Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake was reported in the government press last week making the self-evident assertion that there was "a general erosion" of discipline in the country. He was also quoted saying that the government intends putting the (its?) house in order soon, however unpalatable this might be.
If yesterdays reported news that Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendis son, Harendra, has been told to withdraw from the race to become the new Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devale is correct, then it is a positive sign that the prime minister, who is winning many admirers for his outspoken candour, was not indulging in empty rhetoric. The rulers of the nation, hopefully, are turning the lamp inwards and taking a long hard look at themselves.
If our leaders want the people of this country to be disciplined, then they must be disciplined themselves. It is useless demanding discipline of the many while the few at the top enjoying the perks of elected office are anything but disciplined themselves. The size of the cabinet is one manifestation of the President of the Republic who is also the Head of Government, being totally unable to resist the demands of loyalists and supporters as well as the dictates of opportunist politics accounting for crossovers and suchlike, and limiting her government to proportions commensurate with the needs of a small country with a cash-strapped economy.
The kind of carnival weve been seeing from the early days of the government including the size and composition of the delegation to the recent Development Forum in Paris is no pretty picture. Despite ominous signs of deep economic distress, profligacy continues in the highest echelons of government. It is only right that Mr. Balapatabendis son should not run for the post of Basnayake Nilame for the very simple reason that his father occupies a position that can be used to influence the electoral college. Various allegations, true or not, has been made in this regard. Whatever that be, the basic issue is one of propriety and it is obvious that the candidature is improper. Ensuring that he withdraws is Discipline with a capital D.
The "listening and learning" process that occurred recently in Paris would hopefully have benefited both politicians and senior officials from Colombo who participated. The pity is that many of those who do wrong do so not because they do not know any differently, but because it is personally advantageous to act as they do. The President has maintained a deafening silence on the delay in the appointment of the deputy minister of defence. If General Ratwatte did a good job the first time round and if all the accusations that were thrown about the conduct of the Kandy election was untrue, why was there a long delay before he was re-appointed? That is an answer that the President owes the country and one she has not given.
Mr. Wickramanayake cited some familiar examples in his call for discipline. If a bus driver is assaulted over some personal problem, then all bus drivers go on strike. If disciplinary action is taken against a hospital attendant, then a crippling strike in the entire health sector is the result. We can add to that. If an undergraduate is run over, possibly by a dangerously driven bus, then the driver is beaten up and the bus is set ablaze. Who loses? Bus traveling commuters including those who torched that bus, burdened as they are with hopelessly inadequate public transport.
It is not only the working class, as the prime minister mentioned, who have the perception that all their demands must be met. He made the point that rights must be accompanied by obligations and that too many of our people are prone to forget that part of the bargain. Unfortunately the rulers too can be tarred with the same brush. Being at the serving end of the national exchequer, they have been liberal with the gravy on their own plates as the people are very well aware. The political and bureaucratic establishments are better able to satisfy their own demands, without trade union action, as pensions for parliamentarians with only five years service amply demonstrates.
The bald truth is that standards of governance are deteriorating and becomes worse with every succeeding government. Discipline has to be restored in all areas of activity right from the top to the bottom. There has to be a consciousness among everybody that the country is on a downward slide along the Gadarene slope. The people will be as disciplined as their leaders are. If policemen are left to do their jobs without political interference, law and order in the country will surely improve from the despicable depths to which they have slumped. There must be no patronage in the appointments and transfers of policemen and the service will be all the better for it. It is the disciplined politician who backs the impartial policeman and keeps partisan lackeys at more than an arms length.
If the prime minister said that the government intends putting "the house" in order soon with regard to discipline, and if that would include its own house, we would have got off to a useful start. If Balapatabendi Jr. is withdrawn from the Basnayake Nilame stakes, that would be a fine example of the top imposing discipline upon itself.
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