When an advertising agency came with the slogan “The Small Miracle” President Mahinda Rajapaksa went ballistic. The objection was to the word ‘small’. Sri Lanka after all does nothing small. Just look at the ‘mega’ infrastructure projects, most of them white elephants, the mega cabinet and of course mega corruption. So came the current slogan — ‘A Country Like No Other.’
Whether by intention or default the second slogan is far more apt at describing this island. A democracy by name only, the country ‘elects’ a president who actually is a dictator, not answerable to anybody for six years and then the people are said to be given an opportunity to keep or reject the individual for another six years. Since the 1978 Constitution we have had five ‘executive’ presidents and just two governments in 32 years.
A UNP led alliance from 1978-1994 and the SLFP led alliance from 1994 to date. This in a country that changed the government after every term and some times even before the five years were over from 1948 to 1978. What President J.R. Jayewardene did in his wisdom was to undermine every independent institution in the country to such an extent that the ruling party has such a huge advantage that election day is of little importance.
Since JR, every ‘Executive’ President has promised to change the constitution and return to a more accountable leadership system but in actual fact further undermined institutions. One President, Chandrika Kumaratunga went so far as to publicly ridicule the constitution as a ‘Bahubutha Viyavasthawa’ and then tried to amend it so she could run for a third term. Changing a government at an election has now become a ‘huge miracle’. Certainly this small island now has a democracy ‘like no other.’
The country has seen two armed conflicts since 1983 and certainly was the major reason for slow economic growth. After nearly three decades, the country is finally enjoying peace and the expectation of the people is for a better life in this birth, not for a promise of a better future which our leaders have promised since independence and failed miserably to deliver. However as we enter the second decade of this century this happening looks more and more like a ‘mega miracle.’ The President started the new year with a message with the same old message, asking people to sacrifice today “for a better tomorrow”.
The irony of this is that the call for sacrifice comes while hundreds if not thousands of relatives and friends of the first family, are having the time of their lives at the expense of the people. The slogan for those wielding power is ‘greed is good.’ It is no longer kickbacks of 3% or 5% of the cost, but millions of dollars added to the cost. There are no attempts to be discreet either. Ask any businessmen local or foreign and they would tell you that Suharto’s Indonesia was a clean, well governed nation, compared what is happening in this ‘country like no other.’
As our lead story today indicates, once in a way a small fish is made an example of to show the ever gullible people of this country that ‘corruption does not pay.’ The Chairman of the Gem and Jewellery Authority has been sacked supposedly because of our expose over four weeks of his wrongdoings. However, we can guarantee one thing. There will not be a court case against him. Now that would be going too far. Only fools would set a precedence when there is even a small chance of falling out of grace and ending up in jail for of all things – corruption.
If media exposés on corruption, abuse of power, fraud and waste leads to the sacking of the perpetrators then thousands of them would today be jobless and if court cases are filed then most of them would be in jail. That would include almost 99% of the politicians of all parties in the last 40 years. We would not have a police force or a government service because most of them too would be in jail.
While this free-for-all continues, a majority of the people are struggling to make ends meet. Sri Lankans simply don’t get it. That for every rupee they spend, at least 20 cents is because of corruption.
What we suggest to President Mahinda Rajapaksa is that he does what he does best. Come up with a new slogan. Our suggestion — “A People Like No Other.”