Politicians bow before the court of the people: Who told more lies?

NASA, the United States’ space agency, is turning its telescope towards Sri Lanka. It has found an easy way to send a Rover-like robotic vehicle to Mars.

That’s along the nose of our Pinocchio politicians, most of whom have mastered the art of lying to the people so well that they can even outdo the carpenter’s wooden son.

Some of these lies find a place in party manifestos. As a result, the manifestos the parties put out with much publicity and media coverage in the presence of religious dignitaries have become largely worthless booklets fit only to be dumped in the dustbin no sooner they are delivered to the voters.

WIGNESWAREN (3)Weeks after the presidential poll on January 8, this column called for civil society action to hold politicians accountable for the promises they make and the lies they tell during the campaign.

This was because there were signs that the much-bandied-about election promises, on the strength of which Maithripala Sirisena was able to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa, were not being fulfilled as promised. No big guns accused of being corrupt had been arrested as promised by Mr. Sirisena in his 100-day programme; attempts at enacting the 19th Amendment were seen to be sluggish; the Right to Information Bill, the national audit bill and other key promises made by President Sirisena were seen to be dumped in the political backyard. Many began to resign themselves to their fate feeling that it was the nature of politicians to break or forget their promises.

But in hindsight, as far as the promises are concerned, the record of the Sirisena presidency with a UNP-led minority government is much better than all the previous governments. The efforts were not a bad start.

liarWe were able to quantify the extent to which the promises have been fulfilled because there was a timeframe – 100 days.

But the parties making all sorts of promises to win the August 17 general elections give no such time frame. The closest one sees to a time frame is in the United National Party manifesto which talks about a programme of work for 60 months. This means five years or 1,800 days – a time frame 18 times that of the 100-day programme.

It is long enough to delete from an average voters’ mind whatever promises the UNP is making in the 2015 hustings.

Meanwhile, the UPFA manifesto is seen by critics as a rubber balloon, elastic enough to accommodate any amount of empty air in the form of promises, which, according to experts, will require Rs. 400 billion or US$ 3 billion to implement.

How a country deep in debt can find this extra money to finance the promises is probably known only to those who drafted the manifesto.   Incumbents know their re-election has little to do with their record of fulfilling promises.

mahinda-and-singh4What matters is the economy. As former US President Bill Clinton once said, it is the economy, stupid.  Irrespective of the promises made, voters punish incumbents if they do not deliver on the economic front. But does this mean political parties can be allowed to tell lies to voters and get away without being held accountable? The answer is ‘no’.

How compatible is lying with the concept of good governance? Democratic government is a social contract, according to which, the people who are sovereign cannot and should not be deceived.

A government resorting to deception to win over the people is guilty of breach of trust. The people must have the right to know every action of government leaders.

That is why in advanced democracies, the law requires even classified documents, however security sensitive, should be opened for public scrutiny after a lapse of a stipulated period.

10678640_732681696802609_2218721532253055532_nIn advanced democracies, public enthusiasm to hold politicians accountable for promises they make is also high. In my post-presidential-election article on political promises, I wrote of how former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was jolted by a question a city resident asked him.

The story is worth repeating.   Bloomberg was confronted by a civic conscious citizen — Anthony Santa Maria — at a subway station during his 2001 campaign to become New York’s mayor. Mr. Santa Maria scoffed at the promises politicians make. But the criticism did not make Mr. Bloomberg angry. Instead it inspired him to release an annual status report on his 381 campaign promises.

When he completed his first term as mayor in 2005, his annual report said 87 per cent of the promises had been fulfilled. His final Campaign Accountability Report released in 2013 at the end of his third term as mayor showed 89 per cent of the 611 combined promises made during the three campaigns had been completed or were being implemented at the time of compiling the report.

Bouquets to Mr. Bloomberg! (See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/64207/political-promises-lanka-needs-annual-status-reports#sthash.6myDDhkz.dpuf) In Sri Lanka, however, we are yet to see politicians of the calibre of Mr. Bloomberg. An angry Sri Lankan viewer once asked the moderator of a TV show whether there was legislation to take the politicians to court for breaking their promises.

5The moderator’s advice was for the people to be the judges at elections and reject the politicians who break promises.

But at every election, we are lured by new promises and the cycle of making and breaking promises and electing and rejecting politicians continues. With the law silent on the broken promises of politicians, what action can the voters take?
One suggestion is that when the 20th Amendment is introduced, a provision should be included to enable a panel of experts, including accountants and economists, appointed by the Elections Commissioner to study the promises and certify whether they are implementable. Or introduce an honesty-in-politics law in keeping with the good governance principles. In the alternative, civil society organisations can step in to monitor the promises.

They can prepare an annual report on the government’s record and make it public. In this way, civil society can apply pressure on the government and force it to explain the reason for not fulfilling its promises.

This is where the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera’s National Movement for Just Society and polls monitoring groups such as People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) can play a key role. These civil society groups should not allow political parties to make good governance just an election slogan. They must make political parties to live good governance.

– See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/83397/politicians-bow-before-the-court-of-the-people-who-told-more-lies#sthash.7uH8DYCX.dpuf