By Mohamed Harees –
“Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke” – Will Rogers
Only this week, we saw the disgusting scenes inside the well of the parliament with both sides of the House disrupting proceedings with the constant chorus of ‘Hora’- a classic case of pot calling the kettle black. Regrettably, PM Ranil Wickremesinghe too set a bad example by leading this chorus at one point and even using another un-parliamentary P word ‘Pi..piya’(p..mp) in his speech while the Speaker stood speechless. It was in 2015 that Vasudeva Nanayakkara, called RW a P word ‘Pak..ya’, during a heated exchange of words in Parliament. This type of vulgar vocabulary and debates are much frequent in Hansard records. It therefore shows something that has come to be quite common and ordinary in the day-to-day experience in Sri Lanka. The use of dirty words (kunuharapa) and lack of respect for the rule of law by those in power, are all too common things people have all got used to. It all reveals what has come to be today’s political culture in the country- degraded and debased. As for Kunuharupa and vulgarism, who really expects any polite conversations in political discourses in the public domain anymore? Only few days ago, narcissist Trump never tired of calling racist names, chose to refer to Haiti and some African countries sh.t hole countries; didn’t’ he? TV political debates and discussions are just eyesores to say the least.
Now, in a classic case of ‘Ali Madhiwata Koti’ (one disaster following another), the country is being asked to elect their local representatives from among the same breed. Despite representations made by several civic minded bodies, mainstream parties have got emboldened to still field candidates with corrupt track records and low morals at the forthcoming LG elections. Only few parties such as JVP and NFGG have reportedly kept to their promise to field candidates with proven clean track records.
The March 12 Movement, a collective of civil society groups said that a total of 25 candidates fielded by three leading main stream political parties were lawbreakers with some having pending court cases against them and have warned that it will seek court intervention to get those ‘black hats’ expelled from running for Local Government elections in February 2018. The PAFFREL also handed over the details of the candidates who had corruption charges against them to IGP. However, according to Sri Lanka’s election law, once the District Returning Officers accept the nomination lists from political parties, there is no way of disqualifying the candidates. Therefore, going by the past, most of these shady characters will get elected, thanks to the electorate well known for its’ political amnesia and fend for themselves at the tax payers’ expense.
Despite idle boasts of this Yahapalana government to ensure good governance and fairness to all, President Sirisena’s sword of Damocles only appears to fall on politicians on a selective basis, ignoring many macro scale corrupt deals which happened in the MR era and also were allegedly committed by many bigwigs hiding within the present government too. All main characteristics of good governance – Good governance is accountable, is transparent, follows the rule of law, is responsive, is equitable and inclusive, is effective and efficient and is participatory – are largely mere mirages to hoodwink the masses.
Globally, the consequences of stagnation on control of corruption cannot be greater. The failure of governments to create merit-based systems in their societies subverts innovation, the most sustainable source of economic growth, and state capacity, which leads to political instability and distrust in government. Societies with the greatest corruption scores fall victim to en masse desertion. People flee countries where advancement in both the public and the private realms depends on connections rather than work, seeking instead merit-based societies where their talents will find recognition. Indeed, half the brain drain in the world can be traced to the absence of merit-based systems in one’s society, a factor as powerful as poverty itself.
This process of political degeneration and emergence of political clowns got accentuated specially after 1977. A ‘Creepy Clown Craze’ is thus taking over the country. It is very alarming. To be honest, this craze also happens in US, Europe, Middle East, or SE Asia too; political comics and cheats being elected to office through democratic channels, Trump being an ideal example. In Sri Lanka, political powers that be continue to ignore civil society’s calls for better governance of the public sector. Political and administrative corruption are as widespread as ever. Nepotism, cronyism, embezzlement of public funds, bribery and vote buying persist. Not just politicians, even rampant corruption prevails among high public officials too. The much hyped about the ‘Anti-Corruption Commission’ has also become another farce It is the citizen who pays the price, as demonstrated by the recent multiplication of scandals reported in the media.
Public Activism is therefore the key and should focus on five axes:
- Raising awareness among people to be dynamic – to vote for candidates with clean records
- Engaging with people, particularly the youth, more widely than ever before – for ultimately only people can stop corruption
- Speaking out more boldly and be vocal about corruption and polluted political ethics
- Working more closely with our lobbying groups and the Media to achieve this end
- To exercise more pressure on political decision makers to implement anti-corruption reforms and clean the stables
When it comes to fighting corruption, many young people are already making a big difference to the communities they live in. It was heartening to note that a positive initiative has been launched in Balapitiya where a group of dedicated set of youth with reportedly clean records under the banner ‘Youth Group towards a Winning Balapitiya’ has come forward to contest independently. According to feedback, the people of Balapitiya appears to respond to this initiative more positively. If this initiative succeeds, then this Model will be more likely to be copied by other areas as well in future elections and will also compel mainstream parties too to take clean politics seriously.
Be it as it may, the need for an anti-corruption front to mobilize the people specially the youth cannot be overstressed. The existence of a free and non-corrupt press, also for instance, is an essential component of corruption control and creation of a clean political culture, but this has been regressing for a long time. The Internet however has expanded, creating more and more e-citizens, but far from the fast pace needed to build a critical mass in developing countries like Sri Lanka. With the advent of new media, traditional community concept has however been challenged by the online community. Communities no longer exist in the physical world, but also in the virtual world that operates over the Internet as characteristics that allow individuals to connect with the people who are at a virtual distance. It facilitates the creation of their network that have similarities in terms of characteristics such as race, socioeconomic status, religion and political affiliation in turn form a network of people with different backgrounds.
The positive news has been the extensive use of social media which however has arguably becoming the single biggest factor in the success of the anti-corruption movements in many countries even in Sri Lanka, although not to be considered a ‘magic bullet’ towards democracy and transparent governance. Though all of our youth, especially in rural areas, may not have personal computers with internet access, almost all of them own mobile phones. A significant proportion of these mobile phones are equipped with internet access and social media applications, which make it easier for the organisers of any anti-corruption movement, to mobilise youth who were frustrated with reading stories of corruption on a daily basis. Mobile phones are thus revolutionizing political activism and connecting the unconnected. Whether it is crowdsourcing information from the public or delegating small tasks through micro-volunteering, social media and mobile technology can be used to effectively organize anti-corruption activists and support their efforts.
Apart from the organisation of protests through social media, there may be several other ways in which social media and the internet affect corruption. For instance, the internet and social media provide a quick yet cheap means of communication. Most stories about individual instances of corruption cannot be in the newspapers, but Facebook and Twitter allows those stories to reach a large audience. The internet can also be used to increase transparency, and increase public scrutiny and reduce the scope of discretion and misappropriation of public funds. Further, perhaps the most important contribution of social media is that it has challenged the monopoly of the government over the distribution of information. In several countries, authoritarian governments often conceal information regarding corruption in public projects, human rights violations, and other such news from the public by controlling the print and broadcast media. In Sri Lanka too, these types of bans are being frequently witnessed.
However, controlling such information has become very difficult for governments in the age of social media and the internet. While the governments in such countries do try to control content on the internet by blocking certain websites, human rights activists often find ways to share prohibited content. In several of these instances, by the time information is censored by the authorities, it is already accessed by a large fraction of the target audience through social media platforms. Moreover, while some countries openly censor information, others do not want to be seen as curtailing the access to information and freedom of speech domestically as well as internationally.
However, a word of caution about the pivotal role of the social media in fighting ‘clownism’ and corruption in politics and public life. Care should be exercised about declaring social media to be the panacea to the country’s ills. Sometimes, social media can be used to spread hate, misleading information and defame persons. Therefore, while social media may amplify many of the benefits traditionally associated with a free press and free speech, it’s important to remember those limitations too. Real, lasting change will however require recalibrating the existing social, political, and economic disparities that have always allowed elites to escape punishment. Yet this observation perhaps suggests a way that social media can be deployed more effectively than it has to date–not merely to expose corruption or mobilize the public to demand the resignation of corrupt officials, but as a tool that to rally support behind more drastic, unpopular reforms that could actually change the system.