By Gamini Jayaweera –
It is more than 5 years ago Sri Lankan armed forces led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated the most ruthless terrorist organisation world had ever known to liberate all Sri Lankans from bombs, bullets, fear, anxiety, murder, and continuous curfews and emergency regulations. We, Sri Lankans of all races Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Burghers and of all religions Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans are grateful to the government and the armed forces for achieving the peace that we all wished for. We thank the government, and armed forces for defeating the murderous terrorists who tried to destroy Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan people for nearly three decades. We, Sri Lankans have shown our gratitude to the President for winning the war by electing him as our leader in 2009 to rule the country for a second term.
The people of Sri Lanka had placed their trust and expected our President to re-build a democratic, compassionate, peaceful, law abiding, and sovereign society. The people also expected the President and his government to work towards the advancement of social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological developments in the country during his second term in office. As the new presidential election has been announced to be held on 8th January 2015, it is vitally important that we remind ourselves and cast our minds on the question of the type of development that have been achieved during President Rajapakse’s second term of administration. In this article I would like to briefly discuss the Road Development Programme, Bribery & Corruption, Law & Order, Political Appointments, Diplomatic Service & International Relations, the state of our “Booming Economy”, and Reclaiming our Dhammadeepa since our President and his government defeated the ruthless Tamil Tiger terrorists in May 2009. It is also important to find out whether the President and his government have used or abused the mandate given by the people of Sri Lanka for winning the war.
Roads Development Programme
After nearly 3 years my family and I were in Sri Lanka for a holiday in December 2011. What a pleasant surprise! What a remarkable transformation within 3 years! The present government has done a remarkable job to improve the conditions of our roadways. It has to be admitted that this is the first time since independence an elected government in Sri Lanka has made an outstanding and impressive contribution to transform the unacceptable conditions of our country’s roads into international standards. The cleanliness of the environment was clearly visible compared to my previous visits. Sri Lankans are grateful to the current regime for putting in place and executing a programme of upgrading the Sri Lankan roadways which have been neglected for more than half a century. But it is alleged that the country has paid an exorbitant price for achieving this so called “Development”.
Mr. Navin Dissanayake MP, former Minister for Public Management Reforms, in a recent press conference on 2 December 2014 has charged the President stating “We know and the Urban Development Authority too knows that a kilo meter of road construction costs only $2 million. The President, as the Minister of Highways should tell the country how the cost of constructing a kilo meter of road increased from $2 million to $16 million”. If this is true, this is a serious allegation of misusing public money and President must explain these very high levels of corruption to protect the credibility of the Ministry of Highways. Allegations of Bribery and Corruption against the current administration are always discussed in public gatherings for a number of years hence next section of this article briefly describes the current status of this dishonest practice which needs to be eradicated to regain the credibility of the politicians and the political system in our society.
Bribery and Corruption
Have the President and his government used or abused the trust of the nation for dealing with and eradicating bribery and corruption which has become a cancer killing our society? Until late 1960s we, as a nation enjoyed high standards in our public sector organisations. We enjoyed good standards of living, welfare, state education, and medical facilities free from bribery and corruption, and were consequently the envy of all our neighbours in the sub-continent. But unfortunately today bribery and corruption have become a part of everyday life in Sri Lanka. An ordinary citizen cannot get services to which he is entitled and for which he has paid through taxes from most of the public sector organisations unless he is prepared to bribe some of the people “responsible” at high levels. The extent to which the general public have to participate in this dishonesty has added to the growth of this cancer.
It is a well-known fact that after the most devastating tsunami which destroyed livelihood of many Sri Lankans and the defeat of ruthless terrorist organisation, we as a nation have enjoyed the largest and most generous development aid packages from the Western World, Middle East, Russia, China, and India since independence. It is also well-known that most of this aid has not been properly monitored and bribery and corruption have greatly reduced this invaluable financial assistance which should have been invested in worthwhile development projects.
As a result of bribery and corruption coupled with the behaviour of some of our elected Ministers, MPs, and Members of other Councils, have destroyed the confidence of the “silent majority” and the way in which the government and the provincial councils are governing our country. The prime task of the President and his government should have been to restore that confidence and create a fair and reasonable society where the lives of the majority of the people are not infected by this cancer.
We accept that this is a hard task but our President has surprised the whole world by eliminating the most ruthless, and powerful terrorist organisation world had ever witnessed from the Sri Lankan soil. Current regime has developed our war ravaged roads which had been neglected for nearly 60 years, within a period of less than 3 years. It is therefore obvious that eradicating bribery and corruption could have also been achieved during the second term of the current regime if our President and his government were willing to act with sheer dedication and determination. It appears that the trust of the people have been abused by the current regime to cover up and safeguard some corrupt politicians, close friends, influential party members, and opportunist MPs who have crossed-over from the Opposition with ulterior motives to support the President. It is worthwhile remembering the Sinhalese proverb “Kinissa raththaran kiyala papuwe anaganne nane” (You do not stab yourself from a dagger just because it is made out of gold). We appeal to the future President of Sri Lanka, whoever is elected on 8 January 2015, to Use the trust that will be placed on you by our nation to take decisive actions at the outset of your presidency to eradicate this cancer from our society.
Law and Order
It is vitally important that every subject in the country from top to bottom must abide by the law and order in the country. The “Mahinda Chinthana” theme should have incorporated the statement to say that “nobody is above the law of the land”. The rule of law should have been applied to every citizen in the country irrespective of their “status” or political affiliation. The politicians should have respected and maintained the independence of judiciary system in Sri Lanka. Once this is infiltrated by or influenced by the government, the people lose faith in their rulers, crime rises, and the people become violent. It appears that this is exactly what has happened in Sri Lanka during the last few years and the lawlessness in the country has increased to an unacceptable level. Some ministers, councillors, and other influential ruling party henchmen are intimidating and terrorising the decent peace loving Sri Lankans who have voted in millions in favour of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa placing their trust, keeping their faith, and pinning their hopes that he would transform our misguided, and mismanaged society into a more tolerant, caring, fair and reasonable society. This is exactly what has been expected from the current regime’s second term in office.
Let our judges make their decisions impartially without any political interference. Let our police carry out their duties in the manner in which they have been trained in order to maintain law and order in the country without political or any other interference. Let the police take legal actions against drug dealers, murderers, abductors, and thugs irrespective of their relationships with the ministers, MPs or other influential people. Let our civil servants, and public sector organisations fulfil their duties and obligations without political intimidation to give an excellent service to the public.
Let us make no mistake about this. It appears that the President and his government have failed to take every step and make every effort to give independence to our judicial system. Most of the above mentioned atrocities would have been disappeared if the President and his government had governed the country during the last few years by the rule of accepted law. This was not a hard task for a President and his government who had destroyed the most ruthless and powerful terrorist organisation in the world. In this presidential election the “silent majority” of our nation will not support or tolerate the ruling party politicians including our President for not taking decisive actions to maintain the Law and Order in the country. We hope and pray that the majority of Srilankans will punish the current regime on 8th January 2015 for abusing the trust of the nation.
It is a fact that government institutions and state corporations in Sri Lanka play a vital role in the country’s economy as well as providing a major contribution to the social and technological developments. It is also a well-known fact that majority of these corporations’ performances are inefficient, uneconomic and very much below the generally acceptable level. It appears that appointment of politically affiliated people as CEOs and Directors without giving due consideration for their ability and experience to run these organisations at the expense of professionals may have been contributed for poor operation and performance management of majority of these organisations. In addition lack of processes, procedures, transparency, accountability, and the absence of corporate governance coupled with lax entrepreneurship and rampant corruption have also been contributed to the dismal performances exhibited by the majority of these institutions.
Corporate Governance of state-owned Corporations is a difficult and major challenge in Sri Lanka because of increased political interference in the management of these institutions. It is understood and accepted by the public that the government is responsible for electing Chairmen and the Board of Directors to run these organisations. There is no problem in carrying out those functional responsibilities by the government. The problem is undue political interference in the management of those organisations by the politicians. It must be understood that the good governance can improve the performance and competitiveness of these organisations resulting creation of profitable enterprises. Good governance provides better transparency of how the organisation is structured and operates in a professional and accountable manner. Good corporate governance also reduces the opportunities for undue political interference. Transparency and efficiency in corporate governance should have been implemented during last few years to ensure that management of our Corporations are credible and they are in line with international regulations.
The present government should have accepted the reality without trying to protect “yesterday” and they should have taken actions to promote “tomorrow” to reach the highest point of development which has been advocated by the President. As we are heading into a period of “economic revival” after more than two decades of terrorism, it is vitally important that the appointment of leaders and the senior managers of these government institutions should have been based on their ability to run these organisations in a most economic and efficient manner to give the tax payers the value for their money. It appears that the current administrators have been abusing the trust of the nation during last few years by appointing relatives and friends without suitable qualifications and experience to run down the government institutions and state corporations
Diplomatic Service and International Relations
The image and reputation of a country rest on the capabilities and aptitudes of the diplomats who can defend and boost the country’s interests in the international arena. In the past we have had eminent diplomats who have had excellent knowledge of international relations and represented our country with dignity and earned respect from our international partners. These career diplomats have exercised their diplomatic duties in a responsible and professional manner to enhance our country’s image in the international arena.
Sadly the process of appointment of ambassadors and officials for the Foreign Service has gone from bad to worst. It appears that the appointments have been given to relations, friends, supporters of the ruling party, and retired personnel from the armed forces without taking into consideration of their capabilities and aptitudes. It is visible that most of these “diplomats” do not have adequate training and experience in diplomacy. The career diplomats and excellent civil servants who have been trained for these services have been overlooked hence gradually country’s image in the international arena has been tarnished. This abuse of trust of the Nation to denigrate our diplomatic service is totally unacceptable. Hope the newly elected President on 8 January 2015 will take a decisive action to correct this “blunder” immediately to regain and enhance our country’s image in the world stage.
I am not an economist but it appears that currently Srilankans are enjoying a fairly good “economic boom” compared to previous administrations and most of the ruling party politicians, their relatives & friends, some business leaders, and drug dealers are having a “jolly good time”. It also appears that the people are confident that they could spend today with borrowed money and pay tomorrow because the “boom” is going to last forever. The government, and some private sector organisations are borrowing because they believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. Banks and lending institutions are lending money to friends and relatives of politicians without sufficient, or with no, security for their debts. Some business leaders are happy as they are making substantial profits and bonuses.
The other fundamental problem is most of our ruling party Politicians, Top Business Leaders and Bankers who support the governing party are turning a blind eye or ignorant to a very basic principle of Capitalism which is “Bigger the Boom, Greater the Bust”. To make things worse, in our case the “Boom” is built on huge amount of borrowed money with a very weak industrial base. Are there any strategies or contingency plans in place for a possible “economic bust” in the near future that may drag our country into “bankruptcy”?
It appears that during last few years, most of our politicians, and some business leaders have behaved in a greedy and irrational way to create the state which we are currently in. We are paying a very high price for having a “jolly good time” by these politicians, their friends & relatives, drug dealers, and some business leaders. All indicators are that we have created huge debts which cannot be paid in the foreseeable future. We are leaving huge debts to be paid by our children and grandchildren for the “jolly good time” which some of our politicians, their relatives & friends, drug dealers, and some business leaders are enjoying with the borrowed money. Why should our children and grandchildren take this huge responsibility of repaying these debts which have been created by these corrupt administrators?
The current government has already borrowed vast amount of money for “maintaining the public services” which are being run by inefficient & corrupt politicians and administrators by creating a very large deficit in the government borrowing requirements. On 8 January 2015, the newly elected President and his Government should be pro-actively involved in delivering the public services in the most economic and efficient manner. They should challenge the “status quo” in many government departments to ensure that the services are delivered in the most innovative and cost effective ways to save public money. The new Government must recognise that “lip service” is not acceptable. Quarterly progress reports on each government department on their saving targets and what they have actually achieved must be in the public domain. Educate the public sector workforce to change their mind-sets and the culture of the public sector organisations. Send a strong message to the managers of these institutions to say that they have to run their departments efficiently within the allocated budgets. Make sure that these managers are replaced immediately if they failed to deliver their services efficiently within the allocated budget targets.
Reclaiming our Dhammadeepa
It is sad to experience and watch the rapid deterioration of moral values in our society during the last few years. Unprecedented Abuse of Power by Politicians, Increased Criminal Activities by powerful & influential people, Unacceptable Political Interference in the rule of law, Intolerable Bribery & Corruption in the society spearheaded by some government ministers, Very High Level of Rape, Child Abuse, and Murder in the society with no solutions, Drug Dealers are working openly with backing from influential people of the current regime, and Decent Public Servants are unable to carry out their professional duties due to interference from politicians & their supporters are some of the disturbing activities which are currently visible in our “Dhammadeepa” where greed, hatred, and ignorance are thriving.
It is sad to witness that some of our Srilankan Buddhist monks are engaged in the quest for worldly gains rather than propagating dhamma and developing detachment as preached by Lord Buddha. Some of these monks are running commercial businesses, some are engaged in full-time paid employment, some are involved in active politics, and some are behaving like thugs & criminals in public. Some of our so called “politicians” are encouraging, and supporting these monks to gain political advantages to be in power at any cost. What has happened to our Dhammadeepa?
There are fundamental problems of trying to carry out duties of a politician by being a Buddhist monk. The two professions do not go together. The following stanza from Dhammapada clearly defines the Buddhist Monk’s position in relation to engaging in worldly events.
“One is the quest for worldly gain, and quite another is the path to Nibbana. Clearly understanding this, let not the monk, the disciple of the Buddha, be carried away by worldly acclaim, but develop detachment instead.”
The Doctrine of Buddhism has specified the rules for governing a country in a proper and peaceful manner and these rules are known as “Dasa Raja Dharma”. Any political system, any political ideology, or any political party can apply these ten rules if they want to create a just society in the country. As Lord Buddha said in Anguttara Nikaya “When the ruler of a country is just and good, the ministers become just and good; when the ministers are just and good, the higher officials become just and good; when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just and good”. This is natural law. It appears that the current regime has abused the trust of the Nation and completely failed the way in which they are governing the country to create a just society.
It must be said that most of our Noble Sangha in Sri Lanka are preaching, practising, and teaching Buddhist principles to uplift the moral values of the lay people. These noble monks have not become “pawns” of the politicians to obtain honorary titles, well paid jobs, and other worldly gains. They are the silent majority of the noble Sanga who are carrying out a tremendous service to propagate Dhamma, and protect Buddha Sasana. But unfortunately they do not get any “headlines” or mention in the media.
May the Noble Triple Gem bless our Noble Sangha in Sri Lanka to have Courage, Energy, Wisdom, and Long Life to act decisively and speedily with the new regime to protect Buddha Sasana and propagate the true message of Buddha to the world. I emphasise again the stanza from Dhammapada to remind our misguided monks to choose the path that is suitable for a Bhikkhu to lead a religious life.
“The path that leads to worldly gain is one, and the path that leads to Nibbana (by leading a religious life) is another”.
In order to reclaim our Dhammadeepa, I appeal to the new President whoever he may be, to apply the Rule of Law irrespective of their status in society; Develop, maintain, and guide the nation for tolerance, and acceptance of cultural and religious differences in the society; Application of fair and reasonable treatment to every citizen in the country irrespective of their religion, cast, political background, race, family connections etc.; Removal of Corruption from the top to ensure that it filters down to ground level; Stop recruiting top army personnel for Civil Servants’ job roles; If the government wants to recognise their contribution for winning the war reward them in another way without lowering the quality of the civil service; Sack the Ministers, MPs whose behaviours fall below the required standard; Be open, honest, and maintain a transparent administration; Encourage and actively work with the Heads of Noble Sangha to have a Dhamma Sangayana to purify the Buddha Sasana, and Always show your performance by action and deed but not by words that are not meant.
Peace and Prosperity
After 8 January 2015, the newly elected President and his government must not Abuse the trust of the nation to create breeding grounds for extremists and ideologists who wait in the wings for an opportunity to destroy our country. This may be the last chance to save our nation and establish lasting peace and prosperity. Once again I appeal to the future President and his government to Use the trust of the nation which will be placed upon you by the citizens of Sri Lanka to achieve lasting peace and prosperity, to protect all Sri Lankans irrespective of their race, religion, creed, or cast, to eradicate bribery & corruption, to maintain law and order, to use democratic ways of resolving issues by discussion and consensus and to defend the nation’s right to exist as a sovereign nation against foreign control and interventions, if any.
May the Noble Triple Gem bless the new rulers of Sri Lanka to have courage, energy and wisdom to act decisively and speedily in creating an egalitarian, democratic, compassionate, united, modern and peaceful Sri Lanka by the advancement of social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological developments which the nation now deserves.
*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and has obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford