With another year of the Gregorian calendar swiftly coming to an end, it is usually the time to reflect both on the year that has passed and ponder on the year that looms before us. The momentous victory not so long ago over the deadly menace of terrorism is slowly receding into the annals of [...]


Turn away from this control freak approach


With another year of the Gregorian calendar swiftly coming to an end, it is usually the time to reflect both on the year that has passed and ponder on the year that looms before us.

The momentous victory not so long ago over the deadly menace of terrorism is slowly receding into the annals of history. It is the present with its mounting concerns that is consuming most of the citizenry.
It is a fact that the Government has failed to convert the defeat of terrorism into a meaningful advantage for both itself and the people. The esteem in which the Government in general and President Mahinda Rajapaksa in particular were held by a vast majority of Sri Lankans has diminished within a short period since then.

President Rajapaksa earned rich dividends by being re-elected but the gloss wore off when he incarcerated his opponent on trumped-up charges before a drum-head court martial and an unfair trial.

That victory spurred the President to turn his already powerful office into a juggernaut. All the remaining safeguards against the excesses of an ‘Executive President’ were to be dismantled. He acted swiftly to introduce the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and the courts, now acting as the last bastion of constitutional governance meekly caved in to please the Executive by allowing safe passage to that Amendment. They failed to say that such a move required not just a two-thirds majority of Parliament, but also a vote at a Referendum of the people.

The Government had a very short fuse when it came to tolerating dissent adopting a China-like approach to guided democracy and a ‘little bit of totalitarianism’ rather than what the people of this country have cherished for decades — participatory democracy and strong independent institutions.

Crony capitalism began raising its ugly head with the control of the commanding heights of the economy passing into the hands of a coterie of businessmen very close to the powers-that-be. This was best seen in the manipulation of the Stock Market by this ‘mafia’. Those who tried to bring a semblance of decency into the system left voluntarily or involuntarily.

It is not that the President did not know what was happening, but it is also possible that he was ill-advised, and in fact, misled by those who have a direct vested interest in these manipulations.

The University teachers had a long drawn protest against the Government over the year, but the Government opted to stubbornly challenge them knowing only too well that poorly paid people cannot afford to dig-in for a protracted battle. Next, the Government clashed with the Judiciary, and consequently, with the legal fraternity.

The Government would not have bargained for the reaction to what is an excessive move to oust the Chief Justice largely because the courts began giving judgments against the State. The issue is bound to overflow at least into the early part of the coming year.

By all estimates, the Government will be the winner in the clash of the Titans; a clash between two mighty institutions that run any country, but will it be a pyrrhic victory? The Government will be the ultimate loser in the long run. It would have botched its copybook and its actions would go into the debit column of its balance sheet when all is done and dusted and history is written. Governments, past and present, feel they can get away with anything, however wrong the actions may be, quoting the ‘people’s mandate’ to justify their ham-handed actions, and buoyed by their own self-importance accrued from an election victory. Such actions, however, resurface in the years to come as a bad precedent that was set.

By now, the Rajapaksa Government should be able to learn from the bad things people say of previous administrations and former Heads of Government. Does it wish to follow in the same path, when it could avoid such bad criticism by learning from its predecessors’ mistakes? Or can we also say that one lesson people learn from history is that no-one learns from history.

The recent inquisition proceedings of the Chief Justice were one of those bad precedents. It was executed clumsily, vulgarly and patently unfairly making an ugly display of absolute power. The rude, sexist comments uttered by Government members of the committee were an insult to Parliamentary democracy which is claimed to be ‘supreme’.

It has not necessarily been downhill all the way insofar as the Government is concerned. The engine of growth and economic development has been ignited with the conclusion of the ‘war’. Though 2012 was not a good year as far as economic growth rates were concerned, analysts believe 2013 would be slightly better. There is road work throughout the length and breadth of the island, airports and harbours are being built and the major cities are looking cleaner and nicer.

In the process, though, the seamy side of governance emerges. Foreign debt rises as loan after loan is taken from overseas banks and lending institutions. They are, no doubt, the subject of debate. How much are future generations being pawned and how much money has gone into private pockets? But the Government cares less about such criticism as it powers on.

A Right to Information Law that would empower the citizen with public information on tenders and contracts is being ignored. Similarly, the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) recommendations on good governance remain largely ignored.

The Presidency, at the very apex of the administration is looking more and more like a ‘control freak’ trying to centralise every aspect of governance under its direct control. Put differently, it has all the makings of a quasi-dictatorship. Its conduct since the end of the war in 2009 has enhanced its reputation as an imperious, overbearing administration.

The Government might want, or more likely will need to, rectify that image in the year ahead.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.