Family Values or Valuable Families?
By Ravi Perera
Recently reading though some international reports I came across a description of the extreme high pressure atmosphere at the highest decision making levels of the US administration just prior to the commando raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Only a very few in the administration were aware of the intelligence which pointed to the largish compound near a Pakistani military complex as the probable hiding place of the most wanted terrorist in the world. The US had been combing that region of the world for him for nearly ten years. Getting Bin Laden would be an invaluable breakthrough for the US government.
The fact is that until the American commandoes burst in to the upstair bedroom where Bin laden was hiding, they weren’t certain who their quarry was. Between August 2010 and April 2011 more than 40 intelligence reviews were carried out on the Abbottabad compound.
Yet the administration was only able to surmise that there was a good probability of a high value target taking shelter there. And in the event of a raid, the high risk operation was being carried out in a third country which was only a nominal ally. In the circumstances the sensitivity of the information coming in to the controlling room of the whole operation could not be over emphasized. On the decision to launch the operation, President Obama was ‘betting his Presidency’. A failure or a mistaken identity would have been something from which the Obama Presidency would not have recovered easily. In the eyes of history he would become a matter of laughter.
Other than the President, those who were eventually privy to the highly sensitive information were just a handful. Among those was Hilary Clinton, his Secretary of State. As we know Obama overcame Hilary Clinton in a bruising battle for the Democratic Party nominations. Her husband Bill Clinton is a towering figure in the Democratic Party, having been a two term President. The subsequent nomination of Mrs. Clinton to the post of Secretary of State by Obama and her acceptance thereof were acts of high political idealism. Having accepted the vital post, Mrs. Hilary Clinton has served her country with admirable dedication. Such is her professionalism that she did not share any of the mouth watering details of the impending operation even with her husband Bill Clinton, the two times President of the United States. It was left to President Barrack Obama to break the news to the two ex-Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, who he called first after the successful commando operation.
We don’t know whether either the Clinton or Obama children are interested in politics. Despite the sterling careers of their parents the chances are that the children of these parents would not go that way.
In Sri Lanka on the other hand, we have many families who are apparently bitten by the bug to ‘serve their country and the people’. Some of them have been in the business of ‘serving’ the people for three generations now. These people are very recognizable. Generally, their choice of dress is a silky kurta top, at least for public events, and preferred colour white, apparently signifying purity.
One cannot mistake them on the road for they go about in speeding convoys which give the impression of significant matters, which cannot be delayed for a single moment, awaiting them. So the pilot cars and motorcycles clear the way with blinking lights and rude waving of hands. They alight from their limousines with an air of humbleness as if suggesting ‘how high we are and yet we mingle with you common folk, aren’t you blessed to have leaders such as us?’
We don’t have a single instance of any of these political families doing badly financially due to them serving the people day and night. On the contrary many of them have become very rich families while serving the people. Politics has become a definite way of elite formation. But unlike other paths to that status, the politician does not reach that due to his learning, exceptional skills or admirable qualities. The political culture that has evolved in this country is somewhat like the Mafia cult. To do well in that labyrinth of human garbage different skills are needed which situation suits our politicians very well.
In this county you can be sure that almost all relatives of the politician will be ensconced in employment at various public bodies. They may also serve in private institutions such as director boards of banks as the representatives of government controlled funds. If you look at a family like that of President Mahinda Rajapaksa almost every person connected to him in a family sense will be drawing an income from a public body. Some are elected, some appointed. Even the Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, which is a huge loss maker, is said to be a close relative. It is sad, but nevertheless a social phenomenon we cannot ignore.
Many of the Provincial Councilors today are children of parliamentarians. It was said during the period when Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike was Prime Minister (1970-77) that the government structure represented a family tree. Today it has become a family plantation. Every tree, every branch, every bush and even a blade of grass have a family connection.
Ultimately, such ethics and mores is a matter for the people to decide. Recently we had the situation where the head of the Tourism Board was forced out of office for various reasons such as not submitting a corporate plan, etc. For sure these are very important requirements at that level of corporate responsibility, particularly with public funds. However in the context of our present power structure it is relevant that the man was not a son or a direct relative of a politician as far as we are aware. Would the Treasury Secretary or any other regulator be so lion like in insisting on compliance if the office bearer was a son of a politician? When they spend public money who will ask them to account for it?
We can be sure that the question of family monopoly or abuse of power by the family will never be put to the people by the political parties in that manner because both sides will have similar values when it comes to looking after family interests first. Although periodically people go to vote lamb like, everything else is decided before hand, in a top down process.
The people really do not have a say in such matters. The issues put before the people most likely will be such things as the price of a gas cylinder or the question of who is more patriotic, an absurdity.
When we compare the situation that prevails in developed democracies with countries like us with much weaker institutional integrity, it is a tale of two cities or to be more precise a case of two different sets of family values.