The most rewarding output from this series of events that took place during this recent period, is that the protests have been capable to make the politicians to shiver and tremble in the fear of being exposed.
by Eng. (Prof) N.T.Sohan Wijesekera
“Those who are thrilled by the shattering of the political fortress demanding the elimination of corruption must care to investigate whether the corruption within the government is only because of the politicians, or because of the government advisers and implementers, or because of a coalition formed by both groups”
A Welcome Sign
The ongoing relentless protests by groups of young Sri Lankans are seeking to replace His Excellency the President and the 225 elected parliamentarians. Many elders in the urban areas and in the villages, a majority of farmers and other workers in the country appear to remain as observers of this unprecedented push for a change. Though it is not certain whether this drive would bear the fruits shown by the display boards, I am extremely thankful to those who commenced and pursue this uncompromising event.
These protests commenced at Mirihana, a location well known to many in Sri Lanka, with an apparently harmless protest by sets of personnel who did not claim any inclination to a political party. Unfortunately, this protest ended by causing undesired damage to public and private property and then forcing the government to impose strict controls. I am not a supporter of damage to any property or a loss of life. Hence my appreciation is not for those who caused damage to property but for those who continue to peacefully pursue their drive for the change. Prior to getting in to the reasons for my support, it is pertinent to discuss the present setting.
Immediately after assuming power, the last government also faced nationwide protests which were staged against corruption. Furthermore, there had been many other historical protests against various political regimes. Notably, the present protests appear different. One difference is that they do not appear to have a political leadership though some political parties are making moves to enter the arena. Another difference is that the majority of protestors are very young. Thus far the media have not been able to capture or divulge as to who or which group is leading these campaigners.
It is not clear as to what had triggered the commencement of these protests. Is it the unexplained energy agreement that led to the removal of two ministers?, is it the fertiliser crisis that started with the organic drive, dubious fertiliser purchases and shortage of agricultural inputs which caused farmer protests?, is it the purchase of vaccines and the associated quarantine hotel arrangements which were reported as devious?, is it the inability to suitably plan the procurements, associated spot buying of essential commodities and the reported underhand deals? is it the shortage of reserves for imports, removal of price controls and sky rocketed prices of milk food, dry rations and building materials?, Is it the payment of damages for commodity shipments that have arrived at our ports? is it the non availability of cooking gas and fuel which caused immense hardships for daily breadwinners ? or is it due to the sudden floating of the Sri Lankan rupee against the Dollar? This remains a question requiring explanations.
The placards displayed and shown in the news media points to two underlying factors. They are, “wiping-out corruption” and “removal of corrupt political leadership”. Though it is hard to capture the genuineness, the news media and their spokespersons display an inclination towards the protestors. The most rewarding output from this series of events that had taken place during the recent period, is that the protests have been capable to make the politicians to shiver and tremble in the fear of being exposed.
Shaking the System
Again, the nation must be thankful to the protestors for shaking the system with a blast of energy that had caused chills to go down the spines of all politicians.
This is the winning situation that has to be exploited in the best interest of the country. The public in their push forward must force a feasible solution to bring the country on the right track. The time is ripe. Once the political fortress is shattered and demolished, the public gets the opportunity to capture the picture within. Those who wish and strive to provide a feasible solution must expose what is within this system, that had been closely safeguarded by the political leadership.
In this backdrop it is important to get educated about the current constitutional system that is in place to manage service delivery to our public. On the surface, it is the political leadership which promises and delivers the provision of services to the public. Let us put this system under the microscope. In our system the elected politicians are expected to make policy decisions and the government machinery is required to implement the decisions. At the same time the government machinery is expected to provide recommendations for rational and sustainable policy making.
This depicts that the current system does not permit the politicians to act alone and without the help of the advice of the state machinery. Hence any desire to streamline the deeds of any government must consider the inclusion of all responsible elements. If it is so, then what the protestors must find out is whether the removal of the politicians would ensure the removal of both advisers and implementors who are also a part of that system. It is not difficult to comprehend that if the implementors and the advisers remain rock solid then the removal of the politicians alone would not lead to success. As it had been observed in the past, once the old set is dethroned, the new set of politicians would start working with the same advisers and implementers.
Shattering of the fortress unveils the elements responsible for decisions. Confirming this, is possible to witness that politicians now make public statements indicating that plans and recommendations were the work of state officials
In the current system, the politicians have a life span of 5 years while the government employment is permanent. Therefore, those who are thrilled by the shattering of the political fortress demanding the elimination of corruption must care to investigate whether the corruption within the government is only because of the politicians, or because of the government advisers and implementers, or because of a coalition formed by both groups.
Shattering of the fortress unveils the elements responsible for decisions. Confirming this, it is possible to witness that politicians making public statements indicating that plans and recommendations were the work of state officials. At the same time, many similar persons are demanding reports on the deeds of the state officials. It is possible to see veteran state officials appeal to practising state officials to come forward and expose the corrupt deals of politicians. A notice which is currently on circulation bearing the tag of a famous professional trade union openly mentions the names that should not be included in a probable new system. The wedge that had been driven by the protests, appear to have pierced the coalition. This is for the betterment of the country and for the benefit of those who are clean.
Two to Tango
Let us closely look at the system that each and every politician wants to change before getting elected. As it had been described previously, this system has separate arms for advice and implementation. The ministers of any government cannot reach the state coffers without the cooperation of these arms. Therefore, the provision of services to the public is a task in the hands of the aforesaid coalition.
If the public has become aware that the decisions of the government are not in their best interest and that such decisions are corrupt, then the first and foremost task is to capture and remove those responsible for the dishonest deeds. This is easier said than done. Any such action can be pursued only through lawful means.
Sri Lankans inherit an election system that provides a rather weak opportunity to dispose corrupt politicians during an election. Traditionally this opportunity is granted once in five years. In case of permanent employees, any desire to change a person is beyond the grasp of the public. However, the politicians have an unwritten control over the state hierarchy. When there is a strong coalition between the politicians and state officials, any ambition to change would also become extremely ambitious.
Sri Lanka is facing an economically chaotic situation. The main excuse given by the government politicians is that COVID 19 had devastated the economy. The ruling politicians appear on television to merely express that they also understand and feel the difficulties of the public. The prime duty of a government is to foresee the future, plan accordingly to act in time. The government is not expected to shed crocodile tears.
In this backdrop, anyone supporting this protest and striving to appoint a new leader with the hope of a system change, is bound to get thrilled in the short run but disappointed in the long run. It is simply because the present system is supported by the constitution. The current system supports friends with benefits and hence it is well guarded by the coalition. Any desired change which only removes the politicians is bound to meet a natural death unless the nation finds a selfless leader who would be willing to become the trojan horse.
The sixty-nine hundred thousand voters who brought the present president in to power were promised a system change. The protestors in the forefront and many others who are supporting the current proceedings claim that even after the lapse of a sufficient period, the desired changes have not been put in place.
Sri Lanka is facing an economically chaotic situation. The main excuse given by the government politicians is that COVID 19 had devastated the economy. The ruling politicians appear on television to merely express that they also understand and feel the difficulties of the public. The prime duty of a government is to foresee the future, plan accordingly to act in time. The government is not expected to shed crocodile tears. If the government can demonstrate that appropriate action had been taken then the public would understand that the government has done its best.
Writing a series of articles during the early months of 2020, I indicated the need to act fast to avoid a forthcoming disastrous situation. Solutions were recommended to ensure a sustainable Sri Lanka. There were many others who pleaded similar actions. Theses efforts were to no avail.
Writing a series of articles during the early months of 2020, I indicated the need to act fast to avoid a forthcoming disastrous situation. Solutions were recommended to ensure a sustainable Sri Lanka. There were many others who pleaded similar actions. Theses efforts were to no avail. It is my firm belief that either the politicians had been misled or the plan had been to wait for a chaotic situation that would pave the way to make money. All these confirm that both parties who make recommendations and decisions must be held responsible.
Any one who gives attention to the present protests would agree that our younger generation who vociferously demand the removal of the president and parliamentarians are seeking an end to the corrupt activities of the government. While agreeing with the protestors on the need to do away with corruption, it must be stated that this is an uphill task. The desire to clean the system through a system change would necessitate the removal of black sheep in the political camp and in the state machinery. All must understand that it takes two to tango. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the reality and act prudently to ensure the need of the hour.
Identification of best alternative is essential to act prudently. The current accusation floating around is that the decisions have been taken only by the top and that they have all gone wrong. First and foremost, it must be understood that the top cannot and would not take decisions in the absence of recommendations. If benefit of the doubt is given to the protesters and assume that the decisions were not in favour of the country, then it means that either the top had been acting alone by keeping the other politicians and state machinery in isolation, or that the politicians and the state machinery had been extending poor advice. Whichever the case may be, the fact is that the head of state had been in control.
Since Sri Lanka has brought the present head of state in to power with an overwhelming majority, it is vital to ensure that the leadership is on the side of the public and not of the coalition. This calls for the protestors to seek a worthy clarification for the poor decision making.
…The current setting in the country provides a golden opportunity for both the head of state and the protestors to bring the country back on track…
…At first the public need to be convinced that the head of state has a clean slate, then only it becomes possible to suggest the way forward.
Since Sri Lanka has brought the present head of state in to power with an overwhelming majority, it is vital to ensure that the leadership is on the side of the public and not of the coalition. This calls for the protestors to seek a worthy clarification for the poor decision making and such a clarification must be from the horse’s mouth. In case such an event takes place, then it would also be crucial for the leader to assess and acknowledge the need to strengthen the decision making. Hence, the current setting in the country provides a golden opportunity for both the head of state and the protestors to bring the country back on track.
At first the public need to be convinced that the head of state has a clean slate. Then and only then it becomes possible to suggest the way forward. Considering that the nation has to work within the democratic system, the way forward is to ensure sound decision making by the Head of State. Thus far there had been no indication as to who supports the head of state by performing the much-needed verification of recommendations made by the coalition of politicians and the state machinery. Such a mechanism must be made transparent and explicit. The public must be made aware that the president has an elite group of personnel covering each and every sector to verify the recommendations made by conventional state machinery. The president’s men for verification must wet the recommendations prior to the decision for implementation.
In this setting, the head has the opportunity to enable the proven and clean politicians to work with the administrators, planners and the technical personnel while subjecting their decision to a stringent verification process. The Head of State must simultaneously establish strict and explicit criteria to evaluate the state machinery.
Amidst this calamity, there are suggestions to appoint advisors for the ministers. This would be paving the way to further strengthen the rogue coalitions. The ministers can easily work with the state machinery where there are sufficient advisers and practitioners. It is important to avoid unnecessary duplication.
Our fervent hope as a nation is to move forward from this stalemate situation while realising that at any cost, the correct steps must be taken in the right direction,. Finally, the need of the hour is to appoint the best advisers to support a clean head of state and to grant only the necessary priority to change the prime minister and other ministers.
The writer, Emeritus Professor, University of Moratuwa