By Siri Gamage –
When a country goes through a period of turmoil and instability, it offers us an opportunity to reflect on the causes of such instability and turmoil for a better understanding of the situation. Some refer to the current circumstances of hardship as an outcome of country’s political culture since independence. Others characterise it as purely economic. Yet others want to explain the circumstances that led to current situation as both political and economic. They argue that if there is to be a sustainable solution it has to be both economic and political. Some writers try to understand the past by way of looking at specific leaders who ruled the country adopting a more personalised approach. Some try to reduce the economic problems to a dollar issue that emerged after the Pandemic. All these approaches are valid to a certain extent. But in this article, I explain several fundamentals we need to keep in mind when looking at what’s happening in the country today and the way forward.
We have to ask whose interests are served by the existing institutions and institutional framework for managing the economy and polity? Does our representative democracy work to meet the aspirations and needs of constituents? The core functions of a people-friendly government are to a) provide basic services b) security of life and property c) Justice in the affairs of country, locality and inter-personal activities and relations d) dignity of identity as a people and nation e) corruption-free management of the country’s affairs f) Contribute to maintain the country’s moral and ethical order g) maintain law and order to achieve peace and resilience. Taken together, these functions can in the end secure people’s trust in the governance and management institutions. If the institutions are not functioning well and they rather serve the interests of a few due to historical, political or economic reasons, and the people’s trust is lost then it can lead to an anomie situation where people lose not only the trust by also respect. What we witness today is a situation where the government in place has lost both. Periodic situations of anomie can be witnessed including on May 9th. If the mass protests planned for today (9th July) do not end up peacefully another situation of anomie can emerge. It will be not for the good of the country and its people.
We have to accept the fact that the management of country’s affairs has dismally failed. The reasons for taking the country near bankruptcy are many. Ultimately, leaders who ruled the country in recent decades should be responsible. What does responsibility means is another question? Whether they should be allowed to stay in leadership positions needs to be debated and come to some conclusions. But what the current situation shows is that the method used to run the economy and the country thus far is not working and a new method should be found. Or at the minimum drastic changes to the former method must be enacted in both economic and political fields. Otherwise, we will not be able to find a lasting solution. Remember when we had the conflict with LTTE, various governments adopted different approaches. Some failed. Finally, another approach was adopted to defeat the evil forces. A similar re-assessment of the approach and methodology to address current problems are required if the country is to find a lasting solution. Short term fixes may not help.
Let’s look at the crisis in the body politic. There are serious problems in our governance methodology including the three pillars. i.e. Executive, parliament and judiciary. Various attempts for reforms in these sectors in the past including All party Conferences ended in failure. Before the last presidential and parliamentary elections, there were renewed interest on the necessary reforms but after the elections and the onset of the pandemic discussions became sporadic. Nonetheless, the concerns that the more informed segments of society have about the failures of the governance system including the Provincial councils, the public service, nepotism and politicisation need immediate attention and follow-up action. Any attempt to isolate the economic crisis from these governance issues cannot yield long term results. Need for an independent public service that is not beholden to political manoeuvring is critically important to maintain stability and continuity in decisions made.
When we say that the system has failed the people, what does it mean? Primarily, the resources in the country are not shared equally among the people. A few gets more than their due share and a large majority miss out. There is no egalitarianism in the fields of economy, polity, education, or other important institutions. In a society where the people compete for limited resources, unless there is a just system and processes in place, chaotic outcome is inevitable. Where there is no egalitarianism and associated principles or practices in place, we can’t expect justice either. Justice in the country is a rare commodity. Even within institutions that are in place for the very purpose of ensuring that justice is meted out equally. Long delays and semi colonial practices in the law enforcement agencies prevent the average Lankan from receiving procedural or consequential justice. This is related to lack of de facto citizenship rights on ground. Police stations are hated by people as they function as punishment agencies rather than those that mete out justice. Politicisation of these institutions including the public service is a serious problem eating into the fabric of public institutions. There is no trust in the institutions, personnel or procedures. When institutions operate on the basis of who one knows it puts the large majority in a different basket. They suffer due to the lack of attention to their needs from those who are in authority.
We all know that the economic and political problems facing the country ought to be resolved. The government says it is taking steps to resolve the economic problem. However, do people have rust in such statements? Not many people are willing to trust a failed government and its leaders. The same applies to the resolution of the political problem also. In this context of growing instability in the socio-economic and political order, it is necessary for the alternative forces, parties and organisations to come up with “an emergency plan” to rescue society and people from the impending disaster. I note that opposition parties and organisations are in dialogue on this very matter. The Sangha organisations and their leaders have also issued a statement (Senkadagala Prakashanaya) with a plan to address the current stalemate. Similarly, Aragalaya activists have issued their political and policy ambitions recently. All these can show the path to adopt. What this shows is that there is an intense contest between the establishment forces and players vs the opposition forces, players and parties in a multiple of platforms including the media, international contacts, parliament, and grassroots organisation. The ultimate result will be determined by the way these competing forces, players and parties overcome the opposing forces. If one side of the power equation cannot overcome the other, the stalemate will continue for a period of time unsettling life and social order. A period of turmoil can emerge as a result. To say the least, it will not be good for maintaining normal civilian life.
A crisis like today can give birth to a better system of governance if the geriatric leadership hands over the reins to the new generation with a futuristic vision, contemporaneous discourse, courage and relevant ideas. The latter understands the causes of current crisis and possess ground level and international experience. Let’s hope the desire and campaign of the new generation will continue until the government changes together with the constitution that give enormous power to an elected executive President camouflaged with a Satakaya!