Cleanse those ‘Augean Stables’ – don’t just bolt the barn doors!

Friday, 18 August 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

01I am amazed – and amused – by the spate of “ministerial responses” to Ravi’s exit last week. The Prime Minister has promised to expedite the backlog of anticorruption cases his administration appears to have shelved for the nonce. The provincial council and local government minister has undertaken to take down the ‘foreigners only’ signs that bedevil tourism and give Sri Lankan hospitality a bad name in the south of our blessed isle. The technocratic Megapolis Minister or some tech-savvy underling has made sure buses on the Galle Road at least observe lane discipline beginning day before yesterday – and that the public knows about it via tweets and text messages. (Only the Police Chief does not seem to have received the governmental memo how it needs demonstrating that there’s someone minding the Good Governance store – and still blithely proceeds to ‘bend’ but not ‘break’ the law – his watchword in his own words. See social media or the headlines these days for the gist of it.)

These ministerial responses are – to all intents and purposes – made of the right stuff. After all, was it not to critically engage and efficiently contain (if not comprehensively eradicate) corruption that we – well, half of us, at least – gave the premier-led coalition a mandate? About time too, my dear sir! And has not the blatant bigotry of local establishments that prefer to cater to white and yellow skins over and above brown skins been the bane of the travel trade, to say nothing of being a chimera composed of equal parts chauvinism and cupidity? So hats off to any ministerial initiative that will put the biased entrepreneurs in their proper place. Also less said about lane discipline the better – because it is mostly the lawmakers (legislators in our curiously long-lived ‘convoy culture’) and law-enforcers (California Highway Patrol-type flashy coppers on posh bikes crossing the doubles lines with impunity) who break the law of the road… but buses on the left lane is the right idea, no doubt. I’ll leave the IGP and his high-handed slapping of support staff to the good offices of the Police Commission and the wrath of civil society – IF the PC is still functioning (even/especially) under Good Governance, and IF civil society is not too ‘PC’ to put the chief PC in his proper place, as a servant of law and order, not its unruly master.


However, the cynic in me sees a subterranean vein of venial subversion in all the right moves and noises that come in the aftermath 02of the former Finance Minister’s resignation. The Attorney-General’s Department and the veritable panoply of agencies and instrumentalities mandated with critically engaging and efficiently containing (if not comprehensively eradicating) corruption is legion (TID, CID, FCID, FCU, COPE, CIABOC) after all. It had enjoyed enough and more time to overcome the law’s delay’s in prosecuting the ungodly of the previous regime – such that we’re not impressed by prime ministerial pushing and shoving now, in the immediate aftermath of Ravi’s ransack and self-sack. That their name is Legion – that is, that the anticorruption agencies are possessed by a legion of demons (Inefficiency, Political Patronage, Wait And See, Ride It Out, We Have No Idea – to name but a few) is another matter altogether. Besides which the law must work at its best whether or not push comes to shove in and from the upper echelons of the political establishment. As to buses in the right lane and bigoted businesses down south being set right, it is left to be seen how long the prime directives in this regard will last and if they will have any beneficial impact at all in the interim while government has its back to the wall vis-à-vis an angry public incensed over the fink’s (sorry, I mean former finance minister’s) exit… abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit – he is gone, he is fled, he has absconded, he is absent. GROBR, say some! While some maudlin pundits have pontificated on Ravi’s falling on his sword as the height of altruism – a suicide that will give Good Governance, to say nothing of the Crumbling Coalition, a shot in the arm.

(Speaking of a shot in the arm, the only ‘Ministerial Response’ – well, ex-presidential one – that had me truly smiling was MR’s promise to expedite the Thajudeen murder case… if, and/or when, he comes back into power. Wait, what’s that… it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a flying pig? My smiling at this bit of puffery or buffoonery, of course, is the kind of sardonic rictus that hemlock induces… Really, there is no limit to the shameful opportunism of bygones who cannot let bygones be bygones and be gone themselves!)

Devil’s advocate

Back to the res. Be the conventional wisdom as it may, there seems to be a bloc of business-minded thinkers who are not only willing to characterise the Foreign Minister’s resignation in terms of altruism but also defend what the rest of the business unsavvy country thinks indefensible. This may be because the rot – or royalty or loyalty or whatever ties that bind business with politics – runs deep and strong and true… Or it may simply be that charity (like cupidity) begins at home? Be that as it may, the deafening silence of virtually all those who bayed for the blood of that fink’s portly bulk is amazing if not amusing. It is almost as if civil society – that amorphous agglomeration of professionals and academics in civic-minded garb (or sitting in clover, as the case may be with certain NGOs and INGOs) did not expect that the man would go, in the end. But in the end, for whatever reason, the fallen mandarin did go – flawed or failed or frustrated (or a combination of all these) may remain to be seem. And as with the way of all corrupt flesh, it went… towards the kitchen cabinet that comprises the sinkhole of our political culture: the waiting room or water closet. In which ministering angels fallen from grace await the mercy of the amnesiac public and the peace that passes all understanding whereby the electorate forgets, and the Prime Minister or the President forgives and restores the ruined servant of the people to a position more befitting a ruler of the masses. God – and Good Governance (what’s left of it) forbid that the man be snuck in from the back door again. Let bygones be truly bygones this time round, and those “by-God-I’m clean” corrupt bureaucrats and crooked businessmen and their political patrons be gone.

Speaking of which, another ministerial response – coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of the finc’s fiasco or imbroglio (I can’t make up my mind which word better fits) – amazes and amuses me. And that is the law and order minister’s determined declaration of war against the drug and mafia culture. One hopes that the drug barons and mafia mobsters are trembling on the mean streets of Colombo or Negombo or wherever it is that the minister thinks they do business. But hope also springs eternal that the minister’s foresight – and the long arm of the law – will not be blind to, or blindsided by, that other business-politics nexus whereby the drug barons go by another name and nomenclature in the House by the Diyawanna. There are not only skeletons in any government’s closet, but if the powers that be will bravely undertake to look closely at the dirt that is not only brushed under the carpet – but stands and serves by opening doors for the Grand Panjandrums at ceremonies to mark the nation’s independence not too many moons ago – they will see that the drug and mafia barons may not have to be hunted down too far and wide. Cupidity – or, the charitable turning of a blind eye on mafia mobsters who have undergone a sea-change into something rich strange: such as a cabinet minister – begins at home… or in the House.

True new culture

The bottom line is that we’ve seen and heard it all before, and the bitter truth is that there isn’t a right-thinking thoroughly fed-up citizen who doesn’t believe these days that it’s all part of some blithe game played by both or all sides. The reality – or the perception of the reality which prevails – is that the so-called new political culture is the old political culture in new garb. The coalition government led by an occasionally choleric president and a usually sanguine prime minister is looking increasingly like mutton dressed as lamb… and signals that it is willing to be hung for a sheep. The Trojan horse in the ranks of Tuscany has bolted; one hopes government will cleanse the stables now, not bolt doors.

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