n two days - on December 25 - the world commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, who preached a message of love, forgiveness and demanded irrespective of religious or political beliefs, a steadfastness to truth, justice and the upholding of the dignity of man.
In our little corner of the world here, in Sri Lanka, while we celebrate this great festival of love, we also remember it as a time when four years ago -’We the people’ voted into power a new regime comprising political forces and personalities of widely diverging political ideologies. The goal was to ensure good governance in the country and live up to the high expectations generated by the change of regime. The aim was to change the political culture where corruption was rampant. The media controlled. A time when people were disappeared off the streets in the dreaded ‘white vans’. A time when the forces of law and order became pawns in power games of the rich and powerful and the
In short, it was a period when corruption was widespread, justice was not seen to be done, religious fundamentalism and racism were seen to operate with the blessings of the state and the CoL out of the reach of common folk. And so as we come to the dawn of what would be the final year, it is as good a time as any to check, how much of what was promised/expected has been achieved. Its time to recognise failures and put in place plans of action to rectify the short-comings and failures of the past four-year period and set up a reasonable time limit for correcting mistakes of the past and ensuring goals and
targets are met.
A major platform of the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe combine; prior to victory at the the presidential elections of December 2014, was its promise to eliminate corruption which was widespread, endemic and affecting all levels of society. It also charged the past president and his family of being involved in mega corruption. Promised to charge them before the courts of law, bring corrupt officials to book and bring to an end corruption in public life. Instead, what the country witnessed were charges of mega corruption against the very government which promised to eliminate corruption.
The Prime Minister himself has been accused of involvement in a $ billion bond scam. The former Minister of Finance - a close associate of the Premier - had been forced to resign from the Cabinet in the face of charges of bribery and corruption. The incumbent President and his government levelled charges of corruption running into billions of Dollars against his predecessor and members of his (past President’s) family.
Neither the past President, nor any members of his family have been charged in a court of law on charges of bribery or corruption. So far, no evidence has thus far been produced. The charges remain unsubstantiated and the government has failed the public totally on this count too.
However, one of the biggest successes of the regime has been the elimination of fear which stalked the land. Through the setting up of Independent Commissions governing the public services, the judiciary and the police, the government ensured the independence of the police and judiciary to act without fear or fervor.
Today, the fear of being arbitrarily picked up or the dreaded knock on the door at midnight is a distant nightmare. The enshrining of The Freedom of Information Act has ensured transparency in governance.
The jailing of preachers of hate speech and their hangers-on have eased fears among minority groups. The past three years has also seen the heightened media freedom with hardly any threats made against media personnel or attacks against media institutions. But by far, the greatest achievement of the present regime has been the depoliticising of the judiciary and the strengthening of the country’s judicial system. The proof of the pudding it is said is in the eating, and the role of the judiciary in bringing to an end the recent constitutional crisis stands as a beacon of hope for generations to come.
However, even today there is an ongoing struggle between the executive and the Constitutional Council regarding the appointment of Judges to the Courts of the land. In this struggle the independence of the ‘Independent Commission’ need to be upheld to ensure the independence of the Judiciary. The continuing tussle between our President now shorn of his executive powers attempting to foist his nominees on the courts of justice needs to be resisted and the independence of the Independent Commissions need to be upheld and strengthened.