Monday, May 20, 2024

They desperately want a do-nothing era of ‘governance’

Going through the recent opinion pieces in our national dailies, this writer comes across a reference to a recent meeting that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has had with tea smallholders. The columnist, one of those NGO people with attitude, criticizes President Rajapaksa for the meeting at which he spoke to a gathering of these smallholders, and took steps to solve the tea transportation problem.

The writer lambastes the President saying these are problems that have to be solved by officials, and offers that the President’s actions are an example of the ‘politicization of administrative processes’.

She does not want the President to do this kind of work.

Wait a minute, she does not want the President to work?

Sounds interesting, from somebody who never wrote a thing about the massive dysfunction that was the order of the day when the former UNP dispensation was in power.

The UNP provided high comedy and dysfunction. The following dialogue from Yes Minister, the BBC satire came to mind when reminiscing about the UNP rule between 2015 and 2019. The conversation is between a top-level minister and his permanent secretary on the matter of a compilation that is titled the ‘Henderson Report’ – a result of a Commission’s deliberations:

Minister Jim Hacker: Suppose we produce one of these cautious wait-and-see reports?

Permanent Secretary Humphrey Appleby: Well, in that case we don’t publish it.

Minister Hacker: You mean we suppress it?

PermSec Appleby: Certainly not. We just don’t publish it.

Minister Hacker: What’s the difference?

PermSec Appleby: Oh, it makes all the difference in the world. Suppression is the instrument of totalitarian dictatorships. We do not do that sort of thing in a free country, huh. We simply take a democratic decision not to publish it.

Minister Hacker: What am I supposed to say to the press and Parliament? We hoped the Henderson Report would say we made a wise decision. Instead, they say we cocked it up?

PermSec Appleby: Very droll Mr. Minister.

Minister Hacker: Well, what would I say then?

PermSec Appleby: Well there is a very well established government procedure for suppressing …for deciding not to publish reports.

Minister Hacker: Really?

PermSec Appleby: Of course, you simply discredit them.

Minister Hacker: Good heavens. How?

PermSec Appleby: You could say that it can be misinterpreted.

Minister Hacker: Well anything can be misinterpreted. The Sermon on the Mount can be misinterpreted.

PermSec Appleby: Indeed. It could be argued that the Sermon on the Mount, had it been a Government report would certainly not have been published.

Yes Minister is a British political satire sitcom written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. The above extract from an episode is reminiscent of the UNP Yahapalana style of governance. Their style, if it could be called that, was ad-hoc, punch drunk. Doing a job of work was the last thing on their minds.

“Suppose we produce one of these cautious wait-and-see reports?” “Well, in that case we don’t publish it.” You get the idea.

Doing work

That was the UNP, except they were a lot funnier and a lot more out of their depth than the characters in Yes Minister, and did not have advisors such as Appleby in the bargain either.

Back to the present. So here comes a President who wants a job of work done. He tells the tea smallholders that he would look into to their tea transportation woes, and try to find a solution with their inputs.

What do you get? Somebody who totally bypassed the UNP’s high comedy complaining that the President is stepping outside his remit. Here is an excerpt of an article by Piyush Gupta that appeared in Quartz India about Lee Kwan Yew, the legendary creator of the Singapore miracle. Gupta worked and lived in Singapore.

“For example, he would personally come and walk around the MBFC area to see how things were going over the many years of the project. He was famous as Singapore’s #1 gardener… on his various overseas trips, he would try and find which plants may be suitable for us, and personally bring them back!”

The ‘he’ referred to in the excerpt, is Singapore’s premier Lee. For those who prefer the high comedy and continuous dysfunction of the UNP variety we saw in 2015–20, Singapore’s late PM would have been a Hitler.


Imagine visiting projects daily to see how they are progressing and personally picking plants when on foreign tours to be transplanted in the island nation’s natural habitat? Totally Hitlerite, to people who want to see Yes Minister kind of high comedy on steroids doled out as the staple in daily governance.

The said NGO critic also writes as follows: “An outcome of the dominance of the informal system is the appointment of those known to and trusted by the regime to positions of power in the interests of ‘getting things done’, such as family members or friends. These persons also seem to be able to act in extra-legal ways with impunity.”

Where exactly was she when the SriLankan Airlines Chairmanship and a good number of ambassador posts and state corporation directorships, etc., were doled out to what a writer observing passing events at that time quipped, was the “unelected Royal College regency.” “A popular mandate seems to be dwarfed by an unelected regency,” the columnist deadpanned.

But the President attends to the problems of tea smallholders and he becomes an interfering authoritarian? The difference between the Royal College Regency so called and what’s happening now is the fact that when the President concerns himself with a practical problem – like Lee Kwan Yew did in his time – he solves it. With the Royal College Regency, the regency was there but nothing worked, and no problem whatsoever was solved.

State administration

We don’t know about the NGO columnist, but what would you prefer? What would the people of this country prefer? Is it some kind of crime to get things done, when in some instances, the State administration – or the Government department – or what have you, just can’t seem to get anything accomplished at all, for whatever reason?

Did Lee Kwan Yew become incorrigible because he came every day, in person, to ensure a project is being completed properly, and also personally picked the plants he wanted to grow in Singapore, whenever he went abroad? What would that NGO lady – our opinion maker with the shrill bully pulpit – have said if she was in Singapore? That authoritarian Lee had taken over the Singapore Forest Department?

Make no mistake, in these parts they say Lee is authoritarian too. But those who say that can go to Singapore, and see for themselves the quality of life there. I do not see any Singaporeans complaining.

One more thing. Do people have to vomit out criticism? If an Executive President does a simple thing such as look into the transportation needs of tea smallholders, does he become an inveterate tyrant after the fact?

Perhaps, those people who try to cancel a President for simply trying to do a job of work should look at themselves. There is tyranny in their ‘cancel’ culture. There is more than a streak of intolerance in people trying to read him the riot act because he – like Lee – is trying to uplift the human condition in the country of his birth. It is so much like criticism by rote. Surely, even with their inborn NGO prejudices, these people ought to be able to do better than this?

Rajpal Abeynayake

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