17 April, 2024


The Role Of Civil Society In Developing A Future Strategy For The Well Being Of The Nation

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

Frustrations among civil society activists, journalists and others who expected a yahapalanaya and a change in the style of politics from the current government are starting to appear in the news media in various forms. For example, in a recent article by Sarath de Alwis following comment appears:

This government has failed. Speed is essential for meaningful reform. If reforms do not follow immediately after change, the movement loses its momentum. The change of 8th January 2015 failed to dislodge the entrenched elite. All they needed was a small window of opportunity to hijack the movement for reform by raising concerns of national security.

People who yearned for good governance now demand it. The demand is directed to a regime that has reneged on its promise. The political success of a reform movement pivots on the consistency with which it correlates vision with process. Proof of the pudding is transparency of process’ (CT 25.12.2016).

If there is no credible vision and a process theoretically initiated by the Yahapalana government, what should the civil society organisations do?

In an article I wrote on Crossover Politics, Political Class And The Craving For Positions on December 26th 2014, I raised following questions:

The crucial question to ask is whether the political culture promoted by the political class that has been constructed from political families and the system within the system will change with the next Presidential election? Which coalition will change it and how? Will the ‘official’ system become prominent over the ‘unofficial’ and the ‘personal’?’

In the face of any meaningful action from the current government on some issues, e.g. corruption, and ‘the burden of governance system’ exemplified by the continuing privileges enjoyed by the ruling political class in its current configuration, and the debt ridden nature of the economy, it is no surprise that frustrations of the civil society activists and more enlightened sections of the society are yet again filtering into the media this way. What is the role of civil society organisations in this context? What is the way forward for civil society activists and non-mainstream political parties to bring about desired changes in the governance structure and remove the grip held by the political class and political families away for a better future? In this article, I examine a few options.

Firstly, civil society organisations that are focused on social justice, non discrimination, racial reconciliation, human rights, gender equality, education for all and poverty alleviation have a continuing role to play in terms of articulating the current issues facing the population. Irrespective of the stand they took in the previous elections for electing the President and the members of parliament, they have a duty to do so in good faith for devising a way forward. In a situation where there is no ‘effective’ opposition party in the parliament, such a role exercised by the civil society organisations, the media and enlightened individuals in society is very much required. The issues to ponder can be not only the day-to-day mundane matters such as the Hambantota Fiasco, new road rules, the bond issue or the import of luxury cars for the MPs. They could be issues of long term interest such as those of the country’s dependence or independence on foreign powers for economic development (along the growth model), environmental sustainability, sustainable development, unemployed youths, foreign debts, rights of citizens irrespective of ethnicity or gender, cost of government, indigenous vs Western dominated knowledge construction, education suitable for the country, and how to divide powers between the centre and provinces. People from all walks of life can and should have a view about these issues and express them in various fora rather than being victims of the consumerist culture and living for the sake of living according to the designs mapped out by the corporate sector.

Secondly, articulating views individually or collectively in groups is not enough in itself. There has to be a critique about the existing policies and strategies that need to be made public. If the existing policies and strategies for resolving national issues are not adequate, the reasons need to be explained as to why? If the current government is not following a rational path to achieve required goals in various fields, this needs to be highlighted. For such achievements, leadership is a necessary quality. Are individuals who have been appointed to roles of leadership sleeping at the Wheel? Are there some who are trying to make a difference? Who is in the way of such individuals preventing their agendas and programs designed for public good? These need to be examined, discussed and exposed.

Thirdly, a future strategy has to be developed by the civil society organisations, concerned journalists, academics, professionals and minor parties to achieve the goal of a socially just society and a yahapalanaya. This is the most important and difficult task to address but one that could not be avoided in the current context. Without a clear strategy developed in consultation with each other and the public at large, no amount of expressions of frustration and critique will suffice. I am referring to minor parties here because I believe there needs to be a third political force in the country now that the public seems to be fed up with the two party system of governance –in terms of various coalitions (yet rule by political families). In developing such a strategy, several factors need to be taken into consideration:

  1. How far political and social change can be achieved by keeping faith in the two main political parties and their alliance partners? Is it going to be the same old wine in new bottles if we follow this path?
  2. Should civil society organisations and other individuals who are politically and socially conscious about the national issues play a political role for instance in the forthcoming local government elections? A recent book published by Laksiri Fernando provides some useful ideas on this front (see book review in CT by this author)
  3. How to make alliances among civil society organisations and socially conscious individuals such as journalists, academics, professionals, business community, religious leaders, etc. for a future trajectory for the country? Some groundwork is necessary on this front.
  4. Once a strategy and a plan is developed, how to market it to the stakeholders and the general population?
  5. How to make international linkages with like-minded organisations and individuals?
  6. What resources are required for a political and social program to gain a degree of intellectual, political and social power for the cause?
  7. How to avoid conflict in moving forward with stakeholders and when they arise how to resolve them?
  8. How to win popular support for the vision, policies and strategies (platform) of the civil society organisations for a better future for the country?
  9. What relationships should such organisations maintain with mainstream political parties and their leaders? Should the former rely solely on mainstream party leadership or help to form a middle to bottom level civic block that should lead a different campaign for achieving well defined set of goals articulated by the civic organisations?

It is the author’s belief that civil society organisations have to play a crucial role in charting the way forward when the political and religious leaders fail. In this task, it is unavoidable that they have to play a direct political role to achieve a degree of power rather than following the dictates of established political leadership that is not attuned to the needs and aspirations of the people for a yahapalanaya.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    The Role Of Civil Society is to tuck their tails between their legs and return home for their own well being.

    David Miliband, the former Labour MP who is now president of the US-based International Rescue Committee, receives £530,922. His charity has been given £3.6m in British aid.

    Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish Prime Minister who is now head of Save the Children, receives a pay and pension package worth £246,750 a year.

    Now, its time to check on the freewheeling NGOs & INGOs incomes & their greed.

    • 4

      Isn’t civil society the hew CIA label for the old NGOs now that their real form has been exposed.

      How long do you think our people are going to be fooled by this cospiracies? There is good money in it of course for its pushers.

  • 2

    Dr Gamage,

    You start by referring to what that nice Mr Sarath De Alwis wrote:

    ….The change of 8th January 2015 failed to dislodge the entrenched elite….

    I should change ‘entrenched elite’ to ‘entrenched SCUM’.

    For far too long, the few decent politicians we have, have been yoked to scoundrels who are in politics for all the wrong reasons. The real culprits as I see it are the leaders of the established parties who fail to weed out these miscreants at the selection stage. I know, I know, easier to write than to do. I suppose we will have to wait for that day when the scales fall from the eyes of US the voters.

  • 1

    Civil Society was a term, although variously defined by many, always referred to a large section of any society.
    The NGO era witnessed the hijacking of the concept by a handful of individuals receiving substantial funds from dubious sources to refer to a select few (more like clubs than communities) to talk on behalf of society as a whole to the exclusion of any politically organized body.

  • 1

    Sangha is given the special position in SL. So for the well being of the nation Sangha must set the right example and educate the ordinary people on the need to create a just scociety.

    Unfortunately the majority of the politicians and their parties make use of Sangha to come to power. Further the politicians or their leaders have enough wealth to woo the ordinary people to vote for them.

    The third force after the politicians are the victorious armed forces. For majority of the armed forces the well being of the nation is lower in their priority. Their supremacy as winners of the war and as an occupying force , their economic benefits and pseudo or false pride come first before the future of the country even though the war was won in 2009.

    Coming to Civil societies there are two major catogories. One of this two catogories is within SL & the other is among the SL diaspora.

    The civil societies among the SL diaspora can not do much with regard to a desirable change because they are put on check using the propoganda the problems are internal ones and should not be any outside interference.
    They forget the facts that the army coup in the 1960s, the Sinhalese youth uprising in the 1970/71 and 1988 / 89 and the Tamil youth uprising from 1983 were quelled with so many external help.

    Based on my limited knowledge civil societies or trade unions could not make things happen ever since SL got indendence in 1948. Otherwise the nation will be in a different league many years back and in the future.

    Unless the political leaders, Sangha and the armed forces realise at least now to follow the Triple Gem there is not much hope for a better future for SL.

  • 0

    The writing which that belongs to Utopian Socialism. Not more than that.

    By and large the civil society played leading role during Elections of 2015 January 9th,of the “regime” change or “rainbow” revolution by funding from specially that USA State Department and Indian’s RAW, of that installed “new” type of “Good Governances and rule of law” in Sri lanka. Well that MS was ‘symbol’ of “Good Governances”

    That money rich “revolution” has brought forwarded by counter-revolutionaries forces into power by intention of undermined bourgeois Revolution that path of reforms has to be stop.

    The ‘revolution’ 2015 January 9th not that confined to overthrown power of MR led alliance ,it role of has extended into civil society paralysis, by which whole rights won by people last 6 decades since 1948 to eradiation once and for all?

    Sri Lankan Situation in anarchy ,politically lawless, economic uncertainties remain that high alter of undemocratic means of power by UNP led alliance of MS and CBK under the rule of UNP Ranil W…power centre.

    Its follows all undemocratic means and goal of Political ventures that contrived to the previous norms of valued ideals of democracy!

    1 Right to votes of local councils has totally supressed.

    2 The corruptions and Scandal of CB Bank Bond accuses are at large.
    No legal action been enter into court of law for CB bond scam.

    3 Primer-minister is above law of land ,that civil society is power
    less. All civil rights has been abolished by ordinary civil power.

    4 Reconciliation in priority of North-East’s “democracy”.Federalism
    has enter into new era of proposed “New Constitution changes”. The
    partition of Island on Ethnic, Religion and races basis in fast
    track agenda by USA and Indian proposed undemocratic moves .

    5 Majority become minority norms of democratic! UNP new reading Ranil
    W?????? democracy start up by minority Rule 44 members of chamber
    Primer in Parliament 2015 January 9th was new version of bourgeoisie

    This UNP’s democracy has to do with Ranil W..of UNP politics of President elected Trampism of USA of that new political culture of that road map “Democracy” by US led forces. Country shape of valued democracy has gone far from right way of Parliamentary represtantive politics in Sri lanka.

    By and large civil society lost all means and ways to exist rights of democracy by political penetration of TNA and JVP politics of separatism and anarchism of Terrorism that undermined democratic role of political in Sri lanka. Indeed that anti-establishments (TNA & JVP)
    outfits are playing vital role against norms of democracy.
    They become legal an opposition to ruling governance is unethical to democracy?

    Needless to say this new political phonemmona of Undemocratic
    super-structure state power in centre rule by new middle classes power are roots goes to lumpen political connections.

    That is danger trend of power encircle by anti- democratic outfits .

  • 0

    “This government has failed.”
    Oh yeah! I thought only I felt it that way.
    Many people in Sri Lanka are now fed up of these (civil society) activists. Some of them act like call-girls; some are open liars and cheaters. another lot is just slavish boot-lickers of the 2 Yahapalana leaders. Still some try to do an honest job. But in general they look alike for the general public.
    I agree fully with your article specially with the first 3 numbered items.

    1 Right to votes of local councils has totally suppressed. (If they hold any election Yahapalana leaders will know that their and their party popularity has gone down the rabbit hole.
    2 The corruptions and Scandal of CB Bank Bond accuses are at large.
    No legal action been enter into court of law for CB bond scam. (This is the funniest political scandal in Sri Lanka; thieves, loot, perpetrators, accomplices are all behave as if nothing wrong has happened; hilariously the president acts like a blind/deaf man uttering nonsense!
    3 Primer-minister is above law of land ,that civil society is power
    less. All civil rights has been abolished by ordinary civil power. (Actually some government-friendly civil society activists have hijacked this power from honest activists and mass media.
    And what does the PM do? he goes to Thirupathi Kovil and pray to the deities! (Is he making fun of them or what? Will Deities help anyone do dirty jobs? I don’t think so!)
    What does the Executive President do? Is he a lame-duck? Or a sitting duck to be …..?
    Not only you Mr. Gamage; everybody in SL from the poor to the rich, from the city dweller to the villager, from business owners to laborers and university students are looking for logical answers to all these and other issues. Those who voted this government to power feel now like the proverbial cat who defecated on a rock slab! (because they all enjoyed the defecation (rainbow revolution) but now the job has started stinking and can not be covered (rectified) easily!
    Thank you for the article!

  • 0

    Siri Gamage is one of the top most economists that the country has ever produced. May the good Lord protect and keep him

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