‘Me and My Bonds’ ‘The President and I’ ‘As I always say’
Posted on December 4th, 2017

By Sarath De Alwis Courtesy The Island

The statement of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in parliament about bonds made last week was a preemptive tactic to position himself and his beleaguered administration to deal with the report of the commission of inquiry due on 8th December.

His use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ in one instance conveys a collective authority and responsibility with the President. In the latter, ‘As I always say, the ‘I’ is more explanatory and uncharacteristically less authoritative.

The choice of pronouns in political statements and speeches indicates the speaker’s inclination to share the responsibility with others – in this instance with the coalition partner and President in the first, and with colleagues in the party and parliament in the second.

The pronoun ‘I ‘is not used lightly in political statements that are drafted and readout. The pronoun ‘I’ in such framed statements conveys the speaker’s opinion. It makes the speech more subjective. Students of political rhetoric believe that ‘I’ makes the speaker personally involved and puts a distance between him and others involved in the subject.

There is, no doubt, that the Bond fiasco has undermined the leadership of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The country demands a re-committed leadership.

Politicians engaged in image repairing do not say sorry for the errant act or misdeed. Political leaders are human. They make mistakes, commit blunders. When they do, a solid unambiguous apology and an acceptance of responsibility can help restore a reasonable level of trust between the leader and the public.

A general declaration that mistakes will be corrected and the forward march will proceed as planned is a thin shroud that will not cover the enormity of the inequity committed.

The sense of inadvertence it implies is an insult to the intelligence of the man on the street although it may appeal to those living in penthouses.

Mr. Wickremesinghe is not a monetary economist. He is not a development economist. He is not the repository of all wisdom relating to central banking.

Yet, he has by deliberate design, concentrated all powers in guiding the nation’s economy in his hands. While insisting that parliament will have full control of public finance, he relies on a few self-declared experts who regard the national coffers their personal fiefdom.

“As I always say, the President and I are committed to bringing in this new political culture. This is a new experience for our country. Some find it difficult to comprehend it due to complexities of this process. Due to its novelty, mistakes can be made, shortcomings may arise. We should rectify them. But we are not ready to sweep the errors and shortfalls under the carpet as was done during the Rajapaksa regime and bury social justice.”

The quoted passage reveals the mind and politics of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. He confuses power with virtue.

His opening ruse, “As I always say’, is intended to locate himself above the hoi polloi on an elevated grandstand. From those lofty heights he looks down on us ‘we the people’, whose public purse has been picked by one of the two ‘Arjuns’ or both.

A grand stand is not the best place to locate yourself in explaining a grand larceny.

The statement defined and framed the role of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in the Bond scandal. It lacked clarity, lucidity, enlightenment and truth. If he achieved anything at all, it was his mastery in the opaque language.

The intention was to repair and restore the image of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The principal issue was the bonds issued in the period post 8th January 2015. The explanation was a promise to probe, bonds issued and traded pre-January 8th, 2015. It is Koheda Yanne Malle Pol!

Superficial in substance, laughable in its logic, it was delivered in choking Sinhala. The Prime Minster failed to answer the crucial question of what he knew and when he knew of the transactions between and by the two ‘Arjuns’. The strategic positions in our financial firmament held by the father-in-law and the son-in-law was entirely due to the personal bonds they had with him.

We dislodged the autocracy of Mahinda Rajapaksa on 8th January. The wizard of central banking abandons his lucrative practice as an investment banker, packs up his bags and leaves Singapore within the week. That needs some explanation.

Political leaders are human. They make mistakes, commit blunders. When they do, a solid unambiguous apology and an acceptance of responsibility can help restore a reasonable level of trust between the leader and the public.

Lest we forget, this explanation was made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the government that promised to replace a corrupt regime with a government of integrity, transparency and accountability.

President Sirisena recently reminded us that the first transgression was enacted within the first three months of his assuming office and installing a minority UNP government. His forthright observation was made at the second commemorative ceremony of Venerable Sobhitha Thera. The event was avoided by the Prime minister who did not wish to sit through the peroration of Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, Convener and present leader of the Movement for a Just Society.

The findings and recommendations of the commission will determine the trajectory of the ‘Yaha Palanaya’ coalition. Despite expedient protests to the contrary, the shady business of bonds has derailed the ‘Yaha Palanaya’ project that held immense promise to those of us; who longed for a land reconciled, at peace with itself and with a minimal semblance of a sanctuary of social justice.

Apology is alien to the nature of PM Wickremesinghe. He was practically choking on the words delivered in Sinhala. He wisely opted to do it in the language that is not his natural lingo.

Reiterating the determination to go forward while confessing to mistakes and shortcomings is a smart way of offering a non-apologetic apology. It is smart because it appeases your own ranks. It is smarter than the tactic adopted by Sujeeva Senasinghe, who with his hands in the cookie jar was telling us that he only wished to learn the art of making cookies and was by no means trying to eat them.

But, when a leader makes that to circumvent ethical impropriety, it portrays a leader missing the critical component of accountability. Telling us that “mistakes were made” is a poor substitute for what is implied unmistakably but dressed in jackal cunning. “Terrible things happened on my watch. But please other people did those dirty stuff and I cannot be blamed. Besides, more terrible things happened before my watch. Now let us see who is to be blamed more.”

The statement delivered in parliament, with no interruptions was a strategy to return to the party fortress with minimal damage and least cost to reputation and credibility.

PM Wickremesinghe is a leader who has survived for forty years in politics outwitting charismatic rivals. His charisma is bestowed on him by a faithful coterie of cronies and self-serving followers. An explicable destiny has given him command of an established political party – the UNP – with a solid voter base in our clientelist democracy.

This special class of cronies is elite activists, including a powerful set of oligarchs, active behind the UNP stage. The UNP stage is his home turf where he alone is the only soprano in town.

They have bestowed the charisma of a clean, resolute leader on him. That is natural. When a person seems to embody the qualities, they look for in a leader, they contrive to build a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Ranil is a leader who treats the public with disdain. He treats his crony counsellors with great diffidence. He dominates his political colleagues. He assiduously concentrates decision making in his own hands.

That is how he arrived at his present disaster. He had not learned his lesson. He does not consult the party. He manipulates it. He does not heed contrary opinion. He chooses to ignore it. He lives in a make-believe world inhabited by aides who are eager to pander to his foibles. They are happy to keep the emperor clothed in imagined silk. They take decisions in the name of the leader. That in a nutshell, explains the predicament of a Prime Minister pre-doomed to a revolving door in high office.

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