Executive President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has an attitude problem (and Sri Lanka is paying dearly for his continued rehab and constant relapses).
More to the point, it is a personal attitude that has become a problem (of a fundamental kind in the sense that it is from that problem that most other problems stem), not because it is personal, as he like any other individual is wholly entitled to ‘be thou forever’, but simply because it has transcended the merely personal, to encompass the social – in short, his personal attitude is having national level consequences, the results of which are increasingly catastrophic to put it mildly.
The problem is this: like for the vampire Count Dracula, for whom the howling of the wolves was music to his ears, to President Rajapaksa’s ears, a drowning chorus of mellifluous ‘yays/yeas’ over obstreperously atonal and discordant ‘nays’, has come to be the defining feature of an increasingly problematic brand of governance, revolving as it does around the characteristic ‘yes means you are with us and thus a patriot’ and ‘no means you are not with us and therefore the enemy’ infantilism. It is time the President is reminded of the allegory of the ballad of the mermaid.
But did these ‘naysayers’, such as the former Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Executive Director Thushan Gunawardena, National Catholic Social Communication Centre Director Cyril Gamini Fernando and former Agriculture Ministry Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe-Mudalige, to take but only three prominent recent examples, ‘by the pricking of’ whose ‘thumbs’, ‘something wicked this way comes’, bode ill for Rajapaksa’s hegemony or cherished vision of ‘prosperity and splendor’? Were their interventions, made at some personal cost including peril, mere exercises in floccinaucinihilipilification? The answer is an emphatic no.
Gunawardena, a professional by training who was self established at the time of taking up the CAA hot seat, took up the position to lend his support for the development of the country and resigned to take up the even more vital role of saving the nation, and he has through his consistent whistle blowing, opened up the eyes of all including the authorities, first by exposing corruption within the Sathosa, Trade Ministry and Co-operative Services State Ministry, and secondly, by helping avert a greater tragedy as far as ‘exploding’ gas cylinders are concerned, by forcing the relevant consumer protection authorities to do their entrusted duties and fulfill the delegated responsibilities.
Fernando has posed specific questions on aspects related to the Easter Sunday terror attacks and the probes into such, with no other motive than acting on behalf of the victims of the bombings, who are due justice.
Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige, a senior most academic of administrative standing as a former University Vice Chancellor, merely stated the obvious about what are already belated national realities including about the problem child – ‘100% immediate carbonic/green/organic agriculture policy’, and food shortages.
All three have abided by the public trust doctrine and kept the public trust.
The thanks they have received are that of being hounded by the law enforcement authorities (Gunawardena and Fernando) and public vilification and calumny at the hands of ne’er-do-well politicians or being sacked overnight and relegated to persona non grata status (Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige).
Wasn’t the President’s own ‘viyath maga (the path of the professionals)’ also about the ‘viyathun noyana maga (the path not taken or not to be taken by professionals)’?
Then there is the case of the three Cabinet Ministers, staunch Rajapaksa bulldogs in the form of Udaya Gammanpila (also Cabinet Co-Spokesman), Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, who have decided to tow a different line from the rest of their Cabinet colleagues, on the matter of a controversial and questionable power deal, and the President’s thoughts concerning the trio’s ‘principled’ (by the threesome’s description) dissent of ‘collective responsibility’.
The problem then is not a case of ‘no one is listening’ but you Mr. President, are the one who is not listening.
In the same way that no one can be conceivably expected to know everything about everything even within one’s own sphere of expertise, or exhibit acumen or be ‘correct or right’ always, no one expects the same from the President either, and it is indeed terrible for the country if the President labours under an ego trip that the people expect such from him. ‘Tis human, as it is said, to err.
What is however expected at all times, especially when the decisions one is tasked with taking affect not solely oneself but each and every one of the citizenry and still others, is to listen and learn, to listen to oneself and to others, to learn from one’s mistakes, and if possible, those of others. After all, one learns ‘of books and men’ when learning to ‘play the game’.
Therefore, to refuse to even consider the other side in this collective endeavour of governance ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’, is fatal as has amply been proven in the President’s case and to the detriment of the country. Only a few examples from the agriculture related fiasco and economic crisis suffice to make the case.
The President has to listen and for this purpose, amongst others, consult advisors, experts, intellectuals and the average Joe; Governance is impossible otherwise, while rigid adherence to a policy of ‘echo chamber’ based selective listening, is a recipe for absolute disaster as it is both counterproductive and downright destructive. Sri Lanka’s marketplace of ideas, Mr. President, is not your cognitive ‘safe space’.
Hence, it is important not just to listen and learn but to listen soon and learn sooner than doing so later as exemplified in the case of the strong early calls made to seek International Monetary Fund assistance, which if done at the time the calls were made, would have prevented some of the unfortunate queues for essentials seen today and unnecessary import restrictions in place at present. The possible averting of the deadly post-2021 Sinhala and Hindu New Year Covid-19 wave is another prime example of the human costs involved with delayed decision making and not heeding the voices of reason, not to mention the green agri travesty.
Yes, the President has an attitude problem. Yes, it can be rectified. Yes, it has to be rectified if 2022 – which by all accounts is going to be a year that is going to be far more challenging than the past one – is to be a saving grace for the country as Sri Lanka cannot afford for 2022 to be a repeat of the ‘maxima culpa’ stasis (there is no ‘mea’, as the President as the Head of the State and Government has not apologized in the first personal singular for any of the ‘culpas’) of 2021. Then let us as a country with ‘collective responsibility’, having learnt what we should and should not do, look to move forwards.
Mr. President, are you listening?