By Sarath De Alwis –
It is doubtful that our Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe has read Leon Trotsky. However, I think the Constitutional Scholar and member of Parliament Mr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC has read Trotsky who famously said that the “depth and strength of human character are defined by its moral reserves”.
In those idyllic times of hope in January 2015, I remember calling Mr. Wickramaratne to express my utter alarm, dread, shock and consternation on learning that Mr. Arjun Mahendran was to be appointed Governor of the Central Bank. They were times when Mr. Wickramaratne answered the phone and was ready for a casual conversation with an old acquaintance from the days when we both frequented the Chithra Lane home of the late Hector Abhayavardhana.
He said he did not know about Mr. Arjun Mahendran. I told him that I did not know much about him either. But I said that he was the father in law of Arjun Aloysius the young heir of the House of Aloysius a pivotal player in the Central Bank firmament under Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. I thought that the appointment would compromise the new Presidency. Since the interim UNP administration was dependent more on the President, I felt that he could be persuaded to turn down the nomination. If my memory serves me right I implored him to brief the new President on the sensitive conflict of interests implicit in that nomination. It was an impulsive act prompted by my assumption that Mr. Wickaramaratne would have access to the new President through his active role in the movement for a just society headed by Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero.
Since then Venerable Sobhitha thero has boarded the raft crossing Samsara and Mr.Wickramaratne has entered parliament on the UNP national list. Since then, we have also witnessed a colossal chronicle of distortions, half-truths and positively preposterous explanations on the Bond fiasco of the Central Bank.
According to published news reports the Auditor General has concluded that the Treasury had lost a cumulative Rs. 1.6 billion from two controversial Treasury Bond auctions and that Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran, handpicked by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, ‘had failed to exercise “due professional care” that was demanded of his position.’
The term of Governor Mahendran ended on 30th June. The Prime Minster has again handpicked Mr. Charitha Ratwatte to succeed him. There has been no suggestion that the new nominee has been cleared by the National Coalition Cabinet. While the Minister of Finance has a say on the matter, the usually chatty Minster has not been forthcoming on the subject.
Charitha Ratwatte is not an economist. He is a Ranil Wickremesinghe loyalist. His claim of being a former Secretary of Treasury and hence his insight in to finance global and domestic is akin to former member of Parliament Mervyn Silva claiming to make a pretty smart Parliamentary Ombudsman.
By nominating Charitha Ratwatte to that position, the Prime Minister has told the President and the people of this republic that he is not bound by the laws and norms of accountability that binds ‘we the people.’
By virtue of his leadership of the UNP and hence of the largest group in Parliament, he has declared that his lordly status will settle for nothing less than obedience and compliance.
Mr. Wickremesinghe is not the first politician to rely on cronyism and patronage. That said he certainly can be singled out as a percipient practitioner of cronyism confined to a Brahmin class of his own definition. They stand out among the usual hoi polloi by their monstrous egos and flagrant sense of entitlement. It is a conviction that one has an inherent right to not only to hold an opinion but also a stubborn belief that such opinion is immune from challenge.
The culture of political entitlement is found in all political parties. On January 8th 2015, the people decided that such political entitlements should not create conditions for personal wealth accumulation or concentrate state power in the hands of an unaccountable authority.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s greatest strength was that he understood the cumulative effects of the sense of entitlement of his party cadres. While his immediate family were focused on their individual sense of entitlements he encouraged and nurtured a collective sense of entitlement. That has made him the single political leader in possession of a nascent grassroots organization that can be mobilized on call. Mahinda’s strength was that he chose his camp followers on the promise of a shared future.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has opted to choose his camp followers on the basis of a shared past and a shared history. When he makes a choice he expects ‘we the people’ to regard his pick as beyond reproach and infallible.
So, Charitha will make a good governor of the Central Bank just as brother Suren has proven to be a stellar Chief Executive Officer of the loss making airline.
The most vital function of a central banker is to protect the stability of the country’s financial system. In today’s context it also needs the expertise required to insulate against global economic shocks. Given the autonomy implicit with that responsibility, the head of the central bank should personify good governance and integrity.
As the super regulator of the country’s financial sector, the governor of the Central Bank should not be intimidated or influenced by politicians, tycoons and trumpeters.
The nature of the job in the epicenter of the incestuous world of high finance and political muscle calls for fearless independence. Most importantly the Central Banker must possess what Amartya Sen credited Raghuram Rajan with – ‘skillful financial economic thinking.
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is making a grave mistake. There awaits a new generation not quite ready to listen to his homilies delivered at school functions and others events where well behaved captive audiences doze off at his contrived Sinhala- ‘Ehemanag Api ..aaaaaaaaaaaaaa.’
Since I am in daily dialogue with at least four Grandchildren who will be voting at the next general election I can confidently inform Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that there is an ascending generation who do not care about the books he read or the friends he made in his old school. They are interested in tangible deliverables. I can assure the Prime Minster of their ability to distinguish scholars and achievers from charlatans and academic frauds.
What they hold in utter contempt are efforts to entice them with fables of the past that are deplorably divorced from present day realities.
With the insight in to the precocious curiosity of my own grandchildren, I can well understand the depth of the discontent of the youth who attempt to topple the barricades that deter their marches, braving the piercing pain of police water cannons.
Their sense of enough is enough is far more relevant to our time than the sense of entitlement of the backroom apparatchiks of the United National Party.