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Priming the pump to make your MP jump


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 20 October 2017 00:00


Here’s a radical idea. What if – instead of liking it or lumping it as you do for years on end – the voter could hold his or her Member of Parliament accountable for their performance? Not just at election time. But in-between those ‘too-few and too-far in-between’ visits to the polls! And in a way that would keep your MP on track, honest as far as reasonable, and their parties transparent to the viewing public…

Well, I hardly know how to break it to you but that’s the idea of a democracy anyway. At least in theory. The problem is the practice has fallen between the cracks since time immemorial. 

Congratulate

With that said, I sense one must congratulate Colombo-based think tank Verité Research for its proactive attempts to make an honest House out of our Elected Representatives. A while back, with their innovative platform manthri.lk, they pioneered the novelty of providing the public with pertinent information as regards their respective MPs. And the gen supplied was both eye-opening and mind-boggling. I won’t bore you with the gory details in these precious column inches (stop thinking about your member, would you, dear) – but a quick visit to manthri.lk’s portal will offer you a popper which once you pop you can’t stop. It’s quite a surprise to see how many of our elected representatives actually attend parliamentary sittings – and something of a shock to note how few use their allotted time meaningfully enough to moot ideas worth sitting up and taking notice of… other than to murmur, “Wherever did we find these chumps?”

And now, not one to let a good thing go idle, Verité has upped the ante by partnering with a software company. To identify the MPs’ respective political parties’ track records. As regards promises made on the halcyon campaign trail and those lost in the hiatus between polls. That endeavour too is an admirable enterprise. Made all the more exhilarating by the abysmal performance of both parties. Again, I won’t inundate you with the good, the bad, and the ugly; but it’s all there in plain sight on manthri.lk – go figure.

Consternate 

What’s that, give us the big picture? Very well, then, here it is (courtesy Verité Research):

  • The UNFGG headed by the UNP has kept or is on track to keeping only 25% of its promises at its term’s halfway mark
  • The UPFA led by the SLFP have fared worse with only 20% ‘on track’ or ‘complete’
  • Some major promises which have had ‘no action’ to date include new campaign-finance laws (UNFGG) and intra-party democratic rules (UPFA), both of which are key to democratic governance 

Despite some successes by both coalitions – e.g. the UNFGG’s private-sector minimum wage, restoring GSP+ tax concessions and removing the EU fisheries-export ban; the UPFA’s estate-worker wage increase, setting up a national sustainable-development plan, creating a national economic advisory council, etc. – it is painfully evident that both horses have promises to keep and miles to go before they sleep. There are perhaps three ways short of consternation to interpret these results.

#1 Promises are harder to keep than make

In the heat of the moment, under pressure to offer a credible mandate that would rid us of a fearsome beast, the coalition of coalitions was once constrained to name sun, moon, and stars as election promises. Later, parts of their parties would become decidedly cagey about some constitutional amendments held out as sweeteners to a polity weary of corrupt authoritarianism. Once in office, they discovered that delivering overpromised results was easier said than done. Not ashamed to admit incompetence, Good Governance had to bide its time at the pleasure of what it was pleased to call political opposition and procedural obstacles. That is why it fell short. 

(This is the CHARITABLE view.)

#2 Promises are meant to be made… and then broken

In the cold press of things, while biding its time in the political wilderness under a regime that said “l’etat, c’est moi”, the then political opposition and the dissidents in the ruling party cottoned on to the scheme that seemed most worthy of them. To unleash, on the campaign trail, a veritable welter of maudlin wails and saccharine hand-outs; which would, once in office, they knew, be honoured more in the breach than the observance. Not willing to confess its complicity in the excessive promises made under realpolitik, the alliance of unlikely partners once it came into power (er, service) was pleased to present its hamstrung state with regard to delays in expediting justice among other matters as par for the course in island politics. That it fell short at all must not come as a surprise. Nor must it be a shock that the woods (though lovely) are still dark and deep. Or that enemies become friends and friends enemies in the grander schemes of executive ambitions. 

(This is a CYNICAL view.)

#3 Promises make the public believe in democracy

Things are neither hot nor cold. There is no such beast as democratic-republicanism, despite the sops of 19A, 20A, RTI. Nor has the new political culture eventuated quite as we expected. Rather it is a managed spectacle taken forward by collusion at the highest levels on what has artificially been created as two sides of the same political coin. Genuine reform by way of legislative and constitutional change is minimal. It has been more than offset by revelations of wrongdoing in both camps. Good Governance has fallen by the wayside, stunned by the hand grenade of bond scams, and how deep the rot goes. Show trials engineered by executive diktat have embarrassed other previously sea-green incorruptible leaders and their cohorts. The public had previously been gulled into accepting the usual suspects into cabinet ranks in a shameless ploy to perpetuate the same old criminally culpable culture in parts for the well-being of the seemingly above-board whole.

(This is an uncharitably cynical CONTRARIAN view.)

There is a third view, which also begins with a C. But see if you and your MP can pass the test at higher than C-level first. Else we’re all sunk. So here’s hoping you aim to get an A or at least B.

THE FORM ORDER EXAMS

(To be taken while listening to House music. Pl note … Candidates are strongly advised against writing on both sides of the paper at the same time; or attempting to cross the floor at any time in-between.) 

A. Essays.

1. The vital signs of life in any body politic are practical ways to measure the performance of your Member. Evaluate/Assess. (That is, if you can keep your mind off unhealthy associations between the word ‘Member’ and the fact that your MP is probably a d***head anyway.)

B. Short Answers.

1. Can you spot an honest MP in the House? (Congratulations, but 25 out of 225 is hardly a pass mark, dears.) 

2. Will tracking the performance of our elected representatives make their parties any the more transparent than they already are? (Cynics, sceptics, and other armchair commentators or satirists on the coffee klatsch and cocktail circuits may answer by doodling on their napkins or popping hors d’oeuvres dismissively as they speak.)

C. MCQ.

1. If you’re charitable, why is it that the coalition government hasn’t kept 75% of its promises?

a. The law’s delays

b. The law’s an ass – and it’s making a monkey out of us

c. Unforeseen procedural delays which could and should have been predictable

d. No one knew it would get this tough, so we’re compelled to ascribe it to incompetence

2. If you’re cynical, why is it that Good Governance has become a standing joke rather than a standing order halfway into its term?

a. The usual suspects are practising realpolitik subtly – sans vileness and violence 

b. It’s the baboon that climbs up the banana tree – the higher it goes, the more its mores show 

c. Excuse me, your slip is showing – between cup and lip there’s many of these

d. No one understands what ‘new political order’ means anyway

3. If you’re contrarian and subscribe to the view that it’s all part of a managed spectacle between the powers that be and powers that once were, how do you think it’ll all end? 

a. After the polls – local, regional, national, whatever, it’s Hobson’s choice all over 

b. Bread and circuses are all the masses need… ergo bond scams and commissions

c. It will never end – the show must go on

d. Darned if I or anyone else in the Democratic Republic really knows

4. Bonus Question: full marks no matter what answer you pick… quick – what word does MP at the end of it complete?

a. Bump

b. Chump

c. Dump

d. Frump

e. Hump

f. Jump

g. Lump

h. Pump

i. Rump

j. Stump 



I’d smile too. If it wasn’t so sad. Or I mad. And the Verité event to launch the MP-tracker cum party-promise pooper-scooper was a case in point. That evening hosted a veritable constellation of active political voices on the main stage. Every major party was represented. However no one was willing – or able – to bell the cat, or the elephant in the room…. the fourth C: Corruption. To wit: why the campaign trail-blaze hasn’t set fire to the culprits yet? Hm. Hearts have their reasons of which reason knows nothing. Human nature never changes as much as political cultures rarely do. Be that as it may, if either set of carpet-baggers in the coalition of coalitions keeps their promises as regards corruption – and puts away the criminally corrupt cabals that once ruled the roost demonstrably and arguably still do – I’ll take a running J-U-M-P into the lake by the august House. No doubt your MP will be but six short steps behind me.

(A senior journalist, the writer was once the Chief Sub Editor of The Sunday Leader, 1994-8, and is ex-LMD, having been its Editor, 2004-8. He has made a career out of asking questions, and not waiting for answers.)


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