The March of Folly Understanding why Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated: the good ‘cronies’

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By 2018-01-02

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

'Surrounded by cronies and not listening to those who mattered' is the explanation Nalaka Godahewa gave in an article in Ceylon Today on why Mahinda Rajapaksa lost. I found it most interesting, with added value from the fact that Godahewa was close to the former President, and indeed came to his rescue when both Indrani Sugathadasa and Tilak Karunaratne resigned as Chairs of the Securities Commission.

As it had been made clear that both thought there was excessive political interference, I had my worries at the time about Godahewa whom I did not know at all.

I have since made his acquaintance, and believe that he was a capable man who did not make money for himself. He had a more political orientation than his predecessors, which was also true of other technocrats who served Mahinda Rajapaksa. Two of these, P. B. Jayasundara and Nivard Cabraal, Godahewa cites as being amongst the eight influential people in the Rajapaksa administration.
But I would hold that those two, like Godahewa himself, were people who did matter in terms of the contributions they made. The desperate efforts of the current government to find dirt on both Godahewa and Cabraal, and their abject failure to succeed in that nefarious effort, even while trying to protect Cabraal's appallingly corrupt successor, make it clear that Rajapaksa did very well to have such capable people working for him.

Comparing what is now happening to the Stock Exchange with what Godahewa achieved, is just like comparing the development of the economy under Rajapaksa compared to the current disastrous situation, make it clear that economic and financial policies were not the reasons for Rajapaksa losing.
In this regard I found Godahewa's article disappointing, since it failed to distinguish between Rajapaksa 'cronies' who served him and the nation relatively well, and the destructive corrupt ones. Of the eight individuals Godahewa names, five featured in the series I wrote in 2014 called Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs, about those who contributed to his unpopularity and hence his defeat.
Given their positive contribution I did not include Jayasundara and Cabraal, and I should note that a recent discussion with the World Bank indicated how much they miss Jayasundara's solid capabilities.

A mark of Ranil's woeful incompetence we discussed (though I hasten to add the World Bank did not criticize Ranil, though they were obviously bemused by his appointments) was the fact that Jayasundara was replaced first by Mr Rafeek, an amiable but mediocre public servant who was Ranil's Ministry Secretary – and then by a junior and not very articulate character who has been Acting Secretary for nearly six months to what is supposed to be the most important Ministry in the country.

Godahewa, in fact makes no comments about the activities of his eight chosen characters, except in the one case. This is Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and I agree with his positive assessment for, even though he featured amongst my dwarfs, I noted that he contributed much, and could not be accused of working for himself.

Again, this government's ridiculous efforts to charge him, for trivialities, make clear his decency. And we cannot forget his invaluable contributions, both as Secretary of Defence during the war, and then as Secretary of Urban Development, with a beautification of Colombo that has had no parallel since independence days.
I was also positive about Lalith Weeratunga though he too featured as a dwarf, Doc the wise one. His main shortcoming was a failure to use the influence Godahewa identifies. When I remonstrated with him, he said he had no support in the inner circle, but I feel he still could have done more.

When I told him this and suggested that, if he was continuously ignored, he should have resigned, he said that would have upset Mahinda Rajapaksa no end.

I think that was true, because the President himself, though he had grown lazy and allowed destructive characters a free rein, had their measure and knew the difference between them and those such as Gotabaya and Lalith who were primarily devoted to him and the country rather than themselves.

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