By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
If I was running a school for logic and reasoning, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka provides me with a surfeit of case studies in bad logic. To be fair, Dayan is eminently educated. His problem is that he has a horrible bee in his bonnet: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In order to discredit Ranil, Dayan seizes anything he can get his hands on. Besides, he sees in every little crisis in Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe’s impending downfall.
DJ’s latest ballistic missile is the Meetotamulla garbage issue. He writes to Colombo Telegraph on 16/4 an article captioned, “Meethotamulla & The Mother Of All May Days: Avoiding Mixed Messages,” where he states: “A faction of the Government led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and supported by his TNA allies, propose to weaken the Sri Lankan State by abolition of the Executive Presidency..”
The article purports to show the inadequacy of the reintroduction of the former Westminster inspired model of Parliament running government with a Prime Minister and cabinet at the head- the key change offered by the proposed new constitution. DJ wants the Executive Presidency kept. His above quote reveals why he wants that: it is the key platform of Ranil Wickremesinghe!
DJ sets aside the fact that sixty two lakhs of people, who ousted the former regime had been fed up of Presidential Executive rule and wanted and wants it done away. He forgets that the broad civil movement for yahapalanaya originally led by the late Revd Maduluwawe Sobitha, which was the hard back of the political campaign for ousting the former regime, wanted it and wants it as a precondition for anything that can be called good governance.
In the quote, DJ smuggles in a bit of racism by aligning Ranil with the TNA! That is Dayan Jayatilleka – our political analyst.
Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm DJ cites the recent Meetotamulla garbage tragedy as a God-given lesson of the need for the retention of the pure Presidential Executive system of Mahinda Rajapaksa. DJ slips his foot on this attempted high jump from the garbage to the need for the Executive Presidential model. Why? Because it is a terribly flaky example that cracks as one touches. The garbage dump was 100 meters high and could not have been built during the last two years of the new government. It had been building surely and steadily under the absolutist dictatorship of the Rajapaksa presidency. Sure, the responsibility of the current government was not to have quickly detected this time bomb and acted on it.
The Island editor asks: why did the previous regime not act on it for ten long years? I ask, why did such a strong Executive Presidency that invested itself with virtually unlimited power under the 18th Amendment and was noted for acting with immunity not act decisively to rid the area of this danger?
DJ brazenly connects his case with the recent referendum win by Turkish President, Erdogan. The bee in his bonnet deceives Dayan Jayatilleka again by seducing him to get hold of a wrong handle, once again. Erdogan asked for absolute power where he can appoint judges and act, on personal decree disregarding an elected Parliament. He won the referendum but that was a pyrrhic victory because almost fifty per cent of the electorate said,”no.” Even that near-fifty-fifty result was eked out by electoral fraud, the arrest of thousands of “no” supporters and the murder of some of them-all by the incumbent President, Erdogan. A secondary school kid will recognise that far from justifying a Presidential executive this Turkish illustration undermines any possible justification.
The mythical argument for Presidential Executive rests on its alleged efficiency and quickness in capacity to act. DJ clings on to this folklore. Let’s see why this argument does not hold: One can place different forms of public policy decision-making on a spectrum with one end being the practice where decisions are made by one person and the other end being the practice where decisions are made openly after broad consultation. Better decisions are more likely to come by under an open system as it is bound to capture the collective wisdom of a large group of people rather than relying on one or a few people. In the open process, exemplified by the Westminster system of a Prime Minister working with a cabinet of Ministers-all responsible to Parliament, the decision-making process tends to be highly inclusive allowing for consensus to emerge.
Under good leadership it is not a difficult thing to arrive at a decision after an open discussion. On the other hand, everyone is likely to cooperate in implementing a decision taken that way rather than arbitrarily by one person.
The institution of the Executive President belongs to the arbitrary end of the spedtrum. The claims for quickness and efficiency under such a system simply does not hold. The very ten year rule of the Rajapaksas is good enough illustration to demonstrate how allocative decisions were poor; how projects meant to show up the ego of the ruler were preferred to more urgently needed ones. This produced appalling White Elephants and reduced the country’s economy into an unsustainable position with a mounting foreign debt (US $ 57.4 billion) unable to be serviced given the revenue that the economy can yield. If not for receiving the first branch of the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) it would not have been possible for the present government to go on. That, plainly, had been the final economic and fiscal legacy of the Executive Presidency under Malinda Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka never had a single year of trade surplus. Economic growth was, basically, debt -based.
DJ’s analyses conspicuously lack economic data. Economics and fiscal policy seems to be a blind spot for DJ. He dwells on Greek intellectuals and on theoreticians like Gramsci to put his readers on a swirl. On the other hand, any political analysis that does not reckon economic consequences is plainly void. Political science is part of political economy and the methodology of economics must be applied to political behaviour and political institutions. Politics is about power but power operates in a society and a society has to be economically operative. Good political power-play is that which enhances the society and the economy.
Need I remind DJ and readers that even the thirty year war was a product of the era of Executive President? Before that, the space for consensus decision making was available. Sri Lanka, until,1977 when the Executive Presidency was installed, had made considerable social and economic progress under normal Westminster type Parliamentary rule. While our freedoms had been intact, we managed to build hundreds of irrigation tanks, colonisation schemes, Madya Maha Vidyalayas, hydro electric schemes, agricultural and farming projects and so on. Deadly malaria was eradicated and so had been tuberculosis. On the other hand, under the previous regime we have not had even a modicum of progress at all in vital areas like education and health.
Furthermore, governments under open systems are less prone to be corrupt, intolerant, and abusive because checks and balances are inherent in open systems.
The disastrous climax of the rule of the Executive Presidency has resulted not only in a colossal economic black hole. Key Ministers of the previous regime are having to face court under serious charges of murder, theft, fraud, and embezzlement of public funds. The family of the President are being hauled up in court.The Joint Opposition has been transformed into a political mechanism to try and frustrate the judicial processes now on. Dayan Jayatilleka is its un-appointed theoretician but his theories are cracking and falling like flakes; he is hopelessly out of touch with reality to be able to offer any more remedies.
Writing to the Island, DJ further states,”it seems imperative to retain the Executive Presidency to put in place the kind of strong leader who has the foresight and ability to save us from yet another such catastrophe by timely and determined action. It would be fortunate if the country had the choice of a person who has proven successful in matters of conceptualizing and managing urban development and renewal, to work the same developmental miracle on a national scale, leaving no garbage dump, literal or metaphorical, uncleared. We need a man who strategized, organized, cut through red tape and managed to clear all ‘uncleared’ areas. This is an obvious reference too Gotabaya Rajapaksa. DJ is sure Gota, if in power, will create the “miracle that he created in Colombo,” on a national scale.
One must, surely, give Gota the credit for some necessary landscape changes in a few parts of Colombo. On the other hand, these achievements were on a small scale and they were superficial cosmetic touches. What on earth is conceptual or strategic about this? If he had strategic vision, Gota should have given priority to fundamental urgent needs like a modern garbage disposal project or a modern sewerage project ( the sewerage system in Colombo is also at bursting point).
As respected Sunday Times economist, Nimal Sanderatne, constantly states, What we need on the national scale are transformations in the very structure of the economy from an import dependent economy to an export-growth led one. Such an economy can only be built on domestic and foreign investment. Government has to put in place a policy environment that encourages such investment. Such a change is leagues apart from the kind of micro cosmetic changes effected by Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This fundamental structural change alone will deliver better standards of living to the rural and urban masses of the country. Gota hasn’t given any evidence of an economic vision of this sort.
Besides the above considerations, there is the moot point that Gota must have his name cleared of current charges of fraud, embezzlement and murder. As long as such serious charges are on the table no one with any head will support the candidature of Gota.
DJ’s attack on yahapalanaya is senseless. Yahapalanaya is not something necessarily tagged to the current governing political parties. Yahapalanaya is a movement that transcends political parties (UNP or otherwise). It is a movement for good governance and for the modernisation of our society. Sri Lanka needs it now or never if it is to progress. If the current government fails to achieve it at some reasonable level, the movement will push ahead until its realisation by others who can achieve it. There is no going back to the dark ages, that the writer desires.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org