Some called it a ‘revolution’, but a war and corruption-battered nation did not see it quite that way even if they did vote for a significant political change two years ago. Today the current coalition government marks the second anniversary of the presidential election that brought it to power.
The National Unity coalition, officially named the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), is the second such coalition in Sri Lanka in which the political parties in the coalition control, both, the presidency as well as the parliamentary government. The current coalition has the advantage of actually contesting and winning power jointly, in both arms of government, the presidency and the parliamentary government. Thus, we do not have an SLFP presidency and UNP government. Rather, both institutions are held by the National Unity coalition.
The main theme of UNFGG’s election campaigns for both, the January 2015 presidential election and the August 2015 parliamentary elections was the implementation of good governance as opposed to the ‘bad’ governance of the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. That the majority of the citizenry did agree with this charge of bad governance by the Rajapaksa regime was clear by the results of these two elections.
The UNFGG coalition promised sweeping changes in both, the system of running the country, as well as the style of running it. For decades, since the current constitution set up a new political system in 1978, the misdemeanours of successive presidencies and governments have been seen to signify critical deficiencies in that political system.
This accumulated negative experience culminated with the worst ‘bad governance’ or, misgovernance, that occurred during the last regime. It was the shock of the sheer scale of authoritarianism, blatant violation of constitutional practices, political violence, nepotism, and corruption in the Rajapaksa decade that saw the birth of the UNFGG with the most detailed election platform for systemic change.
This week, we assess how much change has been implemented and, the state of the nation as a whole under UNFGG rule.
It is possible to argue that there have been changes for the better on the basis of the clear reduction in the incidence, per year, of the types of misgovernance listed above during the past two years of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime as compared with the incidence of such misgovernance during the Rajapaksa regime. Inevitably, the government has done better in some areas and not so well in others.
Social action groups and rights groups, that have long raised a plethora of issues of rights violations and maladministration, today, agree that there is considerable improvement in these aspects. Certainly, the number of rights violations has declined although there continue to be incidents of unlawful or poorly justified arrests, detentions and suppression of protests.
In the area of maladministration there has been heartening change. At long last, after a decade of governance by whim and political opportunism rather than systematic planning, today, the country’s administrative systems are reverting to proper institutional operation.
Gone are the tragically wasteful personal fantasies being enacted by egoistic politicians and their immediate family across the spectrum of national life - from urban ‘beautification’ to fairy tale ‘port cities’, to Commonwealth Games and even rugby. Rather, enthusiastic experts and planners, for long ignored in favour of sycophantic charlatans, have already come up with realistically ambitious and comprehensively detailed plans for economic and social development. Others as well as activist groups have enthusiastically participated in the endeavour for post-war national reconciliation and constitutional change.
The Port City fantasy, likely to forever mar the once wide horizon at Galle Face Green, has been reconfigured with much difficulty to avoid at least some damage to the sea and urban environment, while, hopefully reducing the astronomical financial cost to the country. How the even more disastrous Hambantota port and Mattala airport projects will be reconfigured to similarly reduce environmental, social and financial carnage remains to be seen.
At the same time, the nation, today, has been inspired by imaginative new programs launched by the government such as, the Megapolis plan, the Trincomalee industrial hub proposal, and the quick initiatives to address the rising problems of road and rail transport.
Overall economic development, however, has been slow partly due to the coalition’s own delays, and partly due to the global downturn. This is most seen in the continued poor performance in foreign investment.
Most significant has been the immense effort and wide scale public participation in the constitutional reform process. This government has overseen a public consultation process across the country as has never been experienced before.
The aspect that is the brightest success of the National Unity Government has been in inter-ethnic harmony and social peace. The minority communities today feel more secure than they have been in decades, even if there are many residual issues arising from the war that need closure.
However, key aspects of ethnic equality, especially, in official language usage, remain tragically unresolved despite decades of internal war and human sacrifice. In that sense, a full peace, is yet years away.
If development is a major plus point for the Yahapaalanaya regime, corruption issues have only declined, though significantly. Too many reports of minor and major corruption by senior and mid-level officers of the regime – even ministers and deputy ministers – are emerging to allow those alert anti-corruption groups to relax. While even Transparency International (Sri Lanka) has welcomed the improvement in the corruption aspect, the fact that even politicians of a self-termed ‘good governance’ regime have not hesitated to indulge in corruption, indicates how deep this malaise runs, how much more effort and vigilance is needed to make the change.
It is not enough to preach ‘good governance’, prosecute past corruption and even reduce current corrupt practices. In order that a fundamental change occurs, those governing, must themselves live out the new style of governance. To make changes, especially, as national leaders, one must ‘be the change’.