNP to keep it under wraps.   Claims about victory and margins of victory are naturally exaggerated and apart from the party diehards not too many people are paying attention to these.  
All this is expected.  Elections see ideas being marketed as plans, plans made out to be grand schemes, and grand schemes tossed around as magical strategies that will create heaven on earth.  
Take for instance Harsha de Silva’s ‘Mother of all Revelations’ prediction that a future UNFGG (United National Front for Good Governance) will achieve an export revenue of US$ 50 billion by 2050.  
First of all, let’s just consider the numbers.  Sri Lanka’s total export revenue in 2014 was around US$11 billion.  The former government targeted US$20 billion by 2020.  The thing about prediction is that you can say any old thing and get away with it. US$50 billion 35 years from now can certainly be entertained because the annual growth required to achieve this, even going by the increments envisaged by the previous government, is within the realms of the possible.  And yet, De Silva says ‘we are thinking big’.  Nothing wrong in that, considering that Ranil Wickremesinghe plans to turn the entire Western Province into a Mega City (yes, that word again).
The question is one of time.  We are talking of 35 years.  That’s longer than Sri Lanka’s struggle to defeat terrorism.  If, as Ranil says, only the UNFGG can deliver on the economic front, then this means that Harsha’s party will have to be in power until 2050.  Confidence is not necessarily a bad thing, but this is ridiculous. Simply put, achieving targets is not only about a particular party being in power. There are things called ‘externalities’, Harsha should know.  There are imponderables.  There are cycles of recession.  There can be wars.  There is resource depletion.  
Now Harsha De Silva has some credentials.  He’s got a doctorate.  More importantly he has not been touched by even the shadow of scandal in the way his boss and his (the boss’) handpicked men have been.  Academic and integrity credentials aside, Harsha is known for his outrageous claims.  He had this habit of predicting imminent collapse of the economy every three months or so.  Didn’t happen.  Now he says that numbers were cooked but still comes up with ‘corrected’ figures that indicate growth rates that are decent and certainly not such that call for ‘grave concern’.  This is why this ‘we know how things will be in 2050’ is hilarious.
If the ‘experts’ can be so frivolous what of their less-knowledgable political brethren?  Mind you, this is not just about the UNFGG.  The manifestos of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) are as littered with exaggerated claims and impossible-to-deliver promises as any that we’ve seen since Independence.  
There’s an easier way for politicians and parties, a way-out that will spare the voter the drudgery of assessing truth of claim and merit of plan.  All that needs to be done is to say ‘we promise the sun, moon, stars and grant every citizen any three wishes each’.  Would save a lot of paper and of course a lot of trees.