Manifesto Must Have Faces too

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To prevent us from drowning in this economic meltdown, tourism is one of the few straws we have to grab on to. We cannot afford a single mistake to occur in this sector. The shortages of essentials is not making the job any easier, though it’s not an impossibility as it all depends on the marketing. We really need a proverbial team who can sell ice to Eskimos.Therefore, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Harin Fernando as the Minister of Tourism it came as a great shock. Fernando is neither a good team player nor a great performer. 

When he was a member of the UNP, he was at odds with the UNP leadership. Now that he is with the SJB, he is at odds with the SJB leadership. When he accepted this portfolio he was directly disobeying the SJB’s decision against joining the Government until President Gotabaya resigned.

At this critical juncture, whether the SJB was right or not to demand the pound of flesh to do their duty to the country is not the question. This was their decision. If Fernando disagreed, then he needs to battle it out with the SJB leadership and convince them to accept his point of view. Instead, he joined the Government and asked that no photos of him accepting the portfolio be released. 

Furthermore, Fernando does not have the people’s mandate to be in Parliament. As the Cabinet Minister of Telecommunication, Digital Infrastructure facilities, Foreign Employment and Sports during the Yahapalana Government he did not contribute anything to the country. In a failed Government he was highlighted as a failed Minister. The President should have particularly taken into account his careless habit of running off his mouth. It was this trait that voters found disgusting about him. 

The manner he handled the Easter Sunday attack is very telling of both his political maturity and grasp on civic duty. Right throughout he treated the carnage as a joke. There was not an ounce of remorse on his part, when he disclosed he had prior information about the attack. Even though he was a Cabinet Minister at the time, his only course of action was simply not to attend church on that day. 

Later at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry he tried to implicate Malcom Cardinal Ranjith of the crime. When the error of his accusation was exposed, he remained unapologetic. Eventually, he did personally visit Cardinal Ranjith to apologise. However, he immediately ruined his apology by saying he only did to appease the SJB leader Sajith Premadasa. This led many to discredit him as an insincere man. 

Premadasa erred when he allowed Fernando into Parliament on the National List. Defeated candidates, those who are unable to win Elections, must not be accommodated in the National List. By engaging in the corrupt practice of accommodating failed politicians in the National List, Premadasa tarnished his pledge of ushering a new political order. Yet he did so thinking that Fernando would strengthen his hand, instead of which, he now has to deal with his defiance. 

All Party Government not possible 

At the time President Gotabaya appointed Fernando as Tourism Minister he was under immense pressure from the Buddhist prelates to form an all-party Government to resolve the grave economic issues before the country. This is only theoretically sound as not all political parties in Sri Lanka are on the same page. 

The TNA for instance is only focused on winning self determination to the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces. They have never bothered with national issues. The Muslim politicians will not move an inch against Wahabism or growing extremism. SJB’s only objective is to discredit the Government to gain political mileage. As such, they feel better when the country gets into more trouble. How can one expect a positive result from such a diverse cocktail of political agendas?

Instead of insisting on such an impractical setup, it is a great pity that the venerable Sangha did not intervene to resolve the internal conflict that was brewing between Basil Rajapaksa’s faction and President Gotabaya’s loyalists. When Mahinda Rajapaksa received the highest number of votes at the last General Elections, to insist on his resignation was extremely undemocratic and unprecedented. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s track record on the past five occasions as Premier is marked with treachery: in the same manner he signed the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002, he co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 – without the knowledge of the Executive President, without Cabinet approval, without a debate in Parliament or the mandate from the voter. He is also implicated in the Central Bank bond scams in 2015 and 2016.  Yet, the venerable Buddhist clergy refrained from taking the same strong stand they did against Mahinda Rajapaksa, when it came to Wickremesinghe. 

Guaranteed Windows of Opportunity 

Either way, as per the Prelates’ recommendations Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign and the all Party Government of sorts is now in power. This was a difficult task made tougher by SJB’s refusal to work with the Government. It was on this narrow window of opportunity that Fernando managed to wiggle back a Cabinet portfolio.

Fernando remains unchanged as he knows Sri Lankan political order is dependent on numbers and not faces. As long as it is a number game the likes of Fernando will always find opportunities to get into positions of power. 

At a recently convened meeting by the President to discuss the way forward for tourism, Fernando was absent. He did not have the courtesy even to send his regrets or reasons for his absence. He may be an advocate of the GoGotaHome campaign but that is a separate matter. Tourism is too crucial a matter for him to play politics with. The Buddhist clergy who advocated an all-party Government must at least intervene now and ensure these Ministers work with the President for the betterment of the country. 

In the Future

Dr Charitha Herath recently made a very valid comment. He observed this Government came to power on the voters’ trust, that they would accommodate persons with professional and entrepreneurial backgrounds. More professionals and entrepreneurs also joined forces with President Gotabaya on the premise this would happen. However, he noted, that unfortunately it did not happen. The Government failed to act as a professional body as the professionals got pushed back when it came to decision making. 

Therefore, he advocates that in the future it is insufficient only to present a manifesto. The candidate who will be responsible for the subject and carry out the execution of the policies too must be clearly nominated. Had the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration commenced its journey on this note, many of the causes that led to the political instability would not have occurred. 

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(The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CeylonToday)

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe