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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2039

Make yahapalanaya a success: enthrone the defeated and the mediocre

By Dr.M.A.Mohamed Saleem

Traders and politicians have many commonalities. In Sri Lanka someone who starts as a trader counts success by the amount of political patronage one is able to muster and a politician counts success on how fast one becomes a trader and how many other traders wish to enroll around him/her.

At the macro level both groups ascribe what they do is in the interest of developing the common man but, the visible outcomes are a set of measures for protecting each other’s interest. In this joint effort same issues are notionally given a twist every now and then to give a new appearance and, at each starting point, more safeguard provisions are built in to strengthen the trader/politician relationship.

Chasing investments, businesses, mega projects, tradeoffs and kick backs, creating exclusive economic zones etc are deemed vital components to ensure personal benefits and propagate such trader/politician partnerships. In this electronic era, every such component can be more attractively re-packaged compared to how it was earlier packaged, and this exactly what is happening today as the re-packed packages are wrapped under Yahapalanaya as a different set politicians gain access to the seat of power following the recent parliamentary elections.

Not very long ago politicians in the previous government argued that Sri Lanka has a continuing security threat, and therefore, disproportionally high amount of country’s resources were allocated to keep up a constant militaristic vigilance over the imaginary re-groupings of militants. However, it turned out to be also a ploy for developing and protecting ‘trade’ packages, and politicians at the helm of power closely guarded this arrangement to maximize benefits for their families and cronies.

With President Maithiripala Sirisena acceding power came the slogan Yahapalanaya (Good Governance) and the people were made to believe that what happened during the Mahinda regime was not Yahapalanaya but it was dushitha-palanaya characterized by:-

(a) bloated cabinet

(b) misuse of state resources

(c) irrelevant mega-projects

(d) oppression of dissent and targeted victimization

(e) proliferation of crimes and impunity of criminals

(f) break down of law and order

(g) manipulation of judiciary

(h) unaccountability and

(i) deterioration of human values and lack of professionalism particularly among the country’s law makers in the parliament.

People were indeed unhappy with what was happening during the Mahinda regime and they were unable to do anything about it fearing the white van culture then prevailed abducting anyone considered to hold dissenting views to that of the ‘ruling elites’. January’15 presidential elections gave people an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction. What President Maithripala Sirisena promised was too complex for a minority government he inherited. People also did not expect many changes as long as MPs, deriving illegitimate benefits by manipulating the polluted parliamentary system that has evolved under Mahinda Rajapaksa, continued to hold office.

People broke their silence and demanded political parties to involve them in selecting future candidates. Well before the call for fresh elections people had demanded that anyone wishing to represent them in parliament should meet their criteria. According to PAFFREL almost all parties accepted this demand from the people but no party adhered to it when candidates were nominated. When political parties blatantly disrespected wish of the people to ascertain who had the qualification to represent them it became unrealistic to expect an environment for Yahapalanaya after the elections.

Under the present electoral process political parties have no incentive to change, and party interest is deemed more safeguarded by the amount of material and muscle power that can be brought in to lure people to vote for that party. Bigger and older the party greater is the reluctance to give up the present electoral arrangement and this was demonstrated when President Maithripala tried to introduce electoral reforms in the last parliament. He may have to face similar blocks when electoral reforms are re-presented to the new parliament.

What is more disappointing after the elections is the total disregard for raising people’s confidence about the seriousness of Yahapalanaya. Generally, people have been asking for a set of clean and competent candidates. People had the opportunity at the last elections not to vote as a protest against parties disregarding their request to exclude candidates on account of their alleged shady deals, misuse of public resources, inability to deliver on promises made to people, corruption, shifting allegiance based on who pays more etc. This did not happen. Instead, according to the few I have talked to, people decided to vote for the better out of the worst set of candidates they were presented with. Thus, the attempt to bring even those candidates people had rejected back to parliament thorough the National List is ludicrous and unacceptable. It is more worrisome considering that such candidates are even prepared (without any shame) to accept the offer to be back in parliament through the national list.

One of the reasons for the bad state of governance under Mahinda Rajapaska was the bloated cabinet for a country of the size of Sri Lanka. Many ministers did not have an office to function or even understand what their roles were in the general administration of the country. They became a laughing stock. One of my expectations from the new parliamentarians, in the interest of the country, is that individually each of them would make a genuine soul search whether he/she has the calibre to hold a ministerial position and to graciously identify the one who is more knowledgeable in the subject matter to hold that position. In the interest of the country and Yahapalanaya the new parliamentary alliance towards forming national government should also examine how various subject matters can be combined so that there can only be few ministerial positions. Instead, there seems to be more infighting and bargaining for ministerial positions and indications are that number of ministries may exceed that of the last government. All these are done is in the name of Yahapalanaya, the people are going to be told.

Being elected to parliament is believed as getting access to the treasury of this country. Holding a ministerial position is assumed to be acquiring a key to a safe kept in that treasury. One can therefore understand why one considers so much is at stake to get elected to the parliament and why one is unable to come to terms when rejected by people. Unfortunately, once again, people will have to live with this set of parliamentarians for the next five years.

Many may argue that Sri Lanka needs a ‘National Government’ and even attaining a restricted formation between the UNFGG and SLFP members in the parliament is worth any price. None other than the parliamentarians who will stand to directly benefit will support such a position of “enthroning the defeated and the mediocre to make yahapalanaya a success”. Unfortunately, common people will have little clout to change this position. At least to give some semblance of yahapalanaya can the new government consider the following actions:-

• Establish oversight committees without delay and set out tasks for each Minister and MPs. There should be periodic evaluations of performance against the tasks allocated. Anyone falling short should be held accountable or replaced.

• Establish right to information and make easy for anyone to access such information

What may not be realized in the excitement of forming the new government is that people can lose confidence fast. One positive thing about proliferation of IT is that no one can be blocked out from images of how people world over are reacting when they are pushed to desperation. Sri Lanka has now an opportunity to avoid it.

- Asian Tribune -

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