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2012 The Need For A Non-Criminal Government Post War

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 1 January 2012 12:12 No Comment]

This year a Tangalle politician saw fit to celebrate Christmas by firing a T56 assault rifle in the air and allegedly assaulting and killing a British tourist. In October, two ruling party politicians ended a local election by shooting each other on the streets of Colombo. How President Mahinda Rajapaksa deals with these violent and thuggish elements within his own party will tell how happy 2012 will be for us all.

2011 saw the stabilization of the country and government after years of war. While the war definitively ended in 2009, people had waited to see if separatist violence would re-emerge. By 2011, it seemed obvious that the war was over for good. This year also saw the fruition of many development projects, some successful (the Southern Expressway) and some open in name only (the Hambantota Port).

This year also saw the increasingly successful beautification of Colombo and numerous visible examples that indicate we are entering a hopeful post-war era.

While President Rajapaksa has pushed for development, however, Sri Lankan politics remains atrophied, most notably his ruling party. Most serious projects are headed by the President or his brothers, hardly a sustainable model. For all of their successes, there are numerous excesses – like the hobbling of Sri Lankan Airlines with the vanity airline Mihin Lanka, or unproductive investment in Hambantota to the relative neglect of the booming North and North-Central provinces.

Non-family Ministers like Johnston Fernando and S. B. Dissanayake have royally messed up food supply issues (like the use of vegetable crates) and the delivery of A/Level results, respectively.

Worse, since the governments emphasis has been on competence and connection rather than quality, numerous thugs, lackies and hangers-on have found themselves in positions of power, squandering both money and lives.

The most notable examples are MP R. Dumindha Silva and Chairman of the Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha, Sampath Vidanapathirana. These politicians have behaved more like low-level mafia soldiers than representatives, and they are only the tip of the iceberg. Their behavior (allegedly killing a politician and a tourist, respectively) is so atrocious that it must be addressed. Countless daily abuses by countless politicians continue and go unpunished and unheard.

At some point Mahinda Rajapaksa will have to decide if he wants to be the head of a prosperous country or a successful mafia. It cannot be both, especially when even local thugs feel empowered to kill.

Since the opposition parties were unable to reform or unite in 2011, these debates will likely take place within the SLFP and the current government. Most thinking UNP politicians have already crossed over and that once uniting party has lost the support of the Tamil and Muslim parties it once held within its fold. The UNP under Ranil Wickremasinghe is also opposed to much of the private media, so it remains a largely feudal preserve. Once called the Uncle Nephew Party, Ranil seems determined to make this so, trying to follow his uncle J. R. Jayawardena into power by any means necessary. The old man waited until his 70s, something Ranil seems determined to do, needs of the nation be damned.

Hence there is no longer any democratic bulwark for minorities or the weak to oppose the government and its excesses. The only pressure has to and increasingly does come from within the SLFP and the government itself. This is necessary because – high hopes and projections aside – great excesses remain.

The Rule of Law does not apply in Sri Lanka, largely because our leadership has flouted it. The police never ordered Duminda Silva’s arrest as a murder suspect until it was impossible to arrest him (he left the country for treatment, with full government escort and support). While Vidanapathirana has been arrested, locals have complained about undue pressure and called for an impartial investigation. Sarath Fonseka remains in jail, essentially on Presidential demand, and things like asset seizures are carried out by dictat wrapped in law, like fish in a newspaper.

To the common man, this means that thuggery is seen as a valid means of dispute resolution, especially since many of the thugs hold official office. In the court system, influence is the rule rather than the exception, starting from the top. This system is especially abusive to minorities, women, and the average man, while rewarding thugs and the corrupt.

Again, President Rajapaksa must decide if this is the Wonder of Asia he aspires to build. No matter what his plans, if they are executed by thugs and imbeciles, they will come to naught. Perhaps not now, when there is so much low-hanging fruit, but later when returns depend on finesse and skill more than dusting of old development plans and doling out the contracts.

From Sri Lanka Cricket to Sri Lanka Tourism, there is extraordinary wastage and bad planning that goes unattended because the post-war tide is rising so high. At some point, however, that post-war growth will peter out and deliver decreasing marginal returns. At that point what matters will not be the obvious but the innovative, something a mafia-style government cannot deliver.

2011 has given the President many presents. Peace, investment, the most tourists ever, investment from China and a supine opposition jealously herded by Ranil. In 2012, however, he must decide whether he wants to use his relative safety (rare for a Sri Lankan politician) to lead the nation or essentially follow the thuggish patterns of before.

The nation needs to be led into respectable governance not just because of excesses like the street and beachside murders we have seen, but also because that is the only way to execute the grand plans the President has for this region. While strong-arm incompetents could serve for dividing up the pie during war years, they have no idea how to grow the pie as befits a post-war Sri Lanka. They only know how to stab and take, not how to grow and bake.

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