Beneath the spectacle of the Parliamentary Elecions is the spectre of anarchy – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
The forthcoming Parliamentary Election has become the main concern nowadays of not only educated people but also the whole of society. Yet it is rather unfortunate that they do not see the streaks of dark shadows of anarchy splash beneath the carnival of a Parliamentary Election.
The country is going through a major crisis day by day, causing a great destruction to the whole country in general. The sociopolitical system and the economy of the country are gripped in a massive crisis which can explode at any moment. The worst thing is that it is not seen by the general public and the political leaders themselves and the educated and knowledgeable people of the country. Even those who see it appear to act like blind men, ignoring the situation.
Even during the Yahapalana regime, this crisis had reached an unmanageable height. Disappointingly, the Yahapalana regime did not adopt a precautionary policy to arrest the situation. What it did was to follow a wasteful policy that only aggravated the crisis. The attempt to hide the gravity of it from the people rather than enlightening them on the reality of the crisis which had been devouring the country can be considered one of the worst mistakes committed by the rulers of the Yahapalana regime.
The problem of foreign debt servicing has now become the main factor that determines the crisis Sri Lanka is facing. However, we must admit that it is not an issue confined to the problem of foreign debt servicing. Rather, it can be considered a more complex issue associated closely with the degeneration of the sociopolitical system and the economy of the country. The violent struggles that broke out from time to time, repressive measures adopted in containing them, the brutality unleashed on society in the process and the breakdown of the rule of law had a collective impact on this crisis. Similarly, State rule turning to a deplorable system of plundering of public property and the bureaucracy aiding and abetting the political regimes to plunder the resources constituted a key factor that accelerated and enhanced the process of degeneration set in the State
The chaos of the Constitution
Not only the candidates of the Presidential Election but also the general public was unaware that the powers of the President had been changed and drastically reduced by the 19th Amendment.
It can be said that there was hardly any mention at all about it in the sociopolitical dialogue that arose, connected with the Presidential Election.
The majority of Sinhalese voted en masse for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and elected him the President of the country with the conviction that he possessed the required ability to make Sri Lanka a prosperous country like Singapore while preserving the Sinhala Buddhist identity. But the people who voted for Rajapaksa were not aware that according to the 19th Amendment, the Executive Power of the President had been removed and he has only a nominal power. Even the new President does not appear to have been aware of this reality in its correct perspective until he had won the Presidential Election.
The new President and the new Government should have realised quickly that the country was in a massive and unprecedented crisis and made the public enlightened of the gravity of the situation. But they ignored that responsibility. Their main focus was not on the crisis the country was facing, but the next Parliamentary Election that they wanted to win somehow. To win the election, the new President and his Government had to adopt a policy that ignored the gravity of the crisis the country was facing which eventually resulted in the crisis being further exacerbated. Sri Lanka is now in an unfortunate situation that will thrust the country into a state of anarchy soon after the Parliamentary Election.
The shadows of anarchy
It can be said that some features of the impending anarchy have already begun to manifest themselves. It need not be reiterated that the sociopolitical system and economy of the country are in a big mess. A number of new factors that will exacerbate and intensify the chaos in the political system have come to the fore after the new Government came to power.
Whatever may be the good or bad of the 19th Amendment, according to the law, Executive power now rests with Parliament and not with the President. Even when the President had the absolute power of the State, the subject of financial control was assigned to Parliament and the Minister of Finance. Following the election of the new President, the UNP-led coalition which had a majority in Parliament handed the Government over to the People’s Alliance which represented the Pohottuva, the flower bud. Though this transfer has made a change in the ruling power, the newly-elected Government did not have a majority in Parliament. Thus, the new Government which was formed after the Presidential Election has become only a transitory Government set up with no majority in Parliament, until the Parliamentary Election is held.
Although the new Government submitted a provisional supplementary estimate of Rs. 360,000 million to Parliament to meet the expenses of the Government. It eventually withdrew it fearing that the Opposition would defeat it. The next Budget will take time until August, September or perhaps October to be presented and approved by Parliament. Until then, all finances of the State will have to be managed unconstitutionally and arbitrarily and without the approval of Parliament. This can be considered an important and serious issue which should have been discussed and debated in Parliament; yet neither the Government nor the Opposition had paid much attention to it.
Under the circumstances, all expenditure incurred by the Government, including the cost of holding the forthcoming Parliamentary Election, will have to be borne in an arbitrary and unconstitutional manner, with no formal appropriation of funds from a Budget or a provisional supplementary estimate duly approved by the Parliament.
The fact that the funds required for the Parliamentary Election have not been allocated and the questions already raised in regard to that is the best and timely example that reflects the seriousness of the situation.
According to the Commissioner of Elections, the Election Commission has yet to pay Rs. 3,000 million to the Government press for the services rendered by it at the last Presidential Election. The Election Commissioner said that the printing cost for the Parliamentary Election will amount to Rs. 7,000 million, and if this amount is not provided, it will not be possible to get it done on credit.
This is not a situation confined to just one place. It prevails almost everywhere at different levels. There is a marked shortage of essential drugs at government hospitals. Similarly, there is a noticeable slowdown of the work done in respective areas due to a persistent delay in the payment of debts owed to Government suppliers and contractors. Financially, the Government is not in a strong position. It is in a chaotic mess. This has rendered the conduct of day-to-day affairs of the Government extremely difficult.
The new President, as he promised, revised the tax system to ease the tax burden. While the tax revision may prove to be beneficial for taxpayers, it will however not help ease the economic crisis of the country. Although the tax amendments are already in effect, they have not received parliamentary approval yet.
The subject of tax belongs to Parliament and not to the President. The Minister of Finance has the power to revise the tax system and implement it with the approval of Parliament. But the President does not have such power.
Most things are not happening in a proper way and in accordance with the Constitution. Such things happened not only during this regime but also during the Yahapalana regime as well. Whatever may be good or bad about former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, the way he was removed from service was improper and not in accordance with the Constitution.
The 19th Amendment too was enacted in an informal way which was improper and not in accordance with the Constitution and the directions given by the Judiciary.
Even under the new Government, there are many things happening in an informal way and contrary to the Constitution. It is not proper to deploy military forces to carry out Police functions except in a state of emergency. Yet, even the Opposition did not object when the new Government decided to deploy the Army to perform certain police functions. There is a deep interconnection between anarchy and the prevalence of certain practices which are not in conformity with the Constitution.
The Central Bank of Ceylon is the only institution which has the sole authority of the administration, supervision and regulation of currency, finance and payment systems of Sri Lanka including the issue of currency notes and determination of exchange rates. If the standard of such a dignified and authoritative institution has declined to such a low and contemptible level, what will be the status of other institutions? If the Central Bank of Ceylon is so corrupt, the subordinate institutions such as banks, finance companies and the stock market that come under its control cannot be expected to be in good shape
Foundations of crisis
The problem of foreign debt servicing has now become the main factor that determines the crisis Sri Lanka is facing. However, we must admit that it is not an issue confined to the problem of foreign debt servicing. Rather, it can be considered a more complex issue associated closely with the degeneration of the sociopolitical system and the economy of the country.
The violent struggles that broke out from time to time, repressive measures adopted in containing them, the brutality unleashed on society in the process and the breakdown of the rule of law had a collective impact on this crisis.
Similarly, State rule turning to a deplorable system of plundering of public property and the bureaucracy aiding and abetting the political regimes to plunder the resources constituted a key factor that accelerated and enhanced the process of degeneration set in the State.
The volume of public property looted by successive ruling parties that came to power from time to time since 1977, with the help of bureaucrats and their cronies, is enormous. There is hardly any institution that has escaped exploitation.
This process did not stop at corrupting the entire institutional system; it continued beyond that and eventually resulted in bankrupting all institutions and the entire country.
Consequently, all those who looted the country became extremely rich while the country has become squeezed dry due to its sap being sucked out to the maximum by looters. The cronies in the private sector have also played an important part in this robbery. The hands of these looters are not only soiled with corruption but stained with blood as well.
The Central Bank robbery
The investigation reports on the Central Bank’s bond scandals during the past two regimes have made it possible for the public to understand not only how the ruling parties have plundered the resources of the Central Bank in collaboration with their cronies in the private sector and the bureaucracy of the bank itself, but also the contemptible and ruthless manner in which the stock market had been manipulated and plundered.
The amount of wealth earned illegally is huge. It must be emphasised that the robbery of the Central Bank is not confined only to the times of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Yahapalana regimes. It can be safely assumed that such robberies had taken place even during earlier regimes although the volume of corruption may be different.
The Central Bank of Ceylon is the only institution which has the sole authority of the administration, supervision and regulation of currency, finance and payment systems of Sri Lanka including the issue of currency notes and determination of exchange rates. If the standard of such a dignified and authoritative institution has declined to such a low and contemptible level, what will be the status of other institutions?
If the Central Bank of Ceylon is so corrupt, the subordinate institutions such as banks, finance companies and the stock market that come under its control cannot be expected to be in good shape. This can be described as a common characteristic inherent not only in the Central Bank and other financial institutions that come under its control but also the State itself and the institutional system linked to it. It can be presumed that there is hardly a single institution in Sri Lanka that has not fallen prey to this plunder and maintained transparency in its dealings.
I can proclaim myself to be a keen critic who has conducted an in-depth study for a long time on the State of Sri Lanka, its institutional system, heads of State, leaders of political parties, social system, races, castes and religions, economy and overall workings. The decline and putrefaction of the Sri Lanka State and its institutional system can be described as the major scope which most attracted my attention. Most of the articles I have written for nearly 40 years and all the books authored by me except for only two can be considered to have been dedicated to illustrate this situation.
The observation I made on the State and the social system of Sri Lanka, following the end of the internal civil war, had been that they had become so messed up and rotten that the country could not expect to move forward any longer without making structural reforms conducive to recreating its institutional system and social system. I made a concerted effort to point out this need to political leaders and the public and am sad to say that it was not successful.
After this unsuccessful attempt, the conclusion I reached was that it would not be possible to effect the desired structural reforms through political regimes or society; and the entire system will collapse on its own at some point without any external influence, and due to the deterioration of the system from within, and eventually the country will be plunged into a state of anarchy. In this context, I was compelled to publish a book titled ‘Sri Lankava Galavaganeema’ (Rescuing Sri Lanka) in 2011 to explain my idea. In my opinion, nine years later, Sri Lanka has now neared this dismal fate.
The term ‘rot’ (kunuveema in Sinhala), which I often used to explain the deterioration of the system in Sri Lanka, can be said to have become a popular term in the Sri Lankan political lexicon. It is worth mentioning here that Ajit Kanagasundram, an eminent economist and political analyst, has made a similar observation on the rotten status of Sri Lanka, which I had attempted to elaborate using the same term.
Kanagasundram became an internationally renowned businessman after he left Sri Lanka to seek his fortune in Singapore following the communal riots of ’83 Black July. Kanagasundram never severed his links with the land of his birth. He can be described as a critic of the LTTE’s separatist program.
In 2018, Kanagasundram published an excellent book titled ‘Tale of Two Countries’ based on his experience and observations of Sri Lanka and Singapore. There is also a Sinhala translation of it, titled ‘Derataka Kathava’ (Tale of Two Countries). It is a must-read for everyone interested in understanding the present fate of Sri Lanka. It is in this book that he has elaborated his observations which are similar to those of mine, about Sri Lanka.
According to him, the Government of Sri Lanka “despite its good intention, is like a car with the engine disconnected from the wheels, or to mix metaphors, a ship without a rudder, at the mercy of the wind and tides, drifting.” In his opinion, the “rot” really started after J.R. Jayewardene assumed power in 1977 with a four-fifths majority and in five or seven years, (2023 or 2025) what happened to Greece will happen to Sri Lanka. In my opinion, it may happen before 2023. Most likely it can happen in 2021.