2 December, 2023


Good Governance: The Hard Road From Slogan To Reality

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.” – Camus (An Absurd Reasoning)

On January 5th, 2015, the last day of the campaign, newspapers were full of advertisements, most supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa. Unique amongst them was a full page ad by the Diyawadana Nilame and the Basnayake Nilames of 31 devales. The ad denounced ‘local and international forces and other evil people’ who are trying to ‘commit the great sin of destabilising the country’; it also expressed full backing to the ‘holy leader courageously defending the country’.

Maithripala RanilThat surreal ad was symbolic of the state of the country after less than a decade of Rajapaksa rule. Everything was suborned to Rajapaksa needs and interests. Even the gods had to go the way of judges, military personnel, bureaucrats and diplomats, and become tools of Rajapaksa power.

Instituting a sense of proportion, basic levels of intelligence and decency and the rule of law after a degeneration of such magnitude is no easy task.

Take the rule of law – an indispensable component of good governance.

Many of the most ardent opponents of the former administration are unhappy about the slow pace of justice (I know; I am one of them). More then a month has gone by since the Rajapaksas lost power; but they and their closest acolytes seem to enjoy an unacceptable level of impunity. Many wonder when justice will be done or whether it will be done at all.

Bringing the Rajapaksas – or anyone else – to justice is not an easy task. A solid case must be built which can prevail in a court of law. The former power-wielders would have done what they could to hide the evidence of their crimes; uncovering their trail can take time and effort. And the Rajapaksas probably still has the capacity to slow things down, perhaps considerably.

Building up water-tight cases against the Rajapaksas and their close acolytes would therefore be no easy task. And a blotched job can discredit the entire effort, as the case of Tissa Attanayake demonstrates.

Tissa Attanayake ‘revealed’ the supposed agreement between Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe. Investigations have uncovered it was a bogus document. But investigations do not seem to have uncovered the author of that bogus document. Though the police took Mr. Attanayake into custody, they obviously did so without sufficient evidence that his was the hand (or the brains) behind the bogus document. While approving bail for Mr. Attanayake, the magistrate commented on the police’s inability to come up with any witnesses. Mr. Attanayake says he discovered the ‘Agreement’ by accident while going through some Health Ministry files. We can be certain that he is lying. But for a court of law such deductions – however obvious and logical – are of no interest, in the absence of actual proof.

As the Tissa Attanayake case proves, arresting someone is easy; building up a case which can withstand the rigours of a free and fair trial is much harder. It’s better to take time to build up a proper case, rather than hurry things (due to pressure) and end up with a botched case.

The Rajapaksas persecuted their enemies under the guise of prosecuting them. They turned the law into a charade and instituted trials which were total and manifest miscarriages of justice. The new government can of course mete the same treatment to the Rajapaksas. Such treatment is easy because they are a function of power and not of justice. But that is not good governance. That is not even intelligent governance. Every time the new government reduces the moral-ethical gap between itself and the Rajapaksas, it discredits itself and helps re-legitimise Rajapaksa rule.

Not the right thing to do; definitely not the wise thing to do, with the Rajapaksas waiting in the wings to make a grand comeback.

The modus operandi used to resolve the CJ imbroglio did not reflect well on the government. Getting rid of Mohan Pieris was essential for good governance; but in order to get rid of him, good governance had to be violated.

Once is enough. The new government must not tread that path again, for whatever reason. Means are as important as the ends. Those rulers who violate the rule of law for good reasons inevitably end up by doing so for bad reasons.

19th Amendment and Parliamentary Maths

The new government promised to correct Rajapaksa errors and misdeeds, restore democracy and rule of law, provide relief to the masses and bring those suspected of murder and kleptocrcy to justice. All in just hundred days!

Some promises have been honoured, notably the promise to reduce economic burdens on the masses.

The economics of the Interim Budget tally with the latest economic findings by the OECD, the ‘West’s leading think-tank’. Its December 2014 report has made a radical break with neo-liberal trickle-down economics. The Report identifies inequality not as an engine of growth but an enemy of growth: “Income inequality has a sizeable and statistically negative impact on growth….redistributive policies achieving greater equality in disposable income has no adverse growth consequences….” The Reports’ recommended solutions include “higher taxes on the rich and policies aimed at improving the lot of the bottom 40% of the population… Government transfers have an important role to play in guaranteeing that low-income households do not fall further back in the income distribution.”[i]

The promise to restore democracy and rule of law will depend to a large extent on the 19th Amendment. Going by the available (unofficial) draft, the 19th Amendment, if passed and implemented (passed is not coterminous with implemented), will deepen and broaden democracy by de-concentrating power and instituting a system of absolutely necessary checks and balances. It will also help in the task of building/rebuilding institutions, many of which had been macerated and disembowelled by the Rajapaksas.

But to get the 19th Amendment through, the government needs the support of the opposition.

The government does not command even a simple majority in parliament. And the 19th Amendment cannot be passed without a two-thirds majority. Therefore, in the interests of creating the basic institutional and legal framework of good governance, the government must maintain a non-antagonistic relationship with the opposition. This would require a certain degree of give-and-take. And this give-and-take may well include not proceeding too fast on bringing many a corrupt member of the former regime to justice.

The choice is unpalatable but unavoidable. To pass the 19th Amendment – without which good governance will remain a mere slogan – the government needs the support of around 40 to 50 members of the opposition. And several opposition members have indicated that a slow approach to justice is the price for their continued corporation in parliament. Therefore, if the 19th Amendment is to become a reality during the ‘100 Days’, justice for past crimes may have to be de-prioritised or deferred, at least for a while. Or else justice for past crimes can be prioritised and expedited, but only at the risk of the 19th Amendment.

Given the current composition of the parliament, there is no happier way out of the conundrum.

Far less explicable is the new government’s decision to continue with some of the more repressive policies of the Rajapaksas. Why renew the order giving police powers to the military? Why extend by two years a Rajapaksa law which allows the police to detain suspects for murder and other serious crimes sans a warrant for 48 hours? If the government has some valid reason for these decisions, they must be explained to the public.

The Rajapaksas treated voters like juveniles. They did not think they owed the public the truth. The new government does.

The Right to Information Act, even if it is passed, will remain a dead letter if the new government too believes in withholding necessary information from the public. The weekly press conference must not go back to being exercises in lies, half-truths and obfuscations. It is wrong; and it does not work.

It will help none but the Rajapaksas.

The consent of the people cannot be fossilised; it cannot be taken for granted. As VS Naipul warned, “Power came from the people…. As high a man could be taken up, so low when he lost power, he could be cast down”[ii].

Port City and Future Economics

The controversy surrounding the real status of the Port City is illustrative of how controversial matters should not be handled.

The UNP was strongly critical of the project, citing very valid financial, environmental and political reasons. Ranil Wickremesinghe publicly pledged to scrap the project.

Early this month Minister Rajitha Senaratne said that the project will go ahead and that the Environment Assessment was properly done. Then the PM announced that a final decision is yet to be taken. Minister Kiriella told the media that the work on the project has come to a halt ‘automatically’. Anyone who goes past the Galle Face knows this is a lie, and a very inane one at that.

In the meantime the Vice President of China Construction Communication Company (CCCC) Zhang Baozhong said that he had ‘nothing to worry’ about the Port City and that it will go ahead ‘for sure’[iii]. Is he aware of some ‘truth’ unknown to the Lankan public? Is that why despite the government’s assertion that the work has come to a halt, the work very obviously continues?

Is China already sovereign in the Port City?

There are so many unanswered questions about the Port City. Is it our version of the Guantanamo Bay? What is the nature of the Agreement between the Rajapaksas and the Chinese party? Which law will prevail in the piece of land leased to the CCCC for 99 years? Will it be Lankan law or Chinese law? If it is the latter, how is Colombo to prevent Beijing from using the land for military purposes? What will be the Indian reaction? Are we going to be the turf on which the two regional mammoths battle it out?

What is the truth about the project? Is it environmentally sound or not? If the Port City is not bad enough to be scrapped, wouldn’t, shouldn’t some credit for this ‘not-really-bad’ project accrue to ex-President Rajapaksa? If the project has major flaws, and the government is unable to cancel it, the people must be told why. If the government fails to tell the truth to the people, it will do itself considerable discredit.

Another potential danger is the proposed IMF bailout, probably an unavoidable measure, given the Rajapaksas’ financial depredations and their effect on the national economy. But this must not mean a return to the policies of austerity. Austerity, in a neo-liberal context, means nothing more than burdening the already overburdened bottom layers of society. The result is a slow but steady evaporation of the popular consensus necessary for democratic transformation – and a re-legitimisation of anti-democratic and racist ideas.

Public opinion is not a monolith but a pendulum. And the ‘Jam-tomorrow’ economics of austerity can give the discredited cause of ethno-religious racism a new lease of life.

The danger is particularly acute in Sri Lanka, where a National Socialist variety of anti-capitalism has had a strong historical presence. If the new government embraces austerity at the IMF’s urging, if it asks the poor and the middle classes to tighten their belts, again, the brand of anti-capitalism which blames all Sinhala woes on avaricious Tamil, Muslim and Christian capitalists would make a triumphant comeback.

At its head we may see the familiar figure of Mahinda Rajapaksa.


[i] http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/dec/09/revealed-wealth-gap-oecd-report


[ii] India: A Million Mutinies Now

[iii] http://colombogazette.com/2015/02/11/china-sure-port-city-will-continue/

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Latest comments

  • 18

    Brilliant article as usual.

    I am confident that Ranil and the team under the guidance of MS will do the right thing. It may take a bit of time.

    Rajapakses had no clue about governance and knew only to rob. Simple as that.

    Family rule and corruption was the name of the day.

    Look at Gamini Senarath for an example. That was the story during last 10 years.

    • 2

      Dear Ms. Tisaranee Gunasekara,

      RE: Good Governance: The Hard Road From Slogan To Reality

      “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.” – Camus (An Absurd Reasoning)


      “Hutta Puke”- Village Vedda Mahhataya, after examining “infertile” Couple.

      “The Earth Moves” Galileo whispers after the Inquisition on him

      “Unique amongst them was a full page ad by the Diyawadana Nilame and the Basnayake Nilames of 31 devales. The ad denounced ‘local and international forces and other evil people’ who are trying to ‘commit the great sin of destabilising the country’; it also expressed full backing to the ‘holy leader courageously defending the country’.”

      Tisaranee, thank you for exposing, what you are doing now and have done in the past in exposing MaRa, “Mara Palanaya”.

      “Bringing the Rajapaksas – or anyone else – to justice is not an easy task. A solid case must be built which can prevail in a court of law.”

      Those who have access to the English Language Media and social media are better informed than those who have access to only Sinhala and Tamil Media. Do you have any statistics as to what percentage of the news in the English media gets to the Sinhala and Tamil media and read by the people. This gap needs to be filled.

      How? Common Sense Pamphlets, and Sri Lanka Crisis Pamphlets, and expose, expose and expose, jut like what Thomas Paine did for America in 1776. The messages need to reach the target audience, the rural Sinhala and Tamils in Sinhala and Tamil. Is it happening efficiently? Wgy did 55% of inhala Buddhists vote for Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa?

      Once upon a time in rural Sri Lanka, a couple married. Many years passed and there were no children. Considerable pressure was brought to the couple, especially by the respective in-laws. finally they were forced to see the Village Vedda Mahattaya, the Village traditional doctor. He listened to the couple and asked the standard questions, and based on the answers to his queries, figured out the problem.The “message” was not reaching the “right” audience.

      The Vedda Mahattaya, prescribed lime juice and requested to make a few changes to their routine when trying to make babies.

      When the “patients’ were leaving, the Vedda Mahattaya, muttered to himself,
      “Hutta Puke”.

      Nine months later, the “patients” had their first baby, and everybody was “happy”.

      • 3


        What do you do with the people who only know to receive messages through the wrong canal – like the Rajapaksa-intoxicated, a prime example being Dayan Master?

        • 3

          Off The Wall

          “What do you do with the people who only know to receive messages through the wrong canal – like the Rajapaksa-intoxicated, a prime example being Dayan Master? “

          Call them “Hutta Pukas” . May be they will wake up, hist like the village couple.

      • 0

        Good one Madam !
        The 19th amendment must bring an end to the cross over culture in parliament where corrupt politicians jump sides for money and privilege from one party to another.

        If they jump, they must lose their seat and face a new election.

        • 2

          Or better still, the party disendorses the jumper, thus losing his seat, and the party under which he/she came to power elects a new leader for the electorate. He/she then becomes the MP. Simple. No need to go to the expense of having another election. These shameless pole vaulters must pay the price of stabbing the back of the pathetic voters en bloc.

  • 9

    A timely and lucid lesson in current realities and the limits good governance imposes on arbitrariness. What happened on 8th January’ 2015, was not an armed revolution or a military coup, that generally involve street justice, but a democratic revolution by a popular vote that endorsed good governance. Good governance implies rule of law and justice. Accusations can be made, but however valid they may appear to be, they have to be investigated and proven in a court of law. Justice must not only be done, but must also appear to be done. From the shambles that our policing and justice systems were reduced to by the previous government , this is not an easy task. Tisaranee has indeed done us a timely service.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 4

    Well done TG.

    The 100 days seems to be a farfetched deadline, though 1000 days would not have appealed to the voters, the rate at which things moving appears to be a realistic target. To make matters worse, the bureaucrats and technocrats have used to a phase and rhythm they used to, cannot change it unless some whipping is given, but such act cannot do in the name of good governance. When MR and Co say the alleged accusations are baseless, you would know what they say, prove if you can. More over, of the 5.5M voters, a good number would be in possession of necessary information and if such info made public, they might think their jobs in danger for their collaboration. Not all in the current ministry are saints either, like Hakeem, Richard, etc, thy would not let their activities being surfaced. At best only a pick and choose mending is possible, however it needs sufficient time. This would be further delayed, if Ranil has any soft corner to MR, because he is so soft.

    Information and money trails are to be tracked down and for that experts in IT, computers and baking are required. For SL CID, it is too big a job to handle. It’s all will help leave MR and Co as a staunch patriotic and an underdog comes to the general election. Chances of Mohan being reinstated to the 44th CJ cannot be ruled out.

  • 4

    “Therefore, if the 19th Amendment is to become a reality during the ‘100 Days’, justice for past crimes may have to be de-prioritised or deferred, at least for a while.”

    Justice deferred?

    Good governance is not politics. Politics is not good governance: justice should be carried out blindly, however much it may erode the parliamentary majority.

    Otherwise it is politics as usual. The voting population will not be very impressed.

  • 1

    The superb “Koolukkum Paadi, Kangchikkum Paadi”( One person, with full of greed, always support all opposing interior thing with a wish of getting all of them), Sinhala Intellectual, with her charm, has come back with her new essay to make many left out Sinhala Intellectual, in the New Royal Government, to node their head for her. This is person praised a lot about the rowdy who attached the Mannar court and the Judge, directing from the sky on defense department helicopter.

    All the Old Royals has changed their names as New Royals. When the Old Royals found excuses not to prosecute, Tissaranee explained it as impunity. Now the same case with New Royals. She is sitting on the wall for a suitable time to decide which side jump. The most murderer Old king is not arrested. Bother Prince is not. Tissa who did a wrong jump at the wrong time has lost the support of the both side thief. Thissaranee says, a minister’s claim that he just found a note in his ministry and with out any procedure he published it, can be done nothing in Lanka because it has no evidence of wrong doing. Still in the North, if two neighbor had arguments and one call the police and complain that the other one is a LTTE, his house will be erased out by the army and police. The only person investigated so far investigated by the new Royals is TNA NPC MP Ingranesan! Because he an LTTE(as NPC has passed a resolution), soon all the evidences will germinate. This for what they dismissed Mohan Peiris and brought puppet Sripavan. Now the IGP is puppet, who investigated and punished Indiran during Aluthgama, Now the CJ is puppet.

    The other cooli Naren is back again do “Aama Aama” in the comedy shows. This one was biggest supporter of wasting Tamils votes to this New Royals. Soon, he is going to claim he is only one found out that the New Royals are as bad or worse than the Old, but LTTE diaspora do know nothing.

  • 2

    Tisaranee, thank you, your brilliance shines again. If we subvert the law just to satisfy the gallery, we would be no better than the Rajapakses. What would contribute to improve our economy, are foreign investments and the reversal of the brain drain of the last 50 years to greener pastures. The new government has done little or nothing to remove the unnecessary barriers to foreign investments and indeed worsened the proposals that were in place to attract back the expats by reinstating the Dual Citizenship scheme. Presently the Chinese are valuable friends but what guarantee the future holds with changes of leadership. Once we remained non-aligned and got on with other hostile nations, but when we became obliged to one, we lost that luxury

  • 0

    The Port City appears to be the future ‘white elephant’ of the MS government. The provisions under which the CCCC (Chinese firm) was selected for this massive apparently unwanted project, still appear unclear. Why reclaim land from the sea, when thousands of acres are available along the coastline north & south.
    If the proposed 19th Amendment cannot be passed, the future of the nation is bleak.

  • 3

    Another good piece by TG and a timely one too.I ( probably most other readers too) have been waiting and browsing news sites to see if TG have come up with her ususal analisys of the current situation, it has become more than a habit now, I truly enjoy her writing and style with substance.
    I wish someone somewhere in the state apparetus see TG’s value and get her to work on some project to make our journalists ( and wannabe journalists too)better scribs, very rare specimen she is indeed ,we need more of these in the press.
    TG is google proof, I have given up looking for her on the internet, if there are any lectures or public forums she participate I’d love to attend to, for the last 12 odd years her voice was a rare beacon of sainity in my beloved country.
    When I see the mediocrity in most of the TV political shows(shows they really are)and how our people are taken down the garden path by these so called journalists, TG is truly a rare gem.
    We need a better bunch of journalists, engaged , independant, not the psychopathes of todays mainstreem press.
    Thank you again.

  • 0

    Tisaraneee, With yahapalanaya in place you no longer need to hide your face, but the fact remains Reality Is What It Is..whatever your convictions, ideology, pet-peeves, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or the length or lack of hair, Reality Is What It Is..if the current regime cannot prove the manufactured reality on which they manipulated the partially literate urbanites, to gain their trust and their vote to win the elections; not 100 days, not 1000 days not the road to umpteenth amendment will be enough to bring justice to imagined villainous acts.

  • 5


    There is nothing to be surprised about the slow progress towards achieving normalcy and briging the culprits to book. The clue was in MSs election speeches when he said if MS lost he will protect him for what he has done to the Nation in getting rid of the Freedom Fighters. Under the principle of Estopel MS is estopped from going back on his words.
    Furthermore RW when he visited Temple Trees gave his assurances that he will protect MR and his entourage.
    This is evident from the attempts by Mangala to delay the UNHCR report to give Internal Inquiry a chance. Justice delayed is Justice denied. If you want proof as to why an Internal Inquiry will amount to a Charade just listen to SF when he says that he will defend the army against any atrocities as nothing of that sort happened. This is a man who has been offered the post of Field Marshall.
    RW when he went to Temple Trees in the early hours gave the assurances to MR and Gotha that they will be protected and that is why despite all the evidence aginst Gotha he is making bold statements that he cant be replaced.
    MS was elected with Tamil votes but when he praises MR for his service to the Nation it is obvious that he is in the same mould as any other Sinhala Politician.

    • 1


      “Freedom Fighters.”

      Whom are you referring to?

      Please be precise.

      • 3

        I am refering to you GRANDAD . Where have you been all these days. It looks like you have come from the Grave.

  • 1

    its ok to break yahapalanya to bring in yahapalanaya…lol
    i thought the rate at which this stooge was writing about corruption, the case agaisnt rajpakasas was a far gone conclusion ..now seems they need more time, so was the things that were written just fabricated gossips ..lol

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