By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
I make no secret of my welcome of the advent of a “Third Force“ into the political arena. My argument then as it remains now, is that “Professional” politicians have made such a mess over the last seventy years since Independence, that a radical change is necessary, and urgently so. Both the parties that have taken turns in running (or ruining) our nation, once held in high esteem even internationally, agree that we are in the depths of the pit. We can no longer dare to compare ourselves with the best, but have to argue that we are not the worst. In short, we cannot look upwards but merely pity our new companions at the bottom.
A cardinal factor is the loss of credibility. No one seems to believe any thing that the government or its agencies may say or do. Examples are legion, the most recent being the data relating to the Covid Pandemic.
Our thought processes and exercise of franchise are person related. To hold that our electoral choices are governed by “policy” differences is fake. The attendant corollary that our society is “politically mature” is pleasing, but faulty! The ‘average’ voter would declare that he is a “Rajapaksa person” or a “Bandaranaike or Senanayake” one, or as “kavadath Nil, Kola or whatever rainbow hue”. To hell with economic, education, health or security matters seems to be the message. Is this not the undeniable reality?
The complaint that everything is “politicized” is thus inevitable and self-inflicted. This is pushed along by the “I Factor”- exemplified by Ex-President JRJ. “Mang koranawa” optometry. This continued in relation to our War Victory twelve years ago. As has been expressed “Success has many fathers, failure is a bastard”! The “first person singular” is craftily and dangerously, transformed into a “singular First Person”. In claiming credit, “we” is much more elegant and accurate than “I”.
Unhappily, this is not so. An inevitable consequence is that all ills of a deed or misdeed is laid at the door of “The President”. However unfair this is, it sadly fashions our opinions and judgments. Being in the frontline (or limelight) attracts all the bullets. Encouragingly, “It is the fruit-laden mango is what entices the stones!”
The victory of Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as President, kindled great hope that a much-needed discipline and answerability, will be hallmarks of a revitalized Administration (which I believe to be among the “Three Pillars” of democracy). But some see the efforts such as the “Gama Samaga Pilisandara” as a cheap political gimmick. In the same breath we would favour the saying that “A good General never says “Go” to his men, but orders “Follow me!”. One measure of President Premadasa’s term was his direct attention to detail. Some may decry his style as “Micro-management” or to age-related insomnia! But few would deny that it was effective.
But, there is the possibility that it may also breed resentment in senior rungs, who may sulk into non-co-operation. But the President should also be sensitive to such reaction, and judge when he should graciously retire, once sufficient momentum has been generated for the change to proceed unaided.
There is a sense of alarm that too many Administrative positions hitherto occupied by civilians are now operated by ranks of Retired Forces personnel. The image of Forces personnel merely as uniformed thugs (which image would please the aggressive Diaspora and like-minded expatriates). The expression “Officer and gentleman” would fit better as a descriptive. From my limited contact with ex-military men, I could not see even one who would fall short of this lofty honour. Let it not be forgotten that at the point of selection for officer ranks, the most exceptional performance in competitive sports, academic and physical and proven leadership were the criteria. This, combined with rigorous training, could not but help in ensuring the cream of the cream, were our admired men in uniform. I like to continue to see them as heroes worthy of acclaim.
Despite the reservation of some, I firmly believe that the success (even partial), of the performance of the anti-pandemic campaign, belied the view that more of medical expertise in leadership would have functioned better. But the fact that the superiority of the forces in fulfilling logistic requirements is amply evident, in hurried setting up and managing quarantine, setting up camps, emergency hospitals, contact tracing, vaccination and myriad other functions has been exemplary. The medical side was also outstandingly efficient and comprehensive. The combined efforts meshed well and performed with near perfection. Together, they have done us proud. National pride in the marshalling of operative capabilities have been excellent. This is sadly lacking in many other spheres. The efficiency of the exercise as a whole is commendable.
The prospect of Sri Lanka becoming a meritocracy, is sullied by even a cursory look for examples. There is justifiably negative. It was hoped that nepotism was a blot and reforms may aim to reduce, if not eliminate this unfair practice. Even more worrying that persons who were discredited by our Courts, with specific strictures that they should never again be in paid State employment, have defiantly come back into the close circles of governance. Others with proven records, or substantial suspicion of serious embezzlement of State funds, are mockingly in positions with significant authority. There are other examples which are upsetting. Too many have quit from key positions, unable to bear the force of their conscience. The negativity of rampant nepotism is disappointing – to put I mildly.
In eliminating the drug menace, contract killings, smuggling illicit liquor and criminality in general, the sheer size of the contraband seizures is stunning. No longer in milligrams but in kilograms, not in lakhs, but millions and sometimes in trillions! Some mind boggling revelations in the Panama Papers may reveal even more salacious information. Come on Social media, put a sock in it. The required patience is killing us!