Cometh the miracle man: Accolades and bouquets from members and supporters of the party that the new finance minister put together from scratch continue. Like the three “Wise Men” who followed the star to Bethlehem, envoys from countries near and far have trekked to the Finance Ministry to meet the man tasked with uplifting the [...]


Course correction on the cards


Cometh the miracle man: Accolades and bouquets from members and supporters of the party that the new finance minister put together from scratch continue. Like the three “Wise Men” who followed the star to Bethlehem, envoys from countries near and far have trekked to the Finance Ministry to meet the man tasked with uplifting the country’s faltering economy as he did a few years back with the political fortunes of the Rajapaksas.

Basil Rajapaksa has earned a reputation as “Mr Fix It”. Now he is entrusted with even more onerous duties — to fix several serious problems, some apparently the work of advisers from a conventicle more open than those of Socrates. Some say it is Viyathmaga.

Now that the new Finance Minister is most likely to put together his own advisers, perhaps with less intellectual pretensions, the earlier whizz kids will have more time on their hands to look at what is happening in other parts of the world.

If they do, they would discover – hopefully — there are many lessons to be learnt. The first lesson is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which has just celebrated its centenary is not the best teacher, unless, of course, Tiananmen Square 1989 is a lesson one wishes to replicate some day. Nor is it a real functioning multi-party state as we know multi-party states to be.

I have seen the difference that China has gone through in 10 years. In 1987, I was among a small group of Asian journalists invited to Beijing for a conference on international developments. It took us to several major cities in China. That was the time of liberalisation under Deng Xiaoping. The transformation was perceptible and even media freedom was beginning to make itself felt as the conference showed with Chinese journalists freely and openly exchanging ideas.

Such was the change that I was offered a position at the Xinhua news agency to rewrite English copy and to teach at a journalism college which I think was run by Xinhua. I was even shown an apartment I would occupy in a block once occupied by Russian experts sent to Beijing.

Months before that conference there had been student demonstrations in the winter of 1986/87 that had brought about the purging of Chinese Communist Party leader (CCP) Hu Yaobang, a respected reformer, for not cracking down on the demonstrators. Though there were no signs of it, the first stirrings for reform was in the air and one could feel it in personal conversations with the Chinese journalists.

Who would have thought that the death in April 1989 of Hu Yaobang, sacked by hardliners in the CCP, would become the symbol for a call for greater freedom and an end to corruption in the party hierarchy and the state structure?

I went to work in Hong Kong in September 1989, three months after China’s killing field in Tiananmen Square had been washed of the spilled blood. But the epiphany that the repressive Chinese leadership euphemistically dismissed as the “June Fourth incident” would continue to haunt the Chinese people as I found in my 10 years in Hong Kong.

Now Xi Jinping has imposed an even more repressive regime that has begun to tighten its stranglehold on Hong Kong and crush its nascent democracy, and has its eyes glued on Taiwan. Space does not permit me to expand on what transpired in Hong Kong in that decade of change when Deng’s solution for Hong Kong — “one country two systems” — was gradually dismantled.

Promises made on political and other reforms were dumped in the dustbin by an increasing repressive and suppressive CCP with the current leader determined to wipe out dissent and ignore commitments made before the handover of sovereignty in 1997.

If lessons in leadership, good governance and commitment to the people are to be learnt then there are far more worthy examples to emulate than the Chinese Communist Party that has more blood on its hands than stored at the Blood Bank.

One example worthy of emulation is the internationally respected German Chancellor Angela Merkel who retired from her leadership of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) recently ahead of Germany electing its new Chancellor in September.

Having done my advanced training in mass communication in 1966 at an institute in West Berlin just 100 yards or so from the infamous Berlin Wall at the height of the Cold War, and thereafter visited West Germany several times often covering its elections and also having spent nearly two weeks in the Communist-run East Germany and gone there later for the first anniversary of the fall of the wall when I was working in Hong Kong, one begins to understand what the reunification of divided Germany under Chancellor Helmut Kohl meant for the German people.

Admittedly there were those who opposed the impoverished, dilapidated Communist-controlled East being joined with the prosperous West. Angela Merkel came from the Communist-half of Germany.

A news report that I received recently states that the day she retired from the party leadership and from politics, the German people stood in their balconies, windows and wherever and continuously applauded her warmly for six minutes to show their appreciation for 18 years of dedicated service.

In our resplendent isle we do it somewhat differently. We light fire crackers not only when a new leader is elected but also when a despised one is rejected by the people.

The report went on to say, “During these eighteen years of her leadership of the authority in her country, no transgressions were recorded against her. She did not assign any of her relatives to a government post.

Germany stood as one body bidding farewell to their leader, a chemical physicist who was not tempted by the fashion or the lights and did not buy real estate, cars, yachts and private planes, knowing that she is from former East Germany.

At a news conference, a female Journalist asked Merkel: We notice that you’re wearing the same suit, don’t you have any other? She replied: “I am a government employee and not a model.”

At another news conference, they asked her: Do you have housemaids who clean your house, prepare your meals and so on? Her answer was: “No, I do not have servants and I do not need them. My husband and I do this work at home every day.”

Then another journalist asked: Who is washing the clothes, you or your husband? Her answer: “I arrange the clothes, and my husband is the one who operates the washing machine, and it is usually at night, because electricity is available… and the most important thing is to take into account the possible inconvenience for the neighbours, thankfully the wall separating our apartment from the neighbours is thick.”

Ms Merkel lives in a normal apartment like any other citizen. She lived in this apartment before being elected Chancellor of Germany. She did not leave it and does not own a villa, servants, swimming pools or gardens, the report said.

Here is a lesson for all leaders irrespective of which country they lead or mislead.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in
Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)


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