Antho jata bahi jata
Posted on June 30th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Last year’s regime change was expected to bring about a radical change in Sri Lanka politics. In fact, the self-appointed champions of good governance or yahapalanaya made a solemn pledge before the last presidential election not only to fight bribery and corruption which had eaten into the vitals of society but also to depoliticise the state institutions completely. Sadly, that promise remains unfulfilled.

Yahapalanaya was described by its proponents as an efficacious antidote to the rot in the viscera of the state sector. But, the deterioration of those institutions continues because the much-vaunted antidote has been contaminated with dirty politics. There are unmistakable symptoms of a systemic failure affecting the three branches of government and other institutions whose independence and efficiency are a sine qua non for democratic, political and economic wellbeing of the country.

Minister Champika Ranawaka, one of the most vociferous campaigners for good governance, called the independence of the judiciary into question a few days ago. Even those who did not see eye to eye with him on that score at that time must have agreed with him later when they learnt that he had not been named a suspect in the case anent the Feb. 29 hit-and-run accident in Rajagiriya.

However, a welcome gavel blow has rekindled our hope that all is not yet lost where judicial independence is concerned as can be seen from the in-depth analysis of a recent Supreme Court decision on this page today. The judiciary has a pivotal role to play in restoring public faith in the country’s ailing democracy.

The legislature is an unholy mess. As for bills, resolutions etc it is like a dysentery patient’s stomach—anything that goes in, comes out undigested, emanating a stench. The Budget 2016 is a case in point. The official Opposition is all at sea; it has been reduced to a mere appendage of the government. The Joint Opposition is running around like a headless chicken with a single-item agenda. Its raison d’etre appears to be re-enthroning the former ruling clan.

Among the Cabinet members are those who were rejected by the people at the last parliamentary election. Members of the ruling coalition speak with one voice only on their perks and privileges. There is a cacophony within the government ranks over crucial national issues as evident from their response to the unconscionable VAT hike.

The US has urged the UK and the EU to make Brexit a calm divorce. However, the political marriage which the US and some other world powers are said to have been instrumental in arranging here between the UNP and the SLFP is bound to end in an explosive divorce, as it were. That almost happened last Wednesday on the question of the appointment of a successor to Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran under a cloud.

President Sirisena declared on Wednesday morning in Girandurukotte that he would appoint a new Central Bank Governor shortly and rushed to the Central Bank in the afternoon. He was followed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told the media that the new appointment would be announced within a couple of hours. But, nothing of the sort happened and the President returned having made a speech in which he said so little in so many words.

The UNP has dug its heels in having taken one step back and two steps forward over the Mahendran issue! It wants one of its nominees appointed to that post temporarily in a bid to leave room for Mahendran to make a comeback.

But, the row over the next Central Bank head is the least of the UNP’s problems following the submission of the Auditor General’s report on the bond scams to Parliament. The JVP, which has benefited from last year’s regime change and is hell bent on holding the Rajapaksas at bay, is in a dilemma. Having played political footsie with the UNP all these months, now it has to make a tough decision; one of its MPs heads the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), tasked with the parliamentary probe into the questionable bond deals. A COPE report unfavourable to the UNP-led government will give the Joint Opposition a turbo boost. This is the last thing the pro-government members of the COPE want!

The UNP has much more than Mahendran’s reputation at stake. If the COPE decides that there has been a bond racket, arrests will have to be made and the government will be hoist with its own petard as regards the much-dreaded Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) specialising in arresting suspects. Else, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government will be without any moral right to campaign against corruption. Above all, the people will be able to give their verdict on corrupt deals under the present government at the next local government polls to be held sooner or later. This is a worrisome proposition for not only the UNP but also its newfound allies—the SLFP (Sirisena Faction), the JVP and the TNA. Will adversity make the strange bedfellows stick together for their own sake on the bond issue as well?

The cold war between the executive president and Parliament under the present dispensation has come to a head with the UNP and the SLFP. It was with great difficulty that they averted a disastrous clash on Wednesday over the appointment of the new Central Bank Governor.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is in an unenviable position with VAT protests spreading throughout the country like a bush fire. As if domestic problems were not enough, there has come a renewed UNHRC call for the participation of foreign judges in the war crimes probe mechanism to be set up. How the government will tackle this seemingly intractable issue remains to be seen.

Antho jata bahi jata—conflicts within, conflicts without!

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