The disconnect between principle and practice in Sri Lankan governance

By Emil van der Poorten

The fooforaw about the 13th Amendment to the constitution has effectively camouflaged the fact that all the indulgence in debating skills, real and pretended, conceals the fact that NOTHING in the matter of legislation or law is sacred in this country and that what passes for these two elements of governance is not, literally, worth the paper on which it is written!

The term “mind-boggling” is one of those that I have problems dealing with when used by others and one that I try to eschew when at the keyboard of my laptop.  However, that is probably the most appropriate term with which to describe what amounts to the ignorance of or refusal to accept the “Sri Lankan reality” which goes beyond the farthest reaches of impunity in the matter of a select few exercising that which they assume is their God-given right to impose upon their fellow citizens: the kind of violence and intimidation that will never be tolerated in more civilized circumstances (read as “the western world”).

I know that invidious comparison or, rather contrast, is going to bring out the usual  howling mobs of defenders of Sri Lanka’s current regime, but that is what is plain as a palm held in front of one’s face at high noon.  Notwithstanding all the sleaze and deception of many of the governments in the so-called “western democracies,” there is at least an acceptance of what passes for “the eternal verities” – even if hypocritically – in the matter of how people live their day-to-day existences.

We, in the Pearl of the Orient/Land Like No Other/Miracle of Asia (take your pick) do not even make the claim of such hypocritical adherence to anything resembling non-criminal behaviour, consistently trotting out the eternal “they did it first” response to every atrocity of which those who run our lives are guilty.  That “they” keeps ranging from Atilla the Hun, through Adolf Hitler to Pol Pot and goodness knows who else.  Totally out of context though all of those comparisons might be, they are believed to provide something resembling “wriggle-room” to behavior without a smidgen of acceptability, leave alone respectability.

The entire discourse about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution seems to be centred around the devolution of police powers and the right of two or more Provincial Councils to amalgamate.  The fact that these two elements have ONLY existed on the Statute Books and have been COMPLETELY IGNORED ever since the particular piece of legislation was enacted appears to escape the attention of all those either “Pro” or “Con” this J.R.Jayewardene-Indian Government generated piece of our Constitution.

We are expending enough hot air to enable a Hindenberg to circumnavigate the globe about something that has never been operational.  I recall an old and very catchy commercial for a brand of tea sold in Canada many years ago which went, “Only in Canada? Pity!” from an obviously English participant in the scenario who’d inquired whether she could buy the brand in her home country.

Is the ability to tear each other limb from limb over a law that only exists on paper a part of our particular Sri Lankan genius?

What takes all of this into the realm of the ludicrous is the fact that the laws, rules and regulations that are even allegedly, “practiced” are “practiced” in a manner that can only be considered as ludicrous if not downright obscene.

You have the spectacle of a case of murder and gang rape involving totally inoffensive tourists, engaged in admirable humanitarian pursuits in their day-to-day lives, being transferred from a southern jurisdiction to the capital city, allegedly, because witnesses are being threatened in that southern community.  Pray tell how moving a trial from one place to another is going to provide a solution to the problem of witness intimidation when all concerned continue to live in the original location?  All this more than a year and half after the murder/rape occurred.  Alice in Wonderland ceases to be an allegorical look at the universe when one views this kind of “logic.”

The current government maintains its majority by the provision of the most extravagant of blandishments to any who choose to join them while, literally, blackmailing those who show any resistance to the “goodies” on offer.  It is a simple carrot-and-stick tactic that, given a political culture of simple greed and cupidity, cannot but succeed.

I recall the wide publicity afforded a so-called “stalwart UNPer” who was supposedly conspiring to assassinate the President, while, in the meantime, attacking his own leader for not being militant enough in his opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Where is he now?  Check the (long) list of Cabinet members of the self-same United People’s Freedom Alliance government for the culprit’s name!  I daresay that, in addition, you will be hard put to find anyone in those circles whose performance is louder in that Rajapaksa Hallelujah Chorus!

I could reel off quite a few others who have been, very successfully, subjected to the inducement/threat approach of our Sri Lankan Machiavelli, but space really does not permit of that kind of extended entertainment.

Even when the Dead Left were, in the words of the Bard of Avon, “mewling and puking” about the 13th Amendment’s seemingly imminent demise, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s simple response was that he knew how to muster the required 2/3 majority in a flash, if such were needed.  I have no doubt whatsoever that his was no idle boast, particularly given his demonstrated skill in this particular field (Not to mention the monumental greed of Sri Lanka’s political class)

At this point you might well ask, “But what has all this got to do with the price of tea in China” or, in this case, the matter of reality being totally divorced from desultory discourse in Sri Lanka?

Well, my friends, is it worth spending time and energy seeking to influence the course of events – in this case, Sri Lanka’s history – applying methods that can (and will) be crushed in the twinkling of an eye?  Does one talk about “principles” with those who have provided ample evidence of the fact that the very term means absolutely nothing to them? What on earth are we doing debating the “repeal” of something on the statute book when, for something like the thirty years it has been there it has NEVER been put into practice?  In any event, I would suggest that conducting an argument about “principle” with an all-powerful deity that has not merely displayed difficulty to so much as comprehend  the term but has deliberately excluded such concepts from its practice of governance, is akin to “(Insert the vernacular for evacuating bodily gases) against thunder!”

This is not simply the opinion of some transplanted pseudo-intellectual urban denizen but the wisdom I continuously receive from my friends and acquaintances in the villages that surround me.

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