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I was quite saddened by some of the responses to my article entitled ‘Letting down the President’, which recorded instances in which I thought the President’s instructions had been completely ignored, to the detriment of the country. I had been prepared for those who believe this government is appalling to claim either that I was being hypocritical, or else that I was naïve to have thought that progress towards pluralism was possible. But what upset me was the view of someone who I believe appreciates what this government has done, who suggested that the body tasked to work out an Action Plan for implementation of the LLRC Report had perhaps ‘been warned not to go ahead with the meetings’. The response went on to claim that ‘the LLRC was an opportunist ploy so as to meet the widespread criticisms’.
When I asked for evidence for this view however I got none, except for the suggestion that I did not really understand politics, and in particular what was described as Palace Politics. That is possible, though sometimes I feel the study of literature is a better preparation for politics than more obviously relevant subjects, because it is personalities that govern politics and particularly so in Sri Lanka (which, in this respect as in others I studied for my doctorate, is more like Victorian England than most Western societies are now). Indeed recent events concerning the abduction of the mysterious Mr Mudalige make me wonder whether my comments on the dysfunctionality of government did not err on the side of caution.
But, to get back to the President’s instructions and expectations, I believe the evidence suggests that he is the victim, rather than the fountainhead, of a wholly impractical system. In a Presidential system, and increasingly so now even in Westminster style systems, the Head of Government must have functionaries who ensure by working behind the scenes that the policies he has spelled out are implemented. That used to be the function of the President’s Secretary, but unfortunately the present incumbent has been snowed under with an excess of work that has prevented him from carrying out his primary function. As can be seen from his presence on political platforms as well as television chat shows, he is expected to do much more than his predecessors, and in the field of politics as well as administration.