GOOD, BAD AND UGLY GOVERNANCE

Perhaps the worst misdemeanour of the current government was the betrayal of the educated middle class, particularly youth, who voted for it, anticipating just one thing: Good Governance

Close to midnight. 07 January 2015. You might remember this date. It was the day before the Presidential Election 2015. I was surfing the net and chatting with a few people I know. I wasn’t particularly interested in the election. I had earlier decided to abstain from voting. I had no faith in either of the candidates. I was still curious about how others would react to that election.

Never before had a leader of a major political party contest from the other major party for the highest post in the land. One of my chats was with Mith, a young doctor. Still single, he was about to vote for the second time in his life (the first time, in 2010, he had enthusiastically selected Mahinda Rajapaksa over Sarath Fonseka). He has never been dissatisfied about the economy or living conditions. Being already a professional and with few apprehensions about future income, politics was of little interest to him. He was disappointed by the conduct of the Rajapaksa government.

He detested professionals being illtreated by politicos, he said. Wishing for a complete transformation, he had voted for the so-called ‘Common Candidate’. Not for any personal gains. “I would be a consultant in a few years. I am good and confident in my job.” I wished him the best. His parting line: “You know, I have even convinced three nurses in my ward. So My3 will get three more votes thanks to me.”

Then I chat with Suvi, a 19-year-old who would vote for the first time. The newly employed boy isn’t particularly excited. He has little interest in politics.He had considered to abstain from voting and then, at the last minute, decided to vote for whom he called ‘the new candidate’. He wasn’t happy with how things were going. He wants the country to be more like Singapore than Somalia. Fast forward almost five years. Both Mith and Suvi have left the country. Mith has decidedto spend the rest of his life in Australia. I had a brief online chat before he left. He was disappointed. He didn’t even want to talk about his decision to vote for the current government. “My future is in Australia. I’m done with this darned country. You just can’t change it.”

Suvi went overseas for higher studies. He likes to settle down where he is now, though it isn’t an easy task. He doesn’t want to return. Not even for his Sri Lankan girlfriend. “I will try to get her here. If she doesn’t want that, I might find another soulmate.” Mith and Suvi are not the only people who are displeased. The entire educated middle class are disappointed. A government they voted to office has run roughshod on their expectations. What has been delivered in the place of ‘Good Governance’ was not even a package ‘Bad Governance’. It is nothing but ‘Ugly Governance’.

What is ‘Good Governance’? United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in a 1997 policy paper, defined governance as “the exercise of economic,political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”. The World Bank, a few years later, realised that most developing country crises are related to poor governance. Hence, it started emphasising governance issues such as transparency, accountability and judicial reform. In this context, the World Bank has introduced a new way of looking at governance; good governance.

IF WE WERE TO TALK ECONOMY, ‘YAHAPALANAYA’ HAS DONE FAR WORSE THAN THE PREVIOUS

Transparency, accountability and judicial reforms. Was that what we have seen during the last four and a half years? What transparency existed in the primary market bidding at the treasury bond auction? What transparency exists in the purchasing of coal for power plants? Why did the CEB have to bear a loss of Rs100 billion this year by purchasing emergency power, when the government cancelled the Sampur power station within their first year in office, offering no good reason. Had it been built, that power plant could have fulfilled additional power demand at a much lower cost?

Has anyone taken responsibility for not taking action on intelligence reports warning of imminent attacks on Easter Sunday weeks before the incident? Has the ‘Yahapalana’ government sentenced at least one individual responsible for massive corruption under the previous regime? What transparency!

What about accountability and judicial reforms?
Supporters of the present government might have distastefully watched in October, their rival becoming the Prime Minister with no fresh people’s mandate. And who makes that decision on his own? Who openly violated the constitution? The very individual who promised ‘Good Governance’! Is this a tasteless joke? Can there be a worse betrayal?

If we were to talk economy, ‘Yahapalanaya’ has done far worse than the previous one. When Rajapaksa came to power in 2005, per capita GDP was $1,067. Within 10 years, despite fighting a war, facing the worst global recession since the great depression and rising oil prices, per capita GDP rose to $3,820. That is $2,730 growth – or $273 per year. I don’t jump to say it was one man’s achievement. Still, we must give credit for economic growth to the powers of the day.

Since 2014, per capita GDP has risen to $4,102. Growth of $282 in four years. Not much higher than the annual average growth in Rajapaksa times. In fact, last year, we have seen a drop. Although the Central Bank never emphasised the point, from 2017 to 2018, our GDP per capita declined by $2 (since 1960, drops in per capita GDP have happened only twice). Also note, this was before the Easter attacks. With internal terrorism impacts in 2019, the circumstances could be worse this year.

Still, mind you, people didn’t vote for economic development. Nobody was dissatisfied about progress during Rajapaksa times. Jobs were created, and infrastructure built. People also enjoyed the dividends of peace. Reservations were only expressed about governance. Voters wanted to change ‘Bad Governance’ to ‘Good Governance’. That didn’t happen.

I don’t get into the question of who to blame. The voters have placed their trust on a team. Where there is a failure, the whole team should take responsibility. Sadly, responsibility or teamwork look like the last things we can expect from this lot. Perhaps it is time we all must blame ourselves. It was us who brought them there.