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Hear the masses

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 13 June 2018 00:00

Politicians as public representatives are expected to be sensitive to the needs of their constituents. This is why many politicians pride themselves on being able to gauge the pulse of the people. It is also essential for their own survival because otherwise they may find themselves voted out of power at the next election and if they wish to genuinely serve the people then listening to them is the first step in that process. 

The public can be a fickle partner but the masses are also predictable. For many years the public have appealed to politicians to establish clean governance and to essentially respect public finance and how it is used. This was the core of the ‘Yahapalanaya’ campaign platform and manifested in pledges to clean up governance, strengthen democratic institutions and limit the abuse of power. It was also a component of other steps such as promising to limit the number of Cabinet positions and reduce the number of state ministers, ministers, deputy ministers and others public sector appointments. 

Understandably this is easier said than done in a coalition Government. The United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are large organisations and bring a complex interplay of power relations when forming a Government together. Therefore the public were somewhat tolerant of a large Cabinet and the appointment of extra state ministers and others because the belief was that these appointments were necessary to deliver the ambitious election pledges that were made in 2014. 

However since then the public has witnessed several Cabinet reshuffles, an election and the emergence of a new political party backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Incumbency fatigue is a powerful contender for any Government, especially when combined with Sri Lanka’s vulnerable economic situation and has posed challenges for the present administration. 

High debt, low exports and limited investment has meant that the Government has had little choice but to increase taxes, which has hit Sri Lanka’s middle class, professionals and poor significantly. The last two years also saw several severe weather disasters that effectively punched out the farming communities and resulted in the stagnation of rural economies as well as growing levels of indebtedness. In addition fuel and gas price increases as well as a depreciating rupee, while necessary from a macroeconomic management perspective has placed additional burden of people. 

This difficult economic situation has not been helped up perception of continuing corruption and limited steps to effectively manage public finance. In the eyes of the public appointment of a large number of state ministers, ministers and deputy ministers are unpopular because they are seen as absorbing large amounts of public funds with little return to the people.  As far as the people are concerned such resources would be better spent on education, healthcare, housing or infrastructure development. Even though the Government has made some effort to tackle cost of living such polices could find limited traction in a difficult economy. 

In such an environment appointing two UNP state ministers and five deputy ministers on Tuesday may not carry the message to the masses that their concerns on governance and cost of living are being heard by those in power. The public are not interested in more ministerial appointments. What they want is to know that their plea for cleaner governance and better economic management is being heard and acted on.

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