The 17th of August marked precisely three years into this government. The government that came in promising good governance, promising to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, promising transparency and accountability, promising a free and just society.
The government of promises, who played the tune they knew the public wanted to hear, has in fact achieved rather little and that little has been overshadowed by the phenomenal corruption that has been the hallmark of governance since January 2015. The events that began on 26th October 2018 is a direct result of that government’s failure to deliver in very large part indeed. Corruption and cronyism as well as nepotism has had catastrophic results and impact on the people of our country. It is sadly, ‘So Sri Lanka’.
Their in-action has squandered the opportunity given them by the people. In turn the people are let down because it appears that the growing authoritarianism of the Rajapaksa period has been replaced by big ticket corruption. For all their talk of good governance, accountability responsibility and a level playing field for all, in actual fact delivery has been thin on the ground.
The people had several expectations: an end to the growing authoritarianism, tackle the lack of freedom, a flourishing economy and justice. On several fronts the government has failed because there has been a distinct difference between what the people wanted and what the government has delivered.:”
In terms of the economy this government has overseen a period in which the handbrake appears to have been pulled however unintentionally that came about. A frequent mantra has been that ‘nothing is happening’ in terms of economic growth.
In terms of the balance of power between the Presidency and the Parliament the 19th Amendment has trimmed the powers of the presidency which in itself was a concern the people had during the Rajapaksa years. However as the late Hemantha Warnakulasuriya put it, in practise the Presidential powers has been so trimmed that the presidency can be comparable to an eunuch.
A little but not quite enough or acceptable has been accomplished about occupied lands and more than 100,000 families are still waiting for at least a half decent home. This most basic right – housing – has been overlooked by politicians. The Rs 165 million apartment seems light years away in comparison to the housing problem of the former conflict areas. It seems a huge pity that Ministers like Saith Premadasa have been estopped from carrying out their progressive work in terms of housing with the current political crisis.
Interference is at such a high level that nothing gets done at lower levels because Ministers insist and the underlings oblige. Precisely what the rogue Governor Mahendran did. At COPE proceedings he pointed out that what he did was to follow the instructions of the Prime Minister. Yet the Commission of Inquiry, merely noted that the Prime Minister had not asked Mahendran to break the rules. We believe they are missing the woods for the trees: the culture in Sri Lanka is that when the boss insists on anything the underling will oblige. They make reference to Hitler but we believe the shoe is on the wrong foot.
Conflict of interest has become as common as rice and curry in Sri Lanka. The pumping and dumping timeline of the previous administration has been replaced by a shocking impunity coupled with a phenomenal rise in political patronage in which scenario the UNP and friends of their leader have enjoyed whirlwind benefits across the commercial sector. President Sirisena perhaps unwittingly shifted the focus temporarily, with his unfair reference to Butterflies but the people understood his intent: to highlight the fact that lackeys and cronies close to the sacked Premier were mishandling the economy and worse, perhaps lining their collective pockets.
The third man, the now Gazetted Prime Minister has shown fatal signs of returning to the status quo that prevailed when he was President. A careful examination of the people surrounding the Gazetted PM will reveal a whole bunch of non-desirables close to him. A case in point is the apparent closeness and perhaps more worryingly of reliance, on persons such as Nalaka Godahewa. The former SEC supremo, has a case against him pending. What is his speciality that Mahinda Rajapaksa who was voted out amidst an avalanche of corruption claims, sees in Godahewa that he has felt it prudent or necessary to propose to engage the services of Godahewa as Private Secretary to the Minister of Finance? We fervently hope that is one appointment that will not go ahead. If Godahewa wishes to serve the people he might as well contest a parliamentary election and come in through the front door for all to see but not understand why.
The issue of Sri Lankan Airlines has only been exacerbated in this administration of promised good governance. Friends of the deposed Prime Minister and or the United National Party have ended up at the helm of the airline. The turnaround has been a mere pipe dream almost as though they have collectively partaken in controlled substances and succumbed to the effects. Millions of dollars has been spent on cancellations and millions of rupees has been spent on so called professionals and yet the airline has been an unmitigated disaster to say nothing of the drain on the limited resources of the Treasury. Nishantha Wickremesinghes antics as Chairman under the presidency of his brother in law Mahinda Rajapaksa, somewhat pales into some insignificance in comparison to the huge losses under this government and mostly if not all because of a complete disregard for professional management.
To highlight the mediocre gains this government have made they have some so called large ticket items to crow about: the arrest of the presidential secretary, the jailing of a former Presidential Secretary, the introduction of the Right to Information Act, the reintroduction of the state respect for freedom of expression and movement without the fear of white vans et al.
Their performance in terms of good governance is of course utterly abhorrent.
Sri Lanka’s Ranil Wickremesinghe is obviously the darling of the West especially the Europeans. RW unfortunately or otherwise, has been called the puppet in effect, of the West. Many analysts claim that the West’s desire to have a different and presumably complicated new constitution as dictated to by the West is proffered as the reason why Wickremesinghe enjoys virtual blind support from Europe.
The latest interference is the call by the European Union and European Heads of Mission, to support the unconstitutional claim by the Speaker seeking to suspend the Standing Orders in parliament. One does not need to be an expert in parliamentary affairs to understand that they seek this to pave the way for a floor vote. That decision must come from the House membership not from any foreign mission or representative.
In pursuance of the one nation one country hope, we trust that President Sirisena will do a David Gladstone on all the foreign envoys daring to partially intervene in the affairs of our country.
The one real acknowledgement that we will readily acknowledge that has been real has been media freedom. They also gave us the legal right to information even if that is not firing on all cylinders. To be fair some of us in the media have not needed the RTI to report without fear and in challenging circumstance. Aided by the legalising of the RTI the latitude given to the media has meant that the very government that attempted to stifle the media via the 19th amendment are now crowing about how pretty well they have done to sustain media freedom. We do not mean to be petty – so we will grant them their glory on this one!
However the creation of the Trial At Bar system has its cons as much as it does pros. The essential item of concern is whether these Special courts are being lined up to impinge the liberty of political foes and for their own personalised agenda. It would be helpful if the Courts themselves explain simply and precisely quite how the referral to the Special Courts takes place. If the balance of political power has now shifted across the divide perhaps those who put this in place will now face the music via these special fast tracked courts!
The Prime Minister is fond of espousing the cause and effect and import of democracy. If ever there has been such hypocritical behaviour then look no further. He who on the 30th of March 2015 wrote to his equals in Cabinet that as a matter of policy they should not entertain unsolicited proposals for projects and procurement, just days later departed from process and awarded a road contract to the same Chinese firm of whom he had been so critical of during the election hustings! Along the way to signing that agreement (done on a weekend) the Prime Minister was to claim that he had been able to save Rs 30 billion simply by taking a second mean look at the contract. Instead in reality they changed the scope of work made the project smaller and asked for a refund of the difference. So much for comparing green apples with green apples.
No we are terribly sad and sorry to report that three years into this period of mismanagement this government has under performed and taken corruption and impunity to different levels.
This government has lost a long time ago, the moral right to govern us in Sri Lanka. It is high time they presented themselves to the highest court of all – the court of conscience – and unanimously agree to dissolve parliament and consult the people one more time.
The need to go to the people has never been higher. The need for change at the helm of Sri Lanka’s main stream political parties has also never been higher.
The time is nigh for the next tier to come on down and govern this country. Dr P B Jayasundera for long the Treasury Secretary of choice for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party governments, has quite rightly refused to come out of retirement paving the way for the next generation to make their mark and shine. The choice of Dr Attygala is in that context welcome news. In the same breadth we must say that it is well past time for Mr Paskaralingam to realise that Sri Lanka simply does not need his acumen any more. He had his time, did his job, got more than the proverbial t shirt and it is time he truly retired.
The same perhaps applies to Mahinda Rajapaksa as much as it does Ranil Wickremesinghe. There may well be a case for Mahinda to play an interim role but honestly do they not see the sense of bringing in new blood. Persons who have a track record of delivery of quietly getting on with the job entrusted. Persons like Gothabya Rajapaksa, Saith Premadasa, Thalatha Ahtukorala, Eran Wickramaratne, Chandima Weerakkody and Maithri Gunaratne are a few of the names that must be allowed to shine – and help Sri Lanka ease itself out of this abyss of despair.