Unity possible in Sri Lanka only if all communities are provided equally

2018-06-21 09.45.07The End of the Road is the inability to choose a course of action from all possibilities, but after three years both the Sri Lankan President and the Prime Minister of Unity Government appears to have run out of steam to pursue the good governance they promised and perhaps are now planning more for their political future, than for the future prosperity of the country. In 2015, the international community intervened again into the affairs of Sri Lanka, the island nation in the Indian Ocean to help its people to elect a new President and a new government. That resulted in the formation of a Unity Government with the two large political parties Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in coalition for the first time with United National Party (UNP) and few smaller political parties in the country, were mandated to introduce reforms to bring lasting peace for the country. It is certainly not the end of the road for them and it is not late even at this stage for them to rise above party politics to let the government to turn its efforts to complete the promised reform process. That would not only ensure their own political future and that of their political parties, but provide benefits to the whole population of the country to bring back unity in diversity.

Earlier communities of different ethnicities and religions had lived with mutual respect and goodwill in Ceylon that was identified as a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation and was reflected in the first constitution of the country prepared at the time of independence in 1948. Sadly, the elite rulers failed to rule the whole country thereby destroyed this serenity; first by working outside the constitution and then replaced the first constitution with a republican constitution biased towards the ruling majority community and renamed the country Sri Lanka. The poor governance that followed resulted in further suppression to divide the nation, as the economic and ethnic minorities mistrusted the rulers and law of jungle prevailed to push many into poverty. The desperation forced oppressed people to vent their opposition to brew many conflicts countrywide; finally following the nationwide riots in 1983 the affected ethnic minorities took up arms against the state demanding self-rule and state used the security forces to supress the aggressors that eventually drove the country to a civil war.

In 1987 the international communities intervened with a view to solve the misgivings of the ethnic minority communities and a half-baked devolution package was cooked up in haste by neighbouring India that introduced the Provincial Council system.  This system of devolution applied to all nine provinces heavily increased the cost of public administration, yet it failed to meet the aspirations of any communities, least of all those of the oppressed ethnic minorities, who resumed their struggle that developed into a full scale civil war against the majority community controlled government. Following many more years of continued full scale conventional bloody war that caused destructions of magnitude never experienced in the island nation, the international communities intervened again to help the state forces, who managed to silence the guns of the oppressive forces.

The end of civil war in 2009, was achieved at a heavy cost, apart from destructions a war brings, many lives were lost and many more people were disabled for life with all the miseries, while many fled out of the country for safety. The victorious government of the majority failed miserably to address the damages caused to lives of the ethnic minorities living in the war affected zone, instead the government retained the full strength of the security forces in the area to embark on ambitious programmes to strengthen the interests of the majority community. Among them were creating new majority community settlements in war torn areas, many development programmes such as renovation of state buildings damaged by the war, developing road infrastructure leading to and in the war affected zones, while the affected minorities were left sulking in refugee camps. In addition there were many exhibitionist developments in other parts of the country, such as building an airport in the jungles, constructing a port in the far corners of the land and erecting a sports stadium among the wildlife in Deep South and beautification of Colombo city. Thus for the affected ethnic minorities no matter where they were in the country the absence of war did lead to six negative peace years.

Then the international community intervened again to bring much needed good governance in the country helped the communities to elect in 2015, a new President and a new Unity Government of the two large political parties the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in coalition with United National Party (UNP) and few smaller political parties in the country, that was mandated to introduce reforms required for good governance to bring lasting peace for the country. The common candidate selected did win easily to become President, but lost his neutral position on accepting the leadership of SLFP to retain alliance with his party and made worse by accommodating the voted out former President that enabled him to re-enter Parliament, as an ordinary member.  With the UNP leader made the Prime Minister, both leaders were soon in hot waters as they inherited corrupt system of administration that caused the government heavily with the now famous ‘Bond Scam’ which is said to have benefitted many individuals including 118 members of Parliament. The Unity Government thereafter faced the Local Government Elections (LG Polls) with disastrous consequences and having completed three years in power are now stepping up country wide development efforts. Because the three years record of the Unity Government has not been very impressive, though there are enough reasons to justify the slow phase of progress. The Unity Government must not at any cost follow the footsteps of previous rulers of serving only those in government and their community, nothing will come out of it. No matter how well or what plans now they have to develop the country, it must benefit the whole country of over 22 million population that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious, especially after preaching about one country at the last 2015 elections and three years thereafter, it cannot afford to do exactly the opposite.

The progress of the Unity Government has been slow and with the economy remaining vulnerable to shocks due to country sinking heavily in foreign debts. But considering the state of governance that prevailed in the country prior to 2015 for many decades and as confirmed by the Speaker of the House last week that the losses incurred by government institutions in 2017 exceeds Rs50 billion, with a good percentage of all government department expenses wasted, only reflects on the capability of legislators in the highest Power House and an Executive President as the Head of State. Again with the Speaker confessing that neither he nor the Presidential Secretary was aware of the 118 members of Parliament, who are alleged to have been involved in the said bond issue scam, with such an unworthy set of incompetent legislators dominating parliament to fill their pockets, nurtured by the middle class living in crowded urban areas drenched in corruption. These legislators, who claim to know the answers to all the problems the country confronts; never fail to express arrogant ideals abundantly at media briefings and at election platforms, only to return back to the parliament to continue their corrupt practices.

In this backdrop how could there be good governance in the country, for these legislators will not corporate with the two leaders to do anything constructive to say the least. The best example was seen with the constitution reforms, for much effort was put in 2015 after the parliament was turned into a constitution assembly and its steering committee met many times and found reaching political consensus across party lines was difficult. This was reflected in the interim report presented in parliament contained the Principles and Formulations with attachments of contentions and suggestions of various parties. The process as expected did consume much time and effort, as it was truly a multi-party process; but diversions were caused due to extra-curricular activities of corrupt politicians and administrators first by the ‘Bond Scam’ and then the negative tactics of breakaway ‘Joint Opposition’ in parliament all stalled the work of the government. Further on the reforms there were the foul cries from the extremists among the majority community that Buddhism would lose its foremost place and lead to dividing the country; while the opposite views expressed by the extremists among minority communities that reforms proposed do not go far enough to meet their aspirations. This was followed by the LG Polls, where the political parties in the Unity Government and others parties from opposition who supported them as expected all performed badly to create vibrant discussions in parliament and countrywide. All prevented the government to finish off the reform process, that has prompted the leader of JVP, a party in opposition to propose removal of more powers from the President left in the present constitution with the 20th Amendment; stating that it will not affect the present constitutional reforms process that advocates the same. But the government claims that all parties in the steering committee are actively taking part to conclude the process during the present term of parliament. The constitutional reforms under review includes a chapter of Fundamental Rights to make a real change in people’s lives to cover right to education, right to health services, right to environment, right to the ownership of property, right to privacy, right not to be subjected to disappearances, freedom to hold opinions without interferences, security of persons, freedom from exploitation, family rights, rights of children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, etc. Then on Law and Order have proposed for inclusion a new clause stating that the subject minister can only take decisions on policies, but cannot interfere into specific investigations; on Public Service have proposed a new clause to make the subject minister equally responsible for any order or decision being carried out by a ministry secretary under the orders of the minister, thus giving more confidence to the ministry to take decisions; and a proposal was made to have a senior management group to make appointments to higher positions in the public service to escape the present practice of making political appointments to such high positions.

The events of the past three years have burst the bond between the President and Prime Minister due to infighting among government coalition members, further fuelled constantly by the breakaway groups in opposition. All this has resulted in the Unity Government failing to deal with the central issue of delivering on the pledges made at the last General Election and subsequent election platforms. In particular every time moves are initiated to resolve issues of the ethnic minorities in the war torn provinces is received with vociferous opposition by the joint opposition members. Further the government’s failure to prosecute the wrong-doers of the last regime has also played a decisive part in the recently held LG polls, made worse by the ‘Bond-Scam’ episode still under investigation. All these are possible, because barring a select few in parliament all other politicians merely hang on to power with the sole aim of self-enrichment; but fail to realise it is self-destructive to them and is more damaging to the whole country. The parties in the Government have attributed defeats at the LG Polls to the lack of development of the country in general, and immediate welfare measures in particular to those affected by the civil-war.  Of course these are the normal cries that is heard after defeat in a poll and therefore the government is concentrating its efforts to rectify these deficiencies before the next polls.

Unity in Diversity is strength provided there is equality for all without any majority dominance, possible if both the President and Prime Minister as leaders rise above party politics and use the time left in the present term of the Unity Government to complete the good work already done and get in approved in parliament, thereafter before the next polls in 2020 make public the New Constitution with all the reforms for acceptance by their voters. As these reforms are needed to have a fair system of governance to enable the democratic government machinery to work the engine of growth at optimum level to push through developments to create enough wealth for every Sri Lankan. For if they miss this opportunity, they would let the corrupt urban rich to take major share of little oozing wealth; fostering more bitterness in the minds of the poor rural folks countrywide to get aggressive forcing the corrupt rich to bring back the disposed oppressive rulers to power to divide the little island once again into bits.