By Ravindra Galhena –
The word “Yahapalanaya” (good governance) has been the most used lexis in Sri Lankan politics since Maithripala Sirisena decided to run for the office of President in November 2014. Sri Lankans would not find it difficult to understand the reasons behind this mind-set. In a nutshell, ensuring ‘Yahapalanaya’ was an attractive promise (given the situation that the people were in) made to the public and many of us Sri Lankans considered it as an immediate panacea for all our woes!
On January 10 2015, Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as President. As per his manifesto and the mandate, Ranil Wickremesinghe took office as Prime Minister despite the meagre parliamentary support he was able to garner single-handedly at the time. However, the life of the said government was not meant to last over 100 days. The promise and the plan was to go for a parliamentary election having successfully delivered the promised ‘100 Day Programme’. A young person would think that this was the most chaotic 100 days in our political history! President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had to work very closely to harness the support in parliament to pass an emergency budget and the legislature to trim the presidential powers etc.
However, due to numerous reasons, the ‘100-day Government’ had to last beyond the designated period and it was still legitimate. In August last year, we the Sri Lankans voted for a new parliament. At this election, United National Front (UNF = United National Party + other smaller parties) was able to win only 106 out of 225 parliamentary seats and the President Sirisena faction of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) joined hands with the UNF under the premiership of Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a government which now accounts for more than two thirds altogether.
This was some kind of reaffirmation of the Yahapalanaya journey commenced in January 2015. As the title says Yahapalanaya is supposed to be highly democratic, but, President Sirisena, using his powers as the leader of UPFA nominated about seven defeated members from the very election to the parliament through the national list. How on earth, can this kind of act become democratic? In my view, this was a blatant undemocratic move of President Sirisena although he was the committed originator of Yahapalanaya. The reasons that led to this decision were obvious, he wanted to make his team stronger to weather the Rajapaksa storm!
After forming the government, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe appointed a large cabinet of ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers from both alliances. They made a unity government in theory. As we all know many of these positions were some sort of accommodation provided to keep the support team happy and one could think that these appointments were some sort of official ‘bribe’. Does anyone in the public know how many are there in the aforesaid positions? I presume most of us only got a wild guess; it is difficult to keep a track the way these ministerial appointments are given from time to time. However, the reality is that the government would require a 150 headcount to pass certain legislature through the parliament to ensure the so called Yahapalanaya at different intervals in the future. Providing luxury cars (worth over SLRs 30 million each) for ministers/deputy ministers and lavish duty free vehicle permits for the parliamentarians seem to be part of the deal.
Then we have the infamous ‘Governor of the Central Bank’ saga. It has been going on for over an year now, but no conclusion yet. Some point finger at the Prime Minister. It has now come to the fore again as governor’s term is coming to an end soon.
Also the Yahapalanaya must be visible on all democratic pillars of the system. We have already discussed the executive and the parliament. The third sector is judiciary.
A few days ago, in the “Daily Mirror” online edition, I read the following. I quote “Colombo High Court Judge Manilal Waidyatilaka in the case in which he (Magistrate Thilina Gamage) is accused of keeping an elephant in contravention of the Public Property Act and the Fauna and Flora Act. The Judge (High Court) released him on bail, considering special circumstances including him being a judicial officer and his contribution and assistance given to the CID in earlier investigations.” In my view, this does not sound Yahapalanaya unless there is a separate law that governs the judicial officers!! How could a judicial officer do a contribution? Their task, in layman language, is basically giving a fair hearing and getting guided by the right laws/cases, isn’t it? We saw favouration. Is judiciary still a cult? Also we saw partiality and favoritism when the other Magistrate Kanishka Wijeratne allowed the bail application in respect of the same suspect earlier this month. These are some shoddy examples from lower courts. However, I believe, the integrity of the Chief Justice, who was appointed on merit last year, is still intact and he will look into these events with some seriousness.
As it appears, the government is somewhat strong despite the principle differences of the main coalition parties. This marriage would last until President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe could agree to share a single vision (by and large) for the country. The strength of the government was shown at the recently mooted no-confidence motion against the Minister of Finance. The political situation sounds good for foreign direct investment and development work.
Whether we like it or not, under the present circumstances, the government will have to maintain a soggy and muddy level of interim affairs to walk the Yahapalanaya principles forward. In my view, Yahapalanaya is a process which could have several stages in the forward march. The Rajapaksa regime change was just the start. Then the team (ministers and deputy ministers) was changed but, the authorities did not have a free/good choice in selection, immediately what mattered was the loyalty, given the situation. There are some knowledgeable, honest and talented people among the 225 parliamentarians, but considering the majority, it is still the same wine (only the bottle has changed!). As I see, this is the flipside of democracy and our system, as any other thing in life we have to accept the full package (both pluses and minuses).
As it appears, apart from the socio-economic development, the forward plan of the Yahapalanaya government is to change the constitution, abolish executive presidency, change the electoral system and introduce the necessary changes to strengthen the democratic institutions of the country. Hopefully, these changes will bring a long lasting solution to our inherent issues. These forward looking changes should be able to attract the right young talent into politics and key positions of the country to lead this nation forward.
Yahapalanaya cannot make a country absolutely clean, a society will never become perfect under any circumstances – perfection is a myth. Yahapalanaya (good governance) is essentially having the right environment, democratic institutions and various frameworks to ensure a just government for people by the people. It will also have a fair system to provide redress for those who get adversely affected. Nevertheless, Yahapalanaya is an uphill task and time will tell the success of this exercise.
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