As the nation under President Sirisena rises with hopes of a better future with freedom and equality, one question on everyone’s mind is will this change of government be different? Having experienced the past, what the common belief is “one set of crooks are replaced by another”. For the sake of all that is good, [...]

Sunday Times 2

A nation’s expectations from the new Govt: Will promises be compromised?


As the nation under President Sirisena rises with hopes of a better future with freedom and equality, one question on everyone’s mind is will this change of government be different? Having experienced the past, what the common belief is “one set of crooks are replaced by another”. For the sake of all that is good, I sincerely hope this time the people earned a government that will improve the living standards of all Sri Lankans. Failure to do so will surely have dire consequences for the new rulers, who would need to constantly remember they are custodians and not owners of the country, as stated in my last article published on Sunday Jan 4.

President Sirisena: A pledge to implement the 100-day programme

All due credit must be given to President Sirisena who risked everything by running for office against a formidable and powerful opponent. It is fresh in our memory what happened to the last candidate who did the same, and President Sirisena could have faced the same or worse than what happened to former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.

Some readers questioned me as to why I previously referred to most MPs as not being honorable. The answer is all in their actions — from being involved in mass-scale corrupt deals that you and I will pay over several lifetimes, to murders and the biggest drug hauls in recent history. Now it is considered a norm for most to imitate monkeys for obvious reasons! I wonder if monkeys have more honour. They fight often with rivals over territory, but stay with the home troop after the battle!

The challenge of keeping a coalition government is by no means an easy task, and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe may have had many a sleepless night. Learning from the past mistakes, the challenges to the credibility of the government will come from actions such as:
If billions of dollars overseas are not brought back: Many leading figures such as Harsha de Silva, and Patali Champika Ranawaka have been vocal on this crucial issue. Action taken will show resolve that mass-scale national corruption is not tolerated. Failure to act will not only give a signal for the new team in power to do the same, but endorse the belief “do what you can, nothing will happen to you”. For example if the stolen wealth is US$ 30 billion (Rs. 3,900 billion) and half is recovered and brought back, it will give every one of the 16 million voters Rs. 1,200,000 each! This is a life changing amount for most people.

Bad governance: At one of the “dansalas” of the campaign which was attended by the young corporate leaders, one candidate had asked “what is this good governance?”

A few key points: Rule of Law regardless of political patronage; transparency in government dealings; being open to criticism, with freedom of press and expression; and accountability for use of public funds.

Law and order: The change people voted for was to restore law and order and bring the criminals to justice. There are hundreds of cases of elected public officials being involved in various crimes, ranging from drug smuggling, murder, rape, extortion and customs violations in smuggling goods to land grabbing, and many more. Failure to take decisive action against is same as condoning such acts, and days of the Government would be numbered if trust placed in it by the citizens is eroded.

Tolerance of religious or race hate campaigns: If no action is taken on those who preach or propagate hatred based on race or religion, politicians will use this for short term gain at a huge national cost. Do we need another 30 year conflict? Very strong laws need to be passed to discourage such action. While attending college in the United States, I saw how even a mild derogatory term could land one in Jail if it was used against a person of colour.

Company you keep: While more and more cross (or jump) over to the new Government, a line must be drawn. The last government fell due to the utter arrogance and actions of a “dirty dozen”. Leading businessmen also made billions by colluding with corrupt officials. Credibility will be completely eroded if such individuals would be accommodated in the new Government. There are many people who try to bring in these individuals to the new party, as they hope to get protection under the new powers. The facilitators of such moves also do this for huge monetary gains. If credibility is eroded this way, the verdict will be delivered by the people at the very next election!

Failure to stop malpractices at state institutions: With years of mismanagement, most state organisations need a radical overhaul. High level corruption requires officials to collude with them, or turn a blind eye, which is equally bad. Layers of officials from key government institutions would need to be re-assigned, as old habits will not die (not die hard!) Former political masters of such officials would be hoping for them to undermine efforts and credibility. This is a much larger challenge than the new Government may have realised.

Keep the progress going at reduced cost: A challenge would be to keep the development schemes on track, with benefits given to the country. Perhaps we could have three times more highways for the same cost? Long delays on this would create disheartening for citizens, and could yearn for the past, which could be a bad thing. Some say that people have benefited from new projects regardless of cost, but this is not acceptable, as it is our tax money which was mismanaged. Can we accept having the world’s highest cost railway line and highways? No. We need accountability.
No doubt this Government came to power with good intentions. Like I said in my previous article, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, so it is yet to be seen how things will turn out. If this chance for sustainable economic growth with benefits reaching the lower end of the spectrum is wasted, there is no hope for the country. Might as well get packing and wait for the white van or a flight out of the country!

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