Democracy in practice Heeding public views
Posted on June 14th, 2016

MEN & EVENTS BY Sugeeswara Senadhira Courtesy Ceylon Today

One of the definitions of democracy is that it is a form of government usually corresponding to a top-down approach to democracy as seen from the ruler’s point of view. In this view the so-called ordinary people or citizens are considered as politically incompetent and it is argued that under modern conditions direct democracy is not only impossible but also unwise.

Most of the democratic leaders follow this view, especially after they are voted to power. Under that theory, democracy must be limited to the rule of an elected elite which alone has the capacities needed for making reasoned political decisions guided by the common good. In this approach voting for representatives is the most important instrument for citizen participation. However, citizens are excluded from direct participation in decision-making and governance.
However, in a meaningful democracy, the people’s views must prevail at all times. One thing is certain. The consensual government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is well aware of taking heed of the feelings of the masses is essential to ensure its continuity beyond the initial elected period of five years.
Import of vehicles
The recent example of this is the decision taken to revoke the Cabinet decision given for the importation of vehicles for ministers. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe gave instructions to the Treasury “not to grant even a cent for the importation of vehicles for ministers and MPs until funds were allocated to build houses to replace those destroyed by the floods and the blast at Kosgama, and to renovate the partly destroyed houses.”
Accordingly, the supplementary estimate to purchase vehicles will be suspended until the requisite funds are allocated to provide assistance to construct houses to replace the destroyed ones and to repair the damaged ones.
This came in the backdrop of heavy criticism over the Cabinet decision to allocate Rs 1,175 million for the acquisition of super luxury vehicles for seven ministers. Many impartial analysts were critical of the Cabinet decision which was taken in the backdrop of multiple calamities of floods, landslides and the explosion of the Army ammunition dump destroying many houses and properties.
Good governance
Some of the leading figures of the last Presidential Election campaign of the Common Candidate pointed out that those who had exercised their franchise at the January 2015 presidential polls and the subsequent parliamentary elections in August never expected the government of good governance to squander money on its members at a time the national economy was in crisis.
Even the critics of the government acknowledge the requirement of vehicles for ministers to function efficiently. However, the argument that ministers require super luxury vehicles to serve the masses will not hold water. As Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri pointed out recently one could clearly see the absurdity in masses being repeatedly told to tighten their belts and pay taxes whereas ministers brazenly wasted taxpayers’ money on vehicles.
Dewasiri as well as the Convenor of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya, who said he felt ashamed of himself for backing the incumbent adminis-tration now brazenly acting contrary to the much touted good governance, will no doubt heave a sigh of relief over the decision to revoke the car importation for the time being.
The government, having accused the Rajapaksas and the previous government of squandering public funds for their benefit, has no moral right to import luxury vehicles for ministers, especially at a time of such calamities that require the fullest attention as well as Treasury funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction of houses.
The Prime Minister’s announcement on revoking the car importation order is a step in the right direction. It will help to establish the fact that this is a government that listens to the public opinion. This is very important when you consider the fact that one of the main reasons for the downfall of the last regime was its leaders’ inability to reverse unpopular decisions. Its acts of commission and omission to heed to the public criticism ensured its defeat.
In contrast to the former regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the consensual government of President Sirisena is adhering to democratic principles and it has allowed airing of different views within the government. Social Empowerment and Welfare Minister S.B. Dissanayake said in Parliament that the President and Prime Minister should not give a service extension to Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran.
Participating in the debate on the no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Ravi Karunanyake, he recalled that President Sirisena had stated in public that the Governor of Central Bank should be removed.”When a president says so, usually the official responsible tenders his or her resignation. That can be expected from officials who are decent and serious about what they do. We hope that Mahendran will not be given a service extension,” he said.
Central Bank Governor
The service contract of Arjuna Mahendran is due to expire at the end of this month. UPFA General Secretary and Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera also emphasized the need for action against Central Bank Governor Mahendran. Earlier Minister Amaraweera made a complaint to the Bribery Commission against Mahendran.
The above trend of democracy within the government augurs well for the country and the people. Democracy as a way of life is such a vision, which is based on other assumptions about the nature of human beings, state and society than the still powerful hierarchical and elitist concept of democracy.
In this view, democracy is more than a form of government, more than a political ideal, it goes beyond institutional politics, and it is also something personal and internal, a social ideal rooted in everyday life and work which make people willing to engage in democratic decision-making and to acquire the skills needed for participation.

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