People’s sovereignty is supreme is the familiar phrase that is bandied about in the world. In some countries this holds true, but in Sri Lanka this is reversed, so much so that it is felt that there is no turning back. People through the constitution have vested their power with the Judiciary, the Executive and Legislature for right action to bring about justice and well being. In Sri Lanka today this has taken a full turn.
Let me be very plain and simple. What has happened to Sri Lanka? The country is a failed state, despite its grandiose façade of Singapore style city development – enjoyed by the elite few. In contrast there are yet villages, even those not so rural and fairly close to cities that have no basic road access nor transport. Let us have some of the organic muck back in the cities, interspersed with the vestiges of good governance that we had. But the threads of governance are slipping away slowly and surely from the fingers of the people, the polity, the citizenry. The concept of people’s supremacy, have we forgotten this? Who is serving whom? The people have been designated to serve as lackeys of politicians. The concept of the servant of the people too has gone to sleep in the way bureaucrats on the one hand, lick the hands of the politicians and kick the citizens who have to be served. Are they being paid with tax payer’s money? One fails to remember these facts.
Who has brought this upon ourselves? Let us have an open analysis about this sad state of affairs. The root cause being the I, ME AND MYSELF syndrome.
1. JR’s I, me and myself syndrome: The Executive Presidency brought in to serve his party and consolidate his own power, today has strangled the nation, so much so that it is gasping for breath through this stranglehold. To quote the Asian Legal Resource Centre writings of 1978
‘Mr. Jayawardena went into the 1977 general elections asking to be made the Prime Minister of this country. The voters overwhelmingly gave him his request. But elect him. President they did not. He did not ask it and he could not ask it. All he did was to declare that he would change the Constitution to provide for a President with executive powers who would be elected by popular vote. He is entitled to claim that the people gave him a mandate to carry through the appropriate constitutional amendments. Upon completion of that task through the appropriate processes, his task in respect of the new-style Presidency was to organize the election of a President by popular vote. If, moreover, it was his ambition to be the first such elected President, then, he would have had to seek election under whatever electoral process the amendments to the Constitution provided. That undoubtedly was also the People’s expectation. But that precisely is what Mr. Jayawardena has not done. He has neither provided for his own election by the People nor got himself elected by the People to the Presidency. He has simply imposed himself on the People by amendment of the Constitution. And imposed -himself- as the signs already show for six fateful years.’ To consolidate power the he passed a new constitution on 31 August 1978 which came into operation on 7 September of the same year. It retained the Executive Presidency with drastic and unchecked powers, and, on its adoption into law, continued him as the first Sri Lankan Executive President. Attack on the judiciary also actively commenced from his term of office with the abortive impeachment of Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon.
2. R Premadasa’s I, Me and Myself syndrome: ‘Ranasinghe Premadasa was unique among Sri Lanka’s Sinhala political elites. He was the country’s first low-caste, lower class, inner-urban head of state. However, Premadasa was not unique in his (ab)use of Buddhist doctrine to further his own political ambitions and to fuel Buddhist chauvinism. His public profile was also shaped to resemble that of a King and not that of an elected President. At special functions he sat on a specially constructed throne-like seat flanked by large ceremonial shields depicting the Sun and the Moon. In Buddhist royal legend, the Sun and the Moon are supposed to revolve around the King. Perhaps the near absolute power that Premadasa enjoyed in the Executive President position was enough to convince him that this was true for him too! Premadasa’s attempts to manufacture a political persona based on Buddhist tradition and rhetoric took Sri Lankan political ‘spin doctoring’ to new heights. The juxtaposition of his pious performances with his violent practice raises many of the central political issues that continue to dog Sri Lanka’s future.’
Extracted from‘Who is he, what is he doing?’ Religious Rhetoric and Performances in Sri Lanka during R. Premadasa’s Presidency (1989-1993)
By Josine van de Horst (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1995) Vol 2, Sri Lanka Series in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
3. Chandrika’s I ,me and myself syndrome – In her own self interest never abolished the Presidency and played the scenes in the macabre drama of the Water’s Edge land deal, the privatization of Air Lanka and many other profit making institutions, The battle for her term of office went into full swing and she was actually responsible for helicoptering the present Chief Justice, who was not a ranker into the Judiciary. Therefore lots of feathers were ruffled and the judiciary and its associated apparatus also split up, when the ranks were violated, however clever the lady – a good academic from undergraduate to doctoral level, Chevening Scholar no less. The Hon. GL Pieris was quite taken aback by this student of his, considered clever enough by him, and recommended by him no less to Her Excellency, Chandrika Bandaranaike.
4. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s I, ME, MYSELF and OURSELVES syndrome:
Has been the worst period in Sri Lankan history. To quote Tisaranee Gunasekera’s article of 11 August 2012 titled “Megalomania of Rajapaksas is Driving Country Down the Low Road Towards an Abyss”, sums up the current situation very well.
She goes onto say ‘The Rajapaksas won the war. This is their only solid achievement. Their record in every other realm is abysmal. Just last week, the newly built Norochcholai power-plant broke-down, again; and two serious errors in the 2012 AL papers were discovered. Of course, neither of the subject-ministers (both virtuosos in verbosity) resigned. Malaises are so ubiquitous under Rajapaksa Rule, if ministers started resigning whenever colossal errors were discovered in their areas of responsibility, the obese Rajapaksa cabinet will become as thin as a reed.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa lectures to the world about Lankan successes in resettlement. According to the extremely anti-Tiger V Anandasangaree, “The resettled IDPs are virtually starving. They were given dry provisions for six months only and some money. With limited scope for employment, there is hunger and famine prevailing in the Vanni District… (The Island – 23.7.2012). Under Rajapaksa Rule, everything is a smoke-and-mirrors show, sans substance.
The National Olympic Committee reportedly bought tickets worth Rs. 7 million for London 2012, and sent our entrants without a single coach! The sports sector received a massive allocation of Rs. 1,923million in 2011, not to develop Lankan sports but to hold as many international sports extravaganzas as possible (ideally in Hambantota) for the greater glory of the Rajapaksas. So as disaster follows debacle, the Rajapaksas will have no choice but to cling to their heroic status, as the sole raison d’être for their rule.
In the story of I, ME, MYSELF and OURSELVES the drama goes on with the third actor and de facto President No 3, Basil Rajapaksa’s latest attempt to centralize power and control the poorest people’s meager savings under a Dept of Divineguma, which can barely provide a plant of good quality. All the plant material provided under the current shape of the Divi Neguma rarely take life and the Divineguma beneficiary list has a lot of ghost recipients.
The list of abject corruption and failed projects of the Rajapaksa Brothers and Sons “Grimm” and their many relatives, henchmen and women, fellow politicians continue in the shape of billions and billions of ‘deals’ and commissions, personal and state land grabs, not acting on the LLRC recommendations and the suffocation of the people of the North and East, violence against women and children unchecked, attacks on the judiciary, high cost of living culminating with an I, ME, MYSELF, OURSELVES serving budget and the current attack on the Chief Justice. The icing on the cake is the budget decision on racing cars freed from tax and increases of taxes on many items consumed by the ordinary man.
This corrupt, dangerous and inept regime continues its existence through a fear psychosis driven into people through white van abductions and increasing militarization in the use of the defence forces in every sphere of controlling civilian life on a daily basis (military police now control traffic, army is doing construction as part of cities beautification programs, sports events for civilians are organized by the army, quelling the prison outbreak recently with the use of the STF, using Forces’ armed vehicles and bulldozers to flatten buildings at short notice after giving a pittance for compensation or none at all and indiscriminate use of force to quell the uprising of people against the many, many wrongs committed against them by the state).
5. Bureaucrats, Associations and NGOs, Trade Unions, Political Parties I, me and myself syndrome:
The syndrome has affected the Opposition as well as political parties including leftist parties such as the LSSP and the Communist Party.
Ranil Wickramasinghe acutely suffers from this syndrome of selfishness in wanting to continue as Leader even if he is the only member of this party left at the end of all the crossovers. Those crossing over are also suffering from this malaise as they take on the shape of the party in power to such an extent that politicians such as Mahinda Samarasinghe are now defending the vile behavior of the Rajapaksa regime in Geneva. Leftist politicians who are hanging in there for their own benefits such as Vasudeva Nanayakkara have become the mouthpieces on propaganda for the government. They have sacrificed their soul and principles for perks received for staying with these bandits.
Of the many NGOs functioning few raise their voices on governance issues for fear of reprisal. This can be justified partly as the government has made NGOs the boogyman in all matters of development and community service. The government loves to brandish this whip as this is an excuse to cover up their own inefficiencies. Few NGOs justify this treatment. This is the NGO syndrome on survival. What cannot be tolerated are upstanding professional bodies such as the Bar Association, not taking up issues efficiently and with alacrity on a united platform, as some members are afraid of loosing their own privileges. The recent appointment of President’s Counsels (PCs) is a joke as most of them do not warrant this prestigious accolade, many being stooges of the government. There has been no activism as the newly proposed PCs should have all refused to accept this title as the standard has dropped so pitifully. Again the syndrome prevails.
A word must be mentioned about the Dean of the bureaucrats, Lalith Weeratunga, who himself remains as Secretary to the President without taking a stand on any transgressions of the government. In fact he seems to aid and abet the President up the garden path and covers up many an evil deed such as the siphoning of the “Helping Hambantota” Fund. If Weeratunga was successful to any extent, atrocious deeds committed especially by the Brothers would have been reduced. If he has not been able to exact change he should resign from his post by way of taking a stand. He too is riddled with the syndrome.
6. Civil Society’s I, me and myself syndrome:
Half or more of the population that constitutes the civil society of Sri Lanka exist in a coma fighting for existence battling with the challenges of daily living and cannot be interested in activism of any sort. Furthermore this segment of the population does not take the time to read or access information. They are also encapsulated in the syndrome which takes the shape of survival. However they do crave religious salvation to get out of this suffering and can be easily hoodwinked with the likes of exhibiting Kapilavastu relics which make them momentarily forget the problems of living. The government played an adept role in showing these relics in the midst of Provincial Council elections.
The rest live in an elitist world of comforts and luxuries such as 4 wheel drives, visits to hotels, clubs and luxury spas, trips abroad and an insatiable acquisition of assets, very often ill gotten by doing service to the very people of the regime in the form of wheeler dealing and earning commissions. These are the people furthest from wanting change as this would upset their comfortable existence and standing in Society. They suffer from the very worst form of this syndrome.
A SRI LANKAN SPRING FOR CHANGE?
However much all segments of Sri Lankan people live with the Syndrome, they are likely to act when aspects of bad governance enter into their personal space, interests and aspirations hindering progress. Several groups have risen up against the atrocious behavior of the government in the past two years. These include several groups of workers, the most prominent being the Free Trade Zone workers, university teachers, the GMOA, nurses, CEB, Railway Unions, lawyers, farmers, clergy and most recently prisoners as well as Civil Society organizations. The uprising is gaining momentum. However leadership at an Apex level will be necessary to have an Arab Spring style effective change or a set of event which have a central focus. The impeachment of the Chief Justice has provided such an event. But it is up to all members of civil society to shed themselves of self interest and apathy, not to be bought over by the government which is particularly good at this, to exact change, if not as Martin Niemoller said
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.