President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing a group of officers who passed out at the Sri Lanka Military Academy, Diyatalawa, over the weekend, waxed eloquent on discipline, which he called the highest virtue in the life of a military officer. He also said optimism, self-confidence and trust in his or her team were prerequisites for the success of a leader. While agreeing with him on this score, one may add that the success of any leader also hinges on his or her ability to enforce discipline at all levels of the organisation he or she helms.
What has been ailing Sri Lanka all these decades boils down to one thing—overall indiscipline, which has eaten into the vitals of the State, and not spared any institution, public or private. Inculcating discipline is therefore half the battle in ushering in national progress. It was for this purpose that the people elected President Rajapaksa, a former frontline combat officer known for his fetish for discipline and systems. Their expectations were very high, and they thought he would be different from his predecessors, especially his elder brother, Mahinda, who as the President, suffered many an undisciplined political dreg gladly. But it turned out to be another false dawn, and the people’s optimism has given way to despair; their resentment is palpable.
The rule of law and discipline are coterminous. The government does not seem to care to make good on its promise to restore the rule of law. When Lohan Ratwatte, as the State Minister for Prisons, barged into a state pen and held some former LTTE cadres at gunpoint, a few moons ago, the people expected him to face the full force of the law and be sacked from the government. The President should have intervened to have him arrested and hauled up before courts. But nothing of the sort happened.
Nobody uses the fish market as a metaphor for rowdyism any longer; they use Parliament instead. Fish-market brawls pale into insignificance in comparison to affrays in the once-august assembly. The misbehaving SLPP MPs go scot-free so much so that they are now threatening to harm their Opposition counterparts openly for being critical of the government! The President is the head of government, and indiscipline among the members of the ruling party is a sad reflection on him or her. As a stickler for discipline, the incumbent President ought to summon the SLPP troublemakers in the garb of MPs, who go on the rampage in Parliament at the drop of a hat, and tell them in no uncertain terms that they will be suspended unless they behave. We suggest that the President repeat his recent Diyatalawa speech for their consumption.
Responsible behaviour and discipline are joined at the hip. The country is facing the worst-ever economic crisis. But Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has gone overseas. Several other ministers are also said to be holidaying abroad. Governments usually prevent their MPs from leaving the country during crucial votes in Parliament. They must act similarly during national crises as well. The President should have ordered all his ministers to remain here and do their utmost to sort out the multiple crises the country is faced with. Most of all, the public must not be made to cough up dollars for politicians’ junkets when the country is without enough foreign exchange to pay for its essential imports such as fuel, food and medicine.
The Opposition would have the public believe that ‘Sir’ (meaning the President) has failed, given the many failings of the current government and unsolved problems besetting the country. It is only natural that the failure of all government politicians is blamed on the President, who is their leader. But we believe that it is too early to issue the President’s report card because the pass-fail for a President is held in several stages, and the test is not yet over. The fact, however, remains that they have to pull their socks up. People do not live by ‘vaccines’ alone.
Discipline has to be coupled with integrity if a nation is to achieve progress. That the members of the present dispensation lack integrity has become manifestly evident from the sheer number of scams we have witnessed during the past two years or so. All the crooks that ruined the country and brought about the downfall of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government have crawled out of the woodwork as can be seen from the mega sugar tax scandal and the questionable Yugadanavi power plant deal. Unless the President rein in the ruling party crooks who are having a field day, it will be well-nigh impossible for him to prove the Opposition wrong, where its claim of his failure is concerned.