he well-known singer-songwriter Nimal Mendis, in one of his most popular and challenging songs, ‘Master Sir’ refers to the normal relationship between the master or mistress and the servant while expressing the hope it would someday be liberated into the enlightened realms of friendship.
In today’s world-dominated by the rich and ruling elite with a monstrous gap between the impoverished people and the wealthy-there is a vital need for the revival of the principle of servant leadership. Especially in democracies, where the political leaders are elected by the people with a mandate to be good stewards for a specified period, servant leadership will have deeper and lasting value than authoritarian or domineering leadership where the people’s sovereignty is abused and their resources plundered as we saw in Sri Lanka also mainly during the family dynasty of the former regime.
President Maithripala Sirisena, when he was elected to office in the silent people’s revolution of January last year, assured he would be the people’s servant leader and had no intention of being a king or a new Dutugamunu as some Rajapaksa loyalists still proclaim the former president. During the recent Pada Yathra, some loyalists including a controversial heir, allegedly trained a little child to call for the return of the former king. The National Child Protection Authority and others are investigating whether this involves some degree of child abuse. In any event they also need to probe numerous other instances where children are abused for the unethical marketing of various products or services.
The President has repeatedly proclaimed the principle of servant leadership and has gone beyond pious proclamations as most politicians do. Instead, as a vital practical part of servant leadership, he has rejected wasteful expenditure, luxuries or extravagance. During the past 20 months his lifestyle has been largely simple and humble, much in line with the hallowed concept of alpeachathawaya.
Yesterday the New Economic Foundation gave Sri Lanka an important credit rating as South Asia’s happiest country. The worldwide poll conducted in 108 countries puts Sri Lanka at No.28 among the happiest nations in the world with Costa Rica being the first and the Czech Republic the last. Sri Lanka was ahead of the United States and Britain. According to the researchers, the main reasons for Sri Lanka’s rise in happiness ratings include good governance, more vibrant democracy and human rights. After last year’s January 8 elections, there has been much criticism of the National Government, especially by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) dissident group describing itself as the ‘Joint Opposition’ though most analysts refer to it as the Rajapaksa group or clique. Its members have been sharply critical of the increasing cost of living, the imposition of more indirect taxes including the value added tax and the postponement of local council elections. While there is some validity in the criticism, analysts point out this is possible in the electronic, print and social media largely because there is more freedom now, and the era of the white van terror has ended. Some TV channels even showed Local Council Rajapaksa loyalists burning their nomination papers. A senior SLFP Minister yesterday accused some Rajapaksa group members of indulging in ‘political terrorism’.
"The President has repeatedly proclaimed the principle of servant leadership and has gone beyond pious proclamations as most politicians do"
Whatever the rating, the National Government, along with its five-year, all-inclusive and eco-friendly development strategy needs to take immediate steps to provide more direct benefits to the people. Government leaders claim they cannot do so because they have to pay back huge loans borrowed at high interest rates by the former regime. But the Government could also cut down on wasteful expenditure, luxuries and privileges of Ministers and MPs.Over the weekend, the much–awaited though long-delayed Right to Information Bill was signed into law by the Speaker. This is expected to come into operation by the year’s end with the appointment of the Right to Information Commission and about 2,500 information officers at public institutions in the Central and Local Government levels. We appeal to the people to be watchful and make use of the RTI Law in matters relating to contracts and other areas. With more freedom and effective moves for a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources, we believe Sri Lanka’s happiness rating will grow in the coming years.