By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Enemies of the President’s Promise – Chapter 2 – Satisfied Component 4
Underlying Basil’s solipsism was his political ambition. He created no bones about the fact that he saw himself as his brother’s successor. Indeed, he had been put into Parliament ahead of the 2010 election, although a resignation of a National List member that was engineered, on the grounds that there had to be a Rajapaksa accessible for appointment as President if anything untoward occurred to the incumbent. And although quickly soon after the election of 2010 Mahinda Rajapaksa introduced a constitutional amendment to get rid of term limits, so that Basil’s hope of becoming observed as necessarily the government candidate in the subsequent election was dashed, the President placed no restrictions on him presenting himself as successfully the principal choice maker in government.
So, in addition to his function in the North, he set about taking handle of developmental projects all over the country. Tourism was brought beneath the Ministry of Financial Development, which allowed him quickly after the government was formed to sell a prime block of land in Colombo to Shangri-La hotels, a crass measure since it created it difficult afterwards to refuse outright ownership to such investors. Fortunately, following a great outcry, the principle that only extended leases need to be permitted was accepted, but again the move was standard of Basil’s propensity to push through bargains speedily, regardless of wider consequences.
While he utilized to the full his position as patron of international ventures, he also tried to take manage of the administration of the country at huge. He did this through the Samurdhi programme, the welfare programme that was in place all more than the nation. Initially began to market entrepreneurship, it had quickly grow to be the primary car of government handouts to selected sections of the population.
Basil decided to use it to expand his empire, with graduates employed in each Division in the nation to affirm the primacy of his Ministry. Certainly I was told that there had even been an try to appoint Samurdhi officials as Grama Niladharis, the office that was the 1st point of interaction among folks and government. The Ministry of Public Administration staved off this effort, but it meant that for several years Grama Niladhari positions that were vacant have been not filled, until finally that Ministry reasserted its control of the position. Certainly a measure of Basil’s unpopularity with his colleagues was the categorical statement, when I told the Minister that he must guard against his responsibilities being encroached upon, that the Ministry of Economic Development was encroaching on everything.
Such encroachment could have been initiated in a civilized manner, because it could be argued that financial development was of the essence in all regions. But clearly with Basil it was power that he sort, rather than coordinated efficiency, for he took no steps to make certain that officials in related fields worked with each other. Therefore there were no clear systems to make certain coordination between the Grama Niladharis and the Samurdhi Improvement officers, and later the Financial Improvement officers, who have been assigned to each GN Division.
Although certainly they worked collectively, they did not have recommendations about ensuring consultation of the neighborhood and liaising with other government departments. Numerous of them told me, for the duration of the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings I had in the North and East, that they had been collecting data, but what this data was for, they seemed to have no notion. They had received quite small education just before getting appointed, and even though the Ministry of Defence put on a leadership development programme for some of them which was significantly appreciated, they have been not clear about their terms of reference, nor the way in which they could coordinate function with other government agencies. A programme of preparing reports, and making sure follow up for suggestions primarily based on people’s needs as properly as their recommendations, was not place in place, which was a pity considering that this was the first occasion on which the more than-worked Grama Niladharis had been provided qualified help employees to help with developmental work.
A single region in which guidelines have been laid down formally led to issues which had unfortunate consequences for the nation. Amongst the initiatives of Basil’s Ministry was a rural improvement programme referred to as Divineguma for which he introduced an Act which the Supreme Court ruled was in violation of the Constitution, in that it took away from the monetary authority of Parliament. Basil was furious when the judgment was delivered. In truth the Court recommended a basic way of overcoming the constitutional issue, and government realized that the recommendations created sense, and the Act was effortlessly passed as amended. But the bitterness Basil had evinced recommended that he was 1 of the chief factors in the animosity the government felt towards the Chief Justice, which led to her getting impeached.
Given Basil’s undoubted abilities and energy, it was a pity that he saw himself as mainly a politician. Patronage became much more important than development, and he reinforced the concept that politicians need to make a decision on priorities, as when for instance the Ministry asked Members of Parliament to advocate disused fields that ought to be recommissioned. This should far more practically have come by way of consultations at village level, but that would have not won any brownie points, whereas providing economic support to locations chosen by politicians was much more beneficial in terms of escalating political capital.
This element became really preposterous when, in 2014, Basil decided that development projects must be the purview of Members of Parliament. Previously every single member of Parliament, which includes those in the opposition, was allocated what was termed a decentralized price range of Rs 5 million a year. This could be utilised generally at will, although there have been recommendations laid down and approval had to be obtained for proposals from the Ministry of Financial Improvement.
Then it was decided to give another Rs 30 million to selected government Members. The rationale for leaving other individuals out seemed to be that these folks chaired what were termed Divisional Improvement Committees. But in reality, when I brought the matter up at the Consultative Committee on Public Administration Reforms (to the consternation of the Minister, who stated I would get him into trouble) it was noted by a government Member that the point was to give them funds for patronage in the whole District in which they would be contesting. This was a consequence of the absurd electoral technique we had, whereby contestant, even though technically allotted constituencies, had to seek votes all through the District.
But evidently 30 million each and every was deemed inadequate, and the next step was to allocate hundreds of millions to pick Members. So in Trincomalee a single Member go over 600 million, and an additional more than 200 million. Some had been offered absolutely nothing, which led to vociferous protests, which led in turn to the Member who felt most difficult completed by becoming created a Deputy Minister, prior to Provincial Council elections in Uva, for which his support seemed crucial.
While some Members did consult the people and feel carefully about how these funds should be spent, other folks simply did what they wanted, and some undoubtedly ensured that they would benefit from commissions on what ever they undertook. Buildings therefore became critical, and little consideration was paid to training wants or business improvement.
But clearly improvement was seen as secondary to political popularity. And to make things worse, given that Basil was in Parliament, and observed as the major political agent of the loved ones, the President entrusted not just development activity to him, but also areas which he did not recognize at all. Therefore, early in the life of Parliament, he presented proposals to adjust the electoral method for neighborhood bodies, which were utterly incoherent. When ideas have been made for improvement, he declared that decisions had currently been created, and the Act would be introduced as drafted. But so numerous amendments were required when the Act came before Parliament, that it had to be withdrawn. When it was lastly reintroduced many months later, it was with a guarantee that it would be amended later to get rid of certain absurd provisions. Amongst these for instance was a clause that a distinct percentage of candidates may possibly be girls or young folks. Lumping each groups together, and then not making their involvement mandatory, was typical of an strategy that did not see principles as an integral element of politics.
With electoral considerations getting his priority, Basil was slow about what was significantly far more crucial, reform of Regional Government structures. This was planned, and a bill was drafted, but it was kept on the back burner. The Secretary to the Ministry, 1 of the brighter government officials, shared the draft with me after the Minister had consulted me about the electoral amendments. I discovered then that the consultation with the grass roots that the President had wanted had been perverted to introduce only nominees to the committees that have been to be established. Ironically this replicated the colonial mindset, where representatives of the folks had been nominated rather than elected. This principle had been opposed by Sri Lankans searching for political reform, so it was sad to see the paternalistic concept getting reintroduced.
There was no alter in this provision in the subsequent draft I saw, although I was gratified to see that some at least of my suggestions seemed to have been taken up. But that meant practically nothing given that the Bill lay forgotten as government moved into election mode with the decision to advance the date of the Presidential election. The Liberal Celebration did create to the President suggesting that he not waste the remaining years of his mandate, but as an alternative move on measures he had promised, and which had been in preparation for a number of years, for instance with regard to Education and Higher Education and Electoral and Local Government Reform. But the appeal fell on deaf years, as Basil began to set up electoral offices, with scant regard for the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which had not been consulted on the matter.
Basil’s wider political role may possibly not be strictly germane to the gradual erosion of the hopes the nation had in the Rajapaksa government to promote peace and prosperity, in particular in the former conflict regions. But it needs to be recorded in view of the possibilities lost because of his lack of concern for national priorities. The failure to strategy coherently for the North, with certain reference to human resource development, was a single of the principal factors for the continuing bitterness of its citizens towards government. And the refusal to seek the advice of the folks was unbelievably callous in the context of a lately concluded conflict. That demanded assurance as to the primacy of the men and women of the area in government planning, but Basil had neither the wisdom nor the commitment to give this.