04 November 2016

The two Wickramaratnes and the learning curves of Yahapalanaya

Eran Wickramaratne has said the Government is ready to amend existing laws to enable the recovery of losses incurred in the controversial sale of Central Bank bonds.  This is good.  Some may talk of closing stable doors after horses have bolted, but then again, there are other horses that can bolt and if stable doors are weak or non-existent then they have to be strengthened or made anew as the case may be.  

The issue however is that new laws needed to have been contemplated when the committee to investigate allegations (made of friends, let’s not forget) released a report a year ago recommending further investigation into the activities of Perpetual Treasuries and the Bank of Ceylon.  We should not forget, also, that the report of the previous Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was effectively squashed by the dissolution of Parliament last year.  Where that was a coincidence, we do not know.  Neither do we know if the movers and shakers of Perpetual Treasuries thumbed some bills into the election campaign kitty of the United National Party.  We do know that the television station CSN was shut down on the basis of an allegation that it was funded with ill-gotten bucks.  We know about the goose, the gander and sauce.  

One of the biggest problems of yahapalanaya or good governance is that it was a term that won currency with few even knowing the relevant substance.  Thus we saw a quick Rajapaksization (if you will) of the new Government.  We’ve seen enough of nepotism, kick-backs, wastage, self-aggrandizement, abuse of state resources etc. post January 2015 to wonder if the yahapalanists even know the A,B and C of yahapaalanaya. That said, the very fact of censure is a positive that even the staunchest supporters of the previous regime cannot ignore and must surely appreciate (if of course they are able to see beyond party political preferences).   Reform must be rehearsed for a long time before it becomes part of and indeed changes the political culture.  It is something that politicians and citizens both must learn and get used to.  

Eran’s pledge, though late (and the delay not necessarily unattended by suspicion), is noteworthy.  It is no secret that his party left no stone unturned to stymie the investigation and did its utmost to scuttle the report and as such we can’t really applaud Eran at this point.  

What’s important is to learn lessons and apply them to general practice.  What’s the lesson here?  First and foremost, it’s about process.  There should be a mechanism and an agreement to privilege process and not preferred outcome.  When ‘outcome’ is privileged it bleeds into process.  That’s politics, of course, but yahapalanya is by definition (and as per the rhetoric of the yahapalanists) about process rising above politics or, put another way, being free of political interference.  

That’s exactly what’s not happening with respect to the reconciliation-engineering chapter of the constitution-making book.  The authors are fixated with preferred outcome and therefore are knowingly or unknowingly corrupting and subverting the process.  There was, for example, an ardent devolutionist who was so alarmed by the outcome of a referendum in Colombia that he suggested a go-slow on constitutional reform that require endorsement by the people via a referendum.  He was terrified that the people might reject his preferred ‘solution’.  He was essentially acknowledging that reform was to be thrust down people’s throats and recommending sweeteners that could persuade lick and swallow.  If that’s the kind of thinking that is informing the reformists it is patently counter-democratic and is undoubtedly a recipe for a widening of fissures rather than their suturing.   

Going by the declarations of the big boy of the constitution-making drive, Jayampathy Wickramaratne, certain things are apparent.  Without the A of ‘examining grievance,’ the B of ‘assessing dimensions of grievance,’ the C of ‘disentangling grievance from aspirations,’ the D of ‘factoring in history, demography, economic sense,’ the E of assessing the match-levels of A, B, C and D with different proposals, what we are seeing is a propaganda drive for a ‘solution’ that has ignored all elements from A to Z.  

Now had the yahapalanists known enough yahapalana-basics to apply clean-up zeal to all things and not selectively (as they have done), practiced what they preached, nipped things in the bud, thought about a stitch in time saving nine and all that kind of thing, Eran Wickramaratne would not be in damage control and the Government would not be wasting so much time wiping the egg that they themselves have covered their faces with.  

It’s the same with constitution-making (with respect to ‘reconciliation’), only what’s at stake is certainly far more serious.  In the case of the Central Bank bond issue, we can say ‘there are other horses that need to and can be stopped from bolting’.  When it comes to laws that fundamentally order the structure of the state based on exaggerated grievance, unreasonable aspiration and rank disavowal of demographic and other realities, we are talking of a no-turning-back situation or rather a turn-back-only-after-much-violence kind of situation.  That’s not egg on someone’s face.  It’s blood on the ground and typically not the blood of constitution-makers.  

Eran Wickramaratne’s statement demonstrates movement along a learning curve.  Constitution-drafters could also learn and move.  As of now the only curves relevant are those about bending a road to suit preferences and a pernicious desire to reach a ‘nowhere’ that is being marketed as ‘somewhere’.  The learning curve of yahapalanaya is about progress on process and not the privileging of preferred outcome.  Eran Wickramaratne seems to be learning, Jayampathy Wickramaratne is not.

Read also: 
Words, deeds and devolution-fixations
First get the lines straightened out Jayampathy
The 'National Question' and the vague-speak of Tamil 'moderates'
President Sirisena has spoken (on Eelamist myth-mongering)!

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  Twitter: malindasene.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. This article was first published in the 'Daily Mirror' (November 3, 2016)


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