Sri Lanka: Light at the end of the tunnel



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By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana


Those who advocated change, for the sake of good governance, overlooked one vital fact; most politicians nowadays, unlike in the past when service was the motto of politicians, look after their interests first, not that of the country or the people. They will make use of one and all, make promises they do not intend to keep, get power and will use it to their advantage and the come up with the most fanciful excuses to justify their misdeeds. The present government has followed the traditions of the preceding ones, the difference only in degree but then it is only the beginning.

There seems to be an eerie wall of silence, behind which those who beat the drums of good governance are hiding, while the columns of ‘The Island’ are full of comments from those who were silent before, but are spurred to express concerns by the glaring acts,defying this noble goal,committed by the new government at its’ very inception; theperiod when you expect to see the best before the inevitable slide occurs. I do not think we should blame them. Perhaps, silence is the only way they can express their disappointment or, maybe, they feel they have achieved something, better than nothing, with the marginal, if at best, improvements seen over the Rajapaksa regime. However, this was not the expectation of the vast majority who dreamt of a new dawn.


One does not have to be a genius to realize, it only needs very little improvement to be better than the Rajapaksa regime, as even the most ardent supporters and admirers of Mahinda Rajapaksa were increasingly concerned that even MR was no exception to the dictum ‘Power Corrupts’. Unfortunately, unlike in many other professions where longevity of practice leads to maturity and humility, in politics it seems to lead to corruption and megalomania. Another complication of longevity in political power is the creeping delusion of invincibility, often promoted by the ‘inner circle’ that acts as a barrier to reason. Though a lot churned out by the rumour mills have now shown to be gross exaggerations, there is no doubt that unacceptable levels of corruption plagued the tail end of MR’s regime, perhaps, the best known being the antics of his brother-in-law who treated our national carrier as his private property.


Those who advocated change, for the sake of good governance, overlooked one vital fact; most politicians nowadays, unlike in the past when service was the motto of politicians, look after their interests first, not that of the country or the people. They will make use of one and all, make promises they do not intend to keep, get power and will use it to their advantage and the come up with the most fanciful excuses to justify their misdeeds. The present government has followed the traditions of the preceding ones, the difference only in degree but then it is only the beginning.


‘Yahapalanaya’ is a misnomer; it really should be ‘Yugapalanaya’ as it was always intended to be the rule of two people, who by themselves were unlikely to reach the pinnacle of power. They ‘seized’ power with the help of a lady who had an axe to grind and, may be foreign powers. They accused MR of misuse of power but have done the same with impunity but with the cloak of ‘Yahapalanaya’. Two parties that could not get together even at the time of great national danger, when there was a grave threat of division of our Motherland, are now cohabiting, thanks to MR solving that ‘minor matter’


Leaving aside the Prime Minister’s decision to allow the Governor of Central Bank to continue in spite of corruption allegations, President’s decision to address the nation with an attack on members of his own party, just before the polls, in spite of his promise to remain neutral during elections; their greatest attack on the will of the people, hence democracy itself, was ‘rewarding the rejects’ and creation of a ‘jumbo cabinet’. Of course they justified their misdeeds by various political manoeuvres. Unfortunately, they seem to forget that morality trumps legality in any decent society.


Much has been written about ministerial appointments; that undeserving and tainted have been rewarded for their allegiance to the two leaders and that enlargement, contrary to pre-election promises, was not because of need but because of greed, to whet the appetites of competing factions. Be as it may, even more significant is the lack of rewarding talent, a fact brought home when I watched an interesting interview on ITN with BuddhikaPathirana.


Before proceeding further, I am obliged to declare a conflict of interest. Buddhika and I were educated in the same institution that has a reputation for imparting discipline and patriotism, Rahula College, Matara but we were separated by 35 years. Another politician reputed for his honesty and integrity, D E W Gunasekara, is also from Rahula College but was about five years my senior. Buddhika’s oratorical talents were recognized when he won the oratorical contest held in 1992 to commemorate the 10th death anniversary of my father, Mr C Justin Wijayawardhana who was a pioneer teacher in Rahula College.It was my brother, Ranjan who followed in the footsteps of our father to Parliament, who recruited Buddhika to the UNP and politics, a fact which Buddhika repeatedly stated in the interview demonstrating that he has a quality rare for politicians—gratitude. I have met him only once, during a ceremony to launch a book by my sister, Mali who is an Eye specialist, in 2013 and I have helped, in my own little way, his Samadhi Community Development Foundation which provides spectacles to needy school children, among other things.


When he was asked why he was not made a Minister Buddhika gave a diplomatic reply and on being plodded whether he is disappointed he gave very plausible reasons why he is not but I am. I feel, very strongly, a great injustice has been done.


Here are my reasons why Buddhika should have been made a minister:


1. He was elected to the Southern Provincial Council in 2004 and became the Leader of the Opposition in 2009, the youngest Leader of Opposition in any Provincial Council in Sri Lanka.


2. He entered Parliament in 2010, getting the first position for UNP with 62,449 preferential votes.


3. He was re-elected in August 2015, again getting the first position, with an increased number of preferential votes to 98,815, beating to the second place the mighty Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera who brushed shoulders with John Kerry, US Secretary of State, shortly before the elections.


4. He has remained with UNP from the time he joined as a Youth Leaguer though he could have got a cabinet posting from MR had he been prepared to infect himself with the ‘monkey syndrome’; one of the commonest afflictions of Parliamentarians of late.


5. He completed a Medical Degree but did not practise as he did not do the internship.


6. He made use of the, very unfortunate, five year gap to enter University by being the Principal (again the youngest) of a Sunday Dhamma School.


7. He has a media career spanning from 1994 to 2004 in TNL TV and Sirasa TV. He was credited to be an accomplished presenter of political programmes.


8. He is proud of his beginnings, being the grandson of a farmer and son of teachers which is in contrast to some politicians, including a former President keen to re-write their past.


9. He has demonstrated that in spite of the disadvantages of district representation, it is possible to be popular in a wide area by sheer hard work dedicated to people.


Buddhika has had professional training together with media expertise, a rare combination very valuable in politics. He has remained with the UNP throughout getting the highest preferential vote. With all this, if he does not qualify to be in the Cabinet who does?


The next question is why he has been overlooked?


May be because he is a threat to some in the UNP; reminding me of some not getting a job because they are over-qualified!


May be he is not the sort of person who venerates the shadow of the Leader!


May be he is not corrupt enough to be a Minister! (Well, that is the cynic in me)


May be he is destined for even greater things and get justice at last–


May be he will be the leader of the UNP one day, leading it to an outright victory.


I am sure Buddhika is not the only deserving politician overlooked and I wish there be many more politicians like him so that there is light at the end of the tunnel for Sri Lanka. It is likely to be a very long tunnel and I may not live to see the day but for the sake our beloved Motherland do hope it happens.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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