By Gamini Jayaweera –
The people of Sri Lanka have placed their trust and pinned their hopes when they voted in millions in favour of the new government, that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will fulfil their aspirations by laying a strong foundation to rebuild a democratic, compassionate, peaceful, law abiding, and sovereign society by the advancement of social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological developments in the country. After the appointment of the new cabinet by the President and the Prime Minister, the time is right for us who have risked their lives and livelihoods by publically supporting Mr. Maithripala Sirisena during the presidential election, to examine whether the “Yahapalanaya” government is on the right path to keep our “Hopes Alive”.
Setting Up a “Jumbo” Cabinet
It is true to say that the President and the Prime Minister have inflicted a serious blow to keep our “Hopes Alive” by appointing a Cabinet consist of 44 members including President and the Prime Minister. In addition there are13 State Ministers and 23 Deputy Ministers who are not members of the cabinet. During the pre-election period the leaders of the “Yahapalanaya” quite rightly criticised the size of the cabinet in the previous regime and promised us that they would not follow the same path of appointing a “Jumbo Cabinet” because it will cost the country a vast amount of money to maintain such a cabinet. The impression given to the nation was that the cabinet would be a maximum of thirty (30). Most importantly, we do not need such a large cabinet as Sri Lanka is a small country compared to large countries where the no. of cabinet ministerial posts is between 20 and 25. Assuming that the “Yahapalanaya” has appointed a “Jumbo” cabinet in the short-term to fulfil some election promises where the government needs two thirds majority in the parliament, can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the President and the Prime Minister will take action to reduce the “Jumbo” cabinet to an acceptable level at the appropriate time?
Appointment of Corrupt Politicians
The other blow that has been inflicted by the President and the Prime Minister to keep our “Hopes Alive” is to appoint some ministers, state ministers, and deputy ministers who have had a history of corrupt practices, engaged in drug dealings, and exhibited their thuggery and criminal elements during the presidential & general elections. In addition, the President and the Prime Minister have appointed some politicians who have been rejected by the people for their double standards during the general election. Can we reasonably expect from the “Yahapalanaya” government to keep our “Hopes Alive” that the President and the Prime Minister will take all reasonable actions to eradicate bribery and corruption which has become a cancer killing our society, bearing in mind the quality of some of the newly appointed ministers, state ministers, and deputy ministers?
Undisciplined MPs and Councillors
It has been reported in newspapers that several allegations have been made against some MPs and Provisional Council members for alleged illegal behaviours and threatening police officers who were trying to carry out their rightful duties to maintain the law and order in the country. This is totally unacceptable as we must run our country on the universally accepted principle of “no one is above the law of the land”. It has become the norm in Sri Lanka when politicians threaten the law enforcers for political gains, some media organisations highlight the illegal activities, and senior political leaders in the party “investigate” the incidents but no action is taken and nothing changes. If the President and the Prime Minister, as leaders of the two major parties cannot discipline their members irrespective of their positions in their parties, can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the “Yahapalanaya” can effectively tackle to remove the political interference in maintaining the law and order in the country?
Appointment of Leaders to State Institutions
It is a fact that government institutions and state corporations in Sri Lanka play a vital role in the country’s economy as well as providing a major contribution to the social and technological developments in the country. It is also a well-known fact that majority of these corporations’ performances are inefficient, uneconomic and very much below the generally acceptable level. As we are heading into a period of “economic revival” after more than two decades of terrorism and unacceptable level of corruptions, we expect that the “Yahapalanaya” government will appoint leaders and the senior managers to these government institutions based on their ability to run these organisations in a most economic and efficient manner to give the tax payers the value for their money.
But it is evident that some Ministers have appointed known corrupt officials who have served in previous governments, as their advisers at very high costs which are being funded by the tax payers. It is also known that some of these “old faces” left Sri Lanka as soon as CBK came to power in 1994 to avoid prosecution for their involvements in bribery and corruption. Some of these autocratic “old faces” have administered government institutions nearly three decades ago, inefficiently and uneconomically due to their inabilities to give adequate leadership to the workforce. They failed to hit targets, beat budgets, improve quality, and deliver outputs because these leaders could not find ways to engage the workforce and generate their excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment. We need leaders who can inspire, motivate, and influence the workforce to work efficiently and economically, recognising the environment in which they have to operate. Despite the “jobs for the boys” policy adopted by some ministers, can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the “Yahapalanaya” will identify and appoint leaders who can run our public sector organisations more efficiently and economically?
During the presidential election and as well as in the general election, we were told by the President and the Prime Minister that the new government would establish good governance and put an end to the previous regime’s malpractice of appointing relatives, friends, and political henchmen with no adequate qualifications and experience to important positions in government and state corporations. It appears that to a certain extent, the “Yahapalanaya” is also advocating the same policy of nepotism which was openly practised by the previous regime. It is also evident that both major parties have not discouraged or abandoned the practice of giving opportunities to members of the same family circles to become members of parliament at the expense of ordinary party members who have worked tirelessly for the success of their parties.
Then the latest episode of Daham Sirisena’s presence with the Sri Lankan delegation at the UN General Assembly and later participating as a youth representative of Sri Lanka at the youth-led event of Sustainable Development Goals summit. Make no mistake that no one is querying about Daham Sirisena’s trip to USA with his father, the President of Sri Lanka. But it is not ethically and morally correct for Daham Sirisena to sit with the Sri Lankan delegation in the UN Assembly and participating as a youth representative from Sri Lanka in the SDG summit, as he has not got any official status to do so.
When the new President of Sri Lanka addressed the nation on 30th January, I could remember that he demonstrated for the first time in the history of our political sphere that the Leader of our nation had humility among other leadership qualities to lead our nation during the next five years. As Ezra Taft Benson stated, the President has shown that “Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” It is my view that the President has made an error of judgement in the Daham Sirisena’s issue. Therefore I hope that the President will apologise to the Nation for the mistake he has made unlike the previous leaders who showed arrogance in-lieu of humility.
Can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the “Yahapalanaya” will establish good governance as soon as possible and discontinue the practice of nepotism once and for all?
Abandonment of Leadership Programme
It appears that the decision taken by the Minister of Higher education to abolish the leadership programme for the undergraduates, is a short sided policy implemented by the “Yahapalanaya”. The leadership programme introduced by the former Higher Education Minister Mr. S.B. Dissanayake during the last regime, was right in concept but wrong in their application by engaging Sri Lankan Army to conduct the leadership courses based entirely on their model. Of course, we need to incorporate some aspects of the leadership development model of the Sri Lankan Army into the leadership development programme which should be designed to nurture a pool of skilful, talented future leaders to run our profit and non-profit organisations in the country more efficiently to benefit the country as a whole.
It is a fact that in most of our schools, we do not have a mechanism for early identification of leadership talent and then of nurturing it, except for a few elite public and state schools. It is sad that the Honourable Minister has overlooked the importance of developing a culture of leadership development programme for all undergraduates because almost non-existence of leadership training that we have in our state schools. We need visionary leaders in every sector of our society to ensure that we achieve our social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological developments in the country. We all know that since independence most of our leaders have emerged from the few elite state and private schools.
We believe that Sri Lanka should adopt a programme of leadership development and talent management for Undergraduates and secondary school children, because we need to take the maximum benefits from untapped and undeveloped talents and potential in our society. Then only we can produce the next generation of capable, talented leaders in business, education, health, politics, judiciary and armed forces to run our country effectively and efficiently.
Can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the President and the Prime Minister will guide the relevant ministers to implement a structured leadership programme for undergraduates and secondary school children as soon as possible, to ensure that the opportunities are open to all and not limited to the sons and daughters of politicians, and the children from the few private and state elite schools.
Re-claiming Our Dhammadeepa
It is a great concern for the people of Sri Lanka the increasing level of daily violence, rape, child abuse, and murder in the country and rapid deterioration of moral values in our society. It is also disturbing that some of the law enforcing officers (Police officers) taking the law into their own hands and treating the suspects in inhumane manner, making the situation from bad to worse. The top brass of the police must take action to discipline their officers who are exercising their duties against the law of the land. It is accepted that the law and order in Sri Lanka has plunged into a very low level during the last regime but it appears that the new government is not making any significant policy difference to rectify the worsening situation in the country. The time is right for the Minister who is responsible for maintaining the law and order in the country to come up with a short-term plan to curtail these violence activities as soon as possible and a long-term plan to restore the law and order in the country with strict guide lines for the police force to carry out their duties in a civilised manner when they confront the suspects.
Can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the “Yahapalanaya” will restore the law and order in the country to be maintained by a professional police force where people can live without fear of violence?
It is sad to experience and watch the rapid deterioration of moral values in our society where greed, hatred, and ignorance are thriving. It is also sad to witness that some of our Srilankan Buddhist monks are engaged in the quest for worldly gains rather than propagating dhamma and developing detachment as preached by Lord Buddha. Some of our Buddhist monks have forgotten their main responsibilities of preaching, practising, and teaching Buddhist principles to uplift the moral values of the lay people. It is accepted that the silent majority of the Noble Sangha are carrying out a tremendous service to propagate Dhamma and protect the Buddha Sasana though they do not get headlines in the media. During the general election campaign the Prime Minister proposed to actively work with the Heads of Noble Sangha to conduct a Dhamma Sangayana in 2017 to purify the Buddha Sasana. Can we keep our “Hopes Alive” that the much needed Dhamma Sangayana will take place as soon as possible?
Keeping our “Hopes Alive”
I appeal to the President and the Prime Minister to use the trust of the Nation that have been placed upon them by the people of Sri Lanka, to act decisively and speedily in creating an environment where people can keep their “Hopes Alive” that we are on the right path to achieve our goals. As Martin Luther King, Jr suggests, we say to the President and the Prime Minister that we are ready to accept finite disappointments, but we will never lose our infinite hope that the “Yahapalanaya” will overcome the challenges and change our political culture to create a decent human society in Sri Lanka as promised.
*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford