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UntitledI was asked last week by the European Union to an exhibition about ‘Celebrating Partnerships’, and attended, though I left early when the speeches began. I was not sure why I was asked, since the invitation was for development partners and the TVEC was not involved in the project.

But as I looked round the exhibition, I realized that, as Charles Ryder put it in Brideshead Revisited, ‘I had been there before; I knew all about it’. And it brought back fond memories of the last public service I performed successfully, before (as I put it in Endgames and Excursions, memoirs of the last five years which Godage published), ‘I began to feel that my shelf life was over’.

I have written about how I helped the UN resurrect the project in the 6th chapter of that book. Though I start by saying that it seemed clear in 2013 that ‘there was no hope of stopping Mahinda Rajapaksa rushing headlong into disaster, given that so many of those around him, while pursuing their own agendas, had lulled him into a false sense of security’, the way he responded to my appeal indicated he still genuinely cared about the country and the development programme he had embarked on.

In late 2013 I had been told about proposals prepared at District level for a UN project to be funded by the European Union. This had been agreed with the government, after Basil Rajapaksa suggested modifications including that it be extended to areas outside the North and East too. But then suddenly he clamped down and said it could not proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Paul Scott, the British writer I admire most of those active in the second half of the last century, was adept at exploring how people let each other down. In one of his novels, he refers to the various betrayals his protagonist engaged in.

I was reminded of that in thinking, as we reach the half way point of Maithripala Sirisena’s presidency, of the various betrayals he has been forced into. I do not say he has perpetrated these, for I still see him as a passive onlooker, but that does not absolve him of responsibility. After all he was elected President, and he should have worked towards fulfilling as many as possible of the promises he made in his manifesto. Instead he has allowed the country to sink into more corrosive corruption than ever before.

Last week I wrote about perhaps the most expensive mistake he made, namely allowing an exception to the pledged constitutional change to limit the size of the Cabinet. He, or rather those who make decisions in his government, have now exploited that provision with the utmost cynicism, so that we have 45 Cabinet Ministers apart from the President, and another 45 State / Deputy Ministers.

Each of them is entitled to private staff, many of whom have little to do, and little understanding of what should be done beyond expanding the influence of the Minister. They have innumerable vehicles and personal security, and they all have offices, many of which have been redecorated at vast expense. Read the rest of this entry »

I discussed last week the absurdity of how appointments are made to the cabinet. But the problem goes deeper than that, in that we have completely perverted the whole concept of cabinet government, and then multiplied the problem by having massive cabinets. Indeed the 19th amendment, contrary to the pledge in the President’s manifesto, practically entrenched this, by introducing provision for what is described as a National Government, with no effort at all to define what that might mean.

So we now have a government that certainly does not represent the nation, since it is clear that parties representing a majority of the Sinhalese and a majority of the Tamils are not in government. Only the Muslims can claim that, and even that perhaps may soon be in doubt, given the breach that has developed between Rauff Hakeem and Hassen Ali, who is one of the few Muslim politicians who can claim to be a man of principle. He was one of the five members on the government side who did not vote for the impeachment of the then Chief Justice, the only member of the Muslim Congress who stood firm.

In Sri Lanka the cabinet has become a reward for getting into Parliament and having pleased those in power. Being a Minister does not however necessarily confer power with regard to policy making, but this is not a problem for most Ministers because they are not really concerned with policy, and few have the capacity to understand policy and planning. Rather, they see ministries as providing them with perks, as the excesses of the last few weeks have made clear, the massive sums the country now has to fork out for yet more vehicles for yet more ministers. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2018
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