It has been just two weeks since the final budget vote was taken and already the entire exercise is a distant memory in the collective Sri Lankan psyche. Such is the importance we accord to issues that affect us directly, the stomach to be precise, so less said the better of things that do not directly affect us, like say Ban Ki-Moon’s Expert Panel.
Budgets come and go and we Sri Lankans have taken it for granted that it is an annual ritual and basically leave it at that. “What to do – we have to live with it” is what the average Sri Lankan could be relied upon to say.
The 225 politicians for their part make a din in the house by the Diyawanna during the three weeks the budget is debated and at the end of it, laugh it all off, pat each other on the back and head to their luxurious abodes dumping all the budget baggage in the Diyawanna. And there it lies, till salvaged a year later, at the next budget. This is about as far as fiscal discipline goes at the highest level of governance in this country.
Basically, a set of figures is presented to the Finance Minister by the budget maestro P.B. Jayasundera, which the Finance Minister painstakingly reads for hours and hours on budget day and these figures are then debated in one of two ways for the next three weeks – on the basis that either the figures (allocations) are too much or too little. The scope of debate is more or less limited to this. No one bothers to go back one year and find out what happened to the figures presented a year ago – contrast what was budgeted as against how the money was actually spent or collected, as the case may be.
As an example, in the year 2009 the External Affairs Ministry busted its entire budgetary allocation for the year in six months. A supplementary estimate had to be approved to cover the rest of the year. We never saw any one of the worthy politicians query as to how this happened when the Ministry vote was taken up this year. Instead koheda yanne malle pol stories were presented and debated – like Ban Ki Moon’s panel – when the one and only issue that should have been focused on was the fiscal aspect of the Ministry’s operation, especially in the year that ended – with nothing to show by way of performance.
The budget is the national forum to dissect a ministry balance sheet. What happens is anything but that. So we blunder on, from one set of sham accounts to another – year after year. Who is it that could be held accountable for perpetuating this mockery of financial management?
This is just one instance of (non) governance in this country where accountability and good governance are just mere words plastered on issues as and when the need arises to accord some degree of credibility in the eyes of the public.
Take for instance what happened last Thursday when the Colombo magistrate remanded 160 “hardcore” LTTE cadres who were in IDP camps. By all means, all terrorists – be they ‘hardcore’ or any other ‘core’ need to be brought before the law. If the state feels some should be ‘let-off’ from facing the full force of the law for some reason or the other, the one and only option it has is to present the suspects before a court of law and plead for clemency. It is then up to the court to decide on the matter. The government cannot at its discretion decide which terrorist is to be punished and who is not to be. The law is equal to all, including the state.
Which LTTE terrorist could be more ‘hardcore’ than KP, Karuna, Daya Master and George Master – all of whom are being given royal treatment by the government? Why aren’t they being presented before the Colombo or Kilinochchi magistrates? How does one explain this contrasting scenario? Is it that their ‘core’ is not ‘hard’ anymore? Exactly where does accountability lie in this particular case?
Let’s take the case of the murder of the Founding Editor of this newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge. The very next day after the murder it was announced that four police teams had been tasked with apprehending the killers. Weeks passed and with nothing to show, the IGP announced that he was personally taking over the investigation. Months passed and it was announced that the CID would take over the investigation as little or no progress had been made. Now, recently, it was announced that the TID would be taking over the investigation from the CID. Where does the passing of the buck end?
In exactly 12 days it will be two years since Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed, yet while in that time the LTTE and its long elusive chief was located and annihilated, while his successor was scooped up from far away Malaysia and is now in government custody, while the entire LTTE intelligence network was also dismantled, Wickrematunge’s killers, who performed their despicable act in broad daylight in the middle of a busy highway and just 100 meters from a key military installation, still roam free. Who is it that can be held accountable for this?
Take Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Oxford fiasco – shouldn’t the person responsible for this disaster resign without any further delay? Whoever it was that advised Rajapaksa to go to London despite advice to the contrary by his own External Affairs Ministry needs to own up and resign. After all the person/s blundering resulted in not only a personal insult to Rajapaksa but to the whole nation.
In the alternative, if the person/s responsible don’t resign shouldn’t they be sacked? Isn’t that the way forward? Why this ultra tolerance of mediocrity where certain people are allowed to blunder on and bring the whole nation to ridicule? Who is it that can be held accountable for this?
In less than two months, the ICC Cricket World Cup will kick-off in the Sub Continent with Sri Lanka being a co-host. Definitely, the biggest sporting event to come our way. This decision was not made the day before but years ago. Sri Lanka had all the time in the world to get its stadia ready, but sadly none of the three venues listed to host the World Cup matches are yet ready. What does this mean, it means the new grounds would be as alien to the Sri Lankan cricket team as it would be to the visiting teams as the local lads will have no opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new venues.
And with that the only benefit in the home team’s favour, the “home advantage” has been squandered at the altar of politics. With the accent on completing the stadia no one is even talking of the logistics and infrastructure necessary to convey back and forth, and accommodate 40,000 people in a far corner of the island where the collective hotel room strength is still a couple of hundred.
The last team to visit the country, the West Indian team, had been livid that they were made to sit in a bus for five hours to make the trip to Hambantota. While this nightmare unfolds the mandarins in government are busy canvassing to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Hambantota. If ever there was a case of mixed priorities then this one has to be it. Who is it that can be held accountable for this disaster in the making? Many more are the issues that can be mentioned such as our foreign policy disaster where accountability, though a prerequisite, is sadly missing.
With the first decade of the new millennium drawing to a close and a new one beginning in five days one can only hope that the powers that be realise that the path to development is not only putting up buildings, harbours and roads but putting in place a system where there is little or no room for mediocrity, where good governance is assured and the only way to ensure this is by making people — however big or small — accountable for their actions.