By Kusal Perera –
All Constitutional Pundits who talked popular politics prior to and during the past presidential elections have been proved quite silly in how they guaranteed the constitutional amendment process for abolition of presidency. Abolition of the Presidency cannot be constitutionally handled in the simple way they said was possible. The SC decided it needs more than the 2/3 majority these pundits said is enough and could be manipulated from within this parliament. It needs people’s endorsement at a Referendum. In fact any structural change to the State and its executive powers has to go before the people for endorsement at a referendum, as the SC decided on the FR petitions it received on the 19th Amendment. I in fact was more ruthless than the SC in accepting this parliament as a legitimate representative body for any reforms proposed and I said so.
Having voted for the amateurish proposals the Opposition campaigned promising change backed by these urban “experts”, the whole country is now in a right royal mess. Parliament has no valid Opposition, a necessity for a healthy democracy. UPFA led by SLFP does not know whether they are in the government or in the Opposition. They want both. To be ministers in the government and lead the Opposition too. The Speaker passes on the responsibility of choosing a “leader of the Opposition” to the very group that created the confusion. The Wickremesinghe government that wasn’t elected, is less than half the majority needed in parliament to govern even a single day. President Sirisena used his executive powers that was promised to be abolished, to honour his private agreement with Wickremesinghe and appointed him as PM with his own cabinet. While stumbling along with a 100 Day programme geared for good governance, SLFP that was thrown to the Opposition joins the cabinet with over dozen portfolios. 93 days gone out of the 100 Days, everything important is yet to be finalised between fighting factions within the government.
The usual conspiracies and manipulations continue with political leaders trying to assert their dominance to stay in power. After defecting from the party to contest as the Common Opposition Candidate wholly backed by the UNP, MS was appointed President of the SLFP and the UPFA after elections. Yet the defeated President MR who was accused of arrogant family rule with mega corruption never seen in post independent Ceylon and then Sri Lanka, still roams the Sinhala society as a popular contender to the post of PM at the next elections. He has gradually encroached the SLFP voter base and the governing organs of the party. MS was thus compelled to sack 05 MPs who were Central Committee members in fear of MR gaining control of the party.
This for the first time has left the whole State apparatus also in a quandary. The usual procession of officials, who after an election sneak back to office after changing ties, wasn’t seen this time. The officials weren’t sure this new “rainbow” government could take control of its own political destiny to pledge their wholehearted co-operation. That is also a reason, why all agitations against corruption still have not got off the ground. This despite the PM establishing a special fraud investigation unit headed by DIG Waidyalankara and the President appointing his own 05 member Commission of inquiry. Nothing has started moving for the society to feel they are being governed by a newly elected President and a new set of ministers with a PM. People are left bewildered over their own fate.
Meanwhile all issues this country has to have answers for, has been reduced to the 19th Amendment and Electoral reforms. Arguments pre and post elections defined all ills in society as solely due to overwhelming powers accrued in a single person as Executive President that had led to arrogant and authoritative rule restricted to a single family with mega corruption. The people were thus told, this country now needs abolition of presidency with electoral reforms to elect a decent parliament. Discussing anything more was labelled as means to defeat this holy crusade for good governance. Self appointed civil society leaders from the NGO community felt important playing ball with political leaders, restricting themselves to high blown very abstract theoretical arguments on democracy, good governance and electoral reforms. With most, they were all about getting power by ousting MR and nothing more. They were like infants in a “Montessori” group fighting for a packet of sweets.
It’s now been clearly proved; we are not into real issues. We are roaming anti clockwise around what dumb and corrupt politicians are after. It says, the whole society is ailing from an intellectual leadership crisis. There are far deeper issues that need a serious social discourse than what is being touted around as reforms. We blame this government for not bringing in right people to right places. Ministry secretaries are blamed for inefficiency and lethargy. Police department is still acting the way it did and the government is unable to turn it around. Change of heads in most places have not changed anything for tangible results. We live with professionals who aren’t professionals respecting professional ethics. Academics that aren’t academics and does not know what sabbatical leave is meant for. Medical doctors who wouldn’t know the difference between profits, perks and privileges and the lives of patience. Accountants who do not want to know the difference between auditing and rampant corruption. Public administrators who can’t live without political stooging for placements, promotions and perks. These cannot be put to right with Independent Commissions and electoral reforms. Reforms are necessary but they are not all in finding answers. For it’s all about developing human resources the right way with dignity and quality.
Though late, it is time to take a serious look into our dilapidated education system that cannot produce the right quality for any service. Erosion in education quality is in every way tied to the much hyped post 56 people’s era. The fault was not in deciding the mother language as the medium of education right up to university education. The fault was in establishing an introvert Sinhala ideology that took over every aspect of social and personal life. Bandaranaike ideology dragged the whole Sinhala society into a selfish pride that rejected everything outside the Sinhala society and in particular, the Western world. For its own strength, this Sinhala ideology went back in history to talk of a 2,500 year old heritage, when we actually had to move forward to the future. Educational content, the curricula and syllabuses thus came to be designed to suit this introvert ideology in the name of national pride (සිය රට දේ – සිරි සැප දේ)
With that introvert ideology we lost on what we could have otherwise gained from global knowledge, science and technology and information the post second world war societies created anew. Closed societies have always lagged behind in human civilisation. It had always been open societies with cultures that were willing to access new knowledge, technology, skills and information and assimilate them to their own advantage that always prospered. It is within such cultures that education could play a positive role in producing its own intelligentsia. It’s own giants in many fields of study and professions. That remains the plain reason why for over 50 years in post ’56 Sri Lanka, the popular Sinhala turn has not been able to produce any who could stand along with pre ’56 political giants like D.S., J.R, N.M, Colvin, G.G Snr., S.J.V, cultural artistes like Chitrasena-Vajira, Panibharatha, Sunil Shantha, Amaradeva, Sarachchandra, Siri Gunasinghe, Lester J. Peiris, trade unionists like Bala Tampoe, D.G.William and Pelis Serasinghe, free thinkers like Kovoor and Adikaram. And even internationally recognised figures like Gamini Corea and Weeramanthry. All who came into these fields after ‘56 as public figures including politicians are mere dwarfs when left beside those old personalities.
Education so made for an introvert political agenda lost depth and quality. Every generation it turned out was like photocopying from a photo copy. Children who entered Grade I got pushed up with no proper education and then we tried to pick the “cream” out of educationally malnourished children for universities. It is these products who came out of universities with a degree certificate who were thereafter taken as graduates, qualified to teach in universities and in schools. What they produced was lesser in quality than them. A dumb education system cannot produce quality youth for a country’s future. So dumb are most present day uni academics, they cannot even create their own new jokes. They keep rattling out jokes their lecturers had told them as heard from their gurus, perhaps 20-30 years ago.
The education system that thus lost its importance could not maintain teaching as an attractive employment opportunity. No urban middle class parent would want their children to be teachers any more. Teaching is preferred in rural society for daughters as a job that suits best for employed mothers. Half a day job with 03 months holiday in a year for school children that gives teachers a holiday too with full pay being the only attraction. There is no interest among teachers to go on further training and knowledge gaining. Not even teacher trade unions demand such career benefits for teachers. This mediocrity can never produce youth for a futuristic society. Having turned out such mediocrity for over 30 years, we are now laden with such, in every department, ministry, corporation, universities and in parliament too.
Unless and until we decide to probe these deficiencies through serious social dialogue, compromised popular reforms will not bring any answers for us to climb out of this abyss of social crisis. Thus it should be the New Year Resolution this time to engage in serious talk on major issues like education and the best to crown the deflated 100 day programme, running out of steam even as a popular slogan.