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
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
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
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
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?
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
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