Colombo Telegraph

Vapours Of Cleverness

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

It was a calculatedly choreographed media event. It was a dismal reminder that the Maithri Ranil coalition prefers the opaque to that of transparency in governance.

President Maithripala Sirisena with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe volunteered to be grilled by a patently patronizing inquisitor – media personality and UNP politician Upul Shantha Sanasgala on a live TV show “‘Wenasaka Arambuma’ [Genesis of a change]. The Sinhala program was telecast on all channels on 21st November the first anniversary of his shock decision to contest as the common candidate at the New Town Hall on 21st November 2014.

The President and the Prime Minister were flanked on either side by Venerable Rathana Thero, Field Martial Sarath Fonseka, Mr. Azath Salley, Ministers Patali Champika Ranawaka, Arjuna Ranatunga, Faizer Mustapha, Duminda Dissanayake and Rajitha Senaratne. As silent sentinels of ‘Change’ they adorned the dais and watched and listened to the inane profundities on the purpose and power of unusual promises and politics as usual. To subject them to be witness to the cynical exercise was rather clever. After all much water had flown under the Butterfly Bridge of the Diyawanna. Minister of Justice has dubbed the Field Martial a ‘Vel Vidane’. Minister Ranatunga has redefined ‘competence’ as the sharing of his own DNA with that of his nominees.

It was also a deft political act by the President. He asserted his ownership of the 8th January change. Prime Minster Wickremesinghe was content to play ‘Kautilya’ to the ‘Lord Protector’ whose term will end only in 2020.

The friendly inquisitor ensured that the questions were nuanced and responses were taken as final and conclusive. The President himself took the initiative at one point. He reminded his TV host why you don’t ask about the appointment of my brother as the head of SLT and his remuneration package.

The moderator obliged. “My brother receives the same salary that was paid to his predecessor and not a dime more. The speculations and rumors were the result of some divergence among the board members.” The TV host was naturally content with the response. He did not dare explore further.

The President was asked if he had met the Chairman of Avant-garde on 10th January. He did not remember. They came in their thousands to wish me. How would I remember people in such multitudes? Mr. Sannasgala did not bother to ask if he came in the company of Mr. Vajira Abeywardena !

That said we must concede that 8th January change has made some progress. A week end Sinhala broad sheet on the same day had published a related story on the same day. It claimed that ‘a proposal to enhance the Chairman’s remunerations had indeed been made. It was resisted by some members who have been subsequently replaced with more amenable directors.

The friendly host asked the Prime Minister for comments on the Central Bank Bond issue. The three member committee appointed to investigate the matter had exonerated the Governor. During elections he had promised that the new parliament will continue the probe undertaken by the earlier committee. He assured that it will be concluded in due course. The inquisitor did not venture to ask by when?

Upul Shantha Sannasgala the erudite TV anchor laced his introductory remarks with some curiously remarkable observations. One who got burnt with a firebrand fears even the glow of a fire fly. Conversely those used to the heat of a fire will wince even at a drop of dew.

That brings us to the question that confronts us today. What is the bargain we made on January 8th 2015?

Did we elect a Louis Napoleon? On hearing the surprise election of the nephew of the deposed emperor as the consensus Presidential candidate of the Monarchists and Catholics Karl Marx famously said “Because he was nothing he could appear to be everything.”

That is too harsh a verdict to be made in this instance. This writer still considers that Maithripala Sirisena the first non-elitist national leader can deliver what he promised. In trying to do that he must avoid the mistake made by Louis Napoleon – trying to transform a Goose in to an Eagle. When Bad laws are not repealed they not only continue to be in force but the very failure to repeal them gives it an extra sanctity of public consent.

The Prime Minister explained why those pilloried for wrong doings are still roaming free. “We cannot convict people and jail them” he explained. “Only a magistrate could do it.” How nice? Do Magistrates comb the countryside for wrong doers? Is it not the business of his Minister of Justice to ensure that the indictments reach the magistrates?

On 21st November 2014 Candidate Maithripala Sirisena saw the opportunity gap and seized it. On 21st November 2015 President Maithripala Sirisena pleaded that ten months in office has seen some progress but there is yet many miles to go.

The Prime Minister explained the raison d’être of the consensus coalition. Though of different colours we were fish in the same pond all surfacing for the same oxygen of democracy. That was clever remark.

Samantha Powers the distinguished visitor to our shores recently has written an introduction to the latest edition of Hannah Arendts seminal work Origins of Totalitarianism. Of Arendt’s philosophy she says was not its “vapours of cleverness” but its capacity to improve the human conditions. Today my only grandson turns fifteen. I live in hope.

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