The 9th day of January 2015 ended 10 years of naked ego-boosting, nepotism, corruption, waste, disregard for the Rule of Law, and confrontational government on a scale not seen before or since in this country. It also terminated five years of near-serfdom of the Sri Lankan people under the 18th Amendment. These developments are immeasurably huge pluses for the citizens of this country. Maithripala Sirisena played a highly risky and critical role in helping to effect this change with the indispensable support of Ranil Wickremasinghe. The citizens of this country have been enjoying the valuable fruits of their efforts for the past 260 days but have now begun expressing disappointment about inexplicable departures from their justified expectations. The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) considers that an interim listing of the more important pluses and minuses relating to governance over this initial period would not be out of place now.
We start with a selection of pluses in no particular order.
Plus No. 1 – Members of the media have become much more venturesome and fearless in going after the truth than they have been able to do for a very long time. Much discussion of political issues is taking place without fear of being assaulted or snatched away in a white van, with fatal consequences thereafter.
Plus No. 2 – It is now possible to walk along our mostly pavement-deprived roads with a much reduced chance of being thrust aside into a drain by T56-waving security escorts that were not only provided to the President, the Prime Minister and Ministers but also to some senior administrators, military high-ups and family members of these exalted beings. Also, the misuse of State air and road transport resources for illegitimate purposes has lessened notably.
Plus No. 3 – In general, the Police are being given a free hand to investigate all types of crimes, in striking contrast to the situation for many decades past, especially the last 10 years.
Plus No. 4 – Confiscated lands have been released to their owners at a significantly faster rate than in the five years following the end of LTTE hostilities, removing a modicum of the heartburn that stands in the way of national reconciliation.
Plus No. 5 – Undertakings have been given to increase the budgetary allocations for education and health, which were not given the priority that they should have received after the decimation of the LTTE.
Plus No. 6 – The people appreciate the calm, quiet manner in which Sirisena presents his views and programs and his avoidance of rodomontade and bombast. They also value the comprehensive answers given by the PM in Parliament, in strong contrast to the drivel spouted by his recent predecessors.
Plus No. 7 – The members of the Constitution Council (CC) that is provided for in the 19th Amendment have now been installed. This should help achieve an improvement in the quality of future appointments to high level administrative posts.
Plus No. 8 – It was refreshing to learn that President Sirisena has just left for the USA by commercial airline, without causing millions of rupees loss to Sri Lankan Airlines or Mihin Air. Most gratifying of all is that he and his retinue totalled fewer than twenty persons.
Plus No. 9 – The poor attendance of a large number of MPs, amounting to gross dishonesty, has been a matter which CIMOGG has repeatedly abjured. It has been very encouraging to hear the strong measures which Wickremasinghe has threatened to implement to correct this dishonourable practice.
We now turn to several minuses.
Minus No. 1 – A substantial number of undesirables have got into Parliament because one-half of our population think that there is nothing wrong in giving their votes to candidates with atrocious records. By resigning themselves passively to the capricious will of the people, both Sirisena and Wickremasinghe have given respectability to these deplorable characters. During wartime, governments all over the world use the services of criminals for constructive purposes. As Sri Lanka may be said to be in a besieged state economically and internationally, the current accommodation may, at best, be considered to be of a parallel nature.
Minus No. 2 – Although the Police have been given a reasonably free hand to investigate criminal misuse of State assets, the public perception is that the Police, in many high-profile cases, seem to be hampered in their investigations both by a shortage of trained manpower and the paucity of political will to follow up on the profusion of scandalous revelations that the Auditor-General, our brave journalists and the untiring JVP keep on making without cease. Public disquiet is exacerbated by what citizens regard as the lukewarm and highly-delayed support given by the Attorney-General’s Department in a number of instances. It is only when more sound indictments are filed and followed up, and the disgraceful 4% rate of conviction achieved by the Department and the Police begins to rise rapidly to a more respectable level, that the public will re-consider their poor rating.
Minus No. 3 – The non-performance and conflicts of interest pertaining to the Bribery Commission (CIABOC) have been highlighted ad nauseam. Now that the Constitutional Council has got a fresh start, its first priority should be to appoint three persons of unquestioned competence and integrity to CIABOC and recruit more personnel for it who have the skills and the interest to expose the profusion of fraudsters whose files have not been investigated for years.
Minus No. 4 – The overwhelming greed of politicians, once elected to power, is to try to ensure that all real power is retained by them. Some of the indications given by the government regarding its thinking on a new Constitution are that the people’s sovereignty will be further eroded and the powers of Parliament increased. Even decisions regarding local matters will not be allowed to be taken by the people in any of the sub-governmental units. Instead, the MP for the area will be vested with the power to decide what is good for his electorate. The dispersal of funds will be largely at the will and pleasure of the MP, who will surely use it to extend patronage and benefits to his supporters at the expense of the rest. It is vital, therefore, that each electorate should be allocated funds the use of which must be initiated and approved by the people of that electorate. The relevant Pradeshiya Sabhas must be given the task of monitoring the dispersal of funds in accord with the relevant statutory requirements.
Minus No. 5 – Some of Sirisena’s decisions during the first 100 days left his supporters wondering a little. Now they are beginning to wonder much more. Gullible and generous-minded supporters attributed the steps initially taken by him to his shrewdness in making the best of a situation at a time when his political strength was not assured. However, after he manoeuvred himself, or was manoeuvred by others, to take up the presidency of the SLFP and the UPFA, a different picture is emerging. The majority of those who express an opinion on the subject are now convinced that Sirisena, who gave the welfare of Sri Lanka first priority at the beginning of his incumbency, has now relegated it to a lower status and promoted his party to the No.1 position in his list of prime concerns. The next few months of activity in Parliament will show the people whether the party or the country benefits more from his contributions.
Minus No. 6 – An early move made by Sirisena was to appoint one of his brothers to a very highly-paid position in Sri Lanka Telecom, whereas one could reasonably have hoped that a person with a superior knowledge of communications technologies would have inspired more confidence in the public and been better value for money.
Minus No. 7 – It was reported recently that Sirisena’s daughter had chaired a development meeting at Polonnaruwa even though she has no known official position. Was this not an infraction of the anti-nepotism platform which was a vital element in the last presidential election campaign?
Minus No. 8 – Dr Tilak Syambalapitiya and Mr G.A.D.Sirimal, both of whom have in-depth knowledge about Sri Lanka’a growing electrical power requirements and the CEB’s long-term plans to meet these, have issued grave warnings regarding the failure to get on with the construction of a large power plant. Owing to the delays already incurred (intentionally?), the CEB may be forced to go behind the private sector to meet the shortfall as happened when Norochcholai was bogged down by various vested interests. The private sector must be rubbing its hands in delightful expectation of windfall profits from any call that is made on them to fill the power deficit, which would be at mouth-watering rates that border on the extortionate.
The pluses and the minuses given above are intended to convey the flavour of what the public sees as the strengths and weaknesses of the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe partnership. We call upon both of them to adjust course appropriately.