(Commemorating the 79th Birth Anniversary of Late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali)
We are fast approaching the first anniversary of electing a joint opposition candidate as the President. But alas the people feel that the President and the Government are finding it difficult to walk the talk. Somewhere in November, December 2014, we heard many allegations of corruption, and promises of bringing the culprits to book. But since the January 8 presidential election and the August 17 general elections, none of the wrong doers has been properly prosecuted. As far as the people are concerned, the government which assumed office with the promise of good governance has failed to deliver on their promises.
Body to Oversee Investigations
Why is it not possible to do so? There were many cases of bribery, corruption, misappropriation of funds, nepotism and violations of the law. The government was quick to start investigations. The FCID, CID, Bribery or Corruption Commission and the Special Presidential Commission are some of the instruments appointed by the government to look into these matters of grave pubic concern. Unfortunately there has been no institution to oversee the functions of these institutions. The need for such an overseeing body which can give directives to all involved in investigation is imperative. In the absence of such a body, different government agencies take their own time to carry out investigations, thus delaying justice.
We must not forget that if not all, most officials have been used to working in a particular system and may have affiliations towards the previous system of ruling. This could be wittingly or unwittingly the ‘spanner in the works’ with certain disinterestedness in the whole process. My opinion is that without a strong body of people to oversee these processes, the government is unable to walk the talk.
Let’s take the case of Avant Garde. I found that several ministers of the present government came to the defence of this private company saying that the whole process was legally carried out. From a distance, it appears that the deal has obtained the relevant Cabinet approvals. However in fairness to many I must state that according to many, this whole process appears to be flawed, the actions of the AG have been questioned, a minister has already resigned, the whole issue still hangs in mid-air with some saying that the Minister resigning from the post does not help, but haven’t we gone far enough, do we need to go further? Prudence demands that we put an end to this affair. What is most important at this juncture is to ensure that we do not lose this lucrative foreign exchange business enterprise. I do not hold a brief for Mr. Senadhipathi but my frank advice to the President and the Prime Minister is, we need the Navy, Rakna Lanka and Mr Senadhipathi to get together and ensure that we do not lose this all important foreign exchange earner. This is what is crucial and that is the brutal reality. Each time a government changes, if business enterprises are going to be shattered and destroyed, then nobody would want to invest here, then this whole country would be in big big trouble. We need the President and the PM to show prudency and display maturity, hence change the talk and walk it.
Our transportation systems are in utter disarray. Minister Champika Ranawaka recently declared that as a result of the influx of vehicles, the average speed of vehicles has come down to 12 kmph. He also said that in a few years this will come down to 8 kmph. This is a serious issue that no government has addressed since the early 1990’s. Although everyone is ‘talking’ about the problem, no one thought of mass transport, i.e railroads and locomotives. The vast amounts of money spent on highways and airport in the South, could have been used to improve our railway system. This needs clear thinking and good investment of money and of course a great deal of time. Time to walk the talk.
Responsible use of Power
It has now come to light that the Government has asked certain Chairmen and Directors of state institutions to resign. The fact is that they were appointed post January 8, 2015. It does not seem appropriate to remove them unless there is proven malpractice or corruption. Such a removal will have negative effect on their future. If a prime minister of a country makes such a request, it is my humble view that it may appear as an abuse of power. Within a framework of good governance if such things take place, the government will be seen as failing to walk the talk.
Perhaps if we look towards the newly appointed government in Canada and its Cabinet, we may be able to learn a few things about democracy and good governance. One huge challenge we have is that nether the politicians nor the people know what good governance looks like. When the Human Rights Bill was presented in Parliament in 1996, I was among the many who questioned it because we felt that the citizens of the country were 20 kilometres below while the Human Rights Bill was 20 kilometres above. Similarly the good governance slogan, although it did seem attractive, the bar was set too high. If set in motion properly by establishing proper systems and a change in mindset, the country will be able to see good governance in about 20 to 25 years.
Let’s take the situation of the HNDA students. We must understand that they are by nature activists. Their approach is always revolutionary. They believe in their right to protest while obstructing the freedom of other people. While that is wrong, so is this. What is minimum force? What is the definition of minimum force and how do you ensure that such force is used. The violence is clearly evident in the videos which go viral bringing the whole State to disrepute. A government should have a different strategy to deal with undergraduates. We must get down to their level and have a dialogue. A responsible government must counter activism with advocacy. We must take a lead from Mr. Athulathmudali and his example of always making students the priority.
Not respecting the rule of law and law enforcement authorities has become the norm in the past ten years of poor governance. But if our country is to re-establish law and order there are two institutions which must work effectively; the Police and the Judiciary. If these two are not able to do their jobs, the entire country will be in jeopardy.
Rupees and Sense
The rupee has been devalued greatly since the appointment of the new government. The US Dollar has reached 145 rupees. This is a grave concern and reflects negatively on the government. Another sign of not being able to walk the talk as promised is the inability to lead the government towards economic prosperity. If the Government cannot sensibly stablise the rupee, people will say that talk is cheap.
Role of MPs
Ministers blame each other publicly showing that they are not united. Most lack patience and understanding on any matter. The culture of insults tend to continue up to now. Even a senior minister insulting the one and only Field Marshall shows a lack of quality in people in parliament. At all levels of governance we see that disagreeing on issues tend to get very personal. Alas! We do miss people of the calibre of Lalith Athulathmudali.
I really do not wish to say this, but I am compelled to. When we passed the 19th Amendment it was clearly mentioned that the country would have 30 ministries. However at the end of the general elections, the number of ministries increased to accommodate the members of the two parties coming together to form the National Government. That was a fundamental folly. Both Parties must remember that this is not a cake to be cut into slices and served to each other to consume, but a country that they must SERVE. Each MP must realize his or her role in Parliament is much greater than a ministerial portfolio, if they are genuinely interested in serving the nation. Every MP including the former president should be called to perform their role as MPs. So far it looks like it is a huge ‘party’ for those holding portfolios at the expense of the public. It is natural for people to feel that there is no difference between the old and the new.
I wonder if all this not-so-good governance is showing that the country needs a dictator? I certainly hope not. The positive change that was promised is yet to be seen. The collective responsibility and accountability is vanishing into thin air. Ultimately the journey to Good Governance may end up like the gamaraala going to heaven with his family hanging onto the tail of an elephant. All the vivid descriptions of Good Governance will disappear when you let go of the tail, unless the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet lead from the front and by example by walking the talk. Its high time to do it.