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Sunday, 03 July 2016

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Filling a vacancy

Never has there been such debate, political division and, above all, business uncertainty over a single job vacancy - other than that of the state Presidency itself. After all, the post of Governor of a country's central bank has direct legal and policy implications especially in relation to the economy as a whole and, to the markets, currency values, and business planning in particular.

The country's business community, among many other influential sectors of society, are now heaving sighs of relief after the uncertainty and tensions last week over the issue of appointing a new Governor for the Central Bank. The post of executive head of the "bank of banks" of the country is one of the most sensitive national positions.

The controversy over the filling of this post dragged on over weeks until the competence and character of the prospective Governor became less a concern than the actual delay in selection and appointment and, the consequent lack of a Bank chief at the helm of the national economy.

In the event, the National Unity coalition regime proved its worth as a responsible and responsive government that took decisions after consulting the most competent and respecting the advice offered. This, as citizens are beginning to learn, is the critical difference between intelligent and unintelligent governance.

In the recent past, the embarrassment over billion-dollar losses, glossed-over plunder and, the humiliation of exposure to the world of uninformed - or, just plain foolish - governmental decisions no doubt contributed to the general national demoralisation. People had begun to realise that the election hyperbole of 'Peace with Honour' and 'Miracle of Asia' was indeed just duplicitous hyperbole and nothing more. Perhaps, the sheer lack of intelligence of the previous regime, coupled with greed and caprice, drove it to extremes of such a degree that those massive blunders could not be hidden or explained away and, this, in turn, no doubt quickened its demise.

By January, 2015, much of society shook off the stupor of ultra-nationalistic triumphalism and, prompted by the sharp advocacy of those small but vigorous groups of concerned citizens and directly affected social sectors, voted for a change of regime. The resounding vote at the presidential hustings to elect Maithripala Sirisena was a vote not just for a change of personalities and ruling clans. Rather, a somewhat awakened citizenry cast aside inter-ethnic mistrust, war fatigue, and doubts about patriotic loyalties, to vote for a change of the whole regime. President Sirisena was voted in with the expectation of a change in the government itself and the new President acted promptly to fulfil that expectation.

Many other expectations also followed that initial change and the country certainly feels the difference, positively, of the fulfilment, if partially, of those expectations as well. Corrupt plunder is no longer blatant and 'in-your-face' and as hugely destructive as that experienced during the past regime. Nevertheless, public perceptions remain of continued corruption at least by some politicians in power. At the same time the efforts to prosecute past massive plunder are appreciated but there is growing dissatisfaction over the pace of investigations and actual prosecution.

A nation become familiar with corrupt and cynical 'deals' in the recent past, is quick to see 'deals' when there are long delays in criminal prosecution, especially of those whose complicity if not criminality is apparent.

Likewise, the public yearns to see ever greater reliance on 'best practices' in governance - such as open tenders and merit-based selections - coming in the wake of a complete absence of such practices in the past. And when there are impressions of similar non-'best practices' under the current government, the citizenry are quick to notice such good governance failures and to view such failures as a betrayal of electoral promises.

This was why the undue delay and uncertainty over the future of the governorship of the Central Bank was a cause of worry among those who had watched chaos over governance for too long and are half-ready to see the same tendencies in the new regime since hardly anyone in the new government is exactly 'new' to government and politics.

President Sirisena has done well to find and appoint a compromise candidate whose credentials are impeccable and whose appointment bridges a crucial policy division that was seen between the SLFP and the UNP, being the two main political forces in the new regime. Further prevarication would have seriously and, perhaps permanently damaged the currently high credibility of the Government. And a yet hopeful but suspicious public will watch to see that there is no backsliding in this regard. That would be a wrong step as far as credibility is concerned. And credibility is what is needed: for greater economic and business certainty and, also, for voter confidence in the face of looming local polls.

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Stunted politics

'Stunting' is a medical term to describe one of the tragic consequences of undernutrition and malnutrition. It refers to reduced brain growth in children due to the serious lack of minimum standard nutritional food in the early stages of childhood, indeed, even during pregnancy. Such children grow up with permanently reduced intellectual capacities thereby going through life with less resourcefulness, innovation and enterprise as compared with their fellows.

That there are some politicians with similar traits due to their complete lack of education in civilised, modern politics was noticed during the previous regime. And the attempts they made to get away with their antics or the antics of their offspring or followers were so crude and laughable that it helped dispel the mystique of a regime that had thrived on ultra-nationalistic triumphalism.

Last week's antics by an incumbent government politician - including a 'suicide' stunt - may lead the watching citizenry to realise that such stunted politics take a long time to fade. Such antics need to be dealt with very firmly and transparently if people are to believe that the country, having moved away from malnutrition and its health consequences, is also moving beyond such stunted politics.

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