The direction of the Government is being criticised by many. It was stated that the Government is not efficient and it is slow. It gives confusing signals and being dragged to different directions. It catches the sprats and not the sharks. It accommodated defeated Parliamentarians through National List not only to the Parliament but also to the Cabinet. Politicians perceived as corrupt or who broke the law are in high positions. All in all this is an ‘achcharu’ Government which has no direction.
The President was elected mainly by UNP votes. After the election he was offered the leadership of the SLFP. Thereafter he tried to gain control of the party but was not successful. The former President influenced the party machinery and got nominations for all his supporters and the behaviour of some of them were quite opposite to the expectations of the March 12 movement. In addition to that allies of the former President made sure that the allies of the President were defeated in the Parliamentary elections.
In this background the President exercised his power as party leader, sacked the two Secretaries of the SLFP and UPFA and appointed his allies who were defeated to the National List through the new Secretary of the UPFA. Eventually some of them were appointed ministers.
Ethnic conflict issues
The UNP Leader stated his intentions of forming a lichchavi style consensus government well before the presidential election. There are valid reasons for this. Firstly Sri Lanka should resolve the issue of ethnic conflict once and for all. Before the armed conflict started in the early 1980s there were enough opportunities for the Sinhala and Tamil leaders to resolve this. Due to the pressure of extremists and due to various silly issues, some of which are non-existent today, a solution was delayed.
In several instances when the party in the government tried to give a solution the party in the Opposition opposed it. When the very party in the Opposition came to power and tried to give a solution, the very party which tried to give a solution when they were in power opposed it. This nonstarter situation paved the way for the bloody war fought over 30 long years. Even the issues debated today which are entertained by the extremists of both sides are silly when one observes those issues objectively and compared to the opportunity cost the country will have to incur if issues are not resolved immediately.
Secondly Sri Lanka needs to have a fresh constitution. There is a widespread protest for a long time for the existing Constitution which has 19 Amendments. Constitutional processes in 1972 and 1978 were spearheaded by the Legislature or by a few individuals. We need to have the views of larger society in drafting the constitution since democratic constitutions as the democratic governments as stated by Lincoln should be of the people by the people and for the people. We need the support of the parties in the Parliament without any hidden political agendas as we have seen in passing the 19th Amendment.
Thirdly Sri Lanka need to face Geneva resolution and subsequent judicial process. Country should be united in the approach adapted and the process should be managed effectively. For all these things consensus among the political parties is needed. Hence although the approach of the President of appointing questionable characters to ministerial posts and appointing defeated candidates from the National List is against the short term objectives of the Government, it is in line with the long-term objective of the Government and the country.
It is true that the political wish of the people who voted for UPFA is not a coalition government and therefore when the President ‘hijacked’ the party after the election and entered into a coalition Government it was against the wish of the people. However the coalition Government is not for the sake of the coalition Government. It is for the sake of the broader objectives of Sri Lanka.
In advanced democratic countries, political parties do not put their political objectives ahead of the objectives of the country. But in Sri Lanka it happened. The general public in those countries also would be loyal to the elected national leaders irrespective of their political alliances. The situation in Sri Lanka is different mainly because of the cultural biases. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to have a different mechanism to handle these issues.
That mechanism would be sometimes against the accepted democratic norms of the developed countries. But we should be mindful that the democracy operating in Sri Lanka is a bit different to the application of the same in the countries it originated. Therefore there should be a different mechanism to achieve our objectives although that mechanism is different to the textbook principles of democracy. In essence it is purely an indigenous system derived from Sri Lankan situation. Those who shout against Western thinking and Western systems should be able to digest this.
This ‘achcharu’ Government in its essence challenges the silo mentality of the Sri Lankans which is a menace not only at the national level but also at the organisational level. They think in the line of Sinhalese, Tamils, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Govigama, Karava, Vellala, Marketing Department, Finance Department, Factory and all the rest of it. They sometimes sacrifice national level objectives in favour of the goals of their racial/religious group and organisational level objectives in favour of the goals of their respective departments.
This petty-mindedness which derives from the cultural heritage of collectivism is a major obstacle to progress and it should be attacked consciously. Patriotism should be connected to Sri Lanka and not to Sinhala or Tamil races. Similarly at organisational level objectives of a department cannot be bigger than the objectives of the organisation.
Rajapaksa regime Budget
This writer criticised the last Budget of the Rajapaksa regime partly orchestrated by the arrogant Secretary to the Treasury, on the grounds of widening disparity of the affluent and the poor. (http://www.ft.lk/article/366111/Thinking-behind-the-economic-policies-of-the-Government-and-the-Budget). That Budget was acclaimed by the private sector generously.
The fiscal policy of the then Government was to give more tax concessions to the affluent class while keeping the basic governance style anti-private sector and anti-democratic. Regime wanted more control everywhere including the economy. What was really needed was to keep the governance style promoting the private sector and having lesser direct control of the economy. To the credit of the previous regime it should be stated that it took several steps to develop the infrastructure of the country, mainly the road network.
Without having investor friendly environment, transparent and democratic government, just and fair judiciary and sound infra-structure, investors would not come just because the Government offered lower taxes and tax concessions. It would only pamper the existing private sector and that was what happened during the previous regime.
This is a democratic government. Institutions like the Police do not know head or tail of the concept of democracy. For that matter a large number of Sri Lankans do not know that. They think that democracy by default is the rule of the majority and thereby suppression of the minority. It is the rule of the majority while respecting the views of the minority and safeguarding their basic rights and interests.
Democratic governments do not use excessive power against their citizens. When the Government is in investigative mode Police officers down the line tend to be more investigative. Eventually they, if not guided well, will jeopardise the entire governance mechanism investigating and questioning without any sense of materiality. Thereby they can bring a more rule-based culture which is a hindrance to positive work ethic.
Already Government departments are lethargic and these so-called investigations would create a more lethargic and work to rule type of culture in the Government institutions. Therefore the Government should be mindful in this respect and need to take corrective actions early as possible.
The Prime Minister is capable of taking bold decisions. During the time he was the Prime Minister a decade back he took very bold decisions which were independent from the then President and which led eventually to him being thrown out of power since the decisions were ahead of that time and the people were not able to digest those. Learning from his past experience he may be adopting a collaborative style with the President in order to have sustainable government. However the real leader of the Government is the Prime Minister and not the President.
Now Sri Lanka is labouring to deliver a new era. It would take some time for its dawn. There are underlying reasons of the acts of the Government. Civil society should be conscious of the long-term direction of the Government. There can be and there are short-term failures and issues which should be criticised and corrected. However we should not hurry to crucify the Government at this moment.