By Lacille De Silva –
Our parliamentary system, at a glance, was a straight forward modus operandi at the time we got independence from our colonial masters, the United Kingdom. In the past therefore we had elections and bye-elections at regular intervals. The process had been deviously transformed since 1970s, by corrupt politicians, which is far more complicated now in both theory and practice. They introduced the preferential voting system. In my view, it is not the people they represent now. They represent their political parties, their unions, families, friends, businesses and their well-being. In this regard, a political commentator had defined representation – “as a set of procedures or rules that select people to formulate and legislate the public in an accountable way…. representation is the accountable aggregation of interests”. They concealed all the shortcomings and deviously ignored values and ethics.
A representative democracy is often poetically described as a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. They thought the purpose of the public service was to deceive the General public. They create the ground to elect a breed of representatives of the calibre that suits the rulers to strengthen their political power. They had introduced amendments to the Constitution and other laws to strengthen the government in power. In post-war Sri Lanka , we now need consensus not majoritarian approach. Our representatives should be capable of finding solutions through consensus. Mrs. Navaneetham Pillai, the then UN – High Commissioner having visited Sri Lanka in her report had stated in her report – “the war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded (….) Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”.
They nevertheless celebrated recently the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Parliamentary system in 1947. Since gaining independence, Sri Lanka, classified as a developing country, has experienced two major armed conflicts, involving Sinhala youth and a war involving Tamil youth, mainly from Northern and Eastern provinces. Due to these ordeals, thousands of lives, properties etc., had been lost. The roots of all these problems lay in the political weakness, absence of altruistic politicians, misrule, corruption, evil motives, their greed for personal aggrandizement and power. Systemic corruption has corroded the entire public sector, undermined the public interests and reduced funding for education, health, transport etc. The country now needs an efficient, effective and exemplary public service.
We could presently experience a virtual collapse of the state or the institutional structure. I would believe it was not so bad even during the war. Economic growth is inadequate to create employment opportunities. Democracy too has been compromised. The political system has failed to create necessary reforms to achieve development and growth. The art of practicing continuous deception has paved the way for a gloomy future full of troubles. They have continuously failed to find the best possible ways to ensure harmony and progress for the countrymen, the society. Aristotle had said “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst”. In Switzerland, probably because of the nature of the human beings, they have taken steps to enshrine their development policy in the Federal Constitution – “shall contribute, among other things, to giving relief to populations in need and fighting poverty as well as promoting the respect for human rights, democracy, peaceful co-existence between peoples and conservation of natural resources (Article 54 (2) of the Swiss Constitution.
Having ended the war, how did the former regime fail to transform Sri Lanka to become the “WONDER OF ASIA”, as promised. Shouldn’t they have learnt lessons from the post-war transformation in Japan, because it was a miracle. Japan was a ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’. A single minded commitment to economic recovery and growth of the country’s leaders have produced dramatic improvements in the lives of Japanese people. Unlike Sri Lankan politicos, the political stewardship which was honest and patriotic, has protected and safeguarded the commitment to democracy, while pushing through a massive institutional reform programmes to uplift the society, polity and the economy in Japan. Numerous political reforms including positive reforms to secure ‘democratization’, education, anti-monopoly, and deconcentration measures to extend ownership and control of big business and finance, land reform to widen land ownership etc. The civil code was revised. Freedom of belief, political activity, Labour rights etc. , strengthened and basic standard of life guaranteed. It was such a re-awakening programme that ensured and provoked tremendous opportunities to grow and prosper in the face of a lack of natural resources and a high degree of dependence on raw material imports.
We need therefore a system of government that would look into the question beyond development and economic growth. Such a system should address both material and non-material well-being. The leadership therefore should ensure a harmonious growth in areas such as economic, social and emotional. Lord Buddha has preached that if the ruler observes the Ten Royal Virtues (DASA RAJA DHARMA), the subjects too would be also of excellent moral qualities and would find the Court houses empty. The Buddha in a Sutta had defined that if the ruler is righteous, so are the ministers, priests, townsfolk and the villagers; moon, sun and stars move along the right path, winds blow favourably; and the devas, happy with the ruler’s virtuous reign, bestow sufficient rain. William Menninger had said – “Six essential qualities that are the key to success: Sincerity, Personal Integrity, Humility, Courtesy, Wisdom, Charity”. We now need to create a country that works for all, not only for those who hold political power, similar to countries like Switzerland.
JRJ during the elections campaign (1977) had said “today the rule of law had become a dead letter. Due to this fact, some politicians in the country had become lawless elements, and amongst them were drunkards, womanisers, rogues and vandals”, and added “A future UNP government would take steps to introduce a code of conduct and discipline for MPs and totally outlaw nepotism”. They had disregarded the fact that the well-being of the people cannot be achieved without sustainable and equitable development being balanced well with environmental, cultural preservation and good governance. They had overlooked the fact that it is important to be honest because it contributes to create a positive mindset and promotes morally acceptable behaviour. How did they disregard the fact that religions too had played a crucial role in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans, whether they are Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims.
Our leaders since independence did not respect the values of moral and ethical principles, such as honesty, respect for others, loyalty, responsibility for personal actions, generosity and many more. We need to establish upright behaviour and ethical standards to take the country forward. After Singapore became independent, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had pledged to rid Singapore of graft. Members of his government had worn white when they were sworn in, as a signal of purity of their intention. The Minister of Development Teh Cheang Wan in LKY government had been accused of bribery. During the investigations, Wan had committed suicide, having left a note addressed to LKY which read – “It is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake”. It is unfortunate our politicians too dressed in immaculately white NATIONAL COSTUME, do just the opposite. They rob public money worse than pick-pockets. By the time Lee stepped down as PM, Lee was able to transform Singapore to be one of the best managed countries in the world with zero tolerance for corruption.
History is replete with countries destroyed by corruption. It is absolutely vital that we pay more attention to our moral development to take the country forward. Moral and intellectual development should go hand-in-hand. We do not have a strong opposition in Parliament. The judicial system is weak and vulnerable to political interference. The endless problems such as rising cost of living is sky-high. The fiscal situation suffers heavily due to high public debt and interest burden. Our political leadership should have therefore pursued the &middle path& to ensure greater happiness of the people. The ‘middle path’ is a concept taught by the Buddha, which should have been pursued by avoiding extremes and by adopting a balanced view in day to day governance. Middle path requires to investigate and penetrate the core of life and attend to all things with an upright unbiased attitude in order to solve a problem.
In Bhutan, the present Prime Minister has taken steps that their development should be based on maximising wellbeing and minimising suffering by balancing economic needs with spiritual and emotional needs. His vision is to create a Gross National Happiness (GNH) society, I quote – an enlightened society in which happiness and wellbeing of all people and sentient beings is the ultimate purpose of governance. GNH is premised on the notion that happiness pursued and realised within the context of greater good of society, which offers the best possibility for the sustained happiness of citizens. GNH recognises that happiness should be realised as a collective goal. GNH is a holistic approach towards development. Research findings have proved that increasing income alone does not bring increased happiness, which Buddha had discovered nearly 2600 years ago. Shouldn’t we therefore find solutions to the NATION’s unresolved problems by tracing its root causes?
Buddha never rejected the idea of a lay person earning wealth. Buddha was specific that living an ethical life and moral life could only bring genuine happiness. Buddha dismissed greed in accumulating wealth, being enslaved to materialism and treating wealth as the ultimate goal. The GNH in essence is an approach to take the country forward while transforming and conquering the human mind by creating the need to lead a life, which promotes practising virtues through wisdom. In other words, psychological well-being of citizens is extremely important in a country pursuing GNH because psychological well-being influence the overall well-being of the people.
Bhutanese government attempts to identify, through the GNH, to measure socially destructive attitudes and symptoms of psycological distress and the systems to combat them. The psychological well-being domain of the GNH index helps to assess people’s subjective experience based on certain indicators. After having launched the concept of GNH, the government has introduced a set of guidelines together with a formulae to measure human well-being. Their aim is to achieve genuine happiness, inspired by the belief that Bhutan is the only country in the world that is officially pursuing the state of happiness for their citizens. The Bhutanese government believes that happiness in the end is what matters to the people.