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No more bookies, crookies, rookies – and no more humbuggery, either!


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 17 July 2015 00:00


Now that nominations are in and planted, there’s a month to go before the fruit of our voting on them can be ripened, plucked, and harvested. In the short run-up to nominations, and in the long haul before elections, the clarion call has been – and will, no doubt, continue to be – for clean politicians.   rtjh

‘Clean’ politicians – wait a minute, is that animal or mineral or vegetable? No such creature, the echo in the corridors of power lament; and the ranks of Tuscany forbear to cheer. Still for all the cynicism, anti-corruption pacts and fronts and leagues of extraordinary gentlemen (more on the lack of women nominees, later) have been the cynosure. Is it all in vain? Could it be that the all-gullible polity – note: you, folks – are about to be gulled again, by the nicest possible politicos who ever threw their respective hats in the ring?

After all it has happened before, please note; and indubitably will again. 

In terms of our political culture, the very proponents of that Dharmishta Raajya (a ‘Righteous Society’) eventually turned out to be the most reprehensible, if insidious, despots – think of the landslide of 1977, and the so-called ‘Republican’ Constitution of 1978, and all its progeny. 

In terms of our mercantile sector, our captains of commerce and industry – evidently without exception – are keen to not only have their cake (and an increasingly larger slice of the pie, to boot) but insist on force-feeding their constituents and stakeholders bread and circuses. Just think how far a cry from ostensibly ‘good’ corporate governance and CSR road shows their actual business practice is – in far too many cases to make compilers of annual reports and all that padded up triple bottom-line reporting sit pretty or comfortable! 

In terms of media – and privately-owned media, at that – just think of how the most strident calls to “Challenge/Combat/Crush Corruption!” (etc., etc., ad nauseam ad infinitum) stumble and fall by the wayside in the light of the failure of the self-appointed ‘voice’ of truth and justice to speak out in a timely and critically constructive manner...dfh

No. We have been gulled once too often in the past in virtually every arena from the forum to the factory to the office-floor. We will not be gullible yet once again. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us umpteen times since universal franchise, shame on our political culture and our relatively sophisticated civilisation that has been practising “the art of the possible” since the time of Parakramabahu up to another aspirant to the purple, also from Polonnaruwa.

Now don’t get me wrong, fellow citizens and voters. Clean politics is long past being the need of the hour and the lament of our nation. But already, as you would have noticed from the lists, nominating the most suitable candidates is the foregone opportunity of the moment that has forlornly passed. It would have been incumbent on – and insightful of – the leadership of all political parties throwing their tokens in the ring, come 17 August, to cleanse their own Augean stables at nominations time. If not by virtue of principle, then purely by the expedient of being better able to please the punters and garner their preference votes. But with a few striking exceptions, the overall effect of the names that will appear on the ballot papers in one month’s time reads like a tired litany (or part thereof) of “the usual suspects”. 

And at the risk of displeasing the party (now a coalition) of sea-green incorruptibles who insist they can do no wrong, striking up “a rainbow coalition” to keep the corruption of the erstwhile regime out smacks more of one-upmanship, gamesmanship, and showmanship than a fresh commitment to genuine good governance. Where are the promised investigations and prosecutions of a campaign past? When will justice be done by the marginalised and oppressed you undertook to champion? Why should we trust you that ‘Yahapaalanaya Plus’ will be any the less effete under a new national unity government of convenience than it was under an old national unity government of conviction? It’s just the big fat cats offering cheese on a bait when starving civilian rats will not bite plain old cheese anymore. h

Well, that’s “the big picture” to me at least, folks. I’m old enough to remember the egregiousness of war and the enthusiasm and vigour with which we all (well, almost all) hailed a messianic executive. I’m young enough to want to live in a future dispensation that doesn’t return us to the rottenness of the state of despotism that the same leadership descended into – by design or default, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t believe the naïve but self-serving propaganda about “zero civilian casualties” then, and there’s no reason why we should believe the hype about “there was no loss to the state from the bond scam” now. So for the sake of transparency (to say nothing of your credibility and credible political survival), let the Governor go – even now – as you engineered His Late Majesty’s exit – even then. 

Thus, I’d (you also, I’d wager) like to see politicians of all hues and stripes and bents and shades in this rainbow ‘walk the talk’ (that is, practise what they preach for us to see) and ‘walk the walk’ (that is, continue doing so even when – especially when – no one is watching; like in a hundred days after the polls are over and the results out). For now, while the cynosure is on nominations and campaigning for clean politicians and the attendant paradigm shift in our political culture, it seems (to me at least, folks: sorry if I’m repeating myself – but so are they... and so are you?!) that the focus is on ‘talking the talk’ (making the right noises in public and for the media) and ‘talking the walk’ (leveraging a new kink in the national psyche: that desire for clean politics; whatever that animal, mineral, or vegetable – or fruit – may be).

In summary, let me make a few observations on how we – the people! – might arrogate, and must appropriate, our true role as stakeholders in this “we have come to a pretty polls pass, again” polity. We – the people: supreme! sovereign! We – the people: oh-so-subtly wooed! oh-no simply suckered! We – the people: sophisticated enough through years, no decades, of deceit and deception by default and design to know better than to trust in the realpolitik-driven nominations of men and machines and movements! We – the people: sidelined by the machinations of realpolitik! And not for the first time...

Doubt it that the pick of the crop offered for our electoral processing is but a product that is fit for treasons, spoils, and stratagems? Does it strike you not that if the original Rainbow Grouping of pre-8 January looked precarious, this revamping of the renascent Rainbow Warriors is even more fraught with strange bedfellows? The rainbow is looking mighty kaleidoscopic with a Noah’s Ark that has the SLMC bedding down with the JHU – and liking it! (Or lumping it?)

On the one hand, it might well be that ‘good governance’ is gaining genuine traction among politicians of all stripes intent on making a real change. On the other, it may just be that when opportunity knocks, you grab the bird by both horns (if you will pardon the mixed metaphor – not inappropriate to pen a portrait of the Rainbow Coalition with majoritarian and minority ethics pushing and shoving for elbow room). 

Now you might notice I have not said anything so far about what’s left of the original coalition to end all coalitions – the “grand old party” of the Left... Well, least said, soonest mended, perhaps. But their card never was “no more bookies, no more crookies, no more druggies”. It couldn’t be, or afford to be. Not when so many of their major league players are no more than former political opponents converted overnight to the enemy camp to stave off exposure vis-à-vis corruption and/or a shocking recognition of who could butter their bread while the sun shone (more mixed metaphors, like the UPFA has been becoming since the early 2000s). 

Could you therefore kindly take a gander yourselves at the nominations lists, and spot the lacunae and lamentable inclusions in the blue corner? A known slayer of opposition supporters here... An illustrious brace of proud braggarts and public brawlers there... Not nearly enough women to reflect the gender divide in our national demographic or represent the dominant mood of equality of the sexes that should be sweeping our nation also by now... That costermonger, that other carpetbagger, that chauvinistic windbag... These are the relatively nice guys! (Someone’s muttering “Hobson’s choice?” in the background...)

Of course, with due deference to the zeitgeist of the ‘good governance’ that has tapped a rich vein of national credulity, all party general secretaries under the guidance of their mandarins and political masters have attempted some reforms of their respective nominations lists. Which, to be fair by us – if the political parties take us as seriously as they take themselves and their newfound mantras – is nowhere near ‘good’ enough for ‘governance’ with a difference. Or ‘good’ enough for ‘governance’ that stays the same the more it changes. Now give us – one of us, at least – representing some of the people, for sure – a stab at some criteria we think are relevant for truly good governance as we encompass it. Here goes:

 



Clean

The incumbent justice minister, in critiquing the opposition’s candidates, has gone so far as to say that they comprise murderers and rapists. Not even the time-honoured “alleged” was prefixed to his unblushing charge. And we all know from experience what happens to alleged murderers and alleged rapists. (Usually, they’re lionised and let off the hook... and renominated without so much as a blush of shame or a cringe; but a new wind is blowing through the republic these days...) You know who’s not been nominated, this time round, so go figure whom I’m on about. But one gets the feeling from the expressed rationales for the celebrated disinclusion of “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” (‘apo, epaa!’) – none of whom are noted for their gentlemanly demeanour – that their respective parties’ general secretaries were more concerned about how their four enfants terrible were perceived by the public now, rather than their character then and always.

Then there’s this uncomfortable business about relative merits. Good governance will claim that their candidates are squeaky-clean. Even when they get caught with their hand in the cookie-jar, they get a lovely new whitewash because we’re all so desperate to believe that human nature changes and can be changed.

Hear my case. Don’t let’s get carried away by odious comparisons and contrasts. Good governance’s candidates must be good, and demonstrably so, and not simply better than the best or worst of a bad lot. That said, no one – but no one – is ever pristine. Some might beat their wives in private or their dogs in public, or vice-versa, while being paragons of virtue in parliament. Some will have a skeleton in some long-forgotten suburban nightmare of expediency. Some may harbour strange kinks; fetishes; fantasies of power, money, or other lusts. Let’s all keep in mind that representatives of good governance are merely mortals who embody better governance than their fallen and disreputable peers. There’s a sensible way to welcome and champion change, now, rather than get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and burned – once again. That’s to say something like, “We didn’t entirely trust you then, given your track record of a decade on the wrong side, but we’ll vote you in to get Him (HM, the ex-king) out. We don’t entirely trust you now, because of your doings or lack thereof a hundred days and despite your protestations of decency for public consumption, but we’ll vote your fellow travellers in to keep Him out.” Let’s call it ‘realpeoplepower’, to correspond to and counter your sense of ‘realpolitik’. Let’s hope you won’t change your mind and stance again if He wins big at the polls, and you have to protest then despite your protestations now that you had no choice; you were under pressure; it was in the best interests of everyone concerned, etc. That would be stretching even our sense of charity and credulity a speech too far!

 



Credible

In politics in general and in our island-nation in particular, politicians’ credibility is a house of cards constructed on reputation rather than character. Virtually without exception (but already I can think of at least one, and you might be remembering six of the same kind whom you know), politicians are creations of their party machinery and are puffed up – and therefore away – by propaganda and counter-propaganda. Perhaps it’s time to institute an independent, vibrant, practical means of monitoring and measuring the attitudes, behaviour, character – to say nothing of performances – of our elected representatives. 

Party and parliamentary mechanisms to probe the conduct of MPs and ministers for probity and propriety have proven to be shadowy machines, “hollow” movements of a moment’s fancy, “their headpiece filled with straw”. We need legislators to voluntarily sign up for (oh, let us say) ‘town hall meetings’ with the very public who elected them. If they sign up, they must come for regular tête-à-têtes with members of the public in open forums. There, away from the security blanket of parliamentary privilege and the soothing glare of the seductive studio spotlights, members of parliament can be themselves – if they dare – and members of the public can ask them to be accountable – if we care... 

Of course, the trick is to get them to sign up for this trend before the all-important ballot is cast, and even then verbal promises may not be worth the paper they are not written on. Worth mooting, if you’re willing to be idealistic about the republic? (Many contenders on 17 August will be asking us to be more idealistic that that in simply making the now semi-annual trip to the polling-station so that a seat in the House will set them right for the next half-a-decade.) 

Time and space do not permit me to elaborate on a tetrarchy of other Cs, whereby and wherein those who solicit our votes must be:

nCommitted (bound legally not to crossover post being elected, despite a former chief justice’s erstwhile ruling against this normative check and balance) 

nCaring/Concerned (goes without saying, you’d have thought, but vote for people whom you’ve seen living and moving and having their being among their constituents when the cameras are off, and the tears at poverty and hardship start to pour unbidden)

nCultured (aware of the long chequered history of our country, able to surmount and supersede preferences for and prejudices against any single language, race/ethnicity, religion, creed, political or socio-cultural persuasion) 

nCivilised (not a frog in the well or a camel with their heads in the sand, who can’t see how the international caravans are setting sail for the dawn of a new era in international relations in which we are not so much a global village as one large squabbling family on the verge of extinction – for a solar ice age is supposedly coming, and we’re nowhere near ready to leave our planet for Pluto or any other farther exoplanet if solar conditions grow hostile … so talk about a bigger picture than ‘village’ politics or ‘city’ slickers!) 

But already you are getting the feeling that this is asking for too much… even from our ‘good governance’ types, or ‘better governance’ candidates. Which brings me to my big picture at this point in time, thirty days away from D-Day for the second time this year… Let’s all get a little more realistic about what we have before us. We know from immediate past experience that neither 19A passed nor 20A promised can or will be the Magna Cartas that they’re held out to be. We realise and are willing to grant that realpolitik rules the roost, even among the truest-blue republicans who guarantee it won’t ever happen again in our lifetime one day – and the next are telling us that it’s all out of our hands. We can see – if we have eyes to see – that the Beast is slouching towards Battaramulla to be born…

What choice do we have if we don’t want a summary return to our dark recent past? So ‘good’ governance be damned, for now. We’ll take ‘better’ governance in any shape or form… just ease up a bit on the cream and cherries, would you, there’s a dear. For people not only get the governments they do deserve, they also risk getting the governments that they don’t deserve.

 


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