16 June 2012

Good Governance I: Liberality, Generosity and Charity

The definitive text book on Good Governance was written, so to speak, over 2500 years ago by Siddhartha Gauthama: The Dasa Raja Dharma, the ten-point framework for rulers. Each tenet is a book, if one wants to expand on the basic principle, a doctoral dissertation in fact and a single article running into 1000 words or less cannot do justice to this amazing handbook for the ruler.’

The nutshell-version would thus be the 10 tenets: Dana (liberality, generosity, charity), Sila (a high and moral character), Pariccaga (sacrificing everything for the good of the people), Ajjava (honesty and integrity), Maddava (kindness and gentleness), Tapa (austerity of habits), Akkodha (freedom from envy, ill-will, enmity), Avihimsa (non-violence), Khanti (patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding), Avirodha (non-opposition, non-obstruction).

These are that fall into the easy to say but hard to do order of things, obviously. Or, if one wants to be cynical, one could say they are not impossible to do but are nevertheless not done because it is convenient to ignore all this. And profitable. I believe we lose nothing by exploring these concepts and assessing things as they are in terms of the ideals envisaged by this 10-point plan. Beginning with this I shall explore each of these 10 ideas in terms of where we are as a nation, the crucial challenges we face and the futures that we can reasonably imagine (subject of course to the editor’s generosity and permission).

Let’s talk ‘dana’today. The first thing that comes to mind would be ‘alms-giving’. There is the ritualistic offering to the Maha Sangha, the ‘giving’ associated with dan-sela come Vesak or Poson, the tossing of a coin to a beggar. All ‘givings’ come under ‘dana’. What is the ‘dana’ associated with governance, though?

Some might say that Mahinda Rajapaksa ‘gave’ us a terrorist-free country. Some would say he gave us back our dignity, sense of pride, our national identity. Some might say that he recovered our sovereignty and territorial integrity and thereby granted us and our children an expanded sense of freedom and extended the dimensions of our real-estate endowment. We are today living in a country where we don’t have to worry whether or not our children or loved ones would fall victim to a bomb explosion or suicide attack. We have a sense of security we didn’t have before. We can say ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa gave us all this’. Dana? No. All of the above come under‘responsibility’. It is part of a political agreement, a contract that is made of manifesto distributed before election and mandate given by electing. All this is what Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Executive President, elected, was required to do. That’s part of his job description. The fact that his predecessors could not deliver makes the fact that he did worthy of appreciation of course, but still, this is not ‘dana’. It is ‘vagakeema’. Responsibility.

And here, we need to insert parenthesis: there is still a big gap between manifesto and mandate and until such time it is bridged, even the ‘I have delivered’ claim cannot be made. There are errors too. There’s been a lot of ‘taking’, i.e. things not promised nor mandate obtained for. That’s a negative that needs to be balanced off by correction and compensation. Every time, for example, that the law is applied indiscriminately, where friends are treated softly and detractors harshly. That’s ‘taking’. Each time there’s ‘looking the other way’when one’s pals are engaged in wrong-doing and pursuing relentlessly a political opponent for crimes forgiven in the case of a friend, each time one wrong-doer is treated lightly while another is rapped on the knuckles hard, there’s unsanctioned ‘taking’. These should be balanced off too.

Dana’ speaks of a different order of things. It refers to a ‘giving’ or ‘givings’ that fall out of mandate, things not promised or pledged and are not expected either. It is about employing resources available to deliver things that were not promised. ‘Resource’ here is not necessarily limited to money, cement and personnel, but ideas, innovation and the ability to decide. It is about going beyond maintaining status quo. It is about resolving problems not in the sticking-plaster manner, but in ways that prevent recurrence. It is about designing systems instead of looking to find the right person for the right job; i.e. setting up mechanisms so that the right person does get the right job.

'Dana’ is not about dishing out Presidential Pardon. It is about recognizing that the law can be deliberately applied selectively and making sure that it is not. It is about recognizing that a constitution has been enacted that is absolutely draconian in that it all but gags the citizen and make it possible for consistent and horrendous short-changing. It is about doing something about it. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa did not get into specifics when he spoke about changing the constitution. He was given a mandate to change it. He has the numbers to change it. He can easily slip to do-as-I-please mode. That would not be illegal. This is exactly why there is a ‘dana’ opportunity here. He can do what few have had the courage or indeed the compulsion to do: defer in favour of citizen. He can recognize that he has been accorded dictatorial powers by this constitution. He can choose not to use all powers at his disposal and that would be good. The true ‘giving’ would be to go further: enact amendment to deny himself such power and by doing so to ensure that a tyrant will not be able to abuse these powers at a later date. That’s giving, in my book.

The Dasa Raja Dharma ‘giving’ is not about being giving kisses, pats on the back, hugs, throwing parties, distributing school books and so on. It is about recognizing errors that have caused unnecessary power to accumulate in the office one occupies and doing something to rectify the same. It is about recognizing that ‘do-as-I-please’ IS possible but deciding not to make use of the option.

There are alms that the needy require, yes. These are not necessarily limited to food, clothing and shelter. The President has to look after the welfare of needy citizens and he has to understand that some of these ‘needs’ are not of the material kind; that they include enhanced ability to participate in decision making processes, security from being shoved around by arrogant politicians, the pleasure of living in a society where the law is applied equally to all citizens etc. It also includes a decision not to give into craving and attachment to anything including political office.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is not known to be ungenerous. He’s not seen as a stingy person. However, he needs to distinguish between dana and vagakeema, between giving and being honourable about delivering on promise.

There’s dana then and there’s dana. President Mahinda Rajapaksa hasn’t given much by way of dana, not in terms of the Dasa Raja Dharma anyway. He won’t be faulted for this of course, for people tend to compare and contrast. That’s not enough to be remembered as a great ruler, though.

Let’s see some real dana Mr. President.

[an earlier version was published in the Daily Mirror, in August 2010 under the title 'The Dana Clause of the Dasa Raja Dharma']

The following is the complete set of articles on the Dasa Raja Dharma

Dana: the virtue of giving

Sila: the moral component of the Dasa Raja Dharma]

Pariccaga: the third element of the Dasa Raja Dharma

Ajjava: the discourse on honesty and integrity in governance 

Majjava: the kinder, gentler elements of governance

Tapa: the virtues of austerity and restraint 

Akkodha: the need to eschew enmity

Avihimsa: incorporating non-violence into good governance

Khanti: the virtue of patience and tolerance

Avirodha: a must-cultivate for the effective and benevolent ruler


SANDIKA said...

I remember reading this for the first time I think this particular writing and its explanation applicable to all ears of all levels of leaders, bottom to top.

I like to think of ‘an alms giving’ that is not generally one person’s effort. That is a contribution of a lot of people. Some contribute in giving ideas, some contribute in providing necessary background for a ‘danaya’, necessary equipments, some may contribute in a silent way not disturbing the particular event that is a vital contribution in something called ‘danaya’, you need to makeup your mind to that level before you offer a danaya , pre planning with the help of the others, to get the support of others for such an event you need to convince others ( sometimes people do not have time they say) those things for me important and I believe all those efforts and contributions are a part of a ‘danaya’. Even ‘a little thought’ you generate your within supporting such events becomes a part of a huge meaningful concepts called ‘danaya’ in the broad sense.

Chetanahan bikkawe kamman wadami

I think above is applicable to each and every danaya.
The most meaningful danaya/ ‘alms giving’ offered to all experienced in the recent past had a particular name ‘ a terror free country for all’ I like to think of the contributors of this danaya , even each and every citizen ( this word hold no particular colour) of this country they were a huge part of this event . They thought that it is there ‘wagakeema’ to support such a huge ‘danaya’. We needed a leader to lead such a thing who could understand the true meaning of the word ‘wagakeema’. The leaders who purely wanted to fulfill this ‘wagakeema’ but failed due to some reasons obvious and not known to some of us and those who really tried having an ‘honest intension’ in mind also naturally became a part of this danaya. Obviously those who had their ‘chetanawa’ wrapped with ‘ill wills’ do not belong to this category of contributors and we can not consider them as the real contributors of this particular, huge effort, the danaya.

It is good to be a responsible contributor of any such, similar events political or otherwise.

‘wagakeemen dan demu’