18 September, 2019

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Government By Patronage Is Not Democracy

By R.M.B Senanayake –

R.M.B. Senanayake

Mr. S.L Gunasekera writing to the Daily Mirror has pointed out that devolution of power does not help to give power to the people and that what happens is that the power is exercised by local instead of national level politicians. So devolution only means devolution of power to local politicians and it does not enable the participation of the people. Yes indeed it is so. But why is it so? It is because we no longer have the institutions required for a liberal democracy. Democracy means nothing if it doesn’t ensure freedom for the people and equal participation of all the people in governance and not merely the majority of the people.  This type of democracy which is the only democracy worth having requires a set of modern institutions. Liberal democracy is a modern evolution. Athenian democracy excluded women and slaves. American democracy excluded blacks until recent years.

The modern institutions required are not only an independent Judiciary but also a civil and military bureaucracy. These institutions must function according to pre-established laws and procedures and not arbitrarily according to the whims and fancies of those in these institutions who exercise these functions at the dictates of the politicians. The liberal democracy arose when government according to law implemented by a bureaucracy evolved. But this also requires the evolution of a rational cum legal bureaucracy not a patronage based bureaucracy.

A Legal cum Rational Bureaucracy

During feudal times the State was not run by a bureaucracy but by courtiers of the King and retinues of the nobles who exercised the power of the State. These retinues and courtiers were appointed for their pedigree and family background and not for any ability or competence in managing public affairs. The first people to employ persons on merit to provide the functions of the State were the Chinese. They are the originators of bureaucracy whose essential features were described by Max Weber. These features are appointment on merit through an examination and freedom for them to function using their expertise rather than according to the orders of the King or the nobles. They formed a distinct administrative class.  After the Chinese the Roman Empire accepted these bureaucratic principles. Next came the colonial Empires- the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. The Spanish and Portuguese Empires inherited a kind of patronage-based bureaucracy in which officials, with no assurances of tenure; banded together to protect their privileges and positions, forming what can be referred to as a “retainer bureaucracy”.

But the British organized the colonial bureaucracy according to the “mandarin” principle first developed in ancient China. They used the principle in the government of England as well as in their Indian empire by creation of an Administrative Class. This meant that their successor states upon obtaining Independence, inherited administrative institutions staffed by mandarin-type careerists. In USA too there was first the emergence of a patronage based bureaucracy. But two Presidents were killed by those who were disappointed in their efforts to obtain patronage appointments. There was agitation by New York Society for Reform in the 1870s. The USA built a modern bureaucracy only after the Pendleton Act of 1883.

Members of Parliament take power over the bureaucracy

India maintained its bureaucracy inherited from the British after Independence too. But in Sri Lanka a new class of politicians educated mainly in Sinhala and ignorant of modern governance structures and the true values of liberal democracy, interpreted democracy as government by them as the representatives of the people. They resented the power of the bureaucracy and sought to exercise their influence with the party, the Prime Minister and the Ministers to exercise their will at the district level and below. They wanted public servants who did not comply with their wishes to be transferred and intervened in the internal running of the government departments and the kachcheri. This of course is a prelude to the disruption of the administration. But many officials resisted such political pressure and exercised their powers according to the law. They could not be dismissed by the politicians not even by the Minister or the Prime Minister since such powers were vested in an independent Pubic Service Commission. But they could be transferred at the request of the Executive and many officials who resisted undue political pressure from Members of Parliament were deprived of their posts and attached to a no man’s land called the ‘pool’. The Members of Parliament kept up the pressure on the bureaucracy and abolished the Ceylon Service which was a Senior Management Service – the prototype of the mandarin class and they set up in its place a broader Administrative Service including an Administrative Class. But this Administrative Class lacked the prestige and the esperit d corps of the Ceylon Civil Service. In 1972 the Government did away with the independence of the Public Service Commission and brought the mandarins under the direct control of the political Executive. Thus began the patronage-based bureaucracy in which officials, with no assurance of tenure formed what can be referred to as a “retainer bureaucracy. Officials oblige the Ministers and in return the Ministers protect them.

Mass democracy developed in Sri Lanka only after 1956. But unlike other democratic countries it was accompanied by an erosion of the legal rational bureaucracy which is a necessary administrative tool in a mass democracy. Instead, there was a conscious effort to stifle bureaucratic development in the belief that bureaucracy acts as a hindrance to democratic development and economic growth. The Leftists contributed to this mindset for they did not want what they called a ‘bourgeois state’. This “tampering” with the prevailing rational legal bureaucracy took place slowly in the beginning but later accelerated when regimes were headed by those who were not sophisticated in modern governance. Since 2005 the traits of democracy were obliterated. The concepts of individual liberty, the Rule of Law, equality and government according to law, the essential features of a modern democracy have disappeared, resulting in a regime that has less democratic traits with weak, formalistic administrative institutions- form without substance.

Competence is needed

But government needs competent officials and the system of political patronage cannot deliver competency or good governance. This is the crisis today. The services provided by the State like free health care and free education are collapsing. Hospitals are short of drugs or seem to be importing defective and outdated drugs because of corruption. There is chaos in both school education as well as university education. The political patronage based bureaucracy cannot tackle these problems. They would rather feather their own nests and left to themselves they will easily indulge in corruption, abuse of power, laziness and inefficiency. Conscientious and public spirited officials are still there but they easily succumb to counter-productive practices tolerated or even encouraged by their ambitious and aggressive colleagues who typically dominate bureaucracies through their patronage retainers. They are not effectively controlled by their political masters who are indebted to them to cover up their tracks. When, over two centuries ago, the administrative functions of the government were minimal and most public administration was, actually, carried out by district and local officials. Farmers, merchants, and employees working in the private sector were self-sufficient and able to manage most of their affairs without governmental intervention. Since then, however, the industrial revolution and the global interdependence have vastly increased the need for public administration in every sphere of life. All constitutional democracies, if they are indeed to meet the needs of their citizens, must provide a host of new public services. The inherent complexity and interdependence of these functions requires the support of a large number of talented and dedicated public servants. But a political patronage basis of appointment cannot ensure them.

So maladministration is now widely prevalent and the actions of these patronage based officials antagonize and worry citizens. Maladministration involves the fundamental inability of politically appointed officials to perform the functions normally expected of them. The politicians lack the expertise to run a modern administration. Their job is to hold the bureaucrats accountable for their work not to do their work themselves or give them orders on how to do their jobs. The bureaucrats need to become specialists with authority to act based on their competence and knowledge of the technical problems involved in every domain of public policy, not by taking orders from the Ministers or the Executive Presidency. Put simply, good public administration requires the empowerment of appointed public officials appointed on merit for their knowledge and expertise  — they need to be able to act quickly and efficiently in order to accomplish the missions assigned to them. Understandably when they are appointed on political patronage, they often fail and maladministration results. When the bureaucracy- the civil and police fail crime, banditry, and underworld gangs emerge, provoking both public officials and political elites to resort to violence in futile fruitless efforts to restore or establish order. We see this in the killings and disappearances of underworld criminals.  Such efforts, however, in the absence of effective public administration, merely provoke more anger and resistance to authority. Then there is the possibility that political movements based on ethnic nationalism, religious fundamentalism, may take shape in vain efforts to create islands of security (“sovereignty”) within the domain of anarchic states. The President should re-establish the Independent Commissions.

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    What devolution and what democracy? The Malwatte and Asgiriya Mahanayakes have also demanded that the 13th amendment be abrogated. The Veddah Chief , who received a brand new double cabin pick-up with a driver in tow, will also soon demand the same! ( Native Veddah, please note !) Have the Mahanayakes at least bothered to read the provisions in the 13th amendment with reference to police powers, before making their advisory statement?

    This is our banal ‘ Demoncracy’ that assumes that all citizens are bloody incorrigible idiots.

    Basil Rajapakse is reported to have said that the government will not allow the PCs to form armies of their own with police powers! This is the government that harboured a contract killer DIG in the national police force and has quite a number of his kind in the ‘ National Police Force’. This is a country where the police are administered by the Defence Ministry and continues the colonial tradition of keeping the people under control, through frequent resort to armed and physical brutality of the police. This is the country where the police force is ordered to standby when the law of the land is brazenly broken. This is the country where the police are told not to take criminals to court because they are in yellow robes ( Pepiliyana). This is the country where the ” National Police’ have stood by when communal riots were organised by cabinet ministers, set fire to the Jaffna library, fired and killed civilians during the International Tamil Conference in Jaffna , set fire to MP Yogeswaran’s house and even took home the loot during the riots they in effect supervised.

    Basil Rajapakse is an American citizen and knows how the police system works in that citadel of democracy. His Defence Minister brother- Gotabaya- is an American citizen too and is also portraying the advent of provincial police as a ‘Goni Billa’. What duplicity! Sri Lankans are presumed to be unfit to practice modern democracy.

    This is our duplicitous and criminalised ‘ Demoncracy’.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran.

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      Dr. R. Narendran:
      (Sorry I hit the “send” button prematurely! Here’s the entire comment)

      You forgot one set of facts that really seem significant with regard to the triumvirate currently ruling Sri Lanka today and the pattern of their conduct:

      1)Mahinda Rajapaksa organized Pada Yatras, raised a lot of dust locally and even sought to take documents proving the culpability of the (then) Sri Lanka government in the matter of huge human rights violations to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The government accused of those human rights violations was that of the United National Party.

      2)During the same time, Basil Rajapaksa was an ORGANIZER FOR (SAME)UNITED NATIONAL PARTY (!)

      3) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the head of the army unit in Matale where, recently, the remains of more than 150 humans were found in a mass in the Matale hospital premises, deaths that have been identified as occurring during that same period. Again, the government of that day was one of the same United National Party.

      Don’t you think that there is something significant about where the three most powerful men in this country today sat during that time?

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        A good combination to win a war, but a terrible combination to govern the country in peace times. They want crises and chaos in the country to be in control and create them at their will, when they need them. It is political narcissism, at the worst it could be.

        Dr.RN

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      Well, and bravely, said Dr Narendran.

      The form of democracy that will suit Sri Lanka, our land like no other, has yet to be invented. The gold standard system required a class of administrator of unimpeachable integrity with the capability to translate political will into delivering to the public the services that go to build and enrich the country. Such people, as they surely exists now, would run a mile from such a noble task rather than descend into the present cesspool of politicians and their web of sycophants, charlatans and time-servers.

      There is something in that old saying that ‘people get the governments they deserve’.

      God Bless Sri Lanka.

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        Unfortunately, we have never had a government we deserved! We are too good and probably too innocent. We do not how to respond to misrule. These are the chinks in a our armour and they are being heartlessly exploited.

        Dr.RN

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      Quite right! There is ONLY the FACADE of Democracy in Sri Lanka today. The Sinhalay Modayas are so IGNORANT and ARROGANT that they think the corrupt and criminal patronage politics practiced by the Rajapakse criminal clowns is democracy!
      Meanwhile Gotabaya Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s Military Dictator-in-waiting is crafting a DEEP STATE or a state within the state – with selected implants and elements in the military-intelligence-business sectors, the judiciary and admin structures, and though militarization of the national administration and EDUCATION sector. Meanwhile ALL educational institutions are being systematically guttered so that the SInhalaya Modaya can remain STUPID, IGNORANT and ARROGANT forever..
      The Rajapassa FACADE OF DEMOCRACY GOES HAD IN HAND WITH CONSOLIDATION OF A DEEP STATE TO ENSURE THAT THE UNEDUCATED RAJAPAKSE BROTHERS AND SONS AND CRONIES RULE FOREVER AND CONTINUE LOOTING THE COUNTRY.

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    Local politicians should be people of education, respectability selected from the local communities. Instead the UPFA selects ex-LTTE, Criminals and Thugs, children of politicians to contest elections. PC is seen to be a place to reward its underlings and sponsors.

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    Dr. R. Narendran:
    You forgot one set of facts that really are germane to the current rulers of Sri Lanka:
    1)

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    I don’t think BR & GR are American citizens, but they have the right to reside and work in the United States.

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      May be. However, apparently they did not learn about constitutional government, governance and principles of devolution while there. That is a tragedy that is haunting Sri Lanka, through their half-baked theories.

      Dr.RN

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        RN,
        The citizens of Sri Lanka are still in an euphoric state. Why? because as you stated R family was a “good combination to win a war”. They exterminated a brutal group which terrorized Sri Lanka for over 30 years. I don’t know whether your concern of the prevailing situation is out of love for the country or something else, but be assured the people of Sri Lanka will take care of it one day when they need to.

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          Something else! What?

          Dr.RN

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    Simply making articulations is of little help. Most members of the audience do not understand what is being articulated, and how can they when they know little of systems and processes, how to design and construct the former or how to guide the latter. How can they when their minds are stuffed full with one ideology or another, here nationalism, there religion, and yonder human rights and now for an increasing number the worship of fascist might How can these ideologues ever perceive reality with its systemic structures and flowing process and how can they every perceive the delicate network structures within?

    So then those who see what the author has very kindly taken the trouble to publish and who think that the task of regenerating a functional structure that can include in its objectives the performance of the essential functions of the state in Sri Lanka is a worthwhile objective should formulate, initiate, support and sustain the processes that will lead to this objective.

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    An excellent analysis from a person with proven expertise on the subject. His statement that the “Administrative Class lacked the prestige and the esperit d corps of the Ceylon Civil Service,” invites comments. Yes, the CCS was an exclusive prestigious club. In a fast changing social and political climate, the need was not those qualities but management capability, professionalism and humility. They did not deliver. It is the reason that the CCS was replaced by a broader Administrative Service. Class I of the Administrative Service is the Senior Management Service or the Mandarin service under the definition of RMB. Are the performance of the present holders of the Secretary to the President, Secretary Public Administration or for that matter the Director of SLIDA inferior to the previous CCS holders of the jobs.

    It is agreed that the independence of the public service was destroyed by the 1972 Constitution. But it has to be noted that even with the experience of the harm that resulted from it the 1978 Constitution did not restore the status quo ante. The Civil Service consisted of persons selected mainly on their academic performance at an examination. But to be promoted to Class I of the Administrative Service both performance at an examination and proven ability count.

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    Totally agree with you Mr.Senanayake. I wonder whether we are right in the terminology we use when we say ‘devolution of power to the grass roots’ Is it power that is required by the citizen or empowerment? As a citizen I would like to be empowered to be, or do my thing without hindrance. I would like the state to empower me by providing all facilities and assistance to realize my potential, within the laws of the country. I would think this empowerment would flow from the constitution of the country and the regulatory and other laws.

    The prevailing practice however is to empower the local politician who acts more or less as a policeman when in actual fact he has no role to play. So he finds something to do to justify his existence and becomes a nuisance to all.

    If the citizen is to be empowered he must be freed from the shackles of centralized control which this government is introducing. The democratic rights of the citizen must be restored for meaningful change.

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    A few days back I watched a BBC documentary on ‘Devolution in the corporate world’, with much interest. Most multinational businesses are empowering the peripheral units in order to focus their business and marketing to meet the needs of the customers in a diverse world. The heads of these conglomerates like General Electric were of the firm opinion that empowering the local managers was already paying dividends, by permitting them to make decisions based on local needs and circumstances. This is corporate democracy at work.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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