Transforming political culture

The workshop titled ‘Our Journey’ was launched at the Diyatalawa Military Academy under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

l by Milinda Rajasekera

(March 07, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Seminars, workshops, conferences and awareness and training programmes are events regularly held in this country. Some are effective and useful while most others are found to be wasteful exercises. Motives for organizing these events at great expense to the institutions concerned are often called into question. Those sponsored by foreign organizations for various purposes often come in for severe criticism.
Two recent seminars for top notch politicians attracted much public attention. The first was the one organized for Colombo city fathers and held at the Kandalama Hotel on February 11 and 12 at a cost of Rs.1.5 million. Mayor A.J.M. Muzammil who had initiated the programme, however, was unhappy that three prominent UPFA Councillors of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) including Milinda Moragoda, Mohamed Maharoof and M. H. Manzil boycotted the programme which he described as an important event where the resource personnel included people like Bradman Weerakoon, Dr. Fahmy Ismail, Gamini Chandrasena, Sakya Nanayakkara, Piyatissa Ranasinghe and UNP Parliamentarian Eran Wickremaratne. The rate payers complain that it would have been better had this money been utilized for providing improved services for the city dwellers as well as to thousands of people visiting the capital city for various purposes.
The second was the one organized for MPs and ministers including deputy ministers and held in Diyatalawa under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The two-day residential programme was to cover topics such as economy, political communication, political and administrative reforms, national security and social and collective responsibility. Concerns were first expressed by some assuming that it was going to be a military training as the venue selected for the purpose was the Diyatalawa Military Academy (DMA). However, this notion was dismissed by senior ministers saying that the members of UPFA were being trained to equip themselves with the needed strength to implement the government policy in keeping with the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ programme. Media also reported about certain misgivings expressed by some party members about the special need for this exercise since there is no requirement for such an exercise under the regulations or parliamentary standing orders. The subjects — as mentioned above – covered were, of course, appropriate and it is believed that the parliamentarians gained a better awareness of these matters. The other political parties, particularly the UNP, also were in the practice of conducting similar seminars for its members in luxury hotels. But it appears that such events have not been of much benefit for the party to maintain its unity, judging from the present imbroglio the party is afflicted with.
There is indeed need for all politicians, whether they are members of local government bodies or members of parliament, to get a clear and proper awareness about matters pertaining to administrative affairs for them to play their role effectively. It is no secret that most of these politicians do not possess the required education and knowledge about these matters. Therefore, if these events serve to enhance the educational and ethical standards of politicians then it would constitute a worthwhile contribution to the country’s political culture in view of the present decline of politicians’ reputation in the eyes of the public.
It is from this drop in standards that pollution of the political culture arises as manifested in widespread corruption, abuse of power, use of violence and intimidation, misuse of state property, indiscipline, disrespect for democratic ideals and rule of law and various other political and social evils. Politicians, however, are glib about the need for promoting social discipline and other virtues when they address meetings and other public gatherings. But the examples they set leave much to be desired. It is not only politicians who fail to set the required examples for the others to follow. The examples set by religious leaders and leaders of various other social organizations also fall far short of expectations. True, setting examples, alone is not sufficient to make people change their bad habits. The strict enforcement of laws is sine qua non to ensure orderly and peaceful conduct of people in society. Where existing laws are found inadequate news laws, rules and regulations have to be framed to meet the changing needs.
It would thus be clear that all these awareness and training programmes conducted at high cost to the country should serve the overall national objective of transforming the existing political culture into a truly democratic one where rule of law and good governance will dominate.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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