22 May, 2022


Good Governance: Who Is Responsible?

By Upali Cooray

Upali Cooray

Upali Cooray

Elara the Chola king who ruled Sri Lanka from 205 BC to 161 BC from the ancient capital of Anuradhapura is often referred in Mahavamsa as a “just king” and as one of the wisest. Even Elara’s nemesis king Dutugamunu had a great a respect for him. What is pertinent is the unwavering trait of responsibility he adhered to as a leader which comes as an anecdote in the chronicle Mahavamsa. The story goes that he was so concerned about carrying out justice to his subjects irrespective of status; he established a bell of justice within hearing distance from the palace so that anyone who needs justice from him could ring it day or night. As it goes in the chronicle, one day a calf was run over by the cart driven by King Elara’s son and the mother cow sought justice from the king by ringing the bell. Having investigated the reasons for the cow to ring the bell and finding that his son was at fault he ordered execution of his son and ensured the order was carried out. This story depicts a very important and righteous trait any leader should cultivate whether it is politician or some other leader. This trait is known as responsibility. This story in Mahavamsa is clear evidence that inhabitants of this Island of Sri Lanka was accustomed to the concepts of responsibility and accountability long before it became a key prerequisite in good governance in modern times. King Elara’s son was accountable for the death and it was Elara’s responsibility to see that justice is done.

Though some would like to use the words responsibility and accountability as synonyms; responsibility is a normative concept that differs slightly from accountability in that accountability has formal obligations embedded within its definition. Elara’s son was accountable for the death of the calf because it was the rule that committing the crime has an appropriate punishment.

MaithripalaAustrian Psychiatrist Victor Frankel in his world famous book written in 1945 “Man’s search for Meaning” recommended that the famous “statue of Liberty” in the east coast of U.S.A should be supplemented by a “Statue of responsibility” on the west coast. In fact this thought is now likely to become a reality through a Responsibility Statue Foundation established for this purpose for which the Utah legislature has confirmed fullest support. Utah is the home state of the sculptor Gary Price who had the prototype of the” Statue of Responsibility” sculpted. The concept behind this statue is that it will symbolize to the Americans and to the world that freedom cannot be sustained without balancing liberty with responsibility. It is unique and significant especially at this time in history when the United States of America appears to be in confusion in the use of concepts of responsibility and accountability within and without. One can even argue that these concepts are being abused.  The unprecedented crisis in the American economy as a consequence of irregular financial affairs by giant corporate bodies is a case of lack of responsibility. The subprime mortgage crisis which triggered the economic down turn was a clear example of irresponsible corporate governance on the part of the companies involved and the politicians in Washington who were pawns in their hands. R2P which stands for ‘responsibility to protect’ stands heavily abused for selfish agendas of super powers in the name of protecting human rights.

Our former colonial masters gifted to us the Westminster Parliament system for better or for worse. The Westminster principle of ministerial responsibility can be explained in the following manner. Each Minister is responsible for his private conduct, the conduct of his ministry and it’s departments for acts undone or done by his officials. These principles are applicable to anyone holding public office. Among 125 British Ministerial resignations in the 20th century, no fewer than a dozen were reasons for private scandal and two were for private financial arrangements. In many democracies even unproven allegations are sufficient to provoke resignation. Sensitiveness to questions of honor and shame and the desire to minimize the stain on one’s reputation can lead to tragedy. The most stringent standard as in the case of Elara was by an Australian Immigration Minister who resigned in the 1980s for failing to declare a stuffed toy in his suit case to customs officers when he returned to the country.

Naoto Kan the prime minister of Japan resigned in August 2011. He was under fire for his handling of foreign affairs and economic policies but the immediate reasons for the resignation was his handling of the March 11th earthquake, Tsunami and the nuclear accident. Naoto Kan is not accountable for any of the events but he was responsible to ensure that due diligence was exercised in the matters pertaining to the tragedies.

Coming closer home, Anna Hazare of India wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to pass the Lok Pal Bill which he had put forward to fight rampant corruption in India. The Prime Ministers credibility slowly and gradually went down because he was not able to check corruption by his ministers and party men. The Prime Minister moved from one crisis to the other. He was said to be an impeccably honest individual who would not allow his good name to be tainted. The Indian people gave the final verdict and ousted him from power.

Former railways minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned in 1956 over a railway accident and later went on to become the Prime Minister. Pundit Nehru paid tributes to him as “a man of highest integrity”.

The only politician in Sri Lanka who resigned his post are Dudley Senanyake as Prime minister on the rice subsidy issue and the consequent “Hartal” in 1953. The other is Gamini Jayasuriya the Minster of UNP government under President JR Jayewardene who did not agree to the 13th amendment to the constitution and here is an extract of his speech.

“These two bills strike at the very root of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unitary nature of our country. These are very complex issues that require the strictest scrutiny”. How will these bills affect the peaceful coexistence between the Sinhala and Muslim people? How will it affect the Sinhala Buddhists? Will we obtain peace with honor through these bills?

The most important aspect of these bills is the merger of the North and East Provinces. Mr. Speaker, give me the opportunity to explain to this House why I oppose this merger.”

This is in a bygone era. The practice hardly exists anymore. Moral obligations take a back seat to other political obligations such as holding on to power and making Hay while the Sun shines.

What is the situation today? A minister will not resign voluntarily or even through coercion unless convicted by a court of law. The delays in justice make it possible for the ministers to carry on for a long period of time even if a legal process is initiated. Ministers first show casualness and then defend if pressure mounts: lastly pass the buck to some Scapegoat and save their skin. This is a very common phenomenon in the Asian region whether in India, Japan, Malaysia or in Sri Lanka for that matter.

In the turbulent world of politics no one is indispensable as seen our last elections. Every leader has a chance to serve. But once he fails to live up to his reputation, it is for his own political good that he resigns and departs honorably. A minister may not be aware of the irregularities happening in a department or an institution under his purview but his responsibility remains the same. This is applicable not only to the secretaries of ministries but to the heads of departments and Chairmen of other institutions under the ministry. The head of a department cannot absolve himself from responsibility on the pretext of ignorance or being abroad or some other excuse at the time of the wrong doing. It is good to appoint committees and commissions to investigate and indict the accountable; but those responsible also should not unashamedly hold on to office on the pretext of innocence.

If Good governance or YAHA PALANAYA is the most prominent election pledge given by this government in coming to power, people expect it to be practiced to the last letter. As of now this government does not appear to be keeping to the pledge at all. There is no need to elaborate why; people hear and see through media about nepotism at the highest level, ministers and parliamentarians with shady records, Wheeler dealing in monetary affairs and so on? It is only the beginning. We will see more when the power is well consolidated in the near future. The voters stand duped.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Yahapalanaya is coming to Elite , Anglicans and the Vellalas in bucket loads.

    Mahendran pays his S.I.L, 3.5 % over the market rate for the latter’s USD 500 Mil not just for a couple of years, But for 40 years until 2045.

    Thais a total of 12.5 % return per annum.

    Poor Diasporians can’t get even 2 % for their hard earned Dollars or even the Pounds.

    Galleon Ravi gives his B.I.L the keys to the Srilnaka Insurance,

    And Yahapalan Boss himself appointed his Bro as the Boss of Telecom following his helper, Mr Clean Ranil giving his Nephew the Defence Gig……

    Didn’t the UNP supporters bag the previous Regime for Nepotism too. ?.

    • 3

      what we have is still old wine in a new bottle.
      May be some obvious old wine is out. But we need still wine in the bottle.

      MY3 cannot throw out all old politicians and start with a brand new team.
      Last 10 years it went in reverse direction in the sense of good governance.
      Further more the whole government machinery still run as it was running 10 years before.

      In best case what realistically we can expect is a gradual evolution to yahaplanaya. We have old sinhala saying. you have water pot with bad water. you keep on adding good water to the pot, the water slowly get cleaned up. You need to keep on doing it for some time until the pot has 100% clean water. this process for good governance from Jan 9th 2105 is like that. MY3 & team have to keep on correcting the whole process and people to achieve 100% good governance.

      It is true MY3 & team did over marketing of Yahapalanaya to win the election. But if they didn’t do it, you would have MR re-elected again.

      It is better to have MY3 than MR.

      So we have to go through this yahapalana evolution.
      But we, people need to keep the pressure on the government so that they don’t take different route or slow down.

    • 5

      [Edited out] Sumanasekara aka [Edited out], you are making a joke of yourself in this blog. We certainly do not condone the little excesses currently done. Be happy that the short comings can be pointed out now unlike then where you would have been white vanned by now. What the readership do not understand is why you were so quiet then, for the ten years when Corruption and Nepotism was rampant?

    • 0

      Mr. Clean appointed his cousin, a failed business man who does not practice medicine anymore to replace Gota on the Apollo/lanka hospitals board.

  • 6


    I THINK IF GOOD GOVERNANCE IS TO BE READ AS IN BOOKS – NOT ONLY AUTHORITIES BUT ALSO PEOPLE HAVE THEIR PART TO PERFORM. TODAY THEY CRITICISE EVERY TINY ISSUE NOT RESPECTING THE WAY THEY THE NEW CABINET WORK HARD TO FULFIL THE PLFEDGES MADE BY THEM. I see all these with a greater respect. Alone the wreckage of chaos left by Rajapakshe are far from getting clear to anyone today. Those who work for them have not been changed by current inferior govt. However, those new deputies and ministers worked by their heart to achieve the maximum. Having listend to Senasinghe, Ajitha Pererea, Eranga, Dr. Harsha Sliva, I feel they are really representiing us the folks that long for a better srilanka. Most of the metioned would never want to work for greedy agendas as those worked or did not work though enjoyed perks under Meehraka Rajapakshe Reign.

    • 3

      True; But at least one crafty fellow was already gummed to the Meeharaka Rajapakse Reignbefore and resigned only because they did not make his Papa Chairman of Airlanka. Just wait; He will soon be gummed again to the Meeharaaka Rajapakse reign when it gets back to power.

  • 6

    One has to establish what good governance is. Accountability ,justice for all, no richness nor poor ness,fairness for all, all these and more come under democratic rule. But there is no democracy in this world,anywhere,whether in the East, West , South or North. When humans came into existence on this earth, they started to fight each other. They fought for food shelter , supremacy and jealousy. This will continue and continue for worse. Man Is evil. Many examples could be quoted in Sri Lanka.
    It was not Elara’s son who drove his chariot over the cow’s calf but was the son of a Chola king.

  • 2

    If any president were to search for educated qualified honest individuals who wish only to serve the nation, there would have been not enough persons to form a government.
    Most politicians aim to earn enough to fight the next election, and to set up enough black money for their families.
    Hence, Maithripala.S had to manage with those who were available.
    He also should have been careful to avoid the taint of nepotism.
    The Westminster oriented system of Soulbury had safeguards for minorities, and was replaced only to delete them.
    JR’s 13th amendment established the perpetual ‘white elephants’ called provincial councils, which today are the second tier of corruption and sinecures, and we are stuck with them.

    • 1

      No you are no right here. They are even educated that belong to those corrupted bunch. That is what MS made it very clear at the beginnning of the term. It is like searching for mustard from a house where none is dead – so all in all, even today, those belong to the educated community lack the information as to why the investigations take longer. They thought like helagembbasa or the like, the authority will have all the force to round up them. NO IT is wrong. those abuses go to years are kept in hidden for such a long time. But what bothers me – why let Basil Rajapakshe leaving the country – with all charges levelled against to the man becoming clear day to another. That man has no right to stay a mINUTE as a non-criminal – ballige putha must be given long term jail sessions. He is a born criminal. THAT IS IT:

  • 2

    Imagine if our own King Rajapkasa had followed the practice of King Elara – the ringing of bells to get justice. First we have to ring the bell of the BBS. Then the BBS will ring the bell of Gota. Then Gota will ring the bell of the DIG. Then the DIG will open the gate and take you to the last door behind which our King Rajapaksa will be seated in his throne. You ring this last bell of justice and suddenly a white van will appear and take you away never to be heard of again.

  • 6

    Upali Cooray has brought up the correct topic at the right time to lime light. Responsibility does not seem to lie with individuals any more as mentioned. This has to take the form of a parliamentary act covering all the citizens and their rights. Call it may be, Social Responsibility act. This act should be extracted from medical-judicial status of the social values and records.

    By activating this act, the law should hold every person responsible for their acts irrespective of their age caste status or even age. The individual should be automatically held punishable at the time of commission of the offense even before trial and the penalty and social degradation should be made effective on the date of commission of the of the offense.

    All citizens’ social status recognition is graded to five or six levels, say A to F. Class A consisting of people without any accusations. Class B of people with suspicions and ongoing investigations. Class C of people with convictions and judicial proceedings. Class C to F classified as per degree of offenses and imposing additional penalties such as not allowing foreign travel, loss of civic status, prohibition of operating bank accounts, disengaging from responsible professions, restricting area of movement, resorting to good conduct, forfeiting illegally amassed wealth, and many other amongst these.

    Such an act of parliament also will not require death penalty to be imposed as well. No one is above law and above god. Hence death penalty is gods decision. However such laws will curtail wrong doing by any person whether weak or the powerful. This is the correct time to pass this act if President Sirisena is sincere of Yapalanaya.

  • 0

    LA LA cuckoo story. How the bloody heck can a COW ring a bell. Cows are not born with powers of deduction. Silly story. Better story is now in 2009 two tamil tiger terrorist girls were wounded in battle. Both were around 14-16. One of them wanted to surrender and the other didn’t want to. Both pretended to surrender with one of them severely wounded. They asked for water. When the soldiers brought them water, the one who did’nt want to surrender blew herself up and her sister and 2 soldiers with two hand grenades. That is how VP brainwashed teen girls to be so just.

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