Political hypocrisy: A case of self before the country!
Monday, 16 February 2015 00:00
Although opinions may differ, the facts show that Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake is playing to the gallery. His attempts to portray himself as a modern Robin Hood robbing the rich to pay the poor smacks of short-termismBy a Special Correspondent
It is extremely disappointing, and distasteful, to see the hypocrisy displayed by most politicians in their attempts to win the public vote.
For example, the United National Party which has always called for increased efficiency in the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) is now openly stating, at various public fora, through their senior party members, that they are not pressing for radical change in the SOEs, right now, because it would jeopardise their chances of winning at the general elections.
How long, and to what low, can one go in compromising its entrenched beliefs just to win an election? The UNP is abandoning its traditional free market thinking in pursuing its desire come into power at any cost more or less in the same way that Esau sold his birth right to Jacob for a bowl of stew.
The Interim Budget
The Interim Budget is another instance. Whilst no one begrudges the measures taken by the new Government in providing relief to the common man, right-thinking citizens have to be very mindful about the sustainability of the measures implemented. We just cannot have a situation where the short-term political benefits of ad-hoc and misaligned policies are allowed to prevail over the less populist, and essentially painful, steps which are of an absolute necessity in achieving sustainable economic development of our country in the medium to long term.
The National Budget presented by the UPFA-led Government in November 2014 was roundly criticised by the then Opposition as an “Election Budget”. Is the Interim Budget presented by the new Government any different in its vote-grabbing intent? The hunger for power has blinkered the very sentiments which were expressed by the UNP only a few months ago.
To add fuel to the fire, it is very evident from the discourse at public seminars and reports appearing in public newspapers that the proposed funding plans of the Interim Budget have been very poorly conceived as a result of haste.
To make matters worse, its raison d’ etre was very crudely articulated and is openly, and deliberately, vindictive of certain organisations which the new Government perceives as having been the lackeys of the previous regime. Names have been mentioned both publicly and privately and such behaviour does not resonate with “yahapalanaya” and is unbecoming of public leaders. If the Government has proof of unethical and/or illegal dealings by any organisation or individual, it must go after such culprits. It is not a fair to penalise the innocents through broad-based legislation at a national level.
It certainly is not UNP-like to take revenge, through a Super Gains Tax (SGT), on the very business community which the New Democratic Front (NDF) passionately courted a few weeks before the presidential elections. Power-drunk politicians act in most mysterious ways which are hard to fathom! Surely, if the Government has requested the well-to-do in the private sector to financially support, on a one-off basis, its measures to alleviate the burdens of the common man, I am certain they would have risen to the occasion. One can only attribute what happened to an attempt to win votes.
Folly of not living up to election promises
The folly of not living up to election promises needs no elaboration. The presidential elections demonstrated the increasing ability of our nation’s citizens to discern between opportunistic election promises and the true colours of the party or person promising the same. Experience has shown that the contemporary voter will not hesitate to quickly discard those who fail to deliver on election promises. In this light, it is better to be sincere, at the outset, in expressing one’s true beliefs and avoid pretending to be what you are naturally not. We must not be hypocrites.
Although opinions may differ, the facts show that the Minister of Finance is playing to the gallery. His attempts to portray himself as a modern Robin Hood robbing the rich to pay the poor smacks of short-termism. There is many an example, globally, of extremist policy measures going bad. Policies must have balance. Policies must signal the future thinking and they must not be too discriminatory.
One-off taxes are generally levied to meet the cost of specified projects. Taxes levied to fund recurring expenditure are rarely one-off. Although the NDF’s platform rhetoric, at the Business Forum in December 2014, identified the private sector as the engine of economic growth in the country, its actions do not facilitate the same.
The new Government’s first action, and accompanying statements, are akin to killing the goose that is supposed to lay the golden eggs. The damage it has done to “big investment” will be difficult to repair in the near term and this will affect GDP growth and employment creation. This is, sadly, yet another example of the UNP shedding its normal business-friendly clothes and just acting, much against its natural grain, to win votes. The political agenda of successive governments, in our country, seem to very often override the need for a sustainable long term economic policy.
Thoughts on economic planning
Whilst I am acutely aware that the different economic theories such as capitalism, socialism, Marxism, et cetera, have their relative strengths and weaknesses and although I do not intend to dwell on what I believe to be best for our country, I cannot restrain myself from quoting some thoughts from Adam Smith which I believe are still relevant, ancient as they may be, in founding our economic planning:
“As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.”
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”
Create an enabling environment
Whilst some balancing is required in reducing the risks of an economic theory in its pure form, I have no doubt that what a government needs to do, as Adam Smith implies, is to create an enabling environment for individual endeavour, and enterprise, without too many restrictions. There must be minimum hindrances to a person exercising his free choice.
Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka we have not had politicians who have been, or are, able to win the hearts and minds of the voter by openly speaking about what he truly believes to be beneficial to the country. They have, and are, continuing to take actions to win votes through measures which are sub-optimal to the long-term economic prosperity of this country. They must not play the morality card just to win votes. If the morality card has to be played, let us do so without double standards.
In closing, when will Sri Lanka produce visionary leaders such as Lee Kwan Yew (casinos), Mahathir Mohammed (plantations), Nelson Mandela (black community), Margaret Thatcher (mining), et cetera, who dared to make the difference, at that relevant time, ignoring the dangers to their own political existence?
Unfortunately, the past and the present happenings in our country reveal that our politicians are self-centred hypocrites who change colours for their personal benefit. They are just not interested in the long-term health of our country. We need to quickly change this culture if Sri Lanka is to prosper.