By Charitha Ratwatte –
MY3’s 100 days and the ‘Chinthana’
Even a cursory reading of the ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Path to Success’ bears out in no uncertain terms the recognition of that basic unchallengeable fact that ‘change is inevitable’. The manifesto is full of a variety of changes that the ruling incumbent President promises to bring to fruition.
Among them, the more enlightening are – teaching the world about national security, introducing a foreign policy that is ‘steadfast’, giving food security pride of place, introducing a good governance program in accordance with the ‘Indo-Lanka philosophical heritage’, collective democracy and civil administration, freedom of expression and assurance of media freedom, supporting and promotion of religious development, stopping the abuse of children and women, a permanent stop to the underworld and drug menace, implementation of animal protection programs, a proud military and an honourable Police, special benefits for workers abroad, the list goes on and on.
Let us look at a few more highlights and then examine some of the changes. Among the more imaginative ones is a ‘river for Jaffna and a tank for Elephant Pass’ (you need divine powers to do some of these things!), a ‘technology-based plantation sector’ is also a change which is promised. Then there’s the Silk Road dream. The milk industry is promised a white revolution. The mathematics challenge is also to be ‘met’. A classic one is ‘Avoiding conflict with our elephant friends’.
It ends up inevitably with that tired and much-abused promise of ‘Wonder of Asia’. In this context TNA Leader Sampanthan had this to say: “We would rather repose our faith in joint Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena rather than expect what has not happened in the past to happen hereafter.”
Let’s start our critical analysis with the last ‘wonderful’ promise, which has been hanging fire over our heads for some time now. It is indeed a ‘Wonder’ that a Deputy Minister for whom an open warrant has been issued can boldly embark on a flight to Singapore through the VIP lounge of the country’s main international airport – showing the metaphorical middle finger to the Police, Immigration officers and the intelligence agents on duty there! At least he has reportedly been arrested on his return and consigned to the Remand Jail as a guest of the taxpayer.
If avoiding conflict with our elephant friends means that the criminal kidnappers/snatchers of baby elephants from the wild, with support from the highest levels, and those who falsely connive to register them as born in captivity, and then do the Gogia Pasha vanishing trick to the register itself, it is indeed welcome. But methinks it is something more mundane and at the same time politically-corrupt, which the former Secretary of the elephant party, allegedly in a new avatar of forger, recently manifested, brazenly and shamelessly!
The mathematics challenge, which has to be met is puzzling, unless it means that the various concocted opinion polls and survey reports on how the people are going to vote on 8 January will be explained and clarified. The white revolution, borrowing a phase from India’s ‘Amul’ success story, has been promised repeatedly for so long that it is no longer news.
The late Admiral Chen Ho, a eunuch, who commanded the Chinese Emperor’s fleets of seagoing Sampans which visited Galle and left behind a plaque, and also kidnapped the local satrap in the 1400s, will be happy about the realisation of the ‘Silk Road dream’, since we are well on our way to being so indebted to Chinese financial institutions and State that we could easily, in terms of financial obligations, be converted to China’s virtual 25th state!
The technology-based plantation sector is intriguing to say the least! The industry is facing critical labour shortages, may be robotic tea pluckers or drones which could harvest the flush off the bush? Good governance is recognised as a part of the Indo-Lanka heritage, the Dasa Raja Dharma is finally accepted, not as a Western imperialist import, but as something indigenous. The imperialist import theory was being hotly promoted by a university academic, who was compared by another venerable participant to a 500 kilo buffalo, the other night on a TV talk show!
The introduction of pride into the military and honour into the Police service is also welcomed, an acceptance of the fact that these attributes are sorely lacking today. A ‘steadfast’ foreign policy is promised. The dictionary meaning of ‘steadfast’ is ‘firmly fixed or established: firm: constant: resolute: steady’. Indeed a change from the violent and irrational ‘athin payin’ behaviour we have seen in that area to date.
A collective democracy and civil administration is also promised, hopefully a change from Samurdhi niyamaka’s who tie themselves to trees, Police OICs who resign from service out of frustration in being unable to implement the law and deputy ministers who raid Police stations, rescue suspects and decamp to Singapore!
The MY3 100 days also provides a schedule of changes. On 21 January the process of abolishing the authoritarian executive presidential system and replacing it with an executive of a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament will begin. A Cabinet of not more than 25 members is welcome. This will result in a substantial saving of money spent on the present establishment. A National Advisory Council, including Civil Society Representation, is something which will permit other alternative voices to be heard in the decision-making process, other than the political hacks who now decide everything for their own benefit.
Parliamentary oversight committees will provide a welcome democratic check and balance on the absolute power ministers enjoy now, with a subverted polity, administration, Police and Judiciary. The repeal of the dynastic dictatorial 18th Amendment to the Constitution is the jewel in the crown. The re-introduction of the electorates, tempered with district representation also having a role, will bring back the essential link between the elected representative and his constituents.
The Code of Conduct and Rules of Ethical Behaviour for elected representatives is very welcome, to stop the abuse of power which is rampant now. The reestablishment of truly independent commissions to manage the Administrative Service, the Police, the Foreign Service, the Judiciary, and Human Rights, etc. is essential. The autonomous National Audit Commission is to be legislated within three weeks from 19 February; the Right to Information Bill legislated within three weeks from 20 February; by 23 March, the Constitutional Council will be established; the present Parliament will be dissolved on 23 April.
These are changes the nation is crying for.
The MY3 100 days program also promises a plethora of financial benefits to the general public, public servants, those who receive hand-outs from Government, etc.; it also promises a variety of financial incentives to primary produces in agriculture and fisheries.
The nutrition crisis facing the country is addressed by a financial payment to pregnant mothers; this is welcome, as it has been scientifically proved that permanent damage can be done to the brain development of the child if the mother is anaemic and malnourished, during pregnancy. The debt trap in which the majority of the poor and marginalised and even some wage earning families find themselves presently will be alleviated by better prudential control of financial service providers.
For micro finance a regulatory institution to develop the sector is promised. This is a very welcome step for taking the nation towards Total Financial Inclusion (TFI), and to provide support and protection for the thousands of depositors and borrowers in rural cooperative banks and microfinance institutions. This sector has been neglected by design by current policymakers, responding to pressure from certain exploitative institutions in the financial services sector, primarily the Sakvithi type pyramid/Ponzi schemers and their connivers.
The pivotal role young people should play in an emerging economy is recognised by the MY3 proposals promising dedicated financial resources for the Youth Parliament, which first was set up in 1983 at the Pulasthipura (Polonnaruwa) Yovun Pura, which is the political base of presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena. Legislation will be introduced to ensure a minimum of 25% representation in Provincial Council and Local Government institutions. (There is no reason to exclude the Parliament.)
The current consolidation of the financial services sector will be reviewed; this is a process which is detrimental to the borrowers and depositors as it reduces competition among financial service sector providers and result in cartelisation and a ‘sellers’ market’. Drug abuse, casinos and ethanol racketeers are specifically referred to and will get short shrift with the full force of the law being thrown against them. The shameless politicisation of higher education and the UGC will be halted and reversed.
Voters faced with many promises
The voters on 8 January are faced with a whole series of promises for change. For the incumbent whose dynasty has been calling the shots for around a decade, and who has held positions of responsibility even before that, it is a list of ‘things I should have done but sadly could not do’! With the kind of absolute power the incumbent has, with all aspects of Government including all the ‘estates,’ Executive, Legislative, Judicial, even the Fourth Estate – the media – firmly under his thumb and civil society muted, by various devices, except for a few strong souls, it is indeed a sad indictment.
For the challenger MY3, the question arises as to what he was doing as a part of the process of Government for long years, when all he and his coalition are promising to change was put in place? The answer that the dictatorial autocrat brooked no dissent is credible. The only way to change was to sit and wait (eating hoppers an option), until an over-confident, dictatorial, arrogant, pumped up and overbearing dynastic family ‘kitchen cabinet’ urged on by a plethora of greedy, self-serving ‘ass liquors’ contemptuously surmised that they were unassailable and unchallengeable and then to stun them by calling their bluff. That has happened.
Politicians on all sides, the jumpers, are selling their souls over and over again for the proverbial ‘mess of pottage’ or ‘jarawa’! There is a substantial amount of grand standing; for example, one deputy minister promises to announce which horse he is backing by his own deadline and then bolts to Singapore! He suddenly returns and declares support for the challenger! As the pithy Sinhala saying aptly puts it, how can such people wear clothes and walk the streets?
Sri Lanka is at a stage of its development at which good governance in a liberal democratic environment is fundamental. Whatever is proposed must result in good governance (including the Dasa Raja Dharma) in a liberal democracy. Let’s examine the fundamental requirements for an accountable liberal democratic system of government. The most fundamental factors which are required to ensure a democratic system is two sets of restraints. One restraint, among the people, and the other, between the people and the state. These restraints rest on four basic features, all essential.
Capacity to tolerate dissent
First of all, a democracy needs citizens who have the capacity to tolerate dissent. Dissent, that is, which operates within the law. There must be space for what has been described as a ‘loyal opposition’. Loyalty of the citizen to the democratic political process must override their loyalty to their own particular political point of view. Bureaucrats, the Judiciary, law enforcers must be independent and be able to tell the politicians the limits of their power. Citizens must accept the legitimacy of a government run by their opponents. They must have the confidence that they, who oppose the present administration, will in time have their own turn in government. While the legitimacy of dissent is accepted, the use of force must be ruled out.
Democracies need ‘guardians’
Secondly, democracies need ‘guardians’. Those who hold positions of political, bureaucratic, judicial or military and police power, must be independent and free to act according to their conscience, within the law, recognising the need to comply with constitutional limitations placed on their behaviour and that the citizens have the right to challenge excesses or abuse of power, through recourse to an independent Judiciary. The role of an independent media to draw attention and communicate such abusive behaviour is also essential.
The guardians are different, from those who are referred to as ‘bandits,’ in that the guardians use their powers not for their own material or political advantage, but act according to law, observing the legal limitations on their authority, and act in favour of a nation for the benefit of the nation as a whole and not in a partisan manner. The Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions to manage the public administration, the Police, the Military and the Judiciary, the State-controlled media, are essential.
One may, perhaps, contra distinguish a ‘statesman’ from a mere ‘politician’ in this context. Today we have far too many of the latter type! Unfortunately, throughout the history of mankind, and in the recent past here, power and wealth have been conjoined! The idea that the two should be separate is a relatively new and revolutionary concept, which is the fundamental principle in the MY3 100 days policy.
Concepts of constitutional law such as the Rule of Law and the Separation of Powers, and the Independence of the Judiciary and Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, have all evolved in the context of empowering and institutionalising, this separation of power from pecuniary wealth. Fundamentally, the ‘loot, shoot and scoot’ tendency in undemocratic regimes, which we have been witnesses to, is the very antithesis of this concept of guardianship.
Properly-functioning markets, well-functioning State
Thirdly, democracies need properly-functioning markets, supported by a well-functioning State. By a functioning market, analysts definitely do not mean the abuse of power by the State to turn ordinary citizens’ assets into ruling classes’ private wealth. So-called entrepreneurs who build their fortunes on such blatant theft are no more legitimate than the politicians who connive with them; we well know these types. Properly functioning markets support prosperity.
A social system which is able to ensure a decent and reasonably secure standard of living is also most likely to ensure a stable society. This enables citizens to place trust in the rational economic behaviour of their fellow citizens and in a stable and predictable economic future. Most importantly, effectively functioning markets loosen the connection between financial prosperity and political power, which is now enmeshed in one dictatorial, corrupt and racketeering ‘achcharu’.
Effectively functioning markets make it possible for people to regard the outcomes of elections as important, but most importantly, not as a matter of life and death either for themselves or for their families. Some regimes cannot imagine life without power! This lowers the temperature of politics to a bearable level, rather than to one of basic survival.
A commonly-accepted legal regime
Fourthly, democracies need a commonly-accepted legal regime. Most importantly, Constitutional laws and conventions. Such laws, enacted and implemented in accordance with accepted procedures, shape the rules of political, social and economic activities within the State.
A country that lacks the Rule of Law is permanently on the verge of anarchy, chaos or tyranny. As succinctly stated by Lord Bingham, former Lord Chief Justice of England, described as the greatest English judge since World War II, the Rule of Law implies that ‘all persons and authorities within the State, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the courts’.
Sri Lankan Buddhists have a long tradition of the Dasa Raj Dharma, Buddhist rules of good governance, which the latest avatar of the Chinthana, seems rather belatedly to recognise, albeit in terms of ‘an Indo-Lanka philosophical heritage’!
Survival of a democratic system
The four principles enunciated above should make it abundantly clear, that being a democracy is more than just being an electocracy, each adult, one vote, periodically! The survival of a democratic system requires and entails a complex web of rights, obligations, powers and most importantly constraints.
Basically a democracy is the political expression of free individuals acting in concert, otherwise it simply cannot exist. Fundamentally, those who have won an election do not have the right to do as they please. That is not democracy, but merely an electocracy, an elected dictatorship! We have witnessed this in operation.
Without the four fundamental requirements of true citizens, honest guardians, functioning markets and just laws, there cannot exist a liberal democratic system of governance, which the MY3 100 day proposals aspire to. Such a rules-based liberal democratic system is a bulwark against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments.
Liberal democracies are on average richer than non-democracies. They are less likely to go to war and have a better record for fighting corruption. More fundamentally a liberal democratic environment gives citizens the space to speak their minds freely and shape their own and their children’s futures.
The choice, before the voter, on 8 January is stark. The dynastic incumbent, who is now incredibly promising changes he has not done for almost a decade in absolute power (remember Lord Acton ‘Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’), or the challenger who leads a credible coalition, promising change. Remember, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty’.