The Sunday Leader

Leaders Are Not Infallible

by Wimalanath Weeraratne

Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa

Rulers, especially in this part of the world, do not think that one day they have to leave all powers, privileges, perks and prestige.

Instead, they seem to be living as if they inherited it all. Recently it was revealed during the budget debate in parliament that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had allegedly spent approximately Rs. 15 million of public funds in 2014 on funeral wreaths in comparison to Rs.363,000 spent by President Maithripala Sirisena during 2015 on the same purpose.

Rajapaksa had apparently ‘exploited’ even the dead to misuse public monies during his tenure as the country’s executive president. (See: www.thesundayleader.lk/2015/12/13/exploiting-the-dead-to-build-image/)

Apparently, this has been spent on funerals of known and unknown artistes, VIPs, etc.

No doubt that a Head of State of a country like Sri Lanka has to spend money expressing homage of the State on funerals of VIPs but the question arises as to whether unhindered spending of this nature is indeed beneficial to the public. The reason is that Mahinda Rajapaksa spent not his personal money but public funds which he held in trust.

A confidant of the former President and sitting parliamentarian Niroshan Premaratne went on record that many a Sri Lankan had forgotten that it was Rajapaksa who put a stop to the bringing of bodies and wreaths to the South. Some quarters of society criticize that our society is ungrateful and had conveniently forgotten that it was Rajapaksa who eradicated the scourge of terrorism from the face of our motherland. Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thero in fact had retorted that if Mahinda or Gotabhaya is arrested, the Maha Sangha will lead the public on to the roads. On one hand these rhetoric are indeed hilarious.

If one perpetrates a crime and he or she cannot be arrested according to the law, what is the point of having a legal system or boasting about Rule of Law, even if he or she is the monarch of the land?

These expressions attack the very essence of the Rule of Law which our society is built upon.

 

Police attack on students

Recently the HNDA students lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka against the brutal attack by the Police on a peaceful protest on October 31.

Action is to be taken against several police officials who were found to be at fault. In a country where the Rule of Law is supreme, officers of the law are no different to subjects of the State. According to MP Niroshan Premaratne, though we have to be grateful to Mahinda Rajapaksa, should we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to all his wrong doings?

Is eradicating terrorism a licence to totalitarianism? Although this newcomer to parliament can be excused for uttering such an immature statement, religious dignitaries such as Ven. Nalaka Thero or legal luminary Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe should not be excused for expressing that Gotabhaya or Mahinda should be allowed to go scot-free.

This is not that they don’t know the law, but that they may have a herd mentality, so they hero worship Rajapaksa.

 

On May 30, 2011, 22-year-old Roshan Chanaka was killed in a protest in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone against a pension scheme for private sector brought by the former Rajapaksa Regime

Bad precedent

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is systematically becoming a country where those who perpetrated large scale corruption or mega frauds are allowed to go scot-free.

This is highly deplorable as it would rather encourage would-be criminals to commit crime in the future and would not discourage them.

If culprits are brought to the book at the same rate that large scale corruption or mega frauds are being revealed, so many of the offenders in the Rajapaksa regime will have to be behind bars.

For instance, misappropriation of funds at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC) should not be treated any differently to soliciting a bribe of Rs. 2.5 million by the OIC of Narahenpita police.

Rubbing salt into the wound, President Maithripala Sirisena’s revelation that the Chairman of the National Gem and Jewellery Authority was interdicted for surreptitiously issuing licences to two foreign companies, alarmed the public leading them to question whether this regime is any different to the previous regime. If the Sirisena regime is to instill and restore public confidence in the present administration, it has to go beyond arresting OICs and chairmen.

 

Safeguarding Avant Garde

With maritime security that was under Avant Garde being taken under the Sri Lanka Navy, a colossal amount of money is being directly channelled into government coffers.

It was speculated that Avant Garde was laundering black money into the country. Eventually, many respected as well as not-so respected people had trod on the Avant Garde path as if there was nothing else to whine about.

Some lament that nearly 6,500 war heroes have lost their jobs. These people who shed crocodile tears have conveniently forgotten that the majority of soldiers employed at Avant Garde are receiving a pension. As such, this is an extra income. Advertisements where some claim that their loss of livelihood has made them destitute is not the complete truth.

Avant Garde may fool some Sri Lankans all the time and all Sri Lankans some time, but they cannot fool all Sri Lankans all the time.

They do not accept the fact that although Avant Garde owners were able to obtain licences during the Rajapaksa regime, that the alleged nefarious operations of Avant Garde were ultra vires. People have not forgotten that these people are the same ones who justified Rathupaswala and many other misdeeds.

The illegal stashing of a large number of automatic weapons in the custody of a corporate entity would have posed a threat to not only national security but also to regional security.

There is no doubt that the management of this entity has many a politicians and media organizations in its payroll.

It is doubtful whether they have duly obtained the necessary licences under the Firearms Ordinance (No. 33 of 1916) and Explosives Ordinance (No. 21 of 1956). By providing maritime security, they were able to raise colossal amounts of foreign exchange.

Although, gainful employments and legal inflow of foreign exchange into the country is commendable, the fault here was that any person or company close to the Rajapaksas or funded them could have made money anyway they pleased.

As such, Avant Garde is a very bad precedent. In fact, a separate, independent probe has to be initiated into the activities of those who try to safeguard Avant Garde revealing how much revenue the Sri Lankan government had lost. Recovery of these moneys legally due to the State may not be fully practical or feasible.

But the government must stop future reoccurrences of incidents similar to Avant Garde taking place.

Not surprisingly Avant Garde has boomeranged not on the Rajapaksa regime which provided political patronage to it, but on the Good Governance administration.Failure to nip a small issue in the bud such as this is a clear example that uncontrolled issues do get out of hand.

 

Voucher debacle

Another dilemma the government currently faces is the fertilizer and school uniform voucher issue. Earlier the practice was to distribute clothing for school uniforms free of charge among school students.

But now with the introduction of the voucher systems, trade unions, ministers as well as parents have stopped focusing on burning issues of the country and are deliberating this matter. On the other hand, this has become a goldmine for bankrupt political factions who dwell on the rhetoric that many parents had to miss work in order to report to school to obtain uniform vouchers.

Unfortunately, this has shown that the present administration is unable to implement even a simple initiative.

By witnessing many a publicly sensitive issue and initiative such as this, one can say that the handling done by the Rajapaksa regime was far superior.

True that not only ministers but even newly-appointed public officials are amateurs when it comes to running a government.

However, they must be better prepared when State policies are being implemented without becoming the laughing stock thereby giving chances for the opposition to criticise and sling mud at. Although the purpose of the voucher was to cut down costs and unnecessary wastage, one can say the handling was penny wise and pound foolish.

 

Never be unprepared

When preparing a budget, both politicians and policy makers should scrutinise and dissect it from all angles and not from just one. As such, it is crucial that policy think tanks should analyse and predict all eventualities and outcomes.

Proper planning and analysing especially in finance, healthcare and education, is crucial as Sri Lanka does not have surplus money to play with. Each rupee should only be spent according to a rationale.

The maiden budget of the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) had to have been altered several times with budget amendments.

Although this is laudable in a democratic country, bowing down every time to political pressure without looking at long-term goals, could backfire some time or the other.

Not only the budget, but also the Mid-term Economic Policy Statement presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on November 5 was severely criticised.

In 2011, 16 months after Rajapaksa was elected to his second term and barely one year after his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) grabbed a two thirds majority in parliament; employees vigorously opposed establishing a pension fund for the private sector when the Rajapaksa regime was in its peak of popularity.

On May 30, the police fired teargas and live ammunition at demonstrating workers and trade unionists in the country’s largest export processing zone – Katunayake Free Trade Zone.

Hundreds of demonstrators and police officers were reported injured and 22-year-old Roshan Chanaka was killed. President Rajapaksa ordered an inquiry. The Inspector General of Police resigned following the incident; several other high-ranking police officers were transferred.Regardless of the power wielded by the Rajapaksa regime, it could not implement the pension fund, and finally the workers’ movement dealt a decisive blow in the defeat of Rajapaksa on January 8. Our workers were able to oppose oppression even at the cost of their lives.

 

People’s power

No other government knows the power of the people than the present UNFGG administration. As such, it is commendable that they have not gone against the people’s will, yet.

One of the greatest philosophers of all times – Plato – in his celebrated book The Commonwealth notes that ‘Rulers of States are not infallible; they sometimes err.’

Although he notes ‘Rulers sometimes make laws incorrectly, laws not to their interest’ and that ‘subjects are to obey rulers at all times and that even when rulers make laws which are not to their interests, the subjects should obey even these flawed laws’ he adds that ‘subjects, then, are doing injury to the rulers!’

“Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings; [we] cannot worship them like gods or refuse to allow people to point out and correct their errors just because they are great” – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s on Mao Zedong at the 120th Great Helmsman’s Birthday Celebrations conducted at the Great Hall of the People, hinting at the drawbacks of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a programme marked by violent class struggle, widespread destruction of cultural artifacts and unprecedented elevation of Mao’s personality cult.

Plato’s viewpoint propounded two and a half millennia ago and the Chinese President’s assessment on leadership is valid for rulers of our nation.

7 Comments for “Leaders Are Not Infallible”

  1. S B Lokuge

    This writer conveniently ignored the biggest financial swindle in the country by the governor of central bank and the cover up by the PM and the FM.

    • raza

      The General Manager of BOC was interdicted after the January Revolution on some justifiable grounds, but was reinstated as the top management put the blame to an executive who was on the verge of retirement. In treasury bill case if a proper investigation is made Some Bank Heads should roll and criminally charged. Ranil’s friend Mahendran has played out Ranil and the People of Sri Lanka. What are we doing? watching.

  2. raza

    Politicians are not destroyed by rivals but associates, friends, confidants who are closer to them.This is my view after personally observing rise and fall of politicians in Sri Lanka for the last 50 Years. The present UNP Leadership should understand these since I observe some of those who destroyed last Government are now with this government. They will be in the next government too.

  3. andrew pitugala

    Since Plato’s viewpoint was propounded, two and a half millennium have lapsed.
    Plato said tha they sometimes err. What do you cal it when it is deliberate ?

  4. Sangaralingham

    Expenses by politicians big or small must be interpreted what is justified and all the expenses charged to the state must be inquired by an appropriate authority and bring to the parliament for discussion or finance or justice department and all expenses not justified must be paid back with intrest to public coffers

  5. mr Rajapaska politics is over he no place in srilanka politics. few of them says mr Rajapaska is a Hero .killed the LTTE and civilian more than 40000 thousand people, while the incent was crying. LTTE came with white flack , civil war was over, but he killed the civilian and make the srilanka Sinha budhhist country, it will never happened, his mentality is very power ,he has not educated his main policy is communal. the communal will be wipe out very soon by the democratic people.he lost president post, he was criminal, corruption and

  6. Ultimately, whoever comes into power, they will recruit the experts to loot the economy. These politicians suffer under the personality syndrome, in that, they constantly seek any opportunity to promote their image , and what a show they put on, and all with public funds. Is there any other country that indulge in such a disgrace.

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