A new year brings with it the promise of change. Resolutions are made and often broken, even before the first month of the year comes to an end.
The Yahapalanaya government came in on the promise of change. This month, sees its third year in government and there is disillusionment all around.
There was an air of expectation that January 2015.
We were throwing out a regime that destroyed the core values of our society; arrogance, thuggery, nepotism and might is right was the order of the day under the Rajapaksa regime. Freedom of speech was muzzled, natural resources plundered, human rights violated and protestors violently put down. The mere mention of ‘white vans’ sent shivers down ones spine.
Politicians, their hangers-on and most public officials behaved as though the country was their personal fiefdom.
Yahapalanaya was meant to change all that.
Some things have. People are free to criticise the government. Protestors take to the streets for the slightest provocation without fear of being attacked. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed as was the Right to Information Act and Electoral Reform. Constitutional Councils are in place. Finally, after many years of agitation, we have a quota that paves the way for more women to enter politics. This month, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe also signed the guidelines media must adhere to when covering elections.
However, much has been left undone.
We are still waiting, like waiting for Godot, for those behind the murders and abductions of journalists and activists and Thajudeen the Ruggerite to be brought to book. The wheels of justice, for those awaiting restitution, seem to be turning very slowly.
Corruption and nepotism continue.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Sri Lanka at 95 out of 175 countries examined in 2016. That is only two points down from its rank of 97 in 2009.
The report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Central Bank Bond scandal highlights the fact that nepotism has become a hallmark of Sri Lankan society. It is more so amongst those at the top and has been the practice for decades.
And now Yahapalanaya will be facing its first test since coming to power in January 2015, when the citizenry goes to the poll on February 10th, to elect its Local Government representatives.
Not having cleaned out the stables as expected, with the local government elections staring them in the face, there are attempts to shore up support with claims of nominating candidates who are “clean”.
Incumbent President Sirisena had leaders and representatives of the thirty one political parties contesting as the United People’s Freedom Alliance, (UPFA ) take the “Pledge for Freedom”, which promises, once again, “good governance, free of corruption and fraud.”
A pledge that should have been made on January 8, 2015 and adhered to! One may ask what he and the rest of his team have been doing up to now. Have they suddenly woken up, like Rip Van Winkle, to realize they will be sorely tested at this election, and must dangle another carrot before the citizens, if they are to win?
Moreover, he claims that the SLFP he leads will create a new political culture, free of corruption, wastefulness and fraud; a culture that would infuse love of the motherland and the people. He has directed Secretaries to the various Ministries to ensure that State resources are not misused, and reminded them that serving the public comes before anything else.
He has asked that those addicted to drug or alcohol be barred from contesting. While all of this must be welcomed, even though late, the question that begs an answer is, whether every candidate nominated to contest this election has been whetted to ensure they are squeaky clean. Are there any with connections to drug lords, murderers, rapists, fraudsters, the underworld mafia or those under trial for criminal activity?
Sirisena is hopeful his ‘Pledge for Freedom” will result in the election of ‘educated, clean, young candidates” to local government bodies.
The ‘cleaner younger’ generation, grew up seeing the decadent behaviour of those in authority today. Whose good behaviour could they follow then? Politicians, religious leaders, educationists, government and private sector employees who act for the betterment of society instead of their selfish needs and greed are now a rare commodity. Gone are the days when politicians used their own resources to contest elections. Almost all of today’s politicians do the opposite; they amass wealth for their kith and kin.
Our values have putrefied to the extent that most vehicle drivers ignore road rules- it’s more of an “every man for himself” attitude, people don’t stand in line, but simply cut in, at banks and shops etc. displaying very little patience or respect for others.
Only time would tell, if any of the new breed of politicians place country and people before self, and stay true to the “Pledge of Freedom.” If not, it would simply be a case of old wine in new skins.
Even as President Sirisena attempts to root out this messy political culture at Local Government, he and Prime Minister Wickramesinghe must clean up at the top; removal of kith and kin from plum posts, ensuring government contracts are awarded to the best tender instead of family or friends, and bringing those charged or being investigated for the various crimes committed during the past decades to book speedily must take priority.
Having candidates take the pledge is not good enough. What we need today is a completely new way of thinking. We need to learn all over again about conducting business without looking for material gain, to be respectful to all, irrespective of their standing in society.
Yahapalanaya was the wind that was expected to change direction and bring the country out of corruption, nepotism and thuggery. Unfortunately, it has been mired in mud these three years. Let’s hope it extricates itself before the year is out.