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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2553

Is meritorious governance a dream?

By Geoffrey Evarts

Sri Lanka is a country long been ruled by political dynasties. We have the Bandaranaike’s, the Senanayake’s, The Rajapakse’s, and the Premadasa’s to name a few.

Recently, President Mahinda Rajapakse moved to strengthen the Rajapakse family’s stake in Lankan Royalty by moving to appoint his brother Basil Rajapakse into a National list slot of parliament. Another sign that President Rajapakse is further strengthening his clans’ claim on politics as the family business is the grooming of his eldest son Namal Rajapakse into the family business. Namal Rajapakse (whose name was recently embroiled in the “Aston Martin” affair) was appointed to lead political youth movements, and was even seen sitting in the VVIP section of the Naval felicitation ceremony held in Trincomalee a few days ago.

However in the same vein it also must be noted that the Children of Sri Lanka’s current President as well as the Children of the former President (CBK) have been well behaved ladies and gentlemen compared to the likes of rowdy ministers sons and other bigwigs who like flaunting their power and position at the average masses. (Don’t they realize that the people they are beating up and intimidating are the ones who are paying for their luxuries?)

Notwithstanding the above point, will Sri Lanka ever be ruled by a person (or party) that will appoint people into slots based on their merit - and not by connections, relationship, or the repayment of political favours, OR by the strength of their name?

Look at the Public service for example. It is over-bloated by over 50% with politicians appointing their cronies and ‘chak-golayas’ into government jobs as a form of thanks for their support at elections. These political appointees are the ones that we - the average citizen - encounter when we walk into a government department to get some important thing done. You know, those officials reading the news papers, while having a cup of tea. (The ones called public servants who are excessively rude to the public!). How much more efficient and financially less wasteful will the public be if all appointments were based on merit and hard work?

Then there are the ministry secretaries, the chairmen and Director Generals of various vital government institutions. 90% of these positions (if not all of them) are political ‘Thank-yous’ to various individuals. The result of having political appointees to these vital positions has proven disastrous in the long AND short term for Sri Lanka.

For example

A classic example of successful meritocracy against unsuccessful political favouritism is the foreign ministry. This vital ministry under the intellectual eye of the Late Lakshman Kadirgamar was revamped and given strict guidelines of meritocracy and professionalism to work with. Those of us in the media heard numerous stories of Foreign Service officials being promoted for outstanding performance, while those who bungled being repositioned or fired altogether. This tight and efficient form of management resulted in Sri Lanka gaining unprecedented standing and respect within the international community, as well as making new, strong international friends. One of the biggest Kadirgamar achievements was the sweeping international bans being imposed on the LTTE by other countries. Tangible results achieved by Laksham Kadirgamars’ foreign ministry were felt by everyone, including the average Lankan to this day!

Now however, the “post-Kadir” Foreign Ministry has reverted back to Sri Lanka’s normal political culture, with friends and relatives being appointed to international missions, as well as political “thank-you’s” being doled out by way of overseas diplomatic postings. The inefficiency and bungling in the current foreign ministry is apparent, with several ministers and officials expounding differing views of the governments’ foreign policy, hurting the governments’ international image to horrific proportions. A story is also doing the rounds that the second and third tier appointments of the Foreign Service are also being politicized! What next! (Foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama is reported to take his son into high level meetings in order to groom him into a politician as well! Imagine a young boy sharing the affairs of state amongst his friends!)

The result of the ‘post-Kadir’ Management of the Foreign Ministry? There is actual contemplation within international power circles to impose sanctions, and even send an UN peacekeeping force to good old Sri Lanka!

The alternative

An interesting story cropped up in the Lankan media recently. It was set in the backdrop of a finance committee meeting chaired by President Rajapakse himself. During the meeting, 2 JVP MP’s had spoken out against political appointments to state banks. The JVP MP’s charged that these appointments had bypassed standard criteria (such as qualifications and examinations etc) required by state banks for these positions. Later on after the meeting ended, the President was heard to call the JVP MP’s aside and explain that these types of appointments are a necessary way of rewarding apey minissu. The President went on to tell the JVP MP’s to forward the names of their supporters for appointments as well. In reply, the JVP MP’s while pointing out that favouritism went against the “Mahinda Chinthanaya”, respectfully declined the Presidents’ offer.

Amongst other things, this story showed, interestingly, that even though a politician might want to stop bribery, corruption and favouritism, (as past and present Presidents have declared) he/she cannot do so because of the amount of political favours owed by them and their party. This applies mainly to the UNP and the SLFP who have ruled Sri Lanka since independence, as it is these two ruling parties that have the most amounts of political debt to repay, and cronies to reward.

Meanwhile, UNP and SLFP parliamentarians (Sri Lanka’s political rogues) even though they be on opposite sides of the fence – do not take any concrete action to destroy bribery, corruption, and abuse of power when they are in power. They know that if they declare war on these menaces, their friends, relatives and even they will be destroyed in the fallout of such a war. Also, as mentioned before, the political debts of these two parties are too numerous to pay off.

(One such recent example is Minister Mervyn Silva. This maverick actually threatened in public. Amazingly, the Presidents’ silence on this has been deafening! Obviously, Silva has some damning secret up his sleeve that frightens those in power and enables the likes of him to abuse power so blatantly and still remain in power. However, such is the nature of Lankan political culture that if Silva were to pole-vault to the opposition UNP ranks, he would be welcomed with open arms!)

The only alternative remaining to the public (funnily enough) is the JVP, the only party with politicians untainted by corruption and abuse of power, and with a track record of meritocracy. Take a look at the JVP’s management of Tissamaharama. The administration of the Tissamaharama PS is an example of their meritocracy based management strategy. Through Tissamaharama the Reds also show a certain dynamism and management style which would be the envy of the Private Sector and also pleasantly surprise the average Sri Lankan! (Sadly, the JVP’s work in Tissamaharama has not gotten the publicity it deserves)

However, the JVP would have to work hard to dispel the two bogey men that follow them around – the bogeys called ‘1987 riots’ and the ‘Marxist/Leninist economic bogey’ - if they were to gain a wider support base.

Even though the JVP has changed its economic principles in the post Cold War era and gone on to publicly embrace China’s, Malaysia’s and India’s form of ‘controlled capitalism’, the JVP has failed to successfully convey this message to the business community and the business minded Lankan public. Lankans still fears that a JVP regime will impose Marxist/Leninist economic doctrines. (The business community is also scared that all the institutions that are currently privatized will be arbitrarily taken over by the JVP, and such..) Even though JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe himself has declared his party’s embrace of the new form of capitalism, but still the misgivings of JVP economic policy persist.

Also, every time the name of the JVP is bought up, visions of violence, killings and riots of ’87 come to certain peoples’ minds. The era of the bloody JVP insurgency is extremely hard for the Lankan public to forget.

And then of course there is the fact that the JVP supports the military defeat of the LTTE. The JVP’s hardline stance on “no negotiating – lets crush the Tigers” has pushed it into the Sinhala Nationalist bracket, which loses them a lot of moderate Sinhala votes, as well as the moderate Tamil, Christian and Muslim votes. The Mahinda Rajapakse led SLFP also has similar sentiments, but has shrewdly declared that they would leave the door to dialogue open, thereby wooing the moderate voter, and shrouding their all out war stance from the international community as well.

These are the factors keeping the JVP from grabbing power. Hence, it seems that Sri Lanka will have to live a good bit longer with the current political vulture…

Lessons to be learned from the private sector

We all know that the reason the Private sector thrives and goes from strength to strength is because Private sector appointments are largely based on merit, while reward schemes and incentive plans are put in place to encourage the employee to work harder. Imagine some of Sri Lanka’s public institutions practicing these same concepts…. For example, if the CTB had a management run on principles of meritocracy and rewards based incentives, Sri Lanka would have a transport service to rival that of the developed world! Imagine state owned industries and other corporations reverting to these management theories? The results of course would be amazing….

However, the major blame for this state of affairs should fall on us - the voting public, because we are the ones that keep voting for the same old rogues who keeps plundering, abusing and beating us up! If only our public would use their vote more responsibly and show our politikkas that their jobs are not secure if they don’t perform, then we won’t be in such a precarious predicament!

Then again, I guess the term “you reap what you sow” applies here, doesn’t it?

- Asian Tribune -

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