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Presidency 19When I began this series, over four months ago, the title may have seemed excessive. And even my good friend Dayan Jayatilleka thought I was being unduly pessimistic about the President’s pulling power when I said that the UNP would poll at least 40% in Badulla. But the results there have shown that the threat is even more serious than I had thought.

Over the next few weeks I will explore how the threat might be averted. But I suspect that that will serve no purpose, for Basil Rajapaksa, who may be the only one of the decision makers who reads what I write, would by then have dragooned the President into having an early election. He did this in 2009 when, as the President then put it to me – with a hint of contempt I think for what he deemed the amateur nature of our advice – only Gota and I told him not to have the Presidential election so soon.

That haste, to entrench not the President, whose popularity was unrivalled at the time, but his rent seeking friends and relations in power, has been the root of the evils we have suffered. Contrariwise, Mahinda Rajapaksa, if left to himself, would I think have gone ahead with the reforms he had promised. And he can still save himself, and his legacy, if he works on reforms such as those so helpfully suggested by Vasantha Senanayake, which aim at strengthening the effectiveness of the Executive, not its power. But even now, understanding that having the Presidential election soon would be unwise, the rent seekers are trying to precipitate an early Parliamentary election. They ignore the fact that Parliament has a year and a half to go, and the President more than two years, ample time for the pluralist Mahinda Rajapaksa to recreate himself, free of the baggage he has been compelled to carry.

But can he do this? Does he have the will and the ability to assert himself again? Sadly, the way in which he has allowed little things to get out of control, through a combination of indulgence and lethargy, suggests that the will is weakening, even if his abilities are still in good order. I will illustrate this in my column this week by exploring the sort of embarrassment to which he allows himself to be subjected, when he forgets that the leader of a country should not let himself get involved in trivialities or in criminal activities. Read the rest of this entry » was surprised to be invited last week to a consultation on the Rights of Elders organized by the Human Rights Commission, since this was not an area I knew about. In fact the Rights of Elders do not figure in the Human Rights Action Plan, which led to questions as to whether the latter should not be amended, to include these as well.

I was wondering why the topic had not been introduced, during the initial consultations about the Plan when we first began preparing it in 2008, but the reason became apparent when Mrs Jegarajasingham, who had been Secretary to the Ministry of Social Services under whom the subject comes, noted that a National Policy on Elders had in fact been adopted by Cabinet. That covered a lot of ground, and it clearly made no sense for the Human Rights Action Plan to duplicate what had already been agreed. However it would seem that that Policy had not been implemented, which seems to be the fate of many good intentions in Sri Lanka.

I don’t think this is intentional, but it certainly is a national hazard, given the large number of institutions owing allegiance to different authorities that have to be coordinated to give effect to policy – and our general failure to set up effective coordinating mechanisms. I could understand then why Minister Samarasinghe, having been asked to chair the Inter-Ministerial Committee, appointed me to convene the Task Force to promote implementation, because in addition to having worked with a number of the relevant agencies previously, I did not represent any institution that could be seen as invading the space of other institutions that fiercely guarded their own turf. This has enabled the Task Force to develop coordinating mechanisms in a number of areas, where we make it clear that there is no lead agency, it is simply that one must take the lead to ensure action.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2020
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