Revisit ‘yahapalana’ fundamentals before it’s too late

Daily Mirror Editorial

Former Test Cricketer Ranjan Madugalle, long before he became a match referee, once talked of fundamentals, both in cricket and life. It was a story about values. He said whenever he suffered a drop in form, he returned to the fundamentals such as the stance and the back lift. Similarly, he advised the young boys he was addressing, ‘when you are in doubt, when you feel there’s something wrong, it is useful to go back to your basics, think about your values, and then you will probably find where you’ve gone wrong.’    

Going back to the fundamentals is clearly what this Government needs to do as a matter of urgency. The fundamentals in this case are encapsulated in the unfortunately over-used term ‘good governance,’ so over-used in fact that no one seems to know or worse still even care about what the term means. Yahapalanaya however, is the name that the current dispensation chose for itself. It is a tagline and a brand.    

It is no different in this sense to the one picked by the United National Party in 1977, ‘Dharmista Samajaya’ (‘a just and free society’ was how it was translated into English back then). That tag came to haunt the governments of J R Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa. Each and every act that violated the promise embedded in the term was attacked by referring to it. There was nothing ‘dharmista’ in the way the the police were given ‘leave’ so to speak so that party mobs could in turn obtain ‘leave to proceed’ in the matter of attacking political rivals. Nothing ‘dharmista’ in actions against trade unions in July 1980, attacking political opponents, rigging elections and unethically and un-democratically securing an extension of the term in office in 1982, the killing of students in 1984, the corruption that marked the eighties, the attacks on Tamils in 1977 and 1983, the extra-judicial killing of civilians when taking on the LTTE and of course the bheeshanaya at the end of that decade.    The then UNP did not return to the fundamentals. Maybe things had gone too far too soon. Today, we are in a situation which, we hope, hasn’t gone too far.    

To put briefly and sadly the government is fast gaining a reputation for being very much like the previous regime in the way things are done. All the negatives of the previous regime that were flagged and flogged before and after power changed hands are now applicable to this government. The brazen shooting in Kalutara, the embarrassing affair of ‘editing’ a gazette notification on the bond issue scandal, the worrisome attitudes about the media and the business of judicial appointments are not random nor isolated. They are just ‘current news’. They are expressions of what has become ‘normal’ and indicate continuity from a previous era that is not showing any sign of slowing down.    

All this detracts from the positives of constitutional reform measures such as the 19th Amendment and the passage of the Right to Information Act, which increasingly appear as gains, courtesy the usual post-election honeymoon period. All too soon, the rot has set in. All too soon, politics as usual has taken over. All too soon the yahapalana promise has turned sour. All the more reason to revisit the fundamentals.    

The government has to re-read the texts on transparency and accountability. It’s all about getting procedures right, about fixing institutional flaws and to studiously ignore the possible loss of ground politically in the short-term.   The stance is all wrong. The back lift is wonky. The ball is not being watched from the point of release.

The wicket has not been read. There’s no appreciation of the field-setting. Under these circumstances it won’t require a wicket-taking delivery to bowl out the government. Injudicious strokes are something that the opposition can count out. The government may very well slash at a ball moving away and offer a dolly to the slip cordon.    Fundamentals need to be revisited before the government forgets that there are things that are known by that name.