face of failed Yahapalanaya

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By 2018-01-03

By N Sathiya Moorthy

Independent of President Maithiripala Sirisena's action on the Central Bank scam probe report, there is no denying that the Government headed by him in constitutional terms and the Cabinet that he still heads, even after the much-hyped 19-A has failed to deliver the goods, promised and assumed when the people voted him in. As the yahapalanaya Government completes three years in office, with two more to go to complete the five-year term, questions remain and will continue to remain, on what it has achieved in office.

There is no denying that the incumbent government, with Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe's UNP leading the coalition in Parliament, has removed all traces of unseen yet all-round fear in the minds of the people, which was increasing more after the war than even before, when predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power. If anything, the fear that people could touch and feel without seeing it was all-pervasive, going down to the last man in the last village even in the Sinhala South and going beyond the war-centred North and the East, with capital Colombo's Tamil areas and residents feeling the pressure, 24X7.

It had been so through most of the preceding years and decades since the LTTE launched an asymmetrical war of the terrorism kind, outside of the areas under its 'direct control'. If the government won the war, it also attributed the same to the 'war of fear' which formed a part of the forces' strategy or tactic. Having mounted a tiger to fight a demon, so to say, the Government did not know how to dismount. Rather, it began enjoying the mount, instead, and found that it gave a feeling of supreme supremacy, and consequent achievement.

It is thus, that when Rajapaksa was defeated and Sirisena got elected in January 2015, in one go this very sense of fear evaporated. This 'freedom from fear' is definitely an achievement of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo even before the word, 'Go', but three years down the line, that alone seems to be the only achievement. If anything, this supreme sense of freedom of the people seems to have ended up as being the cover for those in power to take the people and the nation for a right royal ride, worse possibly than any other since Independence. Strong words, these, but unfortunately, true, as well.

Carrying the cross

Nothing explains and supports this perception more than the very Bonds scam and conceptualization and operationalization thereof. It is not just about the scam per se (into which the commission has gone into, in some depth and perceptible conviction, until proved otherwise). It is much, much more about the timing of it all, which alone should prove how certain brains in certain quarters had over-worked, over-time, and possibly long before the nation had voted in Sirisena as President and the latter had sworn in Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister – a genuine, and convincing aspect of their pre-poll coalition arrangement.

The duo came to power on 9 January 2015 and the first seeds of the scam, as it turned out later were sworn not later than one month after that. It is conceivable that some serious people attending on serious issues of the economic and strategic kind in the backroom offices of those that could visualise the possibilities of inheriting office in a debt-ridden economy would have thought things over and also identified solutions.

Yet, the speed and alacrity with which a package of the Bonds scam kind was put through is unimaginable, especially since most witnesses before the probe commission who should have known, known more and known better, claimed not to have known much, at times nothing of more relevant aspects of it. The irony is that the Cabinet, headed by President Sirisena and the Cabinet meeting(s) that he chaired, had passed the proposal. It is inconceivable that in a nation of political know-alls and those especially with an intuitive knack of putting the right finger on the wrong figures, none in the Cabinet, starting with Sirisena himself, did not ask the right and relevant questions at right and relevant times.

Whatever the commission report says now and whatever action President Sirisena may initiate now, it is interesting to note that Ranil's UNP colleague, sacked Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, and the party as a whole alone are being made to carry the cross and all by themselves. No one, starting with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga, who hailed triple 'Hurray' for Ranil appearing before the probe panel as a witness voluntarily, did not ask why Sirisena did not do so – or, was not commissioned, at least for the nation to know on what transpired and how the Cabinet approval was obtained.

In a way, Media reports on the probe panel proceedings clearly indicated that enough and possibly more material was made available on the operationalization on the Bonds scheme and hence, the scam. However, nothing much was available, particularly on the political aspect of the scam than Ravi K's personal involvement in heading Bank meetings and getting a hired pent-house free for him, for his official and personal use, and for a period.

Sharing the burden

The general perception, nearer home and afar, is that the Sri Lankan economy is better managed by the UNP when in power than the rival SLFP. The reverse seems to be the case this time, considering that some of the economic indicators were better under SLFP's Rajapaksa than under Ranil, whose UNP too would not want to share the burden of an unenviable economic situation and management, with Sirisena's SLFP partner. With some SLFP leaders, starting with Sirisena himself having occupied offices of profit as much under the Rajapaksa as now, a share in the burden of making the economy work would have helped.

Once again, when the chips were/are down, the UNP and Ranil leadership have only themselves to blame exclusively for all what went wrong. Again, the shared burden of yahapalanaya has now failed them as much as they too failed yahapalanaya, making 'reforms' of every kind and in every sector a bad political term in contemporary Sri Lanka, for a long, long time to come – whoever is in power, or whoever comes to power in the near and distant future, the medium term especially.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:[email protected])

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