State as estate
Posted on December 4th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Dr. Usvatte-aratchi, in his article on this page today, demolishes some long-held myths and misconceptions about state revenue, taxes, free education and free healthcare among other things. Referring to a recent statement made by President Maithripala Sirisena, he points out that it is wrong for the head of state to use the term, mage rajaya (my state) as the President does not own the state. President Sirisena has recently gone on record as saying that ‘my state’ won’t allow anyone who fought the country’s war on terror to be tried for war crimes.

Dr. Usvatte-aratchi deserves praise for highlighting the wrong use of the Sinhala term, rajaya. The words, rajaya, and aanduwa (government) are often erroneously used so much so that it is popularly thought that they are interchangeable. In English, too, the words, ‘state’ and ‘government’ are loosely used in this country. The fact that not many people are aware that the government is only the controlling apparatus of the state has stood ruling politicians in good stead. (The state is a much bigger and more complex entity comprising, inter alia, a landmass with recognised boundaries, a population, sovereignty and a government.) This popular misconception at issue has helped rulers equate their governments to the state and most Sri Lankans seem to think politicians elected to power wield a special licence to do whatever they want with the state.

However, what a government, run by a bunch of politicians elected to rule the country for a specific period of time, does out of expediency more often than not can be binding on the part of the state. The Geneva resolution co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in 2015 is a case in point. There is no way the state of Sri Lanka can extricate itself from that resolution even in the event of a change of government. Ill-conceived lease agreements with foreign powers at the expense of state assets also serve as an example.

Never mind the state; President Sirisena can’t claim that even the incumbent government is his own though he heads it. For, some of the key policies of the yahapalana administration are at variance with his much-touted vision and mission. He never misses an opportunity to make a hue and cry about attempts being made to set up a hybrid war crimes court here and vows to put paid to them. But, the government continues to reaffirm its commitment to the Geneva resolution. He claims he is committed to reducing alcohol consumption as he did in Parliament the other day, but the government has sought to make beer freely available at reduced prices. He vows to bring the bond racketeers to justice, but some of his government members are protecting the suspects and flaying him for appointing a presidential commission of inquiry to probe the bond scams. If the government is his, it should do as he says, shouldn’t it?

President Sirisena is not alone in having evinced a proprietary interest in the state. All his predecessors, save a few, did so and some of them even acted in such a way that they were seen to consider themselves hereditary rulers. It may be recalled that sycophants of the previous regime, in a bid to ingratiate themselves with President Mahinda Rajapaksa went so far as to call him a king and sing hosannas. They claimed that he was the reincarnation of an ancient warrior king who had hailed from the South. Not to be outdone, the court flatterers of the present regime came out with a song, claiming that Rajapaksa’s successor was the reincarnation of another warrior king who reigned from Polonnaruwa! Thankfully, that song was sung only once in public.

Heads of states in this country have professed Buddhism. But, none of them have, during the last several decades, heeded what Arahant Mahinda told King Devanampiyatissa—‘You are only a trustee and not the owner of this land’. If they realise this simple truth, they will leave gracefully when their terms come to an end without trying to stick to power like limpets until they are kicked out.

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