By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
To reassure that “My-3” – CBK–Wickremesinghe–Sirisena — meant business and should be taken seriously before casting the vote of January 8, 2015 a time-table was set to impress the voters that the Manifesto comes with a day-to-day schedule guaranteeing progress leading to the promised “ideal country”. We have now arrived on February 9 – time to test how far the political guarantors of the Manifesto had progressed during the first 30 days of the first 100 days.
Of course, it is too early to pass judgment on the totality of the promises. But, at least, it is possible to probe the early indicators which could point to where the “My-3” trio are heading? Are we making any substantial progress advancing towards “the ideal country” as promised in the “My-3” Manifesto? Or are we being taken for a ride with some cosmetic changes that will eventually take us back to square one?
The success or failure of “My-3” can be measured only by the fulfillment of the promises kept by the new regime. What they hoped/promised to achieve can be summarized in one single concept which caught the imagination of the voter : change for “Yaha Palanaya” (good governance) through a new constitution within 100 days. Serious political commentators – not the starry-eyed ones — knew that this time-table cannot be realized in 100 days and, true enough, the architects of the “100-day Agenda” have failed to keep up with the over-ambitious timetable. Knowing the overall complexities and magnitude of the promises it was inevitable that the “My-3” apparatchiks should fall behind. That is understandable though not acceptable. No responsible leader has a right to make promises which can’t be delivered.
But in politics the norm is for promises run to peaks in one direction on hot air and time tables to run in the opposite direction, going down the pallang, as they say in the vernacular. So at this early stage what can be measured are the initial steps taken to keep the faith with the voters who were made to believe that the promised “change” (when-a-suck) is coming for good.
What is important is not keeping to the “100-days” timetable, as promised, but the change (when-a-sir) per se. What then are the big and dramatic changes initiated so far by the “My-3” regime to confirm the hopes for the all-important when-a-sir?
The President himself is playing his role in a low-key, cutting down the pomp and ceremonies and even titles and honorifics, to underscore his promise of reducing the Presidency to the optimum. There is no doubt that his simplicity and political piety is coming out strongly, giving the impression that there is a tangible change in the elaborate political rituals that preceded his regime. That, of course, is only one aspect. The real issue will come to the fore only when the use of his presidential powers manifests itself in governance. More of this later.
“My-3” regime made a good start by appointing young Ruwan Wijewardene as the Minister of State for Defence to deal with security — a key and sensitive issue that still keeps every one edge in the post-Nandikdal period. His self-effacing, unobtrusive demeanour, quite in contrast to the militaristic nature of the job, runs parallel with that of the Minister of Defence, the President,who projects himself practically on all occasions as the Minister for Maithri – Baha-wanas and Upa-saka-ammas rather than regimented Army Commanders and IGPs.
However, both the President and his State Minister for Defence seem to work in tandem, giving a sympathetic ear to the advice of the Mahanayakes in particular who had cautioned them about de-militarizing and downgrading the forces at the expense of the nation’s security. According to media reports, Ruwan had been approached by the US officials and, though I do not know what transpired, I hope the State Minister told them that Sri Lanka is following the good example of America which has established roughly 1,000 bases round the globe even though World War II ended nearly 70 years ago.
It is imperative that the international community should accept the commonly shared principle which grants the states the right to deploy their forces to any place of its choice within its sovereign borders. No state, federal or unitary, gives the right to the periphery to decide where forces should be stationed for national security. In short, no foreign state, nor a local administration, has the right to dictate to a sovereign state where it should locate its troops. Wijewardene’s unequivocal message delivered to the forces, underlining that there will be no change in the stationing of forces in the north, is reassuring and a relief to the nation as a whole.
An equally good appointment is that of H. M. G. S. Palihakkara as Governor of the North. This appointment is not only in keeping with the spirit of the times but also a necessity to appease India and the West. It would also take the sting out of the attack of the Tamil Diaspora that paints the North as a militarized gulag with bayonets pointing permanently at the back of every Jaffna Tamil. Above all, Palihakkara has the requisite diplomatic skills to calm and soothe the tense and irritable nerves of the over-sensitive Tamil touch-me-nots who are ever ready to blame anything and everything – even the killing of Tamils and Muslims by Prabhakaran — on the Sinhalese.
Then, of course, there is Ravi Karunanayake’s mini-budget where he distributed some goodies with an eye to win votes (for the UNP!) in the proposed general election due to be declared in mid-April. As usual, he has got his priorities mixed up. Like the way he rushed to Pamankada thinking it is Alimankada he has rushed to reduce the price of sugar for a nation riddled with diabetes. It is like reducing the price of cigarettes to ease the pain of cancer patients. Despite some temporary relief the budget, as a whole, is a one-off gimmick. No budget can play the role of Father Christmas day in day out. Rationalizing the distribution of resources and fiscal discipline are bound to come later.
There are, however, early signs of the euphoria waning and disillusionment setting in. The opinion poll of Business Times revealed that the confidence in the National Unity Government is waning. Though the drop in popularity is marginal it is significant that the drop has come in rather early.
Of course, the decline is to be expected as it is rather difficult to maintain the momentum on which NUG came into power. The high expectations created by the Manifesto were bound to erode day by day with NUG running into various snags. So far everything has gone fine because there has been some tinkering only at the surface level. The sensitive and deep-rooted fundamentals have not been touched yet to create possible destabilizing turbulence. “My-3” is still operating on the socio-economic foundations laid by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Literally and metaphorically, “My-3” is actually running smoothly down the highways and byways constructed by the Rajapaksas.
In fact, the economy which, we were told, was about to come crashing down on our heads under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has suddenly become a sound and robust economy with seven months reserves. When the Rajapaksas were in power a myriad scare stories were circulated to downgrade the economy. Dr. Harsha de Silva, the economic expert of the UNP, was howling from roof tops that Central Bank had cooked up figures, the overheated economy will meltdown, mounting debts will be unserviceable, low production in all sectors was a serious threat to export earnings, foreign reserves and the future of the economy, increasing unemployment and rising costs of living are looming large in horizon etc. Cassandras were ringing alarm bells loudly in our ears warning that these threatening forces were all gathering a momentum to grind the national economy to a halt. But the new Governor of the Central Bank Arjun Mahendra, is expressing confidence in the economy and projects a positive picture which has not been contradicted by the new Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake either. So how did the grim economy under Mahinda Rajapaksa suddenly, sus gala, become a sound economy overnight? Anyway, the fact that the new governor can read the figures accurately must be read as a positive sign of the “My-3” regime.
Another development is the TNA attending the Independence Day celebrations. Though it is not a part of the government promises it should be welcomed because it augurs well for the promotion reconciliation – a vital necessity for whoever is in power. However, one has to be wary about this because not even the TNA knows how long this will last.
These and a few others can be put in the “Okay” basket. But the “Nokay”’ basket too is filling up on the other hand. Take, for instance, the following cases:
*Virulent politics seems to have been injected into the economy confusing the market and investors. One of the biggest development project is Port City development. Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP), citing environmental concerns, (read: China) is threatening to cancel the project. Rajitha Senaratne (SLFP) says that an environmental study has been made initially and the Cabinet has agreed to go ahead with the project as there is nothing wrong with the project. In the meantime, Wickremesinghe has kick-started his usual trick of appointing committees to problems he can’t handle. When he was Prime Minister he appointed nearly a hundred committees with Bradman Weerakoon as chairperson. Neither of the two had the time nor the inclination to proceed beyond putting a name board to the committees. So we can expect this to be the first of the many committees that Wickremesinghe will appoint to politically dodge/postpone/pigeonhole decisions.
*Then comes the first use of power by President Maithripala Sirisena. It is a startling start for a leading champion of democracy and rule of law. The entire election campaign pivoted round the promise of not to abuse presidential power to subvert law and order. Under the promised “Yaha Palanaya (good governance) rule of law was going to be a corner stone of its regime. The sole objective of the constitutional change was to pare down the authoritarian powers of the Presidency and restore the lost powers of Parliament. President Maithripala Sirisena had the grand opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to this principle when the issue of the tenure of the Chief Justice, Mohan Pieris, was taken up by the “Maithri” Palanaya. The pen he used to sack Pieris without going through due process proved to be deadlier than the arbitrary use of the sword by a dictator. In one stroke he removed the Chief Justice and re-installed the dismissed Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, disregarding the precedent he himself set by duly going through the Select Committee process as prescribed in the Constitution to remove Shirani Bandaranayake. In other words, President Sirisena who promised from every political platform to restore the powers, privileges and the rights of Parliament has done exactly the opposite by brushing aside the Parliament – the only authority recognized by the Constitution to remove judges – and dictatorially using his pen to stage a “judicial coup” by overthrowing a judge of the highest court of the land. One of the primary objects of the anti-Rajapakse campaign was to restore the supremacy of the Parliament. But with one stroke of the pen President Sirisena has confirmed the supremacy of the Presidency over Parliament. The first step of any authoritarian rule is also to target the judiciary. Removing judges that do not please the regime of the day is the primary means of legitimizing diktats of authoritarian regimes. President Sirisena has no excuse to do what he did because he was an integral part of the Parliamentary process adopted by the previous regime of which he was a leading member. The argument that Select Committee process adopted to remove Shirani Bandaranayake was flawed is not tenable for the President to remove Mohan Pieris by an arbitrary diktat issued from his office. With his past experience the legally valid alternative was to remove Mohan Pieris by adopting the correct parliamentary procedure, or the same procedure adopted to remove Shirani Badnaranayake, and not by a diktat issued by the President. If the President’s argument is that the appointment of Mohan Pieris is invalid because of an erroneous parliamentary procedure then it was the duty of President Sirisena to put it right by adopting the correct parliamentary procedure to remove Mohan Pieris, using the powers of Parliament and not the Presidency. What President Sirisena has done is to exercise his powers to override the supreme powers of Parliament. Does two wrongs add up to one right? This knowing violation of the Constitutionally enshrined process has sent shivers down the spine of the nation. If he can remove the Chief Justice with one stroke of the pen how can others feel secure with him as President? If he can violate the laws of the land and arbitrarily dismiss the Chief Justice without going through the due process how safe are the lesser individuals under the new “My-3” dictatorship?
*Then came the JVP accusation of the President’s brother illegally sand-mining the banks of Mahaveli.
*Also the newspapers went to town with his son, Dham, parading in Race Course complex with 40 PSDs at a time when the ministers security personnel was cut down.
*After lambasting the Mahinda Rajapaksa government for family bandyism came the shocking news of appointing president’s brother to head the Telecom.
*After lambasting the Mahinda Rajapaksa government for cronyism comes the appointment of Kavan Ratnayake, the brother of young Sagala Ratnayake, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s favourite MP who accompanies him on his regular trips abroad.
*Along with that came the shocking news that the newly appointed Governor of the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendra, did not know that his son-in-law was into financial trading. Of all the spins available in the global market place can it be believed that Arjuna, who is touted as the man who knows the Asian markets like his own family, learnt about his son’s financial dealings from the newspapers? After this can the stock market trust the word of the new Governor of the Central Bank? Is this going to be the standard in producing the vital statistics for the credibility of the national economy? Was Arjuna brought as a substitute for Wickremesinghe’s earlier “wizard” in the Treasury, Paskaralingam?
*Take also the case of appointing Ravi Karunanayake as the Finance Minister when he is facing charges of money laundering in the courts. To rub salt into this wound, as it were, he fixes the date of delivering his mini-budget on January 29 – the day on which the court was due to take up the hearing of the case.
*As if this is not enough Ravi Karunanayake leads a Police party to raid a house of a citizen (guilty or not) and question the inmates. He dodges his appearance in court to answer charges against him but he leads a Police party to question others whom he suspects. Ravi Karunanayake will be Ravi Karunanayake. No one can change a kabara- goya into a thala-goya. But how does this reflect on President Sirisena who promised a “Yaha Palanaya”?
*Another MP leads another police party to raid Mahinda Rajapaksa’s house in search of a non-existent Lamborghini and leads the questioning while the Police wait in the sidelines.
*Then there is the no-confidence motion against John Amaratunga which is sure to pass if the list of MPs who had signed are there to vote for it. The SLFP which commands a majority in the House (127, says President Sirisena) will be eager to strike the first blow to Wickremesinghe hollow claim to be Prime Minister without a majority to back him. Apart from that, when violence takes place under the very nose of the Minister for Public Order and Disaster Management what is the example he sets for public order and management of disasters? Besides, the President and the Prime Minister led an election campaign to eliminate violence and thuggery in politics. The voting on this will be a test of the probity of the UNPers, JHU, JVP and TNA who campaigned so strenuously to restore law and order.
*On top of all this comes the appointment of Upul Jayasuriya, the Head of Bar Association, to head the BOI. Commentators have linked this appointment for services rendered to the then opposition in leading the ko-ko-nut krackos in kalu koats on the Shirani Bandaranayake case. This brings to disrepute not so much the “Yaha Palanaya” of “My-3” as the pompous purity paraded by Upul Jayasuriya.
*No comment is required on the promise of limiting the Cabinet 25. The leap from 25 to 57 is not because there is no Einstein in the “Yaha Palanaya”. It is because the pretentious Einstein (aka Champika Ranawaka) can’t even count to 13 without lifting his white cloth.
*Champika Ranawaka also promised to construct a Cabinet with subjects/departments allocated to each minister (a total of 25 – ha! ha!) on a scientific basis. His voodoo science has ended in Prime Minister and Rosy Senanayake handling the single subject of children – one set of children under the wing of her sari pota and the other under the wings of his coat! Dangerous, eh?
The few items listed above are merely the tip of the iceberg. No wonder the confidence placed by the public in the “My-3- pala-naya” has begun to slide. The pre-election promises and the post-election realities seem to be running like parallel lines with no meeting point in the known universe.
If this is the record in 30 days what guarantees are there for the next 70 days look any better?