By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –
Sri Lanka – Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches; Abuse of Power – Changes Needed to Reverse the Situation; President’s Shrewd Response to Ongoing Protests
With the overwhelming loss of management and ongoing gross mismanagement, the president has no choice but to resign. As discussed in the previous two parts of this series, with his resignation, an interim president must be elected by the parliamentarians, and a multi-partisan “provisional cabinet of ten ministers” should be appointed—this group of eleven representatives should resolve the current fiscal crisis during the next three to four months.
The immediate responsibility of this interim cabinet is to overcome short- and long-term financial issues. As no other entity is coming forward to rescue Sri Lanka from bankruptcy, the interim cabinet must secure a loan facility from the IMF to pay the interest payment of one billion USD due in late July 2022. Also, restructure the debt and arrange an organised default with structured longer-term payments.
With proper and open, and honest negotiations and implementation of IMF recommendations, financial stability can be established within three months. The IMF will undoubtedly guide the country on an assenting path to overcome the present fiscal crisis. In the past one-year, political leaders have been reluctant to go to the IMF because it does not provide an opportunity for embezzling funds. Meanwhile, citizens must be empowered to take facts- and common sense-based right decisions to prevent them from taking for a ride by unscrupulous INGOs, political groups, and certain governments outside the country with hidden agendas.
Silence vs protesting
Most people have little understanding of the longer-term consequences of not objecting to wrongdoings or having rushed elections. Without a sustainable System Change, there will not be law and order or stopping corruption. Whereas imperfect elections will elect the same corrupt politicians, giving them a free pass to ruin the country and could make it worse. Being persistent and escalating peaceful protest will work, especially when it paralise the economy and incoming taxes. This would be harder for the public, but there is no other choice to stop corruption.
Until recently, the majority stood silently while politicians and some unelected administrators siphoned taxpayer funds and wealth and destroyed the country’s prospects. Keeping silent by the majority enhanced corruption, but not anymore. Peaceful protests are a right and justified against corruption, signing several perilous deals that benefit politicians and not the country. However, despite the misery and the chaos, aiming only for a short-sighted regime change alone will cause more harm than good for Sri Lanka. The primary goal must be System Change.
People have the right to protest
People have the right to peaceful protests, as they are engaged now. However, they must be vigilant of unscrupulous politicians (political parties) and the administration attempting to take advantage by using paid people to disrupt peaceful protests into violence. Also, protesters need to be vigilant of the possibility of the tactic of inciting violence to justify bringing the military to dismantle the protests. Both interim and future governments must respect the aspirations, demands, and prospects of the younger people in Sri Lanka must be respected and assured.
The election system also needs major changes. Introduction of the district electoral system incentivised and enforced bribery and theft by political candidates. Therefore, it should be abolished using the next constitution/referendum. Meanwhile, the non-application of law to politicians (law-breakers) continues and worsens this scenario. Other items also need to be re-introduced to stop the abuse of power and public funds and re-introduce democratic governance.
Many administrative directions and policies need changes or reverting. A few examples are re-introducing the Ceylon Administrative Services’ structured program to replace Sri Lanka Administrative Services, appointing only fully trained carrier diplomats to foreign missions, appointing non-political permanent secretaries, restoring all commissions (e.g., audit, police, military, bribery, etc.) that were revoked though the 20th amendment, and thus, re-establishing checks and balances. The new constitution must also ensure that these key concepts and positions are permanent and cannot change with future amendments or referendums.
President’s response to the protest (4/18/2022)
People peacefully protesting in Galle face Colombo and other cities in Sri Lanka and abroad should remain independent of the four leading political parties in Sri Lanka. They have made a few demands, including the resignations of the president and prime minister and the installation of a minor interim government. While he refused to resign, he made an insignificant gesture by reshuffling the cabinet, as indicated in the title of this series.
Another major issue is that none of the four political parties currently seem to have honest, genuine, patriotic leaders. Therefore, it is not surprising that there have been attempts by unscrupulous political leaders to hijack the triumph to take advantage and a free ride of the ongoing protest by the youth protesting day and night. Youth must take the lead and should not allow this to happen.
Whereas the president might claim that he already addressed the demands of the protesting youth by getting rid of some Rajapaksas for the time being and changing a few heads around. Despite this hoodwink and lack of credibility of the united opposition, it should develop a motion of loss of confidence and get a simple majority to dissolve the parliament. However, before the triumph of dissolving the parliament, it is crucial to (A) plan to appoint an interim president elected by the parliamentarian and ten members interim cabinet and (B) eliminate the disastrous 20th amendment.
Paving the right path for system change
While a regime change is necessary to turn around the slippery slope of the country, what is more, important is to focus on a complete System Change with the introduction of a new constitution. Without that country has no economic future or stability. Despite these, there is no sign of such happening. Politicians hate “system change,” as it would make it difficult for them to pilfer funds. This hypocrisy is exposed by the appointment of a ‘new’ cabinet today, consisting of ministers who are incapable of handling current issues: i.e., taking a wrong action yet again, further losing his confidence.
The country needs fresh blood and younger people in the parliament: not a cabinet with an average age of 73 years, some who cannot think or walk straight. The interim president and a temporary cabinet must make the right decisions for the people, placing the country first. Unfortunately, right now, no such person in the newly appointed cabinet!
While absolute power corrupts the most, the “threat of losing power” is considered even more dangerous to Politicians. Consequently, as it happened in several historical dictatorships worldwide, it could lead them to take irrational actions, including suppression, violence, and declaring Marshall law to save themselves before they finally exit. Enforcing op-down absolutism over the recent past (at a time using the military) has always created problems for people; the current situation in Sri Lanka is not different. Like the medical and law establishments, politicians have always opposed good practice changes that help the populous. However, people have the ultimate power to get rid of corrupt politicians.
The next article will discuss accountability, debt traps, and planning for the next elections.