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Editorial

 
 

Santa won’t come



Sri Lankans are in for a big disappointment. The Pope may come next month, but Santa won’t be here this Christmas. For, we have two local Santas doing his job much better than he and his visit will be redundant. One of them is wearing a saataka and the other is in a waistcoat borrowed from Modi. The former is already showering goodies on the public and the latter is promising much more in a few weeks provided the people facilitate his ascent to power.


President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s real manifesto for the upcoming presidential poll came in the form of his Budget 2015. He is expected to present an additional one shortly. His contender, Maithripala Sirisena, has just released his policy document full of promises; it is obviously his answer to the President’s budget. Having seen many an unfulfilled promise in Mahinda Chinthana and the manifestos of his predecessors one wonders how on earth Sirisena would be able to make good his promises such as the cancellation of loans and the provision of handouts in case of his victory unless he has found Aladin’s magic lamp with the famous genie willing to work for him without defecting.


Rajapaksa became president in 2005 vowing to abolish the executive presidency and now he is seeking a third term. Sirisena blows hot and cold on his promise to scrap that institution. His gobbledygook has left us confused as to what he really intends to do with it. How can we expect a man who insists that he is still the SLFP General Secretary in spite of his defection to give up the executive presidency if he succeeds in securing it?


The incumbent government’s solution to the problem of unemployment has been to recruit the youth, mostly its backers and unemployed graduates, to already overstaffed state institutions. Sirisena tells us that he would follow the Temasek model which leaves no room for unnecessary recruitment. That is he will have to downsize the state service drastically in case of his victory.


What suits a city state may not necessarily work for this country. Disastrous experiments with state ventures under successive governments do not allow us to repose our trust in models promised by politicians as the panacea.


The onus is on any government to create an investor friendly environment and facilitate the growth of the private sector without milking it dry through extortionately high taxes, but at the same time the public ventures must be developed so that there will be a healthy competition between the two sectors.


Sirisena’s promise as regards the management of public ventures reminds us of the fraudulent divestiture programmes under the UNP-led UNF government such as the sale of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and the Lanka Marine Service property. These deals were exposed by the parliamentary watchdog committee, COPE, headed by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who is now a leading figure in the UNP at the forefront of the Opposition’s anti-corruption drive! Thankfully, the Supreme Court declared those deals null and void but the UNP politicians responsible for them went scot free; worse, they are now clamouring for good governance!


The bigger the promise a candidate makes the less serous he/she is about honouring it. Before the 1977 general election late J. R. Jayewardene promised eight pounds of cereals (eta ata) free of charge besides a righteous society (dharmista samaajaak) and his predecessor Sirimavo Bandaranaike pledged to bring rice from the moon (handen haal). The late President Premadasa promised a roof over everybody’s head and an end to poverty. (More than one half of the people of Colombo, which was his stronghold, are still living in slums and shanties!) President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga promised a country free from corruption and terror (dhooshanya saha bheeshanya). (She was fined by the Supreme Court for abuse of power and an illegal land deal.) Ranil Wickremesinghe captured power in Parliament in 2001 by promising the youth gold chains and bracelets and vowing to ‘regain Sri Lanka’, among other things. President Rajapaksa, not to be outdone, promised to make Sri Lanka ‘Wonder of Asia’, no less!


Lies, damned lies and election manifestoes! Edmund Burke it was who said: ‘Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.’ Politicians are lucky that there’s a sucker born every minute.


 
 
 

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