Good governance cannot be imported
Posted on January 30th, 2015

By Rohana R. Wasala

Courtesy The Island
These days, the phrase ‘good governance’ reverberates across the media reporting on Sri Lanka. It refers to a vague concept that is being used by the West and their opportunistic allies as a very effective weapon against our country to keep it destabilized for their own purposes, while trying to alienate us from the relatively more sincere friends in the region that we have had for over a thousand years. (Human rights violation charges are another weapon. Even when there are some genuine reasons for raising issues such as poor governance and rights violations, these are blown out of proportion to suit the attacker’s need.) We are in the ridiculous position of a dog that snaps at a stone thrown at it, being too distracted to see the stone thrower. A nuanced understanding of ‘good governance’ is a cogent necessity at this critical time. (The adjective ‘nuanced’ here means characterized by attention being paid to a number factors such as the different shades of contextual meanings that the phrase ‘good governance’ expresses, the usual assumptions that the idea is based on, the feelings behind it, the tone or attitudes it reflects, the intentions it probably conceals, and the subtle change of one shade of meaning into another as in the border between any two colours in the spectrum, etc.)
I have long believed that Mr Mahinda Rajapakse and Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe, despite their personal human failings, are the two most prominent non-communalist national political leaders that we can’t do without until they are made redundant in their roles by equally good or better ones. Both are national assets being products of long years of training (experience) in politics in this multicultural multiethnic country; they have both held responsible positions of political power and proved their mettle. This is why I wrote in an article about one and a half months before the last election: ‘The only available replacement for Mr Rajapakse at the present time, if he must be replaced, is Mr Wickremasinghe with all his deficiencies and past failures’ (The Island, 26 November 2014). However, ironically, it was by a conspiratorial denial of good governance to the people of Sri Lanka by the global powers that be on the one hand, and by a courageous assertion of national good governance (in the form of free and fair elections) by Mr Rajapakse on the other, notwithstanding allegations to the contrary, that Mr Wickremasinghe got the opportunity to become prime minister. The saving feature of the situation is that he is the most suitable person to hold that position in any case. It is not suggested that President Maithripala Sirisena subrogate him for the post that he was himself elected. Mr Sirisena is facing probably the most daunting challenge ever in his career at the moment. The challenge is to forestall the real or virtual division of the country by forging a truly democratic solution to the national problem that is acceptable to all the people of the country with the help of all the national, communal and regional parties represented in parliament.
The speeches made by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe at Polonnaruwa recently hold out much hope for the future. Mr Wickremasinghe, while recalling how the founder leader of the UNP Mr D.S. Senanayake was assisted by Mr S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the development of agriculture in the area, stressed the importance of the UNP and the SLFP working together for the good of the country. This is true, because both these parties are national parties, not communal parties, and so they represent all the people who make this country their home. It is this sort of alliance between the two major parties that certain communalist politicians fear and seek to prevent. Mr Sirisena on his part warned that all those found guilty of pre- and post-election violence will be punished according to the law irrespective of rank or party affiliation; he expressed his determination to usher in a new political culture, and extended an emotional appeal to fellow SLFPers to join with him in serving the country.
The national problem can only be solved by a national leader who enjoys the support of the majority of the majority community and that of the minorities. A politician cannot hope to do that in a democratic way by kowtowing to the West because their interests are not our interests. Mr Rajapakse, while enjoying the support of the majority and the favour of a fair section of the minorities did everything possible, within the limited resources available to our poor country, to restore prosperity and normalcy to fellow Sri Lankans in the north and the east. But the expression of the authentic voice of the people in those areas was somehow thwarted by the intervention of opportunistic communal politicians at the behest of meddling outsiders. The people were made to cast their vote against Mr Rajapaksa rather than for Mr Sirisena. Mr Rajapaksa could have survived the attack on his presidency had he distanced himself from the criminal elements that he actually mollycoddled, instead of improving the day-to-day lot of the masses that had deteriorated as part of the price they were made to pay for the development of the whole country with special attention to the north and the east. It cannot be denied that the Rajapaksa brothers achieved much for the country by defeating terrorism and by initiating meaningful economic growth. Regarding the corruption charges leveled against them, they and the nation must not be denied justice. In any case, the various development programmes they started at great cost to the country should not be scuttled, and the independent policies adopted in the foreign relations arena should not be abandoned, while introducing timely adjustments where necessary.
The Rajapaksa regime was accused of poor governance. How serious is this charge? First we must consider the question ‘What is good governance?’. Good governance refers to processes for making and implementing decisions in managing human affairs in contexts that involve the exercise of power. The concept of good governance is inherently indeterminate. According to UN documents good governance has eight characteristics (presumably, in a well-governed country): It is consensus oriented (in decision making general agreement or majority opinion is sought); it is participatory (every member who is interested has the right to take part in the decision-making process); good governance asserts the rule of law (the decision-makers act within the powers given them by law, and stick to what is legally allowed); it is effective and efficient (the body or council makes the best use of the resources and time at its disposal for the maximum benefit of the community); good governance ensures accountability (the board or council is answerable for the results of its decisions and actions); it is transparent (people on whose behalf decisions are made and implemented must be able see how and why these decisions are taken, on what basis, and what advice, information etc were sought); it is responsive (the government/council must provide for the needs of the community to be met, balancing between competing interests); good governance is equitable and inclusive (every member of the community must be able to feel satisfied that their interests have been served in a fair manner; particularly, vulnerable groups must be able to participate in the decision-making processes).
The IMF (1996) declared promoting good governance in all its aspects, including by ensuring the rule of law, improving the efficiency and accountability of the public sector, and tackling corruption, as essential elements of a framework within which economies can prosper.” According to the World Bank (1992), the nature of a country’s governance is affected by three aspects of society: 1.the type of political regime; 2. The process by which authority is exercised in the management of the economic and social resources with a view to development; and 3. Capacity of governments to formulate policies and have them effectively implemented. (Source for the information in this paragraph: Wikipedia)
There are other articulations and elaborations of the concept of good governance. In our own country, good governance or its equivalent has been a popular slogan frequently heard over the last four decades such as the late president JR Jayawardane’s ‘righteous society’, his successor Mr R Premadasa’s ‘dhammo have rakkhati dhammacarim’ (the dhamma protects whoever follows it), Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga’s avowed push for ‘a society devoid of corruption and violence’ and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Mahinda Chintana model of governance’. Their attempts at realizing ‘good governance’ can be said to have achieved varying degrees of success, though none of them could escape criticism for alleged failures. The latest version of ‘good governance’ is the incumbent president Mr Maithripala Sirisena’s promised ‘maithri palanaya’ (ruling with loving-kindness), a public verdict on which is too early to expect.
All these five presidents elected to office since 1977 have deemed it necessary to uphold good governance as their central responsibility. Given their Buddhist religious background, something reflected in the very wording of the campaign slogans given above, the moral basis of their idea of ‘good governance’ can be said to derive from the dasa raja dharma (the ten kingly virtues) ideal taught in Buddhism. As well known, this consists of giving or generosity (dana), morality (sila), readiness to sacrifice personal comfort, benefit, even life for the good of the subjects (paricagga), personal probity, honesty, sincerity (ajjawa), gentleness, kindness (maddhawa), sensual restraint (tapa), freedom from hatred (akkodha), non-violence (avihinsa), patience, tolerance (khanti), and non-enmity, or non-opposition to the will of the people (avirodha). These principles are in the cultural DNA of our leaders as they are in that of those that they lead, whatever the level of fidelity they actually display towards those values as realized states. That is, politicians only pay lip service to Buddhist moral values, and are usually remiss in living true to them. However, the humaneness that underlies good governance, conceived though it is in different forms, finds an echo and confirmation in them.
I am suggesting here what I think is the moral basis of the Sri Lankan (i.e., ‘local’ as distinct from ‘global’) understanding of good governance. However humane and democratic such a conception of governance may be, that probably is not what is meant by the term in the West, but the soundness of the ‘morality’ that the ten principles constitute will find acceptance anywhere. The so-called international community apply usually Western parameters that are common to them when they judge the soundness of governance in a country of a non-Western region. This causes problems. While a well meaning government in a particular country is confident that it is doing everything to create good governance, it may be subjected to criticism for failing to meet standards set by the ‘international community’, as editors Eva Poluha and Mona Rosendahl argue in the book Contesting ‘Good’ Governance: Crosscultural Perspectives on Representation, Accountability and Public Space” (2002). The fate of the Rajapaksa government might be an example.

The democratic system of government that humanity has increasingly settled upon over the past half a century is intact in Sri Lanka. Though there have been lapses in its realization, good governance is not critically absent either. The common opposition campaigned on anti-corruption platform. Now an opportunity has come for the government and the opposition to address the corruption issue together and also improve governance.

5 Responses to “Good governance cannot be imported”

  1. Christie Says:

    Namaste: Very funny friend. All accusations pre and post elections are Sinhalese accusing Sinhalese of bribery, corruption, killings and so forth. Not a single Indian is accused of such doings. Indian imperialists are doing it in all its colonies from Fiji to Guyana. Jai Hind

  2. Marco Says:

    You need to go to India or read Indianweb to find accusation of bribery,corruption, killings against Indians.
    You are in the wrong website.

  3. Nimal Says:

    I simply haven’t got the time to go through the above article but will dispute it’s subject head lines that say good governance can’t be imported.
    If you can import items like blue whisky, drugs and even Lombroginies why not good governance? Here in UK we have the best system with a few defects like having a benefit system. Why not import that to SL?Our ancestors did that on 1815 though they tried to reverse that to continue the tyrannical rule of the former king with the rebellions in 1818 and 1848.Glad that it did not work and our county prospered until 1948 where the various yakas that took over ran the country down.
    I bet this writer too lives abroad and write crap.
    We not only have to import a proven system of good governance, like in UK but bring some people to rehabilitate our people from street level to the top.
    There was a glimmer of hope in a minute scale of retaining the character that would have contributed to the country where the principal of Trinity was brought in from abroad(a sudda) to Trinity collage where he rebuilt the facilities and brought in the old fashioned discipline but the likes of MR and Gota refused him an visa in spite of the faithful party workers appealing to them.That priocipal happen to come at the unfortunate time of the present prelate of Asgirya was trying to grab the collages Cricket grounds and the paddy fields that was part of the responsible development of student in that prestigious collage.
    The same prelate is opposing the opening of the road running by the Maligawa where the 4 mile long bypass is polluting the city of Kandy. These people never spoke for the welfare of the people but exploit the religion for their benefit and to divide and rule.
    Our standards are so low I earnestly tried to place some of our students who had passed their exams into worthwhile jobs in UK and found it difficult as they lack the proper command of English and most important interpersonal skills that would command the respect of the sudda natives,if one is to hold a managerial job, suitable for their qualifications and that’s a pity.They mostly end up working in filling stations or filling up supermarket shelves.
    But the students of the Colombians educated in schools like ladies collage,St Thomas’ and Trinity are well placed to get a job appropriate to their qualifications as their command of English and interpersonal skills thus acquired had helped them with the right job.
    Lastly I would urge our country to have a cultural change that may have to be important and to deny this is a great injustice to our people.

  4. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The article is vague on the issue of “national problem” to quote from it:

    “The challenge is to forestall the real or virtual division of the country by forging a truly democratic solution to the national problem that is acceptable to all the people of the country with the help of all the national, communal and regional parties represented in parliament.”

    SRI LANKA’S problem per se for the last 35 years has been the TAMIL ISSUE. PLEASE STATE IT!!!!

    30 years of war, 5 years dealing with the UNHRC and 35 or more years of INDIAN INTERFERENCE all because of the TAMIL ISSUE.

    India claims this right for she claims Sri Lanka falls within her “sphere of Influence”.

    that is only true regarding South India and the Tamil issue. If South India (or peninsular India) were a separate nation then Sri Lanka would not matter to New Delhi and the rest of India.

    In that sense Colombo is the most powerful city in PENINSULAR INDIA outside of New Delhi.

    -Colombo commands a military which has seen 30 years of war and won. no other military on the planet has this reputation.
    =Colombo has the power to form alliances. NO other city in India except for New Delhi has this power.



  5. Christie Says:

    Namaste: Marco aren’t there Indians in the island. I am talking about them. There are Indians in Fiji, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Guyana. South Afrika, Kenya. I am talking about the Indian in the island. If you have not met them they are Tamils, Keralayans, and Indians from other parts. They are the richest and most powerful in the country. Jai Hind.

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