No government anywhere in the world is lily white and it is foolish for anybody to claim otherwise. The people of Sri Lanka are well aware that this is especially true of our own governments, whatever their political complexion. When he recently met editors, publishers and electronic media heads, President Maithripala Sirisena, without naming his predecessor, did not pull his punches on the corruption and thuggery of the previous Rajapaksa regime that was well known. Sirisena hit harder than he had ever done before and this has been attributed by some analysts to the competition between the two factions of the SLFP to draw the bigger crowd for May Day. Unfortunately, even though the president invited questions at his press meeting, the media did not push him on the matter of the performance of his own government whose hands too are not as clean as the people would wish. This was also the case when the previous president hosted breakfast meetings with the press. Then too full tosses were bowled and the whole press, us included, must share the blame for not asking hard questions. That said, the present rulers deserve commendation for pulling the state media out of the pits to which it had descended under the previous dispensation.
A whole slew of investigations into the corruption of the past are ongoing but whether investigators and prosecutors can come up with evidence capable of standing up to strict proof demanded in the courts remain an open question. The former president accuses his successor of engaging in a vicious witch hunt against him and members of his family. While his detractors will hoot with derision at these claims, his supporters (and there are many of them including those who profited from his largesse) believe him implicitly. That is evident from the support he continues to command, no doubt with substantial resources mobilized as for example for the May Day show; plus of course the support of loudmouth small parties who cannot get elected without clinging on to the satakaya. This was also true of the UNP and the Sirisena backers of the SLFP who also expended substantial resources on May Day. The saving grace was everybody is supposed to have paid for the buses that ferried the crowds this time round. That was a welcome change from the past although how the money was raised is another question.
It is the tragedy of this nation that we prematurely lost Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, a key figure that drove the defeat of President Rajapaksa in January last year. He may have been able to influence the present regime to at least deliver on some of its promises and the expectations of those who strived to topple a regime that was widely considered invincible. It was reported that the venerable monk was disappointed about the non-delivery on many expectations at the time of his death. Be that as it may, while it must be conceded that there have been welcome improvements in some areas and nobody can accuse the president and prime minister of rampant robbery, there times when what is politically or personally opportune rather than what is right has been done. It would have been best if the president did not appoint his brother as chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom or a relative of the prime minister was not named Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to London. As far as we know the lady has not yet assumed office although the appointment was reported some time ago. Perhaps there has been a change of heart?
We publish today an article from a frequent contributor who was a former employee of SriLankan Airlines who complains about those the present government has put in charge of the national carrier. He alleges that the present CEO of the airline has lost the confidence of the pilots. Whether this is so or not would probably emerge as events roll out. However, it would have been appropriate if the writer of the article had revealed that he too was an applicant for the CEO’s job in the interest of full disclosure. While the government’s advertising blitz on the economic landmines bequeathed by its predecessor cannot be faulted, its own records of adding to the load with vote-winning sweeteners, notable the public service pay increase and other unaffordable goodies, added to the burden.
We would say that filling a job with somebody’s somebody is not altogether wrong if the person appointed is competent and capable on delivering on the demands of the job. Yet justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. Before the 1977 general election that swept Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government out of office, the UNP used what they called a ‘Family Tree’ as an effective propaganda tool for its election campaign. President Rajapaksa too didn’t do badly on this appointing not only his own family members but those of his cronies to a whole lot of diplomatic sinecures. While his cousin Jaliya Wickremasuriya who was our man in Washington for many years during the previous regime has disappeared from the radar (nothing is said now about a return of some funds to the government over a property deal), another relative who was long our ambassador in Russia turned up to see cousin Mahinda in Thailand recently. He’d widely disseminated a news release dripping with injured innocence, says he’s still living in Ukraine where he’s alleged to have sold arms to separatists, but adduced no proof of that. While a ‘Family Tree’ on MR and his cronies is an easily feasible project, the present leadership thankfully cannot be tarred with quite the same brush. The reality is that political friends have to be accommodated and the present administration has not fought shy of that.
That’s why we say that things are nowhere near as bad as they were but nowhere near as good as those who wanted the last bunch kicked out wish them to be.