Point of view | By Dr. Mark Amerasinghe For some years now the newspapers in English, not to mention the blogs, tweets, circulating emails etc, have been filled with criticism of the ominous trends in governance of this country. To mention just a few, the topics treated are the alleged increase in corruption, not merely [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Educating the mass of the people


Point of view | By Dr. Mark Amerasinghe

For some years now the newspapers in English, not to mention the blogs, tweets, circulating emails etc, have been filled with criticism of the ominous trends in governance of this country. To mention just a few, the topics treated are the alleged increase in corruption, not merely of a monetary nature- the latter with huge losses of revenue; the wastage of public funds on tamashas and elephantine sized delegations packed with people whose only qualification is that of being supreme and practised sycophants of the powers that be, or of being their friends and relations, the packing of the diplomatic service with ‘diplomuts’ as they are often referred to these days, with their only suitability being that of relationship to some powerful politician. Then there’s the interference with the police and its subservience to the Ministry of Defence with the attendant emasculation of the former civilian force, the politicization of important institutions responsible for the maintenance of good governance and the steadily increasing breakdown in law and order, again under the influence politicians.

The defiance of the laws by politicians and their kith and kin covered with a sort of diplomatic immunity, the onslaught on the judiciary which encourages twisting of the laws to favour the government in power, a relentless onslaught on the fortress of the superior courts, that last resort in the quest for justice by any and every citizen, the various reports of COPE and the auditor general highlighting and condemning gross financial mismanagement, if not fraud, in government or semi-government enterprises, the questionable deals handled by people in high places such as the Central Bank and the Treasury, learned dissertations by learned lawyers, past judges of the supreme court ,constitutional experts and academics, on the Separation of Powers so essential to a functioning democracy, all this and much more.

The successful stripping of the powers of the higher courts is exemplified by the fact that recently government politicians apart from ignoring the rulings of the superior courts failed to appear before the judges of these courts when summoned and more blatantly by a contemptuous remark of a highly placed minister, supposedly well versed in the laws of the country, that a particular ruling of the highest courts of the land was ‘not worth the paper it was written on’! And to think that there was a time when the accidental sounding of a car horn in the precincts of the Supreme Court would warrant being hauled up before the court for contempt! All these matters and more have been regularly brought to the notice of the English reading public.

Now, there is no doubt that all these articles etc in the English press would help to educate members of the public fluent in the English language, a public however, that forms only a miniscule percentage of the people of the country, i.e., even without assuming that all those fluent in that language read these articles and reports etc., which is most unlikely. But this type of essential education regarding matters of the highest public importance to the people, imparted in learned dissertations and public lectures etc., such as the concept of the Sovereignty of the People, enshrined in the Constitution, reaches only those fluent in the English language – those who form a negligible part of the total voting people of the country.

The vast majority of the people who are responsible for voting their representatives into parliament are denied this invaluable education and are exposed only to the laudatory reports on government actions that appear frequently in the vernacular press and the hoarse declamations and hosannas of government politicians bloated with the knowledge of their power, by virtue of sheltering under the impermeable umbrella of a supreme leader; an umbrella held up by the two stout pillars of an all powerful executive presidency hoisted skywards by the 18th Amendment and a two thirds majority in the legislature; two impregnable towers that make the Executive President say to himself, ‘I am monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute’!

What is of most importance now, is that the leader of the ‘so-called Opposition’ who for years has been slumbering peacefully, enjoying all the comforts and perks of the office of Leader of the Opposition with no actual sense of responsibility and commitment to the people’s needs, has suddenly woken up and is actually calling upon the people to come out onto the streets to ‘topple this government’. This is laughable in the extreme! This ‘leader’ who seems to spend more time in his European constituency, than moving with the people of this land, is living in a cloud-cuckoo world, if he thinks the people would respond to his clarion call; a people whom he is completely out of genuine touch with, a people whom he does not and cannot communicate with convincingly; quite unlike the present leader of the government who is unquestionably a man of the people, has grown up among and with them, moves freely with them and who, in spite of any malgovernance of his regime enjoys a huge bank of popularity and support.

The people must be shown cause and given concrete evidence of malgovernance, so that they can convince themselves that something is rotten in this land of theirs; that they are being robbed ( if that is a provable fact) and that they are sovereign only on paper.

Unfortunately, the leader of the opposition seems to have got his wires crossed. All these years, without jockeying to be a leader for life of his party by fair or foul undemocratic means and dreaming of wearing the crown of state, he should have been spending his time and energy in educating the mass of the people to the state of crisis we are in and constantly challenging the government on their actions, before thinking of leading a people’s peaceful revolution. Surely an educated, experienced and presumably intelligent politician should know that the prime function of an opposition is to attempt to prevent a government from acting against the national interest and should be on the alert to challenge the government on dubious and injurious conduct while at the same time giving their support to the government whenever it is attempting to enact legislation which may be unpopular and opposed by certain power blocks, but is for the greater good of the majority of the people of all ethnic and religious groups.

So, let me make myself clear. The opposition should give the lead in formulating an action plan in consultation with lawyers, academics, professionals and other concerned citizens; a plan to take an educational programme to the villagers and remote areas of the country. An educational programme which informs them, of proven acts of omission and commission on the part of the government, of the meaning of the term ‘sovereignty of the people’, of the increasing robbery and eventual total deprivation of their constitutional rights, of the breakdown of law and order, of the emasculation of the judiciary right up to the highest courts of the land, of what is meant by the doctrine of ‘the separation of powers’ and its importance for the welfare of a nation comprised of all citizens regardless of race or creed, of the paramount importance of the unity of all the peoples of the land, of the need to understand the needs and justified aspirations of the ‘other’. Our people throughout the country are intelligent enough to understand, if these pressing issues are explained to them clearly without raucous cries just for the sake of winning votes. The capability of understanding these issues is not the privilege of the English reading and speaking public.

There have been constant complaints that leaving matters in the hands of the politicians is not enough, that the people must join hands to prevent the country from slithering down a steep slope into an abyss rescue from which will be an arduous if not impossible task. But before people can join in, they must understand clearly what is at stake. But who has taken the trouble to explain these matters to the mass of the people? The education of the mass of the people must be done by those who already understand, and only by them. If they fail to do so, they should not blame the people for their indifference, but bear the consequences of their inaction.

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