04 December 2011

The political economy of outsourcing responsibility

Ranil Wickremesinghe has found fault with the Government for adding its voice to the chorus of Commonwealth members in rejecting a proposal submitted by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group to set up a ‘Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights’.  The Leader of the Opposition has buttressed his objection thus:
Why does the Government of Sri Lanka want to oppose such a recommendation? If we are a functioning democracy (where) the rule of law and human rights are upheld then there is no need to oppose such a recommendation. Supporting this recommendation would have answered the allegations made against the Government in the Report of the Secretary General of the United Nations’ Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka. I want to ask why the Government did not table this report for debate in Parliament. This is an issue related to fundamental rights which is a component of the sovereignty of the people. Hence the people’s representatives must be given an opportunity to discuss such issues. It is a violation of the responsibility and answerability of the President and the Cabinet of Ministers to Parliament. The government of Sri Lanka has no right to take a decision on these matters without consulting Parliament.’
Tough words. They say a lot.  A lot about Ranil Wickremesinghe.  They reminded me of Ranil Wickremesinghe taking off his ‘Commonwealth tie’ a few days ago, a move which made me think that it is easy to take off tie but tougher to divest oneself of ideological slavery.  I am not privy to government reasoning regarding this issue, but it is eminently clear that a functioning democracy where the rule of law and human rights are upheld does not necessarily have to subject itself to monitoring of any sort by any outside agency, least of all one that is likely to be run by those who are not beholden to the people of that functioning democracy. 
As for tabling the report of some ill-informed, myopic jokers whose integrity is highly suspect, such a move would seriously injure that which Wickremesinghe wants to champion most, the sovereignty of the people.  Wickremesinghe has chosen to be ignorant of the fact that the UNSG’s move was way out of line and in violation of relevant UN protocol.  That report is tendentious and Wickremesinghe has enough intelligence to recognize the fact.  It is a pity that he didn’t frame his statement with the relevant caveats.   I can’t put it down to naivet√©, but ‘unbridled sycophancy’ might be a good enough descriptive.  In fact the point has been alluded to by the External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris who not only accused Wickremesinghe of misrepresenting facts regarding Sri Lanka’s strong opposition to the appointment of such a commissioner, but advised the man not to ‘outsource his responsibilities to Colombo-based foreign envoys’.
Peiris offers that the Government’s objection (as those of other countries that opposed the move) was about the costs involved. Be that as it may it is more likely that the reluctance of India, Pakistan, South Africa and other nations were more conscious about their sovereignties than anything else.  The address to which concerns relating to human rights, democracy and law and order should be directed is elsewhere and that ‘elsewhere’ must lie within national boundaries.  If Wickremesinghe doesn’t know that address nor lacks the intellectual and political wherewithal to pen the relevant petitions, he should resign all posts currently held and give way to someone more capable.  As someone said in the early nineties, the longevity of the UNP regime is less about popularity and skill of the party leadership but the incapability of the opposition.  The same could be said (in reverse) of the current regime and its would-be topplers. 

Getting back to Peiris’ valid contention regarding outsourcing responsibility, it is clear that Wickremesinghe is not alone in the politics of deferment. He is in the company of some pretty shady characters, the TNA for example.  R. Sampanthan believes that India has some kind of suzerainty over Sri Lanka.  Dayan Jayatilleka, who believes he is a nationalist, frames the limits of his nationalism in a box called ‘Indian interests’.  Then there is the Government itself. Indeed I can use the plural and include all regimes post-independence and especially those that came after 1977. 

We have ministers acting as though policy making and performance can obtain meaning only from IMF/World Bank certification.  This implies a certain kind of outsourcing of responsibility or, to be more precise, replacing responsibility to people with responsibility to lending institutions over and above the contractual obligations between lender and borrower.  Indeed, it is doubtful if there has ever been adequate consideration of effectiveness, sustainability and implications on sovereignty and national security (especially food security) of the relevant policy imperatives scripted in.

It is worthwhile recalling that the struggle to rid the country of the terrorist menace was crippled for decades because policy on this was obtained from ‘foreign experts’.  In the final instance, the overriding factor was the recognition that it would have to be an api-wenuwen-api effort, with whatever support our friends could provide. 

Last week the Cabinet approved a controversial paper to obtain funds from the Pacific Fleet of the USA to build some hospitals. Common sense tells us that aid (with or without strings) comes from states or agencies especially set up for such purposes (e.g. JICA, USAID, CIDA) and not military outfits.  The public should be informed of the details, the ‘give’ that goes with the ‘take’, the who-does-what and whatnot of the deal.  The last thing we need it a US military presence on Sri Lankan soil, in whatever guise.  If it’s all about love for Sri Lanka then there’s nothing wrong.  If it’s a loan then we need to know the terms.  Sri Lanka has the expertise and the labour to build sophisticated hospitals.  We don’t need foreigners ‘volunteering’ to mix cement and lay bricks and especially not US military personnel, given the long history of US interference in and wrecking of sovereign nations.  That would come under ‘outsourcing’ too.  The outsourcing of sovereignty, in fact, which of course means an outright conceding of the issue.

We have to keep in mind that we have outsourced the formulation of not just development policy but development paradigm as well.  Issues such as sustainability, the worth of certain technologies, vilification of traditional practices, deferring the formulation of seed policy to multinationals, ravage of forests and an unholy and uncritical embracing of outdated and destructive models such as ‘growth-led development’ have brought Sri Lanka some frills and colours but robbed and continues to rob the nation of identity and control over destiny.  A lot of outsourcing there too.  Ranil Wickremesinghe can take a bow on behalf of the UNP while this Government cannot plead innocent either. 

In the end, in a democracy or autocracy or any other kind of governance structure, the people take the hits (or the garlands). Sooner or later they are compelled to take ‘responsibility’ as a personal matter.  There comes a point when outsourcing is not possible.  That’s something that Wickremesinghe and Peiris would do well to remember. So too everyone in this country. 

Prof. Peiris said that a vast majority of member states of the Commonwealth, including, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, South Africa and all African nations had opposed that move. The new office would have cost the Commonwealth 500,000 Sterling pounds, the minister said adding that those opposed to the EPG’s move felt that the new office shouldn’t be set up at the expense of existing priorities.

Prof. Peiris lambasted Wickremesinghe for taking all domestic issues before the international community instead of having local mechanisms to tackle problems faced by the Sri Lankans. An irate External Affairs Minister stressed that the responsibilities of the Opposition shouldn’t be handed over to Colombo-based foreign envoys. He said that Sri Lankans could solve their problems, without being advised by external elements.

[Courtesy 'The Nation', December 4, 2011] 


Shaik Ahamath said...

It saddens me to see a political party that I once loved and cherished dragged into the mire because the leader hasn't got the gumption to conduct his responsibilities as directed by his position as the Leader of the Opposition. He is drawing his salary under false pretences. He has delegated his responsibilities much too often. He did not contest the Presidency as he should but delegated that responsibility to a questionable character. This latest mind boggling episode has to be the last straw and it is time he stood down his post in favour of someone more capable.