By Malinda Seneviratne –
The term ‘devolution’ has an interesting Sinhala translation that makes for word play:
බලය බෙදීම (balaya-bedeema, literally ‘dividing power’). Now bedeema in Sinhala can refer to division as well as distribution. Hence the caustic observation on the current crisis pertaining to fuel distribution, “බලය බෙදන්න ඉස්සෙල්ල තෙල් ටික බෙදන්න (before you distribute/devolve power, distribute fuel!” There’s a more cynical version of this: “ තෙල් බෙදන්න බැරි අය බලය බෙදන්න කතා කරන එක විහිළුවක් (It is funny when those who cannot distribute fuel talk of distributing/devolving power).”
Jokes and wordplay aside, we should not make mountains out of molehills nor reduce mountains to molehills either for that matter. Fuel shortages are not uncommon. What’s strange however is the fact that a government that is supposedly corporate-friendly and is, as were previous governments since 1977, thick-as-thieves with the corporate sector (not just on account of the Bond Scam) appears ignorant of basic capitalist notions such as risk-aversion, buffer stocks and insurance.
There’s a communications deficit as well. The truth was not revealed. The nature of the problem was not communicated. Measures to arrest the artificial spike in demand due to rumours (again fed by official silence) came late and, again, weren’t communicated effectively. There’s navel gazing and passing the blame buck around. Adds up to gross incompetence and irresponsibility.
Still, it’s not the end of the world and hardly something big enough to bring down a regime. If things stabilize, it would be little more than a hiccup in the overall flow of the political process. At the end it might prove to be what it truly is — another one of those ‘crises’ typical of capitalism, manageable, forgettable and forgotten until the next one comes along.
In other words, nothing more and nothing less than a distraction. Distraction from what, though?
There’s the budget, due to be read this week. No one’s talking about it. There’s constitutional reform, talked of as the crucial exercise that would, according to its backers, deliver reconciliation, slay all the ghosts of the past and finally enable the country to move forward. No one’s talking about it. There’s also the Central Bank Bond Scam, the investigations and the all-important testimony of the Prime Minister. No one’s talking about it.
The petrol scarcity cannot be called a deliberate construct of a government desperate to distract the public from the important issues mentioned above. It helps, though.
The government is muddling along with constitutional reform, this is clear. The government is muddling along with the Central Bank Bond Scam, this is clear. Whether or not Mangala Samaraweera will muddle through with his ‘Mangala Budget’ we are yet to see. The term ‘muddling through’ might indicate ‘with difficulty’ and that would be a positive.
On the other hand, considering all factors, ‘muddling through’ may be the best option for the regime. This happens when people promise what they cannot or do not want to deliver and therefore have to ‘make a show’ of delivery so that at some point, after much huffing and puffing, something small can result and celebrated as a massive victory for the people, for democracy. To be fair, the Right to Information Act was not a small victory, it is big. Put that in bold type and upper case.
How about electoral reform then? How about the Attorney General misleading the Speaker, who later all but acknowledged he was hoodwinked and expressed hope that the Supreme Court would rectify matters? In April 2015, Maithripala Sirisena thundered from an SLFP platform that the 20th Amendment would be tabled, debated and passed. The Maithripala-Ranil regime has muddled along on this electoral reform track with nothing to show so far. The Elections Commissioner himself has expressed grave concerns about the postponement of local government elections. A government that is scared to test the pulse of the voter through an election at the grassroots does not have the moral authority to talk about protecting/enhancing democracy.
Muddling is also evident in constitutional reform pertaining to reconciliation. It began with a steering committee made of federalists engaged in an exercise designed to deliver a predetermined outcome rather than a dispassionate assessment of points of view producing a debate-wrought result. Naturally, the ‘interim report’ is federalist in substance. The state media is promoting this report and is conspicuously silent on the other 8 reports submitted by way of comment by interested parties including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Joint Opposition. One cannot help but wonder if this trashable-document was submitted just so it would be trashed as deserved so that certain communities can blame the outcome on the intransigence of the majority community instead of naming the true culprit: a pernicious regime lacking political will of any kind on any subject except political survival.
And then there’s the Bond Scam. As has been pointed out, an old woman who ‘robbed’ 3 magoes from a fruit-laden tree was fined and imprisoned whereas those who abused office, cost the Treasury and made billions, are being treated with kids’ gloves.
The petrol crisis will pass, no doubt. Perhaps another crisis will be manufactured or else will pop up as is inevitable. They may distract. The bond scam issue will not go away. Constitutional-tinkering by federalists, with federalists and for fedaralists will not go unnoticed. The duplicity, incompetence, arrogance and anti-people character of this regime will not be hidden. It’s too sore a thumb. It’s sticking out. It is unmistakable. It can and will be named. It may even be shamed.