by Kalana Senaratane
Checks and balances are vital not only to separate and demarcate the powers and functions of the principal branches of the State but also to ensure no single branch becomes overly powerful, hegemonic, or monarchical. Checks and balances are absolutely essential during these times in Sri Lanka, due to a very simple reason: the existence of a strong and powerful government.
Photoby Bethany V. Pereira, World Resources Institute
At times, the government seems to act as if the victory achieved by the valiant Armed Forces had somehow provided it with a blank cheque of sorts to do whatever it likes concerning matters of governance. When such signs keep emerging, and re-emerging, pressure needs to be exerted, and it is most effective when such pressure is firstly exerted by those within the government. This is particularly so, especially within a context whereby relying on the Constitution is not going to be the most fruitful or productive exercise.
In this regard, 2010 ended on a somewhat positive note when Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake expressed certain important and widely shared sentiments about the government of which he is a senior member. Minister Wickramanayaka highlighted very critical issues: the inability of the government to address the problems concerning the rising cost of living; the importance of economic self-sustenance; the lack of a proper plan which would result in governance ending up like the mess that was created after the appointment of ‘Senior Ministers’; and the internal contradictions that are emerging concerning public statements made for public consumption and actual government policy.
Some of these concerns, to be sure, may be motivated by one’s own ‘political’ grievances. However, that such concerns were raised is to be welcomed at this juncture; especially because they were directed not against a weak government but a strong one. Perhaps, the views of Minister Wickramanayaka encapsulate what this government has sadly, during recent times, shown the people to be; contradictory, unthinking.
As the editor of The Island most correctly and pithily pointed out (editorial, 8 Jan 2011): "The government has earned notoriety for thinking after leaping." To earn any kind of notoriety, there needs to be evidence of constant practice. And that is precisely what the government has shown. And it would be necessary to remember here (as has been discussed in previous columns) that this seemingly growing obsession with the curious practice of "thinking after leaping" is seen not only in matters concerning the formulation of domestic policy, but also foreign policy, too.
Yet, let us think about this practice of "thinking after leaping". The consistency with which this "thinking after leaping" takes place throws up some questions; for surely, a government cannot be so unthinking after all?
Is the government "thinking after leaping", or is this really a case of thinking before leaping? Does the government want us to think that it is "thinking after leaping" and therefore that one should forget and move on? Or are these just temporary setbacks? Is the government ‘testing the waters’ to gain some idea of what the masses think about the policies it is determined to implement and realize on some future date? Why are the internal debates that take place within the government, or in Cabinet, postponed and not resolved or finalized? For instance, as regards the ‘mini-skirt’ issue, does the government want us to believe that what the Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs has told an international news agency is simply ‘rumour’? And all this leads to a far more serious question, of course: does thinking take place, or the ability to think dawn, only during times of an armed conflict?
These are some of the questions that arise given the consistent and constant practice of the government; i.e. the practice of "thinking after leaping". And it is hoped that critical voices from within would emerge, which would be able to constantly check the process of policy formation of the present government.
Much more needs to be done. And it is here that developments taking place elsewhere, in the form of the emergence of a new leadership within the UNP, play a very useful and necessary role. One still does not know what kind of tactics the current Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will resort to, or how the intended ‘peaceful transition’ would materialize. Yet, the developments that have taken place ever since the conclusion of the UNP Convention, have sent an unnerving message to those who did not expect it.
This does not mean that one should embrace the emerging leadership within the UNP uncritically or unthinkingly. Such acceptance would be most dangerous. And it also needs to be remembered that there was a time when those within the Opposition, those within the UNP in particular, were also "thinking after leaping" (especially in terms of statements which were being made denigrating the Armed Forces and then rushing to endorse an Army Commander as a Common Candidate etc., etc.). But today, the government has mastered that art, and the role of the Opposition has become much easier. It simply needs to wait and watch; wait and watch a government leaping from here to there (from Colombo to London, for example).
The problems confronting the government, and indeed the people, are too serious to take this issue of "thinking after leaping" lightly. 2011 will be, as any other year, a critical one. So many have reposed so much of faith in this government; yet, the masses need to be vigilant, ever mindful. It is hoped that some within the government, and those within the Opposition, would play a necessary and constructive role.