By Somapala Gunadheera –
I was tempted to write this piece by the outspoken remarks of an Island editorial under the title “O tempora! O mores!” After highlighting a list of failures by a young minister holding an important portfolio, the editorial raised the question, “If it (the Government) had been really serious about developing vital sectors … it would have got very senior Cabinet members to helm the relevant ministries without turning them into playpens for politicians still wet behind the ears.”
It is public knowledge that the level of performance of the current executive is below par. Youth and inexperience, as pointed out by the above editorial, is only one of the reasons that have downgraded its output. While some operatives are ‘wet behind their ears’, at the other end of the scale are found some others who are ‘long in their years’. Listening to their trembling voices on the electronic media, one wonders how they could deliver the goods expected of them effectively. While all other vocations have an age of retirement, politics has become the exception in which one can stumble up to his death. It is hoped that the promised code of ethics, when it appears at last, would fix an inviolable upper limit to those who live by their votes. Fixing a minimum age limit for ministers and deputies would also control the scramble for portfolios, bringing our mammoth Cabinet within civilized standards. In addition, the move will act as a barricade against greenhorns who aspire to use their connections to handle portfolios in which they are out of depth.
There are yet other Ministers who continue from crisis to crisis but they carry on unchecked in the face of sanctions and criticism. They appear to depend on old school ties. A fourth category is supposed to be under a cloud but they are allowed to continue in office without any visible investigations and indictments. These shortcomings have left a negative impression in the public mind, depressed by the belief that nothing positive happens, despite the immensity of the management team entrusted with a distribution of duties that has many gaps alongside duplications. The only activity that is conspicuous to the man in the street is a plethora of arrests and remands of prominent members of the last regime. Not one of those thus exhibited in public have been convicted by a Court of Law, so far. People are getting fed up with this exhibitionism and if any prosecution is successfully concluded at some future date, no one would take the matter seriously. A typical case, in which the process defeats the purpose!
All these hiccups point to one failure of the new Government. After nearly two years in office, they have failed to get their act together. This failure appears to stem from two main causes, one structural and the other personal. So far the Government has not been able to gear its machinery to achieve its targets efficiently. Although there may be certain shortcomings in the machinery available to Government, it has failed to put it right under an effective organization. A conspicuous example is the amateurish handling of prosecutions against the aforesaid politicians. Leaders are heard blaming the public service for this situation but what they do not understand is that the basic cause for this awkward lethargy is the failure of those in power to make prompt and effective decisions to replace incompetent officers and to introduce effective systems and procedure.
Now that Ranil Wickremesinghe has become the principal decision maker under a coalition with a weaker partner, the onus of decision making falls squarely on his lap. The speed of Government is set at his pace. He cannot afford to forget what happened when he was in power last. Placed in a strong position after the general election at the turn of the century, it looked as if Ranil would soon capture the slender vestiges of power still left with his opponent. His supporters were pushing him hard to act fast and impeach the President out of power. But that was not to be. With Hamlet like hesitation, Ranil was dragging his feet until the carpet was pulled under his feet, unexpectedly, at the opportune moment. All his grandiose plans to make the country a better place to live in fell by the wayside and RW was exiled to the political wilderness for many years. Back in power, he cannot afford a repetition of that debacle. He has to act ‘come or go, Chicago’.
The immediate cause for the current hesitation appears to be the oncoming local government election. The mood of the electorate may have changed for the worse after the last general election due to added financial burdens and stagnancy. This time around however, the rival configuration is such that inaction cannot put RW completely out of power, though he might lose his two/thirds majority. A few electorates may be lost to the Government, if a local government election is held and that number will increase in proportion with the delay to hold the election. However, that cannot have a substantial effect on the ruling coalition. It can confidently settle down to implementing the economic programmes that RW is trying to create, running all-over the world. If that could be done effectively, even some members in the Joint Opposition may decide to cross over in due course. With a self-satisfied electorate and its adversaries subdued by economic gains and successful and impartial prosecution of the corrupt, the governing coalition can confidently retain its power.
The latest debacle of the Government is the Bond Scam. Things have got so much out of hand that even the role of the proverbial Mr. Clean has come to be challenged. Although the general public may not be convinced by that allegation, it is in RW’s own interests to prove his innocence before a delayed defence gives credence to the charge levelled by his critics. We are told day by day, that the matter would be referred to Courts for a decision. That is not all. There are other proposed alternatives like appointing a Presidential Commission to make recommendations. Parliament would pass the final verdict but it would be inoperative until the investigations are over. Here again the government’s fault lies with its habitual tendency to drag its feet on burning issues.
The allegation against RW is centered on his alleged cliquish tendencies. However, prompt investigation may reveal other motives for the alleged scam. Was the instruction to deviate from course, if any, made by the urgency to meet commitments undertaken with the change of Government? Did any unlawful benefit accrue to the instructor from his instruction? The bona fides of RW can be established only by a proper investigation held into the matter expeditiously. Coming to think of the Government’s recurrent problem of procrastination, the solution appears to lie in the Prince of Lanka acquiring the resoluteness, the persistence and the detachment of Lady Macbeth.