If Sri Lanka is a computer
I love analogies. If Sri Lanka is a computer, the physical parliament is its Mother Board. The Government’s governance framework is certainly the CPU (Central processing Unit). The computer is powered by the sixteen million voter “cross” cables. Without having sufficient RAM (Random Access Memory) a computer cannot be operated. The Central Bank is the RAM with sufficient forex. Here comes the brainy bit. A computer needs a Hard Disk. It is to be partitioned into a series of drives. The President is the “C” drive loaded with all system operating software. Operating systems are built on good governance procedures. The “D” drive represents the Prime Minister. Although this is a relatively small computer in comparison with the rest of the world, the manufacturers got the design wrong. It has been fitted with 224 USB ports for thumb drives which can be interchanged haphazardly. By the way, the parliamentary session is the Display Screen.
During last 10 years, a number of warning messages appeared on the screen suggesting there was too much power supply for the machine. Warnings were disregarded. Excessive power supply corrupted the hard disk. By the way, the hard disk had inherent over heating issues as well. The thumb drives became unreliable. Suddenly, the “System Error” message appeared on the screen. Millions of voter power cables were melted down in anger. Now the machine is powered with a few old slave cables via 20+ back-up battery pack. Usually, such battery packs have two years optimum life span.
The hard disk and the USB drives are excessively corrupted and a few system files have been purposely deleted. Hard disk was rebooted many times keeping same hardware, expecting the machine will be self-corrected. This effort failed to deliver desired results. RAM the bank has no more forex memory. Old hard disk is sputtering and the Chinese mouse stopped working. Recently, it was replaced with an Indian mouse with limited functions. It is obvious now that all hardware and the old DOS system software need to be replaced. Some says a brand-new machine with a limited USB ports would work. Of course, some USB drives need to be discarded without any doubt. It seems that around 10 USB drives can be recovered by reformatting.
All desperados scream but there is no sign of a solutions. Rather than agreeing on a solution, the daily episodes of the soap opera “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is being screened through a few thumb drives at the parliament, for the public entertainment. Even the display screen has visual glitches. Sometimes it is painful to watch their awful acting. The graphic card is also faulty. Intermittent images of flying furniture, vulgar pornographic movements and chilli powder colour lines appear on the screen.
As the power supply to the computer is limited now, D drive was tactically removed to restore some order of operation. D drive has been replaced with a USB cable connected, heavily used, five times reformatted, old, portable hard drive. When placed near the group of thumb drives, the portable hard drive looks like a grand solitary elephant standing near a bunch of shrubs. However, it is said that an old, solitary, male elephant is a dangerous animal and is prone to charge without any provocation.
Pundits still argues on the causes of the system error. One group assigned it to an “Operator Error”, not a “System Error”. Another suggests that the portable drive could only be operated with “21+ system software patch, in the long run. The problem is that a few corrupted sectors of the portable drive could not be restored with the last formatting operation. One thumb drive with dual circuitry has been withdrawn due to its incompatibility with the portable hard drive. Now, the thumb drive has been converted into a wireless remote to control power supply.
Finally, IMF system administrator’s help has been sought. IMF wants to reformat the entire hard disk and install their operating system. While this circus is going on, the clowns, the Buddhist monks have entered the arena. Although they have no clue about computers or operating systems, they are trying to teach local and international System Administrators, how to operate computers and how to perform system programming. I believe the situation is conducive for an outside drug addict to steal the parts of the computer for scrap metal.
My focus today is only on the system file called “democratic governance”. Currently, this file is fully corrupted and unrepairable. However, we need to know how it was corrupted.
Democracy has been defined by many. Arguably, the greatest president ever produced by the Americans, Abraham Lincoln said that democracy is “of the people, by the people, for the people”. The word democracy has been derived from the Greek words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power) which could be combined as the “Power of People”.
However, the mechanisms of transforming the power of people to govern a country varies from country to country. There are presidential systems with various levels of decision-making power separation. Some countries use parliamentary structure headed by a Prime Minister. Some have both the Prime Minster and the President. Others have a Senate, and Lower and Upper house representatives. It is safer to say that there are no two countries with exact same governance structure and decision-making power distribution in place. However, all such governance structures have been designed to achieve a single objective; good governance of humans & systems to serve public equitable manner.
I am not a political scientist or an expert of the constitutional law. However, as a person who enjoys the benefits of a true democracy, I can highlight a few basic features of a democracy. The New Zealand Prime Minster, Jacinda Ardern recently delivered an inspirational speech at the Harvard University and vividly described how NZ has promoted the on-ground application of basic principles of democracy by allowing all ethnic and gender representation in the parliament. While watching it, I felt sad that we, Sri Lankans are not that lucky to have such systems in place and such young leaders. She reiterated the statement made by the former Pakistan Prime Minister late Benazir Bhutto in 1997 at the same venue, “Democracy is so fragile”. This is the very reason that good and delicate democratic gains can easily be diminished in no time by the actions of a few. In a way, Democracy is like” love”. Love is hard to be defined but it is a fragile feeling squeezed between the selfishness and the hate. Too much love shifts one towards the obsession of ownership or selfishness and the opposite push sometimes tips it into the hate domain. The difference between the love and the hate is just a teardrop.
In a democratic society, people should be able to live their lives autonomously which are only to be subjected to the universally accepted norms of humane behaviours. This is called individual autonomy. In democracy, all must have equitable (not equal) opportunity in accordance with individual social contexts, to influence on the decisions taken by others which would affect them.
Democratic freedom is akin to a finitely long, stretchable string. Each string is given to individuals in the society, at birth. The societal culture designed it with a unique elasticity index or a relative hardness. The societal expectation is that each string has an elasticity index in proportionate with the individual person’s ability to stretch it. When stretched, all have same democratic freedom space allowing them to roam around freely. This means all can enjoy same democratic freedom irrespective of their ability associated with the social status, financial capability, physical capability and intellectual capacity.
However, the politicians manipulate this freedom for their personal advantage. They orate equal freedom instead of equitable freedom as people have no idea about the difference between equal and equitable. They offer equally long, same hardness freedom string for all, without sympathising on individual strengths and weaknesses because it is easy to sell. When the “have-nots” could barely stretch it, the “haves” pull it maximum to have larger freedom circles. It is the rotten political culture empowered the cronies to have this kind of ill-gotten freedom. Often, we see that some political lackeys have stretched their freedom string even beyond the elasticity limits and enjoy permanent artificial freedom spaces. This is why, when the rest of society is struggling to meet their ends, some are enjoying wild democratic freedom at the expense of others.
Recently, the Australian federal election was held. It was an absolute peaceful election process and the winner was declared overnight. The defeated incumbent Prime Minister immediately packed his bags, literally in public view and left the “Kirribilli House” which was the prime ministerial residence. This is how seamless transition of power occurs in a true democracy. The Australian swimwear brand “Budgy Smuggler”TM made a social media call to the public to exercise their constitutional rights “to vote without pants on”. Some responded on the election day and came to vote dressed in their under pants and swim wear. While it was an advertising stunt, it showed that in a true democracy, people can use their rights own way.
In Sri Lanka, on 24, April 1974, the following obituary notice appeared on the Ceylon Daily News, in response to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government’s decision to nationalise independent newspapers.
“The death occurred under tragic circumstances of D. E. M. O’Cracy, beloved husband of T. Ruth, loving father of L. I. Bertie, Faith and Justicia. Interred on Saturday, 20th instant. Araliya Medura, Panagiyawatte, Anduruwella”
It was a brilliantly crafted message. My late father who was an English trained teacher dissected this message for me because I had very limited English knowledge. Later, the author of this masterpiece was revealed as (late) Dr Riley Fernando. It was amusing that the newspaper officials had been beaten by his doosra. This incident had prompted the newspaper publishers to seek death certificates before accepting obituary notices. Maybe it is still a requirement.
If Dr. Fernando is alive today, he would have been very busy life with such writings as so much material on democracy violations are available now. He would have had to start a daily tabloid possibly named as “Chronicles of Democracy Abuses” to keep up with the demand.
On June 28, 1975, the same obituary was published on the “Times of India” with slight textual changes when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared the State of Emergency in India on 25 June. This has led many Indians to wrongly believe that veteran Indian journalist Ashoka Mahadevan was the original creator of this classic advertisement, instead of Dr. Fernando.
During that epoch, many Sri Lankan career journalists did an excellent job to express their concerns on undemocratic governance practices. Veterans like Mervyn De Silva and Tarzie Vittachi are worth mentioning. My father highly admired the literary works of Tarzie Vittachi and advised me to read his editorials of Sunday Observer newspaper. However, I was more inclined to the Sinhala literature due to huge influence from my mother, who happened to be a Sinhala trained teacher and became a Sinhala writer. I owe both on any written expression skills, I have.
For around five decades, I have been interested with the Sri Lankan art, culture, cinema, music, journalism and literature. It is very sad to see the gradual decline in quality outputs from all above disciplines. I think that we are bankrupt in every professional standard. In a democratic society, all disciplines must thrive democratically. Scope of this article is not about analysing standards of various professional disciplines. However, I need to comment on the poor quality of investigative journalism practised in Sri Lanka. Majority of journalists do not know what questions they should ask from the interviewee. The main issue is the lack of pre-research done on the topic, person, the poor knowledge of the facts, figures and the inability to develop probing logical questions. I often see politicians and professionals talk rubbish and get away with blatant lies, half-truths and twisted realities, just because the journalist does not have a clue about the subject matter. It is all about professional training, in-depth research and being intelligent. Some interviewers don’t even allow the person to answer and constantly interjects with own answers to the own questions. Recently, I watched a young girl conducted an interview with the Google® CEO, Sundar Pichai at the Stanford University (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9qGmO8Yy-Y&ab_channel=StanfordGraduateSchoolofBusiness). The brilliance shown by this young girl, would be a good training material for the Sri Lankan young journalists to learn how to research, plan and ask questions. Good practice of journalism is essential ingredient for promoting democracy in a country.
Political Parties in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans claim that Sri Lanka is a democratic country and they have democratic political parties. However, I have serious doubts on both claims.
Majority of people in Sri Lanka do not behave democratically. They do not make decisions valuing democratic values. It is because they never lived in a true democracy to know it. If they know democracy, they would not have employed servants at home or treated a person differently due to cast, religion, colour, ethnicity or social status. They would not have made inappropriate comments when someone was physically skinny or fat. Otherwise, we would not have seen so much profiteering attempts against each other, crimes against women and children, election of corrupted politicians and huge gaps between the rich and the poor.
In my view, majority of Sri Lankan people are unintelligent, irrespective of the so-called high literacy levels. Lack of discipline in the society is a symptom of an undemocratic country. In democracy, the majority rules. This becomes a weakness in a democracy, when a country is full of an undisciplined and unintelligent majority. In such a setting, the outputs of the democracy would be detrimental to the democracy itself. However, the problem is not about the principles of democracy but about the poor-quality participants in a democracy. If an ignorant student put two incompatible chemicals together to cause unintended explosion, it is not the fault of the chemicals or the science, but the ignorant student who had poor knowledge in chemicals and science.
In a true democracy, the political parties remain at the top-end of the governance structure representing specific columns of public who believe in the political ideologies and the policies presented by such political parties. It is true that Sri Lanka has legal entities called “Registered Political Parties”. Political scientists can provide various definitions of a political party. However, what matters is the societal role of a political party and developing a definition based on such a role. A political party is a social entity representing certain set of ideologies and policies of social development and public governance. These policies must be endorsed by the party’s membership and the followers of that party. Followers include all from the lowest level of social stratum to the top. Hence, the development and the on-going refinement and changes to such policies must be done by the direct involvement of the entire party membership and the followers. Does this happen in Sri Lanka? Is democracy practised in Sri Lankan political parties?
In my view, we have autocratic political parties which promise the public the practice of democratic governance. In Sri Lanka, we only have “Limited Shareholder Companies” registered as political parties. These companies are managed by a handful of influential people. They take decisions on behalf of the followers without any consultation whatsoever and the followers blindly endorse their decisions. It was said that a person who recently accepted the Prime Ministerial post did not even inform his party leadership group.
In a democratic society, a village leader is chosen by a group of villagers to look after their interests. Then, the village leaders select their leader for the township exercising majority vote. This process will be repeated until the district and the provincial leaders are appointed. Among them, the national leader of the political party could be appointed. A national political bureau members could also be appointed same way. However, this should be a dynamic process, not once in 4 to 5 years. These selections must be reviewed annually in accordance with a set of key performance indicators. This dynamic process will ensure that the current group of public representatives are the true representatives of the specific political party membership and followers. I intend to write a separate article on a process to ensure competent people are nominated for elections by political parties. Just as an example, Prime Minster of Australia was changed many times in the recent history as the party leaders lost their confidence that their leader was the correct choice. It is a healthy sign of a democracy, not a back-stabbing exercise as portraited by the disgruntled rivals. The key policies of Australian Government remain intact irrespective of the party leader.
When new policies are formulated, the policies must be reviewed in consultation with all the representatives down to the village level. Such policies are to be supported and endorsed by all relevant. This is how politicians at the top could be declared as the true representatives of the public. This has never been practised in Sri Lanka. As an example, the banning the use of chemical fertilizer was a ruling political party policy decision. Any policy must be endorsed by two groups. The subject experts must analyse the policy, present their views and endorse it. Thereafter, the stakeholder who will be impacted by the policy, must be consulted, get their feedback and revise the policy accordingly and followed it up with a second review by the experts. Hence, the policy must be endorsed by both groups before implementation. Do we see this in Sri Lanka? In Sri Lanka, the leadership groups of the political limited companies take decisions without any consultation of the experts and the relevant stakeholders of the party membership and the followers. As such, are they the true representatives of public? This has led people to vent their hate against politicians as a response to politicians’ autocratic behaviour in the name of democratic behaviours.
Sri Lankan political parties do not have policy foundations and policy frameworks. This is why they are a bunch of unprofessional entities. Majority of leaders are so immature, incompetent and unbelievably foolish. There is a reason for that. Our culture promotes the number of years in politics as a measure of competency rather than measuring of the quality of work delivered and soundness of decision making. This is same in Sri Lankan public sector. I wrote comprehensively on this subject previously. No one seems to be listening.
In the developed countries, political parties have strong policy bases or ideologies promoting own choice of Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism, Communism, Nationalism, Multiculturalism etc. or a combination of a few. Sri Lankans are clueless what their political parties stand for, other than their obvious power hunger or corruption appetite. The challenge for the public is how to force the political parties to be professional entities akin to the political parties in the developed countries. However, if public are ignorant, their representatives inevitably come from the same basket.
Public can literally obliterate a political party overnight using a cross on the ballet paper. Also, the public can demand a political party to show their policies, plans and implementation strategies before offering the cross for free. When the majority of the society are unintelligent, public do not know their own power and more importantly what to request from the politicians. It is like an elephant who does not itself know how big and powerful, until it walks in front of a mirror. Until that day, the elephant can be goaded by a single mahout using a tiny Ankus. Hence, the role of the professionals is to educate public, build the mirror and guide them to use their voting power to force the Sri Lankan political parties to become professional social entities. Until that day, people will be taken for a ride by all political parties with a promise to reach a mythical oasis but the destination would be a barren land. The present government says there is a light at the end of the tunnel but it a headlight of a runaway train travelling opposite way. God bless our nation.
Part II of this article is on a few excerpts for my imaginary book of “Idiot’s Guide to Democratic Robbery- Glimpse of Sri Lankan Expertise”
(Eng. Janaka Seneviratne is a Professional Engineer working in the Australian NSW Local Government Sector. His intention of expressing views on contemporary issues is to inspire youth be innovative and unique. He is contactable via firstname.lastname@example.org.)