Over the years, Sri Lanka has been continuing to pursue its retrogressive course towards becoming a political giant at the expense of being sidelined as an economic dwarf. Following every parliamentary election that dwarf raises itself to unprecedented heights. With the usual horse-trading that takes place following any general election one can always be assured of another grand-daddy of Cabinets.
And it seems that it will continue to bloat until we are stuck with a ballooning Parliament of Ministers. It happens all the time, with every succeeding government despite the election promises that have never been kept. At present we are burdened with nearly 100 Ministers, deputy ministers and state ministers. And worse, the doors are open to accommodate further crossovers from the opposition to increase the number if necessary.
It wasn’t too long ago when Government Whip Gayantha Karunatilake said: “There is scope to increase of the number. Therefore, doors are open to accommodate anyone willing to join the government.”
What has eventually resulted is the ultimate continuing package deal that smacks of nothing less than political expediency to ensure the administration’s very survival. This is nothing new and hardly surprising because all administrations since the year 2000 have resorted to the grandest of all compromises designed after intense bargaining to satisfy the demands of dickering politicians.
So it is that contemporary Sri Lankan politics has become a gigantic swindle perpetrated by many of the people, elected by most of the people and supposedly for all the people. Sadly they are anything but for the people who are beginning to recognize the bitter reality that many of those chosen representatives run the country only with their own interests at heart.
Imagine today’s tally of nearly 50 Cabinet ministers, with so many of the portfolios overlapping. By doing so it appears that though the present regime is trying every imaginable means to avoid discipline. To some this may seem an unfair accusation, but the statement could be reinforced by the reality that if the need for discipline and order at the centre of our society has not folded, it has not held either.
It is hardly surprising that the durability of such trade-offs for the sake of political expediency is being questioned from several quarters. Besides incurring colossal expenditure some of the subsequently newly-created ministries will only serve to produce more bloated bureaucracies which in turn will cause more confusion and corruption.
Our political system, over the years has never worked well, except for the politicians themselves, that is. Our economy is still disorganized. Budget control is suspected to be in disarray, our currency hardly stable – that is an irrefutable fact. Why can’t the treasury big wigs perceive the danger of papering over financial cracks by simply printing money? Another question that begs to be asked is: How far has our money been backed by foreign cash and gold reserves?
One does not need to be a financial guru to grasp the concept of real economics and to call for the replacement of institutionalized inefficiency. Big business is naturally wary of directly criticizing the government’s financial management. They are even less confident that their money will keep and sustain its value.
Sadly, such disorder combined with graft and kickbacks do not appear to be dirty words in this nation’s lexicon anymore. Corruption has become a sort of rapacious sub-culture that has overwhelmingly become part of our national heritage.
We have been told that the level of both moral and political maturity among our citizens is obviously higher that what its political leaders are willing to acknowledge. At the risk of sounding inequitable I would agree to disagree, Why then, if we had any intelligence would we vote for the political patrons of such audacious rogues? Admittedly it does not take an analyst or a think-tank to surmise that there are no gross ideological differences between our two major political parties, which have both been alternately riding this nation’s so-called democratic see-saw since independence.
Few of their members have not shown much interest in the problems of the ordinary people. Rather, they have seen public office as a route to riches and have stopped at little to win power or hold on to it. Besides, it would only be logical to perceive that so many who have comprised the mammoth Cabinets are a liability to both the government and the nation.
While most politicians are opportunists some have made an art form of this type of behaviour. This stubborn streak has been typical of all our leaders in recent times. They have constantly been pushing against the boundaries on their government’s powers, acting as if Parliament is merely an annoyance and voters and judiciary a nuisance between elections.
Unquestionably it’s a cynical reversal for political leaders who while in opposition promise a return to government accountability. Unlike the refined gentlemen who adorned the old Assembly, who always sought public approval and valued the principle of accountability, the more recent ones seem as if they couldn’t care less about what people think of them or their governing style or their government.
No wonder growing numbers of Sri Lankans are turned off by politics, a trend that in the long run could undermine our democratic institutions as we know them today.
I honestly suspect that up to now we have been left with Hobson’s choice in casting our ballots in the hope of picking a basically honest government. As a cynical voter I have given up looking for governments in terms of honur, moral tone and acceptable patterns of behaviur. And I dare say a number of right-thinking readers will endorse this view.
And of course, we Sri Lankans do not vote with our heads alone. We often vote with our hearts with more hope than faith that we have picked one relatively honest face after being left with such little choice.
Nearly everyone who is someone appears to be enjoying political patronage in some way or another. Even some of our eminent merchant princes with vested business interests have become critically dependent on political leverage.
Through all this the entire nation seems to be running away from what had once been its traditionally honest shadow. Our people’s hopelessness becomes even greater when such issues and blatant injustices are ignored, conveniently misinterpreted or totally blown out of proportion.
In a larger sense some of the blame has to be apportioned to us by encouraging such a virulent malaise by sitting in senile dementia. This is because we seem to go on recognizing most of them for what they really are, but go to the extent of entertaining and even anointing these knaves. Why do we remain shy to point our finger at state bureaucrats, politicians, professionals and the business community for remaining insensitive to this decline in civic responsibility and public morality?
It is difficult to cultivate honour and dependability inside the rogue, particularly when he holds the trump that could threaten shifting party alliances. This is particularly so in the case of any piqued rascal who can hold a political party with a dangerously thin majority to ransom.
But now, the message being preached by the Government is one of drastic and urgent reform. And never has the message of austerity been so popular with a government which keeps adding more racking burdens on a hapless population which is striving frantically to keep its head above the inflationary tide.
The message will not get through to the rulers with an excessively idealized image of themselves who stick to their own adage that happiness can never buy power or money.
True, because it seems that no one in any ruling party wants to be a humble MP.
Within the governing ranks they are becoming an extinct species.