06 November 2011

Indecent hurry to push through bill trumps public interest

In the initial euphoria of capturing power, Fidel Castro, perhaps taking power-to-the-people to ridiculous dimensions, launched a frenzied process of acquisitioning private enterprises.  The joke then was that even the operations of poor ice cream vendors were taken over, such was the zeal prompted by aversion to private enterprise. 
Moderation is something that is rare in times of great political upheaval or even perceived radical alteration of political equation.  The ‘nationalization’ drives of the early seventies are a case in point.  There was no proper assessment of the state’s capacity and competency to run nationalized enterprises. An entrenching of the culture of patronage, bureaucratic sloth and irresponsibility was not envisaged.  It all bled to 1977 and a reverse frenzy: from nationalization to privatization. 
This policy quickly slipped to parceling out parts of the national wealth to friends and family.  Political polarization as well as massive social disparities resulted, fuelling among other things a bloody insurrection that cost the country some 60,000 lives in just 2 years towards the end of the eighties. 
The free market was heralded in 1977 by J.R.Jayewardene’s infamous and cocky quip, ‘Let the robber barons come!’  In 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga quashed all hopes for a return to sanity by snubbing unionists with an equally infamous, ‘I didn’t promise freedom of the wild ass’, even as that kind of freedom was duly conferred on the captains of capital.
In both types of processes, there are winners and losers.  Both types are justified and condemned by elaborate arguments.  These histories, moreover, naturally make people wary when confronted with moves to either privatize or nationalize.  It is against this context that the draft ‘Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Under-utilized Assets Act’ needs to be discussed. 
The Supreme Court is currently assessing its constitutionality.  It must be kept in mind that constitutionality does not necessarily imply ‘good’, ‘useful’ or ‘public interest’.  Constitutionality, for instance, was ‘pinned’ on the 13th Amendment and that piece of legislation lacked logic, was ineffective and sought to legitimate myth.  In this instance, constitutionality can be manufactured courtesy of the numbers enjoyed by the ruling coalition in parliament. 
It is clear that the Government has adopted a fast-track approach here and one usually reserved for matters that require urgent action as would be the case when national interest is seriously under threat.  The window of opportunity for stakeholders and citizens to peruse the draft bill, discuss and comment on all aspects including efficacy, workability and the implications for the entire enacting process on all subjects, is patently slim. The circumvention of extensive and necessary public discussion is therefore unhealthy and sets a bad precedent, even if the measure is of relevance and enhances the overall public good, notwithstanding the fact that some 249 ventures are said to be losing money, according to COPE Chairman, D.E.W. Gunasekera. 
With respect to speed of process, one recalls that several amendments to the constitution were pushed through in the last days that the United National Party enjoyed a two-thirds majority, i.e. just before the 1989 General Election. They were all self-serving.  None of them were in the public interest. 


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