Colombo Telegraph

Good Governance Is Not Utopia; It’s Making The Best Out Of Bad Governing

By Vishwamithra1984

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”  ~ Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’

Good governance…it’s more likely that those who desire fool-proof and ideological-definitions-based systems of governance are immensely disappointed at the pace at which the present Government is going about establishing a more responsive system of governance. Placed against a backdrop of a disappointed public who held high hopes of reverting back to a more agreeable and endurable working structure of government, a government that is, for all ostensible reasons fair and balanced, a government that is more sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people instead of vested interests and wealthy lobbyists, one finds it extremely tough to pit a half-hearted governing structure, as evidenced today, against high expectations.

The situation is even more exacerbated by sheer inaction on the part of the present Government on countering the Opposition’s propaganda and mudslinging. The depths to which the so-called Joint Opposition could dig into, despite the very powerful allegations against them both collectively and individually, tells a totally different story, a story of inoculating a large segment of our population from the shame of corruption and dishonesty. The past twenty years of governance has conditioned the people into wretched and miserable subjects of pawns in the cruel hands of the rulers. This segment of people has willingly subjected themselves into this abysmal status, they show no inclination whatsoever to unshackle themselves from the grip it has taken ahold of them.

However much the present rulers thunder form their comfortable political platforms, the officialdom that has been desecrated and defiled to such an inexcusable extent, is playing an active role in this sordid enterprise of corruption, nepotism and terribly ‘bad governance’. The days of honest and efficient civil service have become relics of a bygone era. The days that civil servants used their decisive pen to approve or disapprove of allocation of funds for government expenditure are gone forever. Now politicians who have no clue about debit and credit, who simply cannot understand a financial statement, are dictating to this new set of ‘civil servants’ as to what project receives approval and what does not. This phenomenon has overridden the carefully constructed project proposals; it has eaten into the very core of the fundamental principles of civil service, it has devoured this once-sacred service lock, stock and barrel and if any investor intends to get his or her project through the red tape of bureaucracy, lure of foreign trips, santosams of single malt whiskey and dinners at five-star restaurants have become the order of the day.

The unfortunate victims of this neo-bureaucracy are the ordinary folks of our beloved nation: Mudiyanse and Ran Menika in the hill country, Somalatha and Saranapala in Deep South, Ramanathan and Yogeswari in up-North and Suleiman and Fatima in the East. The whole tapestry of our national life has become prey to this mean invasion of ‘bad governance’. Although this process was greatly accelerated during last two decades, it did not commence its woeful journey only in the nineties. Ever since Sri Lanka obtained Independence in 1948, ever since we became a self-ruled sovereign, each successive government and their leaders bear sixty percent of responsibility for this disreputable decay in our national life, the balance forty percent, of course, belongs to the gullible electorate.

Through the drifting mist of fragments of recent history, a more perceptible tableau emerges; in the waning light of nightfall, among the sad stanzas of a national tragedy, a lamentable saga is yearning for expression. That saga is not very pleasant to read nor easy to comprehend. Yet, in the context of the prevalent systems, as Winston Churchill lamented, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. The utopia is receding.

Visions of utopia may evaporate with the first light of dawn, expectations and hopes may be dashed in the determined chase after justice and fair play, the remnants of lofty hopes and justifiable goals may be scattered among the debris of yesterday’s dreams, but the tale of pursuit of absolute goals and abstract mirages will continue. Man’s inexhaustible thirst for a perfect union with those who sit over judgment of matters relating to all and sundry might never be quenched. But one cannot foreclose arguments for pursuit of happiness and justice. Whether one is a socialist or a capitalist, Caucasian or Negroid, Sinhalese or Tamil, no power on earth could erect boundaries around man’s aspirations and dreams. But the real tragedy that seems to have befallen Sri Lanka and its polity is sheer apathy and complacency on the part of her people in the face of brutal attacks by the creations of the very system on her very premise of values.

If the massive numbers and raucous cheering displayed at the recent rally held at Hyde Park by the Joint Opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa and his fallen bedfellows is any yardstick of the level of frustration and anger of those fell, and the loss of ill-gotten privileges and wealth, what shames our country to its very soul is beyond the pale. Such a large segment of our people are so oblivious to the naked violations of human rights, not necessarily against Tamils, but the violent suppression visited upon sections of the majority Sinhalese as evidenced in the Rathupaswala and Katunayake fiascos, it talks more of deliberate countenancing of those violations and infringements. It ought to stir the nation’s conscience. But it hasn’t. There in dwells the tragedy.

This tragedy has made its turn into a bizarre comedy in that, the other day the General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said that no action needs to be taken against those SLFP parliamentarians despite a ban on attending that rally was issued by the Party. A fundamental breakdown in discipline has occurred and the culprits are being let loose. This is precisely what has befallen our land- a breakdown in discipline. Whether it’s on the road or workplace; whether it’s in schools or universities, or for that matter in clubhouses or political parties, when elementary discipline breaks down, social structures that sustain a developing nation crumble along with it. One might not notice the invisible failures of longstanding social growth, but the gradual decay in a society that is struggling to keep up with the fast-developing outside world sets in and that very indiscipline thwarts the advance of that nation. The utopia continues to recede.

That process has begun in Sri Lanka. Unless some drastic measures are taken and proper disciplinary mechanisms are put in place, the road to a utopia will not only be hard, it will be impossible to reintroduce a sense of discipline into the lives of men and women in the country. Preparatory works have already begun for an environment in which a tough authoritarian demagogue would be misread for a sensible alternative to anarchy and disorder. The average folks may settle for a populist agitator whose appeal is focused on the base instincts of man and a return to once-glorious military victories. A breeding ground for such authoritarian rulers is being prepared. And if that were to happen, the victory at the 2015 January Presidential Elections would be hollow and the efforts to bring it about in vain.

Sir Thomas More, an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist writes in his celebrated book Utopia: “Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse”-a very realistic narrative indeed and even more apt in the context of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankans are not sold on a mere notion of a utopia. But in relative terms, what is even marginally better than the previous State machinery would be hailed as a great relief. That sense of relief is visibly felt and enjoyed by a great majority of our people today. A critique of Government Ministers, Prime Minister and President is not a conversation that takes place within closed doors; one does not look over one’s shoulder when a friend talks badly about the Government. Such freedom and such liberties are more or less taken for granted today. But if no relief is brought about in the economic sphere, the people will subordinate those sophisticated topographies of good governance to their daily dire needs. A hungry stomach will overwhelm everything else and a crumb of bread would be a better alternative to tons of freedom and liberty.

Utopia would remain a dream one should not dream of.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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