29 January 2012

The need for a mirror-check

It is perhaps a sign of a certain lack in political maturity that makes the Opposition indistinguishable from Doomsday Prophets.  The prophesies are mouthed with such regularity that they end up amounting to little more than rant and gripe. After a while no one takes notice. 

The economy has been ‘on the verge of collapsing’ for such a long time, according to some, that one can’t help wondering if the predictors have any understanding about ‘verge’ and ‘collapse’.  A similar term that did the rounds was ‘failed state’.  Failed states don’t execute wars against ruthless terrorists and live to tell the tale, and certainly not while continuing to heavily subsidize health, education, food and fuel. 
The problem with Doomsday ‘Propheteering’ is that it devalues valid criticism.  Moreover it gives license to the critiqued to pooh-pooh critics by lumping them along with ‘those jokers who keep saying the world is going to end tomorrow’.  It feeds regime-arrogance and when things actually go bad it is too late to prevent breakdowns that cost nation and citizen dearly. 
The past few weeks have seen a wave of protests.  The Government has been quick to denounce these agitations as the work of sinister elements intent on causing instability (and even reversing the victories registered in the battlefield).  While there could be some truth in the claim, it would be foolish to think that these grievances articulated are not felt or valid.   The challenge is to deal with the mischief-makers as appropriate, perhaps by exposing their funding sources and shady financial dealings without ignoring the issues that require urgent attention. 
The Government would do well to identify the potential threat to national security and political stability posed by mismanagement and wild-ass unionism in key institutions such as the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).   These institutions must not only provide uninterrupted service but they need to be efficient and corruption-free. 
It is high time that the Government recognizes that cronyism and petty political games will inevitably backfire and feed exactly those rogue elements it accuses of being cat’s paws of foreign governments attempting destabilization. People of unquestioned integrity and proven competence have to be appointed so that unions will be dealt with firmly and humanely.  At the same time, the day-to-day running of affairs has to be put in the hands of those who have the requisite knowledge.  Career-minded bureaucrats who are a disgrace to the Administrative Service must not be allowed to run things by proxy and reduce key positions into seats for figureheads. 
Indeed, that kind of thinking would serve all institutions.  Public health, for example, had its best days in the last 30 years during the brief period Ranasinghe Premadasa was President and that’s because his main advisor was a committed leftist and a man of integrity who put country before self and party.  It is to President Premadasa’s credit that for all his many errors and preferences for strong-arm tactics, he had the wisdom (at times) to put the right person in the right place.
Sycophants and cheerleaders are competent misleaders adept at painting bright colours to hide the ugly.    When decisions are made based on fairy tales, nightmares result.  If the right people are placed in these institutions and a hands-off policy is maintained, not only will things get done but the political rewards will accrue to the appointers, in this case the President.    
Loyalty to regime is not important; loyalty to nation imperative. Politicians of whatever hue who understand and appreciate this are men and women of stature and recognized as such by the people. 
What is being suggested here is not necessarily a mechanism to stem a perceptible rot, but a general principle of operation in the broad sphere of governance. Implied in the recommendation, though, is the lamentable fact that Sri Lanka lacks an institutional arrangement that consistently fills posts with competence due to the sheer power of procedural robustness.  That function has by default become dependent on the wisdom of appointers and therefore constrained by inevitable deficiencies.
Ranters and ranting there will always be but grievance, in whatever colours it may come clothed, always has the potential to be exploited by errant politicians looking for shortcuts to power.  The kind of force that is most effective in mitigating such threat is to that made of wisdom and compassion, the pragna and maithriya advocated by the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama.   Right now, we are not seeing much wisdom and hardly any compassion.    
If the going is going to get tough, the tough-going needs to be recognized and tough action taken.  In designing action, however, reason should prevail over emotion, competency privileged over loyalty, and all things should be underlined by humility. 
This country is not on the verge of collapse.  Nothing is about to implode.  There will always be enemies, within and without, but the least that a government mandated to lead the people and transform a nation can do is to recognize that at times it can be its greatest enemy.   Until this is recognized regimes will continue to confuse friend and foe and keep shooting themselves in the proverbial political foot. 
*'The Nation' Editorial, January 29, 2012