“Hijacked State” needs “reforms” before DDO

Thursday, 6 July 2023 00:50 –      – 38

There is no possibility of carrying through socio-economic reforms for the benefit of the People, unless accompanied with reforms for a secular, inclusive State as a priority

 

The State is now the tool of a new political triumvirate that maintains a monopoly in decision making with the cabinet of ministers endorsing. For the society it is only a repressive State, which demarcates social space for freedom and democracy. It is for that reason we say the State is degenerating, inefficient and corrupt. Yes, for the general public, it is inefficient and corrupt. But for the new governing triumvirate that it now works for, it is quite efficient and profitable

 

“…Money market players, primary dealers, that’s their business… because the country was in economic crisis, they lent for a very high return, and they get every cent of their return. You don’t touch, your dare not touch it. Because they are your friends, they are your funders, they are the ones who give you election campaign money, they are the ones who give you kickbacks… for doing this…” M.A. Sumanthiran MP, during parliamentary debate on DDO – 1 July 2023

If professionals and experts believe and they want others to believe too, that both foreign and local debt restructuring is an urgent necessity to come out of this rut, I would quite bluntly say it’s plain “wishful thinking” in a world of bankrupt fantasies. “What then?” will be the question, no doubt. In response, my straightforward answer would be, “Tell me how this crisis was brought about, and I will then tell you, how we could get out of it.”

The most common explanation on this crisis in urban and semi-urban societies is limited to plain economics. ‘We borrowed unwanted amount of money, both Dollars and Rupees spent on wholly nonproductive projects while much was pilfered away by politicians’ and that led to this “crisis”. I go somewhat further to say, this free market economy with FDIs for export manufacture has never earned enough dollars to meet the external trade cost, leaving a deficit that had to be bridged with borrowed dollars. I do qualify that short explanation to some degree by saying, free market economies especially in our region and in poor countries are inherently corrupt and lives on majoritarian ethno-religious extremism that allows for such mega corruption. Yet that does not provide a complete explanation. It needs a more in-depth probe to understand that all above are partly outcomes of a larger, complex issue.

I assume it is inefficient, decayed and corrupt politico-economic governance that led to this socio-economic bankruptcy. Therefore, I would ask, “can this same corrupt governing system work out an efficient, clean recovery to come out of this crisis?” Hope none would say “Yes” as a straight answer. But there are ardent lovers of this free-market economy who pin their hopes on the IMF package and thus would say “allow President Wickremesinghe to implement the IMF program first”. This bankruptcy issue is definitely not about an “individual”.

Ever-degenerating corrupt and socially irresponsible governance

It is about this ever-degenerating corrupt and socially irresponsible governance President Wickremesinghe is also answerable to and responsible for. True, he was not the sole power in the two governments he headed as PM. True he was only a cabinet minister in UNP governments under JRJ and Premadasa and held only collective responsibility in those governments. Yet none of those governments were clean, socially responsible, and wholly democratic governments. Nor was the UNP that he leads to now for almost 30 years.

All that explains his style of governance clubbed with close personal associates despite them being discards at the last election. He brought these “rejects” into “high posts” within his presidential staff, to sit in official meetings and direct officers. How “clean and accountable” can such governance be? How transparent and democratic can it be? In fact, the “Aragalaya” some still go bandying about as a historic People’s intervention, has paved more than adequate constitutional space for a “clan of rejects” to take over governance.

What I call a “hijacked State” goes beyond this constitutional encroachment that allows “rejects” to be officially in the governing process. Long before them the “State” was gradually hijacked by Sinhala Buddhist Colombo politics from being an “inclusive” State it should have been. It turned out “ideologically exclusive”, leaving out Tamil and Muslim interests. That process of gradual takeover of the State by Sinhala-Buddhist dominance began constitutionally, immediately after independence in 1948 with plantation sector Tamil labour reduced to “aliens” without citizenship and voting rights. Colonisation of East with Sinhala people began with Gal-oya “development” in 1950. All State sponsored colonisations in the Eastern Province changed its demographic pattern in favour of Sinhala Buddhists. Sinhala presence in the East in 1946 was only 8.4%. By 2012 with a phenomenal increase, it is almost three-fold with 23.2% Sinhala Buddhists.

Meanwhile the Low Country Sinhala Buddhist trading community that sponsored two of the three major Sangha sects, Amarapura and Ramanna, worked towards achieving political dominance over the State for their own market advantage. Bandaranaike’s breakaway from the UNP government in 1951 and the formation of the SLFP wholly manipulated by the Sinhala Maha Sabha was fundamentally geared for Sinhala-Buddhist economic dominance. Sinhala language made the “only official language” baptised the State as a “Sinhala Buddhist State”. That confirmed the exclusion of Tamil and Muslim polity from the State.

Sinhala Buddhist machinery

Sinhala Only language policy was not merely about restricting Tamil recruitments to public service. It was about turning the fast expanding trilingual, multicultural State apparatus into a Sinhala Buddhist machinery. Towards the latter part of the 60’s the civil administrative service was being loaded with post-56 Sinhala educated young men and women, who could only think, understand, and decide in Sinhala. Their perceptions were moulded and shaped by the “Sinhala heritage” politics of Bandaranaike. With State control over the economy also expanding, the Sinhala Buddhist State thus became a heavy invasive influence on social thinking.

Post ‘77 this political scenario changed for the worse, with economic power changing hands. Social development was reduced to economic growth and left to free market dynamics. The State was expected to play a facilitator’s role. This over time led to a cluster of filthy developments. As a social ideology, it made people believe in their own selves and made the social creature the “man” is, into competing lonely vultures, chasing after “money and profits”. That left out the majority and productive social life was restricted to few larger cities, Colombo being the hub. Big city markets gave birth to a “new rich” caste that rejected all social ethics and values to make “profits and accumulate wealth” on their own rules and conditions. It was not only city skylines that changed, but respect for human life. Dignity and honour came to be gauged on wealth, income and access to political power.

All that was backed politically with change of electoral politics to distance elected MPs from the Voter. These were paradigm shifts that led to a new corrupt alliance that never changed with change of governments within this free market economy. It is an undeclared alliance between the “new rich” I prefer to call the “filthy rich”, the mainstream political leaderships, and the top bureaucracy of the Sinhala Buddhist State helped by urban professionals.

Unseen and unspoken “triumvirate”

This unseen and unspoken “triumvirate” that garners electoral support on Sinhala Buddhist campaigns funded by Sinhala-Buddhist wheeler dealers is what paves for MP Sumanthiran’s allegations on mega corruptions. It is a “triumvirate” like that of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey in 60 BC that dominated Roman politics, usurping State power to leave the Senate ignored. In the Roman Republic, called the “first triumvirate” it was opposed by different factions in the Senate while this parliament has been turned into a mere “rubber stamp” for the “triumvirate” with none bothered about the responsibility of the parliament.

The whole IMF program and debt restructuring that followed, quite clearly shows how the political leadership of this hybrid government has established an elite bureaucratic core group including the Governor of the CBSL, in taking decisions for the benefit of the filthy rich. Parliament without much ado allowed the President as Finance Minister to usurp powers of public finance the legislature is constitutionally responsible for. The Finance Minister is now allowed to take final decisions on domestic debt optimisation that should be the mandate of the parliament. It is now the triumvirate that takes policy decisions even on IMF conditions as MP Sumanthiran pointed out, leaving out their friends and funders untouched.

The State thus is not what it is expected to be. It is neither playing the role of the economic “regulator” as in the ’60s and the ’70s, nor is it leaving that responsibility to market dynamics. The State is now the tool of a new political triumvirate that maintains a monopoly in decision making with the cabinet of ministers endorsing. For the society it is only a repressive State, which demarcates social space for freedom and democracy. It is for that reason we say the State is degenerating, inefficient and corrupt. Yes, for the general public, it is inefficient and corrupt. But for the new governing triumvirate that it now works for, it is quite efficient and profitable.

Despite constitutional provisions, the State is not functioning for social good. The State will not implement any social reforms with decency to reduce profits and wealth accumulation for the filthy rich. Reforms that would reduce socio-economic disparity in society. In short, there is no possibility of carrying through socio-economic reforms for the benefit of the People, unless accompanied with reforms for a secular, inclusive State as a priority. In the absence of any serious State reforms I say with conviction, even the IMF program said to achieve debt sustainability and fiscal stability will only be “wishful thinking”. The State was not hijacked by this triumvirate to create social justice and social peace. Their agenda is not one for People.

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