There are two types of government in this world of ours; those that seek office and those that seek power.
Those that seek office, broadly speaking, put up a manifesto which outlines a programme for government and then seeks to carry out that programme, when in office, for the betterment of all the people. There are precious few governments or political parties across the world who can say that they are purists in this form of government and sooner or later even their insecurities and greed lead them to do things which, in earlier times, they swore they would never do.
Then there are those that seek power. They too might put forward a manifesto, but it is of little interest once power has been attained. After that you will usually see their true agenda unfold, which is nearly always focussed on the betterment of them and their supporters. They believe that power is all that matters because only with power can you manage the people. Of course, if you haven’t got the power you need, then you do everything you can to gain that power through whatever constitutional means are available to you.
The sad truth is that this is politics and it is why so many principled people prefer to play no part. Often, when they do, they become as bad as those they follow.
As yet we have to wait and see which form of government the party of the ruling family will form. It doesn’t look encouraging. The first item for discussion at the new Cabinet was constitutional change; I can tell you that this will not fill many bellies or improve the lot of ordinary Sri Lankans.
But the family with their super-majority do have a chance to change Sri Lanka for the better. They have the chance to show the sort of leadership that could build Sri Lanka into a place that the Americans, Chinese, Indians and Japanese really would want to take over (see my last article).
No doubt you are all watching the first moves of the family to see what emerges. Below I give five indicators which, if they emerge, I believe would suggest that they are using their super-majority for the betterment of all Sri Lankans:
- Leadership. Leadership isn’t about shouting louder than the other man at election rallies, or subverting the work of the judiciary and other independent bodies such as the media. Leadership is about feeling secure enough in your own skin that you can be magnanimous and inclusive in all of your policies. If the new government really wanted to show leadership that would make everyone sit up and listen then they would reach out to the minorities in the country, the Tamils, the Muslims and the Christians. We know that the parties representing the minorities can be petulant and insular. All the more reason why a concerted effort to find tangible ways to improve the lives of those minorities, whilst giving them space to practice their own cultures, would reap huge dividends.
It would show the world that Sri Lanka has a confident, secure and inclusive government. It would also lessen the chances of a return to violence.
- Distributing accountability. Insecure parties and their leaders always want to centralise power into their own hands. There is a problem with such practice; it means that when anything goes wrong there is only one place to look for the blame. Milinda Moragoda and the Pathfinder Foundation have come up with some innovative ways of distributing accountability which would show true leadership and encourage local people to run their own lives. Whilst I don’t agree with the idea of an upper house or Senate, I do think that de-centralising accountability down to local councils means that actions become more sensitive to local needs. Of course accountability could also be returned to the police, courts and media, which in turn would lead to a better run country – but that would require a government that was able and willing to take criticism.
- Eliminate corruption. Corruption, as I explained in my previous article, benefits no-one in the long run, least of all ordinary Sri Lankans. With a super-majority the new government has no excuses. The time has come to clear out the corrupt and put in place honest people who will act in the interests of Sri Lankans. Sri Lanka doesn’t need a Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption (could they have thought of a longer name?) what it needs is a state of mind, starting at the top, which says I will not tolerate corruption. Once the word gets around that the top man is serious then, and only then, will things start to change.
- Competent money management. Sri Lanka doesn’t need a great economist or a super-duper financial whizz kid to run the Treasury. What it needs is some good old fashioned sound financial management. Getting rid of loss making, political job creating, state-owned enterprises would be a good start. Putting the skids under rampant ministerial spending would be another worthy action point. Saying no to grandiose schemes would be very encouraging. And taking any loans and grants offered by other countries, provided the projects contemplated can show that they would lead to economic growth, would be another.
- Encouraging the opposition. Now you may consider this one quirky; however, the most effective governments are those that have a competent and effective opposition probing their every action and its motives. Insecure leaders fear such oppositions, but true leaders always welcome the vibrant debate that comes from an effective opposition; especially where that debate can lead to more effective policies. Ranil stayed too long and he has brought forth the almost complete destruction of his party, the once great United National Party. I have always been a supporter of Ranil, but the time has come for the party to find someone new and try to rebuild itself. It can be done; look at the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party in 1993 when it was reduced to two seats from 154. It took them thirteen years, but they regained office in 2006 under the leadership of Stephen Harper and were there for nearly a decade. The UNP needs a similar leader who can bring them back to form an effective opposition as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, congratulations to the family, you continue to be outstanding electioneers; but the true test of history is whether you will be remembered as great leaders.