When the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe partnership had exercised the powers of government for 260 days, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) identified a list of nine pluses and eight minuses that could be applied to their achievements during this period (www.cimogg-srilanka.org). After a further 70 days, their performance showed a noticeable deterioration and we expressed our sense of betrayal at the turn of events. Now a further 240 days or so have passed and the time is ripe for another look. As before, only a few key items are examined below. The order in which these matters are commented on has no significance.
CIMOGG has already said that the President (MS), “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”. Regrettably, there is no change to be seen here.
Whereas the MS does not suffer from the egomania that his predecessor exhibited by having “Mahinda Rajapaksa” (MR) added to the names of all important infrastructure items, MS’s staff seem to be stuck with their old habits. Before 9 January 2015, whenever a significant piece of infrastructure was built on publicly owned land, using revenue collected from the people, public servants were in the habit of issuing publicity material and designing plaques which said that the MR had “vested” such infrastructure in the public, implying that it was he who had paid for all those things out of his own pocket. These public servants should be dissuaded by MS from continuing with this type of self-serving servility. Vesting government land in a farmer or land and a building to a non-profit-making institution would, of course, be different; it would be a gift to the recipient – not from the President but from the State.
Notwithstanding the strong measures which PM Ranil Wickremasinghe (RW) threatened to implement, the poor attendance of a large number of MPs, amounting to gross dishonesty, continues. The permanent threat of MPs jumping from one political group to another plainly acts as a constraint on RW in his efforts to instil discipline. Is there no way out?
The media continues to enjoy a high degree of freedom notwithstanding the somewhat justifiable but undiplomatic displeasure shown by RW. It is no secret that certain sections of the media, mainly in their search for sensationalism and the interests of their own agendas, exaggerate the government’s shortcomings and, at the same time, fail to give generous positive coverage to its constructive achievements. However, drastic confrontations will undoubtedly harm the government more than the media.
Many of our own economists, international lending agencies and, lately, Professor Razeen Sally have said that the economy has not been managed well recently. Meeting the cost of the extravagant promises made to public servants and the public by the government is no less a burden than servicing the capital and interest repayments on the enormous loans obtained by the last regime to build several uneconomic or negative-return projects. There are hopeful signs that the Central Bank will now be able act more independently to do its part to help re-establish economic stability.
As previously feared, the delays in getting on with the construction of a large coal or LNG power plant will force the CEB to go behind the private sector “diesel operators” to meet the shortfall in power that is now inevitable from mid-2017 onwards. To quote ourselves: “The private sector must be rubbing its hands in delightful expectation of windfall profits to fill the power deficit, which would be at mouth-watering rates that border on the extortionate”. The government has continued to do little or nothing to minimise the losses and suffering that will be caused over the next several years.
The Bribery Commission (BC) is now taking energetic action in respect of the hundreds of files which the former BC deliberately suppressed. The Police, too, find themselves unshackled from most of the constraints that were obviously placed on them previously to stop them from investigating crimes committed by innumerable favoured persons. The Attorney-General’s Department is also beginning to show a little greater speed in processing the files sent to them by the Police. We have to be grateful to MS and RW for initiating these changes.
The resolution of horrendous crimes like the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunga, Thajudeen and Ekneligoda has shown some forward movement. Dealing with these serious offences must rightfully be given priority. However, there are vast numbers of similar but lower-profile crimes that, too, need to be investigated and justice delivered.
The public has for long been disgusted with the slow pace at which trials proceed after indictment. Nor is there any an indication that the rate of conviction has been improved over the 4% that has been the norm for years. The dispensation of justice in Sri Lanka is always grossly delayed. It is time that the efficient procedures followed in the more advanced countries are adopted here. The late Mr Felix Dias-Bandaranaike did try to do something to speed up litigation but his abrasive personality and the greed of the vast majority of the legal profession did not allow for any improvement. This government must give priority to rectify this deplorable situation.
We have previously asked the government to tell the people of Sri Lanka what has become of the huge stock of gold and foreign currencies accumulated by the LTTE, not to mention the bank accounts, ships, properties etc which were under the guardianship of “KP”. The present government would be no less culpable than the previous one if it continues to hide the truth regarding these vast secret assets. We may be forgiven for speculating whether a new set of robbers has persuaded the old set of robbers to share the spoils. Is that why no action is being taken against KP?
The admission by Minister Lakshman Kiriella that he has given employment to about 65 of his supporters, with the glorified title of “consultants”, to supervise road building, about which most of them obviously know little or nothing, is quite shocking. He has justified his nepotism or bribery, whichever might be the more appropriate term, by saying that the previous government gave far more jobs without benefit of cadre openings, minimum qualification requirements and competitive selection. Does Kiriella need to be taught that two wrongs do not make a right? The nation has to be grateful to the JVP for the yeomen service it is rendering by exposing this and every other kind of irregularity.
The Thevaraperuma drama to get school admission for nine or ten children ended up by MS intervening personally to secure the required places for them. Previously, too, there had been a number of protests outside various schools, which, too, had been “solved” by the relevant Ministers or MPs. The questions that we should like to ask are “What prevented the Directors of Education for the areas concerned from having these children admitted initially to these vacant places? Do MS and RW want politicians to solve problems that administrators are empowered and paid to do?”
One of the things that was quite disturbing about MR’s reign was the scale of the resources he was using and misusing to earn divine blessings to strengthen his own political position. The amount of public money that was spent, the time and other resources wasted by government employees of every description, the media, and the cost of disruptions to the life of the public who were affected by the various restrictions of their movement would have added up to several billions.
There does not seem to be any reduction in the scale of these direct and indirect expenditures being incurred currently for the personal benefit of MS. The contribution made by Dr Usvatte-aratchi in your sister newspaper, THE ISLAND, on 30 July 2016, covers this same subject under the title “Public Funds for Private Ends”. In brief, he rightly asserts that, whilst people are free to practise their religion any way they wish under the law of the land, they are not entitled to do so at public expense. We urge, therefore, that drastic cuts should be made in these selfish public exhibitions of piety so that the time and resources thus saved could be used to relieve the sufferings of hundreds living in dire poverty, especially as a result of natural and man-made calamities.