By Malinda Seneviratne –
The President of the Private Bus Owner’s Association, Gemunu Wijeratne, has demanded that the Ministry of Private Transport Services be taken off C.B. Ratnayake. He wants President Rajapaksa to handle it himself. Wijeratne, moreover, has opined that only the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urband Development, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has the backbone to resist political interference and vanquish what he calls ‘transport terrorism’ . He was prompted, he said, by the prevalence of corruption, mismanagement and numerous other problems that beset this sector.
With that request, Gemunu Wijeratne has offered a nutshell description of all things political in Sri Lanka. Let us elaborate.
First of all it indicates a notion of where power really resides. If, for example, all power is concentrated in a particular individual, position or administrative apparatus, and if those individuals or institutions so endowed are not in the practice of delegating authority, then it would be a rank waste of time to address grievance or proposal to lesser entities. One has to query only those who can or will answer, those who have decision and directive.
Thus, in this instance, Wijeratne’s is not just a no-confidence motion on the relevant subject minister, C.B. Ratnayake but a pragmatic recommendation consequent to an honest appraisal of prevailing political realities.
In an earlier instance, when several students of Jaffna University had been arrested on suspicion of trying to resurrect the LTTE, President Rajapaksa ordered them released, following an appeal by their parents and a verbal guarantee from them that their progeny would ‘behave’ thereafter. TNA MP M Sumanthiran welcomed the decision at the time, but made the pertinent observation that it should not have come to a point where the President had to issue a directive.
A few years before, a hitherto unknown individual, climbed atop a tall post in Vihara Maha Devi Park, demanding that the President intervene to resolve his various problems.
More recently, i.e. on Friday, the matter of the controversial arrest and detention of former Deputy Mayor of Colombo Azath Salley, was resolved in a similar manner, with Salley, in a sworn affidavit, explaining his position (including ignorance about the organization that had invited him to speak) and appealing for presidential intervention.
Wijeratne, thus, has condemned all politicians and public servants as being incompetent and/or corrupt. Only the President can sort things out, he concludes. The flip side of the ‘cannot’ and ‘will not’ of official and minister, then, is the ‘can’ and ‘will’ of the President and his brother.
Wijeratne’s statement raises certain questions. Is it a question of competence, sloth, fear or not having authority (which could have been wrested formally or informally)? Is this state of affairs a product of constitutional provision (or lack thereof) or politico-administrative culture/realities? Has the President (and his brother), in order to get things done or because he has the power and the will or because he wants to impose will on each and every matter, subverted institutional processes, rendering institution and official irrelevant? Is this the ‘full manifestation’ of the powers vested in the office of the President by the 1978 Constitution?
The truth is that when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa takes on a task (eliminating terrorism, cleaning up Colombo) he goes about it in a methodical and relentless manner. He will not let politicians re-draw game plans. Being the brother of the all-powerful executive president helps in a big way, no one will disagree, but that indicates feudalism if not anything else which perhaps what Sri Lanka has been post-Independence, the plus point being that Gotabhaya (as Wijeratne and many others believe) gets things done.
But can one man (or two) do everything? Is fear inhibiting officials? Does this indicate that our entire institutional arrangement is a non-performing behemoth? Are we individual-focused and system-dismissive? If so have we always been like that or is this a post-1978 issue? Or is it a ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa Regime’ peculiarity (both the dependence, structured or on account of charisma and assertion, as well as the ability to deliver)?
There’s obviously a lot of power and a corresponding magnitude of dependence. The only problem is that both the President and his brother are human. They can err and they too can get exhausted. What then? What ‘thereafter’? When systems are not used, they first become irrelevant and then they perish.
Wijeratne has not elaborated. He’s a here-and-now kind of operator. But he has said it ‘as it is’, at least the ‘what matters’ in the business of getting things done. But President Rajapaksa can only do so much and that holds for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa too. Some might cheer the fact, some might worry. Either way, the indictment on institutions and officials is cause for concern, not applause.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com