The Sunday Leader

Pointing Towards The Moon

by Wimalanath Weeraratne

President Maithripala Sirisena’s swearing in

Egypt’s beleaguered ruler  –  former President Hosni Mubarak is now standing trial after three decades of looting and pillaging his country’s wealth. For most Egyptians, this is viewed as a major victory; there is a feeling of intense optimism here on the streets of Cairo, and even though nothing is fundamentally different, expectations are high.

According to writer Simon Black, Mubarak was a symbol of tyranny, and a great deal of blood was shed to topple his regime. Unfortunately, Egyptians have essentially replaced one form of dictatorship with another. There is now one person in charge of Egypt– military Supreme Commander Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak’s Minister of Defence, and as the man in charge of roughly one million soldiers, sailors, and airmen in a country with no political system, Tantawi has absolute authority.

Egypt underscores an important lesson from history: with rare exception, even when you topple the ruling elite, someone else will simply step up to fill the void, just as the French traded Louis XVI for Maximilien Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in the 1790s.


Trading ginger for chili

‘Trading ginger for chili’ (Inguru deela miris gatta wagei) is a popular saying among Sri Lankans. In fact, we Sri Lankans are famous for trading chili for ginger or trading one dictator for another. We are infamous for joining hands with the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese and later with the English to get rid of the Dutch. Although we successfully weathered the tentacles of colonialism for three centuries, some of our chieftains thought it wise to trade the tyrannical Nayakkar monarch King Sri Vikrama Rajasainghe for the English.

Unfortunately, two centuries afterwards we are still no different.  We bring one government when we start loathing and detesting the regime in power and then yearn for another one to replace the already-replaced government! Unless a new government brings about a true transformation on its own, we, as people of this country, do not call for a paradigm shift. We neither toil nor do we struggle towards it. What is more regrettable is that we do not understand what sort of a social transformation is the need of the hour. As such, if our leaders bring about that desirable change the public would be lucky. If not we are left empty handed.


Finger pointing towards the moon

Role of a President

Last November 18, President Maithripala Sirisena took a bold step towards restoring democracy. That step was presenting a memorandum of cabinet to abolish the Executive Presidency. In addition, he tabled another Cabinet Paper to change the electoral system.

The objective of the first paper is to abolish the Executive Presidency and to hand over powers to Parliament in order to reinforce a parliamentary system. In fact, President Sirisena swore to this effect in front of the body of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero.

This has been the result of a long standing call. It did not effortlessly become a priority for the new government. This was the number one slogan to restore democracy to a public plundered and pillaged by the Rajapaksa regime. The role of the new President should go beyond this context. It is highly commendable that he abdicated or alienated some of the powers inherent to the Executive Presidency. One such feature was removing the unlimited terms of Presidency which was introduced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and reintroduce the two term limit through the 19th Amendment. Introducing independent commissions brought back transparency and independence into the public sector. In one way it is unprecedented that President Sirisena would agree to wholly abolish Executive Presidency rather than clip its’ wings. Undoubtedly, he is a hero who has come to bring that change to society oppressed by the Executive Presidency.


The Hero

Though a hero may seem invisible, one who is close to him or her would start to see the hero’s weaknesses and lacunas. One may argue that President Sirisena has the dream of becoming the Executive Prime Minister. I don’t see much fault in it. Because no leader has taken even a small step towards clipping the wings of the Executive presidency let alone abolish it. In that sense President Sirisena has a semblance of a hero.

Nelson Mandela became a hero for all South Africans because he was able to restore the apartheid not with a white identity or a black identity, but with a rainbow nation. He gave a human identity instead of discrimination based on colour. He has spiritual leaders such as, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has neither a Mandela nor a Tutu.

Regrettably, although Mandela did not have to fight with anyone in order to bring a social change President Sirisena has to fight tooth and nail against drug peddlers and ethanol dealers in order to bring that change.

He has colleagues in the Cabinet of Ministers who solicited millions from Avante Garde. He takes selfies with youth when on the other hand assaults HNDA student protesters. He takes part in reality shows that select ‘Goviraja’ just like selecting superstars. Unfortunately, none of these acts help us achieve the vision or mission of an advanced society or a developed country. We are sinking back into a primary backward society.


2020 and beyond

The Executive Presidency will be fully abolished in 2020 at the conclusion of the present tenure of the President. Towards this end a Cabinet sub-committee has been appointed with the Prime Minister as its Chair. The next question before us is how the government would fare till 2020. Although, technically there is no way that the government will collapse, practical issues are erupting day by day. Though, ‘Heads’ of the two main parties seem to have understood the role of the National government, the trunk and the tail show otherwise. The more the Avante Garde Company protected the Rajapaksa regime the disruption it is doing to the present government. Although, some swore that they did not take a cent from Avante Garde it has come to a point where the President cannot trust anybody. On the other hand, it is questionable whether its operations could be handed over to the Sri Lanka Navy. Can the President terminate contracts entered into with Avante Garde. In addition, thousands of employees are left on the lurch with the closure of Avante Garde.

In a country where there are politicians who send text messages to Avante Garde owner Nissanka Senadhipathi asking for fifty million or hundred million rupees, how can the President ensure the future of that country?


The crisis

Another debate heating up amongst the public is the lack of activity in many spheres of development during the Rajapaksa regime. There is a feeling that development has stalled during the last few months. Some institutions do not have appointed heads. In some other institutions the appointees of the President are at the tug of war with the officials appointed by the United National party. Such incidents are not rare even at Lake-house or at ITN. There had been many instances where payments have been made to the private sector contractors resulting in the work of such enterprises being stalled.

There is another reason which has led to the present stale mate. That is the stalling of projects which had been charged to be tainted by corrupt activities during the Rajapaksa regime. Many such projects had been suspended, pending investigations. But worse part is that the Ministers within the government accusing each other of corruption. This could be a prime reason in causing the government to destabilise. And if the president and the Prime Minister are unable to contain this situation the repercussions would be highly undesirable. The public did not make them representatives for them to engage in plunder or corruption, competing with each other. If these are the leaders that were intended to bring about the much-needed change, God help us all!


The crack in armour

Although President Sirisena was a reformist he was a staunch SLFPer, he appointed several defeated and corrupt candidates to parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers. If President Sirisena wanted to sow his leadership qualities he wouldn’t have needed these candidates who were rejected by the people. Even though, the UNP commanded the majority if President Sirisena took the correct steps the UNPers would have to invariably back him. It is indeed sad that the President gave secondary priority to the people’s choice and first priority to his supporters. For instance, Minister S.B Dissanayake who ridiculed the personality of President Sirisena was too appointed as a MP making him the laughing stock of the people.

However, Minister Thilak Marapana took a highly commendable step by resigning from his ministerial portfolio, making him the only minister to has genuinely stepped down (in comparison to former minister Anuruddha Ratwatte who resigned after the bombing of the Temple of the Tooth and returned back later on after the public outcry had died down).

Although, there are many more culprits in the Cabinet and Parliament they do neither step down nor care about their self respect. For many amassing wealth is the only objective of ‘serving the public’.

However, many believe that both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are leaders who value self respect and think in the long run. It is the judgment of the people that perpetrators who do not step down voluntarily should be made to stand down and face disciplinary action by the two leaders.

In the event the national government collapses there is no doubt that it will be the return of Rajapaksa who is counting his days. In such a situation even aligning with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is better still than leaving room for Rajapaksa ‘to start from where he stopped’. One can say Ranil Wickremesinghe should have opposed President Sirisena bringing the corrupt and defeated back into the fold.

However, Ranil and Maithri must both remember that in the long run good governance cannot be achieved by making bed-fellows with the corrupt.


Quo vadis?

“It’s like a finger pointing towards the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory,” says world-renowned actor – Bruce Lee in ‘Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living’

In one of the temples of Japan, there is no statue of Lord Buddha, but instead statue of a finger pointing to a far away moon. Dont go on worshiping the finger nor find faults in the finger. Concentrate only at the moon where the finger is pointing. Forget the finger, forget the scriptures, forget the masters, forget all your religions; just try to find out what they are hinting at, teaches the temple to its followers.

Mr. President, I may point my finger towards the moon but do not look at the defects of that finger. Concentrate on the moon. Learn from your mistakes and focus only on the long term goals and objectives.  Are you ready to spearhead the social transformation?


1 Comment for “Pointing Towards The Moon”

  1. Suren

    Does our constitution permit “Mubarak” style prosecution of an ex President? If so do it by all means. MR has done more damage to this country, than good. Ending the war is the greatest victory of MR, but his callous disregard to discipline in his family and amongst the stooges, was intolerable.

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