| by Tisaranee Gunasekara
False paths, credulously followed… – Gunter Grass (Eulogy on Christa Wolf)
( January 23, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Good warriors often make bad leaders. Those who are good at winning wars are not necessarily good at governance — “with their serial signature fiascos…”
The AL results imbroglio is, and seems destined to remain, unresolved. That fiasco has two components – faulty district rankings and an erroneous Z-score. The investigative Committee appointed by the President was mandated to study only the minor issue – district rankings. The major issue of a faulty Z-score (an allegation backed by several experts) remains un-investigated. This is an indefensible failure since Z-score is the password of entry to a Lankan university — the desired goal of most AL students.
The Committee did not look into allegations of an erroneous Z-score because the Committee was not mandated to do so, according to its head, Dhara Wijethilake. Any investigation into the AL results imbroglio cannot be complete unless it covers the Z-score issue. By limiting the Committee’s mandate to the issue of district rankings, the President effectively prevented a full and credible investigation of the fiasco. Was it an oversight? Was he wrongly advised (one cannot reasonably expect the Rajapaksas to know or care much about Advanced Levels)? Or was it intentional, a deliberate attempt to sneak past the problem without resolving it, a classic Rajapaksa tactic? Was this Committee intended for elusion rather than resolution, as was IIGEP, the APRC, the LLRC or the Committee into the 2010 killing of FTZ worker Roshain Chanaka?
The AL results fiasco is symbolic of Rajapaksa governance and the illimitable damage it can do to all Lankans. Those students wronged by an erroneous Z-score would belong to families from all ethno-religious communities, all classes and all political persuasions. Children of parents who vote for the Rajapaksas would be victimised as much as children from anti-Rajapaksa or apolitical families. Actual and nascent tyrants kill and persecute their opponents; but they also cause irreparable harm to the living conditions and future prospects of their supporters (and those who are indifferent to them). Just as adulterated petrol damaged the cars of Rajapaksa supporters and opponents alike, the administrative, economic and political imbroglios to come will harm Lankans across all spectra, including the pro/anti-Rajapaksa one.
Rajapaksa governance is degenerative. Its monomaniac focus on the Dynastic Project makes it favour Rajapaksa kith and kin and place a far greater premium on servility than on qualification or ability. If this process continues, the Rajapaksas will, advertently or inadvertently, cause the debilitation of every major Lankan institution, including the military and the Sangha Sasana. The obvious harm that is being done to the education sector is an early indication of the havoc Rajapaksa governance will wreak, in the years to come.
Democracy is not just about elections. Giving rulers carte blanche in between elections is not democratic. Citizens have a right, duty and responsibility to remain vigilant, to weigh, assess and analyse the actions of their leaders and protest non-violently whenever necessary. Politics is inescapably relevant to the everyday life of even the most apolitical citizen; politics will not leave us alone, however much we may want to divorce ourselves from it. Therefore professional politicians who are in politics for power, money and prestige cannot be allowed to monopolise politics and exclude citizens from having any say in how their country is run, in between elections.
The issue before us is not regime change. It is about adulterated fuel which damages our vehicles, corrupt deals which increase our indebtedness and education mishaps and health failures which endanger the future of younger generations – issues which should concern Rajapaksa opponents and supporters alike, as well as the politically indifferent. It is about myopic, inept, unintelligent governance, which damages the country and all those who live in it – including the most diehard Rajapaksa supporters. It is about preventing Sri Lanka from becoming a dysfunctional country which is incapable of performing such basic everyday tasks as ordering a consignment of fuel or conducting an examination, without mishap. It is about preventing inefficiency and corruption from becoming administrative and societal norms. It is about safeguarding the credibility of key institutions. It is about surviving as a reasonably efficient, just and lawful – and thus a liveable – state.
Learning from the Rulers
Queen Victoria’s German husband brought the Christmas tree into England; that custom then spread into British colonies and beyond. Most puritanical cultural norms revered by many a Sinhala Buddhist as our very own came to us from our Victorian colonial rulers. Leaders set trends, both good and bad. This is especially so in actual or nascent tyrannies where Rulers maintain a constant presence in the lives of the ruled, in the guise of wise guides and indispensable arbiters.
The Rajapaksas are intolerant of what should be tolerated and tolerant of what should not be tolerated. They are intolerant of Democratic freedoms and human rights, peaceful protests and minority aspirations, power-sharing and international humanitarian norms. They are tolerant, often boundlessly, of corruption and waste, inefficiency and favouritism, cupidity, sloth and violence, so long as the perpetrators are their own. Additional Magistrate Prasanna Alwis has decreed that parliamentarian (and monitoring MP of the Defence Ministry) Duminda Silva must remain on the list of suspects in the Kolonnawa multiple-killings. Will the AG’s Department instruct the Police to follow up on the Court Order, at least now? Will the President order his party man to come back? Will Interpol be informed about Mr. Silva? Or will he evade justice, because he is still in possession of his VVIP patrons? What will such a blatant manifestation of impunity teach us – and future generations – about justice, law and morality?
When a video depicting four US marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters surfaced on the YouTube, the Obama administration did not dismiss it as enemy propaganda nor reject it as an impossibility. Instead a high level investigation was conducted and the culprits identified, within days. The administration then condemned that atrocity in no uncertain terms, neither trying to excuse it not dismissing it as a miscellany. The US Marine Corps are to launch their own ‘holistic’ investigation which will seek to unearth the factors which enabled this abhorrent deed by posing the question, “What happened in the Marine Corps that this happened” (ABC News – 13.1.2012). This mature US response is in stark contrast to the manner in which the Rajapaksas have responded to every allegation of error and misdeed, from the AL fiasco to the Channel 4 videos.
By facing the scandal head-on, the Obama Administration took the first indispensable step towards getting over and beyond it. By resorting to evasions, excuses, justifications and denials whenever allegations of mistakes and misdeeds crop-up, the Rajapaksas ensure that we can never put those issues behind us. The allegations of human rights violations will continue to haunt Sri Lanka until they are credibly investigated. If allegations of an erroneous Z-score are ignored, AL results will join other indisputable truths desecrated by the Rajapaksas, such as Central Bank statistics. This is not a safe path for Lankans to traverse — in trust or in indifference.