At the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the Liberal Party, it was proposed that the Party needed to comment on two current issues, namely the crisis in education as exemplified by the FUTA strike, and what seems to be conflict between the executive branch of government and the judiciary. It was suggested that issuing statements was made difficult by my being a Member of Parliament on the government side, but I pointed out that I had never stood in the way of comments critical of government action.

The Liberal Party believes it took the right decision in supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa for the Presidency in 2005, and again in 2010, and it continues to believe that a government under his leadership offers the best hope for the country. Indeed, given the current state of politics, it is the only hope. However this does not mean blind acceptance of the work of all elements in government, and indeed my own writings have made clear where I think things could be better. Indeed one of my principal complaints has been the manner in which many government departments continue, through carelessness or incompetence, to ignore the policy outlines given by the President.

With regard to education the Party agreed that the demands made by FUTA were absurd, and not at all scholarly. The claim that salaries needed to be increased was not justifiable given the actual contribution of most members of the university staff to learning. The seemingly more idealistic demand, about increasing the proportion of GDP spent on education, was not at all scholarly, since it took no account of the way in which money should be spent. We agreed that it was a tragedy that FUTA had not explored the manner in which even the funds now expended are being squandered – a case in point being the fact that quarter of the universities budget has been wasted with students not having had lectures for three months.

None of this however takes away from the fact that there is a serious crisis with regard to education, and government must introduce reforms, instead of resting on laurels that it achieved decades ago. The fact that our basic services are much better than those of our neighbours is nothing to boast about, because this was the case many years ago, and the gap has certainly narrowed, while other Asian countries have overtaken us – and at the higher echelons of educational achievement, other countries in South Asia are beginning to draw ahead.

Our obligation then, as part of the government coalition, is to encourage positive reforms, while not lending support to criticisms that are irrelevant and counter-productive. Sadly, as I found when I spoke at a meeting organized by Eran Wickramaratne – which was presented as a debate between me and the FUTA Head, though in fact Eran was more critical of the man than I was, with a few simple questions that could not be answered – the debate about education has now been taken over by those who simply want to express opposition to government.

There may be reasons to criticize government, but general attacks should not be part of what is supposed to be debate on ensuring quality education for our children. This requires providing free education, but we must look at alternative systems of supply too, and not leave that only to the tuition industry.  That debate alas will be buried, if discussion degenerates into general attacks, and I hope government understands this and deals with the problems intelligently and inclusively.