Two Years Of Good Governance: A Mixed Bag
by Roshani Nathaniel
- Civil Organisations are displeased with the government
- Matters with regard to corruption are the biggest hindrance to good governance
- The main election slogan of the Unity Government was the promise of eradicating corruption
Civil Organisations in the country played a pivotal role in bringing the Good Governance regime to power. However, two years down the line these very civil organisations that worked tirelessly to topple the previous government and bring in good governance, are displeased with the manner in which the government is conducting themselves.
According to many of them while acknowledging that certain promises in terms of establishing independent commissions have been fulfilled and the powers of the Executive Presidency being reduced, matters with regard to corruption are the biggest hindrance to good governance.
The main election slogan of the Unity Government was the promise of eradicating corruption in the country. However many of those who supported the government are today disgruntled and disappointed that huge financial frauds have taken place even during the short term of good governance.
Professor Sarath Wijesuriya, Head of the Faculty of Sinhala Language, University of Colombo and Convener of the National Movement For a Just Society said that on January 8th in 2015, what the law abiding citizens of this country expected was a new state rule.
“What they meant by this was that the country would be governed according to the laws of the country. They expected the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the citizens and freedom of speech, establishment of independent commissions, a new constitution and the abolishment of the Executive Presidency, bring in a new electoral system and punish corrupt officials etc,” he told The Sunday Leader.
Professor Sarath Wijesuriya says looking back at the past two years, as a person representing civil society, he is not in the least satisfied. He says there are many reasons for this and the first is that the new government has very slimily brushed aside the promise made to the people to punish the corrupt politicians of the previous regime and even within the current regime.
“Now they are protecting their friends and allies and in addition, even within the unity government there are many allegations of corruption and fraud taking place. Wrongdoers are being brought to book by the judiciary but due to political influence they are being released.
According to my belief during the past all killings and violation of human rights could not have taken place without the knowledge of the government. The Defence Secretary at the time should be held accountable for these atrocities. In almost all of these killings it is the tri forces members who have been implicated. If the government is on the stand that these are war heroes and they need to be free and not be held responsible for these killings, this government cannot claim to be a good governance regime. The law should be fair to all. If anyone commits any wrong, they should be punished irrespective of their position. However, the good governance government has acted in a very ugly and shameful manner when dealing with corruption and fraud,” he said. He also says there is no sign of this government taking any measure to abolish the Executive Presidency as promised.
“They are also delaying the process of formulating the new constitution. It is because of these issues that we cannot be satisfied with the good governance regime during the past two years. Sadly though as the civil society all we can do is keep pressurising the government to keep to their promises to the people. It is not that the government does not listen to us, but the issue is that although they listen they do not take the necessary action to implement our suggestions. In this country it is an accepted fact that politicians give pledges to the people but when they come to power these pledges are forgotten,” Wijesuriya said.
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri of the National Movement for Social Justice said that he feels in general a situation cannot be seen where all the expectations are fulfilled especially in governance where people expect a lot.
“Even when it comes to the specific change from January 8, 2015, it was brought about by various orientations, coming together. Different segments and different constituencies had different expectations. For example the expectations of the Tamils especially in the North and East are completely different from the expectations of the other constituencies, especially the southern parts of the country. Therefore you cannot simply identify one particular form of expectations. Therefore it is not easy to address all these expectations because sometimes they are mutually exclusive. If you fulfil the expectations of the Northern people, that may antagonise the southern expectations. There are alot of Southern tensions with the Tamils and Muslims, etc,” he said.
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith noted that there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed by 49 signatories, where he was also one of them.
It was signed at Vihara Maha Devi open air theatre, and based on that MoU they invited the then Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena to contest the Presidential election as the common candidate of those groups who signed that MoU. Thereafter he gave a pledge to fulfil what was listed and read out to him.
“Even in the manifesto that was released during the Presidential campaign these pledges were given. Hence those are the documents I refer to when I answer this type of question. Therefore my assessment is that the general direction of the governments, one being the so called 100 day government, although it exceeded the 100 day period and the other is the government formed after the July general election. I think the general direction is not the direction that was expected from the point of view of the particular document that I refer to.
If you look at the economic front there is a complete disorientation and even when you look at the good governance principle and assess the performance of these two governments (the 100 day government and post general election government) compared to the principles of the good governance and also the experience of the Rajapaksa regime, in my view there is no discontinuity. There is no proper change,” he said.
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith says he feels if one is to look at the way the public funds are utilised and certain decisions are made, there is no fundamental difference between the previous regime and the present regime.
“ If you just look at some very controversial issues like the Treasury bond scam and the coal tender issue, there have been several issues that have been raised by several parties.
The number of watchdog organisations, of which I am also working with, they have raised various concerns that are quite justifiable. Therefore also in the democratic front things are not very encouraging. If you look at how the government responded to a protest by a group of Hambantota harbour workers, there is no difference between what happened in Rathupaswala and what happened in Hambantota that day,” he said.
One of the other major issues that came up was also social justice. Dr. Nirmal Ranjith noted that there are concerns over how the economic agenda is set and that there is no real breakthrough or encouraging developments.
“ I don’t think that the people are satisfied at all. I am not talking here of the forces that were defeated. However, even when you ask the people who supported Maithripala Sirisena’s candidacy and the UNP led front in the last general election, I think you can hardly find someone who is satisfied. The bottom line is that there is a group of people with vested interest and they have grabbed the power centre and they are conducting the state of affairs in the governing process for their own expectations or agenda at the expense of the popular expectations that was manifested during the presidential election campaign, which you would find in the document I referred to earlier,” he added.
The Executive Director of CaFFE, Keerthi Tennakoon noted that the government has achieved some progress on key issues including getting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed, cutting down the powers of the Executive Presidency and establishing the independent commissions.
However, he says the main expectations with relation to the January 8thmandate is eradicating bribery and corruption, which has not happened so far.
“Further investigations into such reported corruptions have not happened, taking legal action at least serving indictments have not taken place. So we are lagging behind.
In their manifesto the government said they will take necessary action to eradicate corruption, which has not happened. Instead during the past two years we have seen the government coming up with an unbelievable number of corruption allegations such as the Lanka coal, Treasury bond issue, etc.
I think this government too is getting similar corruption allegations which have not been addressed so far. On the other hand when it comes to reforms agenda, I think the electoral reforms are not happening and the process is not transparent and the elections are not taking place. The government is deliberately delaying the Local Council elections which is the utmost freedom the citizens of this country should exercise. Without democracy we cannot talk about anything else,” he said.
He says if the government is not ready to implement the first past the post with the Local Council, they will not be able to keep up to their promise to the Provincial Councils and Parliament to get the first past the post system.
“With the constitutional reforms, we don’t see any transparency. There is no documentation and people are very suspicious. Therefore, I feel that on the whole during the past two years the government has kept up some of their promises made to the people, especially establishing the independent commissions and reducing the powers of the Executive Presidency but the key factor in good governance which is fighting against corruption, the government has totally failed,” he said.
With regard to the country’s economy, he feels it is in dire states. He says there is no strategic management coming into the financial sector and not enough investments.
“More unethical and non-transparent practices are on the cards these days. This has become a major issue and when it comes to the taxation policy we are very much behind. If a government cannot manage its taxation policy within one year how can we expect proper economic progress? The financial and economic progress of the country has come to a standstill,” he said.
The Executive Director of the National Peace Council, Dr. Jehan Perera says the government appears to be in a prolonged preparatory stage instead of being at the stage of implementation.
This, he says, is leading to erosion in public confidence in the government. Dr. Perera notes that there will be three areas of governance in which the government will need to show evidence of results that are tangible.
These would be in the areas of corruption, economic development and political reforms that address the ethnic conflict. The area in which the government’s credibility has suffered the most would be in terms of its failure to deal with the issue of corruption.
“There have been investigations of those accused of massive corruption, but no legal or punitive actions that have a long term consequence. Those taken in for questioning have been put into remand custody until they are bailed out. Thereafter they are seen to be behaving as if their arrests are part of a political drama rather than having real life consequences for them. Secondly, the situation with regard to economic development of the country that benefits the majority of people continues to remain bleak.
Unless the new projects are started and bring improvement to the lives of the masses of people, there will be dissatisfaction. There are many projects that are reported to be in the pipeline and about to he started. There are also many plans being announced that give an impression of being game changers. There appears to be a visionary understanding of Sri Lanka’s strategic geographical location that feeds into the interests of countries with giant economies such as China, India and Japan and the European Union. But at this time these visions only remain visions, as they will need to more time to be materialised into the realm of visible reality,” he said.
He also noted that the government needs to adequately address the issue of human rights violations that occurred during the past three decades of war.
“This calls for the return of land to the people, finding what happened to those who went missing, and demilitarising the North and East. A bold and decisive political leadership will be necessary. However, whether or not the government succeeds, at least, this must be said. People feel safe to speak and protest against the government. People across the country, three wheel drivers, businesspersons and civil society activists, value this a lot,” he added.
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) says although there are some areas that need to be looked into, the good governance regime is basically on the right track but they have to deliver on the more tangible dimensions of the reform package.
“With regard to the independent commissions so far the situation is satisfactory. Where the investigations into fraud and corruption are concerned a serious problem is that there is great public expectation regarding the convictions where corruption is concerned. That has to be fast tracked but not in a way that justice is not served. But where corruption is concerned the public at large is expecting some results and it would hurt them badly. On the economic front the level of foreign investment that we wanted to have has not come.
I think the government is on the right track but they should develop a better communication policy where they communicate better with the people,” he concluded.