The Sunday Leader

Not A Very Happy Birthday For The Government

by Ashanthi Warunasuirya

The government celebrated one year in office this month but several shortcomings have damaged an otherwise successful stay in office. Among the concerns is the government’s failure to keep to its promise on some issues.

The following are some of the comments made by intellectuals and civil society activists on the progress of the government during its first year in office.

 

Keerthi Tennakoon – Executive Director, CaFFE

It is clear that the government has done a lot. But it is evident that certain primary issues have still not been addressed. There is no talk about the Audit Bill. No proper regulations have been introduced to counter financial discrepancies. There are problems in the finance sector as well. There was ample time to solve these issues over the past year. Even though investigations have started into more than 500 allegations on fraud and corruption, how many have reached the court? Fifty two case files have piled up at the AG’s Department. There are reports about government’s plans to privatise State institutions without any form of transparency. That is a big problem. Even though the split in the SLFP looks obvious, it is not sure how it is going to par with the present political situation. I am doubtful as to whether this may cause the whole reform agenda to fail.

The issue of introducing the new electoral system and whether it is going to suit the country has also become problematic to us. There is also the issue of a complete constitutional amendment. Since the country is once again moving towards two factions, it is doubtful as to whether this could be successfully achieved under present circumstances. If these two factions start waging war against each other, then this is not going to succeed at all. For example, the government has been unable to implement its VAT policy. The people’s attitude towards the UNP’s economic management skills have started to change. I’m not saying that the government has not done anything. But still the bad has started to surpass the good.

 

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Sumika Perera – Social Activist

Appointing ministers and organisers have caused disappointment among the public. The government has done certain positive things. Democratic reforms, constitutional amendments, appointing commissions to seek public opinions are good things. The civil society hopes that these actions would produce better results. The involvement of women’s groups in these activities was a notable achievement. So we hope that the new constitution would be more productive. The reconciliation mechanism and the Office for Disappeared Persons as well as independent commissions have now been set up. These are things that were demanded by the people. I too got involved in the reconciliation mechanism and worked as the chairman of the North Western Province.

If anyone has done illegal things, then they must be punished. Justice must ultimately be served. The government’s policy on disappeared is positive. But still the civil society must urge the authorities to take immediate steps. It must be done with transparency. Without that there can be no reconciliation. All these mechanisms are going to be useful in the future. If the government takes proper action, then future disappearances would cease to exist. These are crucial matters. So the public must be vigilant.

On the other hand, I have some serious criticisms about the government. But rather than having a pessimistic attitude, it is better to point out the errors of the government, so that they could rectify them. Frankly speaking, the situation is quite better compared to what we had to experience during the previous regime. Those days, civil society organisations were severely suppressed.

There are still criticisms against the government with regard to its economic policies and human rights. We played out part in toppling the previous regime. We did not expect a 180 degree change with the new government. We mainly had the goal of overthrowing the dictator. This is the first time such a thing was possible in our recent history. I have a different opinion about the SAITM issue. The medical profession has now become a business. And the doctors do not like to see their authority challenged. Why aren’t there any protests against other degree courses? Most of these protests are carried out to achieve political leverage. Apart from that, the people are not that happy about the delay in holding elections as well.

 

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Victor Ivan Perera – Veteran Journalist

The way this government is behaving does not show much promise about a considerable change. The main reason is the lack of a proper vision in the government. The two leaders are unified. But they do not seem to be taking the same route. Normally when such a national scheme is implemented, the leaders must be bold to take the right decision at the right time. But here that is not seen. The second important thing is that the people have to be educated before making any change. But this government has failed to raise the awareness of the people about their agenda. I have never heard of a country that has succeeded in effective reforms without raising the awareness of the people. However, this government does not seem to have any plan for that. First the people must have faith in and respect on the leaders who bring in the change. Previous leaders had those qualities. But the present leaders do not seem to be doing anything to protect that faith and respect. As I see it, the trust has started to wither away with their current conduct. This is the biggest problem I see in this government. They are trying to get the support of MPs by bribing them. This is like fighting corruption with corruption. These are not going to attract public respect.

However, I’m not saying that the present situation is no different than before. There are some positive features. But this is not the level of change the people expected from the government. But it can still be achieved if the people are involved in the process in a more active manner. The lack of a proper procedure of actions is also a weak point of the government. They are always trying to delay everything. The failure in carrying our judicial proceedings on fraud and corruption allegations is a good example for it. Some are merely being questioned and later released. This shows the lack of boldness in the government. They have also mixed up the issues of the minorities. The only solution the present government has to evade an economical crisis seems to be implementing more taxes on people. But the politicians seem to be enjoying all the privileges. In this way, we cannot go forward.

I’m not sure what is going on in the SLFP at present. It is a total mess.

 

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Saman Rathnapriya – Chairman, Health Services Trade Union Alliance

We have laboured hard to change the executive as well as the government in the past year. And it is reasons such as the suppression, limitation of democracy and the deterioration of the rule of law took place during the past decade of Rajapaksa rule that had made us to take such a path. So we demanded a significant reform in the political process of the country. So far some progressive steps have been taken towards achieving such objectives. Independent commissions and the 19th amendment are important milestones in this journey. We can see the government is also attempting to bring in legislation to fight corruption, to ensure the right to information, abolition of the executive presidency and also to reform the electoral system.

But there is still a group who are trying to disrupt these schemes. They are not allowing bringing in constitutional reforms. They may not need such reforms, but 5.8 million people in this country gave the mandate to this government to bring in these reforms. So that must definitely be done. So the current path of the government could be justified in one way. If these individual groups are trying to secure power through disruption, we would not let that happen.

But still the people seem to be disappointed with the government. The main reason for this is the slow pace of the government in bringing in reforms. We too feel the same way. But unfortunately under the established procedure, these things cannot be done overnight. With regard to fraud and corruption, the present government has failed to achieve any significant success. One of the main reasons for this is the shrewd way the culprits have maneuvered themselves. Most of the money has been shipped off to other countries. And the officials involved in such scams are still serving in the government. They cannot be fired at once either. So the system goes on.

These are the weak points of the government. But the resignation of Minister Tilak Marapana is a good example for upholding democratic values. So we are urging the government to further stick to that democratic path.

In terms of the economy, the Rajapaksa legacy only left the country a bankrupt economy. Most of the figures they showed in their budgets were false. So the present government has been given the task of salvaging such a crippled economy. But they must begin from somewhere. Although the 2016 budget has made some general approaches to mend the economy, most of its initiatives are unsuccessful. That is why the government had to amend most of its proposals. It is also a good sign that the government is willing to accept that it had made a mistake. The previous government was stubborn to accept their mistakes, and they always used suppression as a weapon to silence the critics. Today, we have been given the freedom to protest.

We still believe that the change we hoped for could be achieved. For that to take place, the government and the executive must be kept on the right track. There are some MPs and ministers trying to walk away from that path. But it is the duty of the citizens to influence them not to do so. If that could be done, we could become successful. So we still have faith in the government.

 

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Gamini Viyangoda – Executive Committee Member, Citizens’ Power Organisation

Both good and bad can be seen in this passing year. If we talk about the good things that have been done, certain initial steps have been taken to change the shape of the executive presidency under the 19th amendment to the constitution. Accordingly, independent commissions have been set up to prevent the State administration from being politicised. Several more progressive steps towards establishing good governance have been initiated in this year. We hope that they would be completed very soon. However, along with reforms such as the Right to Information Act, certain other things that were not expected from the ‘yahapalana government’ have also taken place in this year.

One of the major expectations of the people was to see the law being enforced against the culprits behind massive fraud and corruptions that had taken place during the Rajapaksa regime. But so far the investigations have been going on in a very unsatisfactory pace. People are summoned to record statements and then they are sent home. Afterwards nothing seems to be going on.

One may justify this move by saying that the government is sticking to the due process of the law instead of resorting to arbitrary jungle laws, thus going in a slower pace. But that is not a valid argument. For example, the military officials who have been arrested for the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda have been brought before court and the trial is already in progress.

And the legal fees of the accused are being borne by the Army. These are public funds. There may be conflicts of policies. But still spending public money over such matters is not something that was expected of the ‘Yahapalana Government’. If we take the assassination of Lasantha Wickremathunga, that was carried out under broad daylight. But so far nothing has been done to find the killers. How long would it take for these issues to be resolved? That is why the people’s expectations have been shattered.

Just like those persons who had stood up against these atrocities in the past, we must make sure that such things are not repeated. But when Hirunika Premachandra was able to abduct people at her discretion, the level of ‘good governance’ has become questionable. She is not only a lawyer but also an MP representing the ‘yahapalana government’. This was the Rajapaksa method of doing things. These people are still lagging behind in the transition. She has proven that she is a product of the Rajapaksa culture. But still the authorities have let her walk out free after recording a statement and have arrested the henchmen instead. How many burning problems are there in Kolonnawa? But instead Hirunika is more interested in family disputes and love affairs. This is not Good Governance and the leaders of the yahapalana government must be held responsible for such actions.

However, we are still optimistic that the leaders would correct these mistakes. Only one year has passed so far. There are four more years to go. So during this period, the authorities must listen to criticisms and correct their mistakes. We must not let the dictator to make his way back to power. Instead we must try to make the existing leaders better.

 

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Brito Fernando – President, Families Of The Disappeared

We still believe that as citizens and a civil society organization, we did the right thing by defeating the Rajapaksa regime. What we needed was to establish democracy. Accordingly, at present the door to democracy has been opened. We have been given the freedom to express our opinion and to object when in disagreement. The legal actions taken against persons accused of fraud and corruption are going on in a slower pace. But the investigations seem to be going on. We understand that there is no use of continuing with court cases without adequate evidence. But we believe that more attention must be paid towards fulfilling these tasks.

When talking about the national issue, so far we have not lost faith in the government’s agenda. Especially the government’s actions towards signing the UN convention on the disappeared, the redistribution of land in Jaffna occupied by the military and the appointment of committees can be seen as genuine attempts to solve this grave issue. But some economic initiatives as well as the conduct of certain MPs and ministers are not in a satisfactory level. So, clearly the government has to propose a clear solution for the national issue. And we are trying to carry forward the government’s agreement on the solution.

The main thing that must be done at the moment is creating a proper procedure. Especially in law enforcement agencies such as the police as well as in the State sector, procedure must be changed. The whole system is in chaos at present. So we must rectify it before it gets out of control.

 

2 Comments for “Not A Very Happy Birthday For The Government”

  1. mahinda

    This yahapaalanaya has irepairable damage to the economy,country and injustice to the future generation.The president may have dittadammawedeniya Kamma following very soon.

  2. Sriyani Mangalika

    I cannot say how. But I am ill treated to its extreme.
    I did my best to this society.I am deprived of even my basic needs,

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