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Sunday, 19 April 2015

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Cheques and (bank) balances

The Citizens' Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG), which made a name for itself through sheer consistency and painstaking - if low key - campaigning for good governance in the country for over a decade, must be in transports now.

A decade and more of steadily worsening bad governance was scrupulously criticised by CIMOGG even as its members refused to be disheartened by the persistent popularity of those in bad government.

Their hope for change may have come - on January 8, 2015 - earlier than many had anticipated, thanks also to the whims of astrologers and their pseudo royal clientele.

Today, we have efforts at 'good governance' in various halls and corridors of power, much of it done with such transparency that the (newly free) news TV cameras are never short of 'good' news and newsmakers.

There is so much being done now in the name of Good Governance that the new 'national unity' government may even be seen by CIMOGG as a kind of 'model' of a governance 'repair job'.

But government, being a human agency, can never be perfect - which is why there always must be adequate 'checks and balances'. Otherwise, the malignant culture of corruption, duplicity and political decadence that thrived and dominated the Sri Lankan ethos can easily and insidiously return.

In the past ten years we saw how the reckless abandonment of checks and balances in the political system resulted in the flourishing of a society and government that prioritised cheques and (bank) balances of individual power mongers, nouveau riche cronies and pseudo patriots over and above genuine national needs, long term planning, and intelligent government. Even the bank balances were un-patriotically maintained off-shore.

Today's efforts to govern in accordance with due process and national needs, however, are not without flaws. There are many in the new dispensation who have come in from the old one and have come with questionable records. And there are others from even older dispensations that also were seriously flawed and, indeed, paved the way to the near-crisis of the entire system that the 'wonder of Asia' took us.

At least some high appointments have been made that could have been ones of different and better choices, taking into account available local expertise, accomplishments and professional integrity.

Worse, if decisions and choices have been found to be flawed, delays and prevarication in their redress are taking the country down familiar old paths of hiding from harsh truths and the capricious enforcement of whims.

And the more we go down old paths, the more likely are we to meet the ghosts of yesteryear's bad government.

Organisations such as CIMOGG and Transparency International Sri Lanka and other civic action groups, then, still have their role to play in maintaining their watchdog role. The question is: do not the new rulers have the advantage of hindsight and the critiques of good governance advocate to enable them to make better choices and appointments; to correct wrong decisions without further delay and damage?

Collaborative politics

The nation continues to watch - on frenetically liberated news TV - the on-going experiment in collaborative government. In the past, the numerous political talk shows on TV did have some drama because, even if the Opposition was effete, there was, officially, an 'opposition'. Even in this, though, the drama often came from more from civil society critics and fringe politicos who were more 'oppositional' than the parliamentary Opposition heavyweights.

Today, however, there is uncertainty whether the country has even an 'official' parliamentary Opposition. After all, the President, who is in formal electoral alliance with the Prime Minister's party, is the head of his own party in which the bulk of its parliamentarians sit on the Opposition's side in the House.

To some, this may seem a travesty of parliamentary democracy per se. But to most Sri Lankans, who voted for a drastic change in content and style of government from the head of State downwards, the current regime is a necessary intermediate phase in our country's politics that enables a difficult transition not just from one government to another, but, hopefully, a transformation of the entire polity.

As history shows, Parliamentary democracy was first established not through democratic, parliamentary means, but through a victory in armed Cromwellian Revolution. In the United States of America, too, it was armed insurgency that brought about the Republic and so it was in France two decades later. Thus, in reinstating governance by due process, the old, corrupted process has, in some ways at least, to be circumvented so that the creators of the new are not constrained by the corruption of the old.

What makes TV politics dramatic today is not so much the clash between two sides as the sense of history actually being made live, real-time, as fundamental issues of polity and constitutional change are publicly debated 'on air' and explained, frankly and spontaneously, by Ministers in charge of subjects, even as the critics (not necessarily Opposition) challenge and, the nation watches. Deliberative democracy is being taken to new heights in an experiment in transitional politics that the whole world watches.

Rather than just a two-sided dynamic, politics and governance in Sri Lanka today is multi-lateral and gloriously pluralistic. Even Somavansa Amarasinghe's one person breakaway adds to the ingredients of the dish of a new form of parliamentary democracy. And the promise of a national government post-election must be fulfilled so that this phase of political re-construction can be completed in full.

The main parties in government must, therefore, continue in this spirit of collaborative and deliberative governance so that this special moment in our history is not too spoilt by the hang-ups of old style politics which puts party (or, just family) and self above nation and State.

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