By Vishwamithra1984 –
“Progressive rhetoric has the effect of concealing social crisis and moral breakdown by presenting them as the birth pangs of a new order.” ~Christopher Lasch
Each passing day announces a deviation from the norm; each passing week signals a break from the bureaucracy’s usually pervasive disciplined message of transparency and accountability. Both transparency and accountability have come to be known as hackneyed phrases drastically exploited by politicians prior to elections and never followed up when they assume power. No democracy in the world, present or past has upheld the lofty ideals in total they tried to sell during an election campaign. Viewed purely as a marketing operation, election campaigning is essentially an operation that is launched in order to persuade voters to vote your way. As much as a travelling salesman knocks on a stranger’s door and commences his sales pitch to sell a lemon in a sugar-coated veneer as an orange, politicians and their surrogates and henchmen try to persuade the consumer, the voter, to buy what they don’t need. But the salesman tries his best to convince the voter of a dire want, instead of a realistic need, to buy and possess the product that he is trying to sell.
This unending process of buying and selling of a product whose substantive value is very much in question, despite the very short-lived shelf life of the plusses of the product, continues to trouble a conscientious voter and those who make their minds for the argument try to live with their choice with uncertainty and anxiety. Transparency and accountability are two sophisticated concepts that have been talked about, discussed and written books and essays about, especially during the last five or six decades. In a dictatorship or a monarchy, these two concepts did not have a chance of a snowball in hell to live longer than 24 hours. Governments and states that were not consistent with the fundamental principles of democratic elections and people’s participation never had to answer to an electorate whose values and measures are diametrically opposed to those who governed. A monarch assumed power of governance over his or her subjects by lineage while dictators merely came to occupy the seats of power through coercion, coup d’état or violent revolutions. Though they claim that the service of the people is their ultimate purpose, their modus operandi remains the subject of derision and denunciation of the subject people.
The real and universal idea that is unseen behind transparency and accountability on the part of the rulers is the rule of law. What happens in the absence of transparency and accountability is the breakdown of the rule of law. What was prevalent and rampant during the last ten to twenty years in Sri Lanka was the sad and lamentable breakdown of the rule of law. When the rule of law breaks down, what replaces it is somewhat sinister in nature and morbid in character. Whatever that enters the mind of the ruler becomes law and he or she commences their process of governance or rule in terms of the likes and dislikes that are inherent in their own warped and convoluted world. It is this process that gives birth to maniacal dispensation of justice and integrity defined in their own small cocoonish universe.
The rule of the Rajapaksas during the ten years preceding the 2015 Presidential Elections very much represented this mindset and the unmerciful streaming of a perverted process of dispensation of justice further bared open a mindset of a ruling family whose propensities were confused with self-righteous belief that the cessation of the war and its declared victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and Prabhakaran justified each and every step that they took towards the advancement of their own selfish cause. That selfish cause was self-aggrandizement, personal glory, unlimited extension of power through amassing of cash and muscle power and paving the bureaucratic way with their own kith and kin with no attention to prudence and political frugality. This unchecked cascading of deliverances to their kith and kin and immediate cohorts and henchmen and henchwomen, ultimately took their toll. People could not stomach it any longer; nor could they disregard it as another system of ruling the country with any sense of fairness and balance.
The rampant corruption and nepotism, exacting vengeance form political opponents, dispensing with them in the most criminal and gruesome manner (Lasantha’s killing and Ekneligoda’s disappearance), amassing of wealth and material riches hitherto unknown to average Sri Lankan mind were the symbolic caricatures that dominated the Presidential Election platforms and rallies. The people finally came to a realization that what was taking place under their own feet was not just an aberration; it was not just a malpractice of political behavior. But what took all by surprise is the corrosion of the entire system, layer by layer at every level of the once-glorified bureaucracy. From peon to the Government Agent (GA), from driver to the security guard, from clerk to the corporation chairman, exchange of cash and other demonstrable goodies had become the norm instead of an exception. With such a corrupted government machinery from the political head to the officialdom, the campaign that was embarked upon by the United National Party (UNP) and its allies with Maithripala Sirisena as its head attracted a host of supporters from every corner of the political and punditry spectrum in the country.
In the wake of this thrashing the Rajapaksas received both at the elections and more so in the powerful corridors of unofficial power such as leading Buddhist Temples, university lecture halls and Colombo-based social gatherings and cocktail circuits, the President who assumed office had fairly a large responsibility to discharge. Every move and an attempt of a move came into close scrutiny, firstly of the parliamentary groups such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and secondly outside influences in the likes of those organizations and institutions which identified themselves with the campaign of the opposition to the Rajapaksas.
This is the backdrop against which Maithripala Sirisena’s criticism of the activities and process of investigations by the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe and other bodies such as Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FDIC) need to be looked at and critiqued. Without holding any brief for President Sirisena, I can very safely say that his determination to bring those who have been alleged to have committed some unspeakable misdeeds, some bordering on criminal, is steady and consistent as ever. His commitment to bringing the culprits before a lawful forum and exposing them to the hilt is totally devoid of any sense of vengeance and retaliation. He is far above that kind of petty political demeanor.
Yet the question still remains whether any acceleration of the process would take place and any redeemable notion of fair-play would ensue. Any difference of opinion or adoption of policies between the Prime Minister and President would be discarded the moment such a notion appears on the horizon, for both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe realize that either can’t do without the other. Unfortunately for the Rajapaksas, this bond between the Prime Minster and President has gained greater strength with each passing day and with each passing Cabinet meeting.
Birth pangs of Yahapalanaya are taking their insufferable pains and torture along a most winding route. Those who wished for a quick and swift dispensation of justice, or more aptly described as revenge, are finding it hard to assimilate the slow process of the rule of law. Yahapalanaya is not dispensation of justice in an unjust shape, way or form. Law and order is necessarily slow but unmistakably fairer and more right. The country is going through a system that was intensely corrupt and trying to adjust to a more just and fair system of governance. Those pangs will continue to haunt a generation of voters who thought that they were being governed by some right-thinking rulers and competent officials. When the entire gamut of government is pregnant with a corrupt and contaminated fetus, when the delivery of the ‘new’ is so daunting and formidable, when the real dynamics of working out a coalition is still a work-in-progress, patience on the part of those who wished for a swifter transition from the corrupt to the incorrupt and the corruptible to the incorruptible might have a to wait a little longer. That is the reality of politics and that is the reality of good governance – Yahapalanaya.
The sweeping changes that were anticipated have not materialized. Accountability and transparency, the key centers of a fair government are yet to be established. S W R D Bandaranaike, when questioned about his slow process to implement the sweeping changes he pledged during the 1956 campaign, quoted Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Marine” thus:
“Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze –
On me alone it blew.”
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org