By Sarath de Alwis –
“We know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”~ Donald Rumsfeld
‘Coitus whilst concealing cojones is a risqué but a refreshingly apt Sinhala quip which ridicules blatantly obvious subterfuge of charlatans. Cojones in context is courage to do something. The absence of cojones implies undersupply of courage. The relevance of the pithy expression compels me to use it to anchor this commentary on the UNP led good governance of the past eighteen months.
There is nothing wrong with Arjuna Mahendran making a comeback in the admiration of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe. If the Prime Minister wishes to tell the president ‘up yours’ it is his privilege. That does not mean that we the people who voted for the change of 8th January 2015 should remain silent.
Time has come for plain and honest speaking. There was a time when we mistakenly believed that the change of 8th January would help people understand how the government operated. We hoped that it would encourage people’s participation in political decisions. We hoped that government officials and ministers would be held accountable.
President watching the vote on the 19th amendment
A president wavering between quid pro quo politics and the promise of good governance has painted himself to a corner. The grand alliance he hoped to forge when he announced his candidacy at the new town hall on 22nd November 2014 has not unfolded in the manner he and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga planned. They reckoned that a defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa would ipso facto deliver them control of the SLFP. It turned out to be dreadful delusion.
President Sirisena kept his pledge of making the leader of the UNP the prime minister of the interim administration of hundred days. Nivard Cabraal left his castle. Mohan Pieris raised his drawbridge. How the ‘Royalist Regent’ handled the two situations is contemporary history.
The parliamentary debate on the 19th Amendment was reflective of the pernicious impact of the central bank bond blunder. The word blunder instead of scandal is used with a purpose. May be there was no impropriety on the part of Arjuna Mahendran. Perhaps the role of others remains to be unraveled. That said, the primary dealer – the company connected to his son law did indeed profited from the transaction.
The appointment of the Presidential sibling to head the high profile state telecom was also a signal that promise would not match performance. The ‘Yaha Palanaya’ had lost its moral high ground by the time the 19th Amendment was passed.
What we have witnessed in the past eighteen months is quite different from what was expected by the movement for a just society. I don’t recall any Royal college alumni at those meetings at the Naga Viharaya Kotte. I am now advised that Mr. Javed Yousef a regular at the Naga Viharaya in those bleak days is not only a Royalist but played rugby for the school as well. That he is not prominent in the firmament of Mr. Malik Samarawikrama should tell us something.
It has been the practice of this government to simulate virtues of transparency by rhetoric. The transparency of the UNP administration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has displayed exceptional skills of obscuring methodically and obfuscating routinely. It has displayed a phenomenal capacity to frustrate any attempt to reach political transparency by manufacturing new explanations for old maladies. In the case of the Central Bank bond blunders, it has adopted three distinct strategies.
First it relied on the ‘straw man’ gambit. This strategy attempted to identify a particular aspect of the argument of the opponent. It was then demolished and made the accusers look bad and them as paragons of virtue. The rhetorical query “does anyone here know what bonds are?” and the three member committee constituted the strawman strategy. The idea was to frame the issue based on their interpretation of events, while actually avoiding the real issues. It did not succeed.
Next they adopted the Alice in Wonderland strategy. They stubbornly resisted any discussion and adopted a convoluted logic to prevent a meaningful exposure of material facts. This too did not succeed.
The latest stratagem is more desperate. They are challenging the proof presented. They demand new proof. In this process, the member with Calvinist ethics is constrained. He does not measure up to the grueling task. A new member has to be coopted. Enter the recent flood hero who retailed other people’s charity under his brand. The road to ‘nirvana’ has plenty of toll gates in our sacred land. The new strategy calls for innovative action in playing dumb. Dispute the evidence presented.
Evidence may be lying somewhere but they are confident that it is either safely erased or hidden in another place which is yet to be probed. It has compelled them to challenge the statement made by an independent government authority- the Auditor General.
In a piece I wrote in the Colombo Telegraph on 29th April 2015 – ‘A season of light, A season of darkness’ a day after the passage of the 19th Amendment, I described its passage as a transition from the Rajapaksa Kleptocracy to a defective democracy under President Sirisena.
I said “The election of President Maithripala Sirisena was a near miracle brought about by multiple groups with contradictory aims. The minorities and minority parties wanted to dislodge a despot. The JVP wanted to frustrate a fascist regime. The UNP wanted to regain office. President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to regain the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.”
The fourth Executive President and the Sixth President with diminished executive powers are yet to get their act in order. The Prime Minister has got what he wanted.
In the past eighteen months, every political maneuver of the President has been made to resolve an existential crisis of his presidency. His last hour intervention on electronic media on the eve of the parliamentary elections kept his principal opponent at bay. His intervention also helped the UNP to crawl in to a marginal victory. Today the Prime Minister is his shadow adversary, safely cloistered in office for the next three years while he is the lame duck President precluded from calling a general election for four and a half years from the day he swore in the government.
His strategy of avoiding a major collision until amendments to the election law for parliamentary elections and or revision of the constitutional order may not be easy.
If the Prime Minister coopts the former central bank governor in another high profile role in the government before the resolution of the Bond controversy, it would only confirm his disdain for public opinion. If he does that, he would be following Diogenes who showed his contempt for the oratory of Demosthenes. Showing the middle finger with other fingers folded under the thumb is an expression of insult and belittlement resorted to by arrogant wielders of power from the days of democratic discourse of ancient Athens.