Responding to queries by The Sunday Leader in this regard, UNP Media Head and Working Committee member Krishantha Cooray said that a government has to have short-term, medium-term and long-term plans. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that ours is a country that is seriously hampered by a human resources problem. The sad truth he said is that the system doesn’t facilitate the appointment of the right people for the right jobs. There is a need to be scientific and professional in dealing with this problem. He said there has to be a solid understanding of labour market requirement, not just for today, but in terms of foreseeable changes in economic realities. There has to be a comprehensive occupational classification, he said adding that the education system needs to be revamped accordingly. According to Cooray English education has to be revisited so that there is a level playing field and the true talent is identified, trained and properly located in the economy.The truth is that corruption and issues of remuneration have led to people shunning the public sector, he said and Radical changes are required to address these issues so that we produce solid professionals with unquestionable integrity who can then fit these key positions. This he pointed out is also applicable to the political sphere.
Following are excerpts of the interview;
Q: How do you view the current political climate in the country?
A: The current political climate has to be assessed in terms of where we were and the challenges produced by that context. What happened on the eighth of January was extraordinary and unique. The impossible happened. A regime thought to be invincible was defeated. Those who were considered powerless rose to the occasion. Now we have to remember that voting people out does not mean the structures and political culture that were detrimental to the country’s progress were simultaneously removed.
A proper government was formed only in September 2015. Reform was and is the primary objective of this Government. However, reforms have to happen in a particular political and economic context. It is not easy to transform overnight the political culture of a country. Neither do we have absolute control over all factors impacting our economy. Tough and unpopular decisions have to be taken and this has to be done taking the people into confidence. The truth has to be told, even if it is harsh and it has to be effectively communicated.
So I would say that we are going through a challenging phase. How the nation rises to these challenges and whether or not the political leadership shows courage, maturity and the ability to communicate the truth of the realities before us will determine whether or not justice is done to the hopes raised by the victory of President Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015.
Q: What are your views on the good governance administration so far?
A: The expectations were naturally high. However, the realists were well aware that the structures as well as officials and indeed politicians were robust, resilient and resistant to change. So the going has been tough. Change hasn’t taken place at the pace envisaged. Nevertheless giant strides have been taken in key spheres. The important thing is to get the fundamentals right, especially the overall regime of rules and regulations, beginning with the constitution. The biggest victory was the passage of the 19th Amendment which curtailed the dictatorial powers previously vested in the office of the President and set up independent institutions overseeing important areas. It was an unprecedented victory and credit should be given to the President for having facilitated the pruning of his own powers. The Right to Information Act has been tabled in Parliament. Electoral Reform is still on the agenda. There’s a lot of necessary work that must happen before such initiatives become law. It is better to take more time rather than be hasty and produce less perfect documents. There is also a palpable sense that we have moved away from the culture of fear that prevailed in the country before this Government came to power.
However, it must be remembered that laws alone will not do the job. People need to be educated and kept informed. Their voices need to be expressed and their concerns given ear to because their support is necessary and critical. That’s something that politicians and the political leadership have to keep in mind.
Q: As an individual who played a key role in ensuring victory for the good governance administration during the last Presidential and general elections, are you satisfied with the actions of the administration thus far?
A: First of all, knowing how the victor of the 2010 election treated the defeated candidate, we can be pleased that Maithripala Sirisena didn’t do to Mahinda Rajapaksa what the latter did to Sarath Fonseka. Indeed, if that history is anything to go by, the consequences of a Rajapaksa victory could have been quite ugly.
We know that astrological advice aside, Rajapaksa was also advised of the coming global economic crisis which would exacerbate the crisis that he himself created by ill-advised fiscal policies, and it is quite possible that he was aware that he didn’t have the ability to deal with it. Perhaps this is why he went for an early election. What this means is that the challenge of facing that crisis devolved to his successors.
The conditions for the full flowering of democracy have been created. What is important is not only an understanding of where we are but a good sense of where we are headed. The direction has been clearly indicated. The foundation has been laid. There is freedom for debate, discussion and disagreement. These are important results of deliberate and concrete actions taken by this administration.
Q: There is criticism from among many who supported the good governance system over the manner in which the government has addressed several issues such as investigations into corruption, fraud, crimes, etc committed during the former regime. How would you respond?
A: The purpose is not and should never be the punishment of political opponents. In this case the purpose was to get to the truth through established legal procedures. It is the truth that can produce the need for prosecution and punishment as the case may be. Naturally, everyone wanted immediate results. Some wanted people they considered guilty to be punished. However, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, this Government cannot do what the previous regime did and certainly not in the manner that it acted in such situations.
The Government pledged to re-establish the Rule of Law. One of the key aspects of this is due process.
This Government cannot do to Mahinda Rajapaksa or anyone else what Mahinda Rajapaksa did to Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranayake. The consequences of the methods chosen by the previous regime are now very clear. The entire military was demoralised, the integrity of the entire judicial system was brought into disrepute. The international community lost faith in our justice system.
This Government pledged to do things differently. This can mean that it is time-consuming. If that’s what it takes, that’s how it should be.
Q: What was the reason for your removal along with several other members from the board of the SLT?
A: First of all, I was not removed. There were differences of opinion in the Board regarding some important issues. It was decided that the Board should be reconstituted, for whatever reason. The good thing is, we agreed to disagree and I chose to resign. What’s most important is that white vans didn’t enter the equation. I was not forced to leave the country as I had to during the previous regime.
However it must be pointed out that while politicians can appoint and remove persons to and from the Boards of institutions, if there is genuine need to develop the particular company, once appointed there should not be any move to control the conduct of such persons. They should be allowed to act independently.
Q: Do you feel that the government has managed to win over more public support during the past year?
A: Well, we are just after two major elections. The will of the people was sought and obtained. It is true that people complain and some people are unhappy. Of course some of these people supported the current political leadership. This is not unnatural and neither is it unhealthy. However, we must understand that no one wants the corruption, arrogance, violence, the utter disrespect for the Rule of Law, nepotism and cronyism identified with the Rajapaksa regime.With respect to popularity, when the time comes the true sentiments of the majority will be ascertained democratically and everyone will have to respect the verdict. It takes time for all the pieces of a comprehensive reform strategy to fall into place. This is by and large acknowledged. As I mentioned earlier, this government has been in power for just seven months. While we cannot and should not underestimate the truth that there can be dramatic political shifts, I believe that conditions for such do not exist at the present time. The political leadership, nevertheless, would do well to listen to the people, especially those who oppose them for whatever reason, consistently communicate with the people, obtain their opinions and support, and be vigilant about political developments.
Q: The criticisms against the good governance administration have resulted in the people paying an ear to various claims by the joint opposition led by the former President. Do you see this as a threat to the government?
A: Well, we must remember that no one was routed to the point of oblivion in either of the elections in 2015. Those who lost are also citizens and what is important is that this Government has affirmed their democratic rights to voice opinion raise objection and hold political meetings. Therefore, I see all is as a validation of the mandate that this Government got from the people to foster democracy. It only shows that the political culture it promised to create is actually materialising within a very short period of time.
Today even the state media reports such rallies, for example. Sri Lanka is no longer a totalitarian dictatorship but a vibrant democracy, and that’s what these developments indicate.
Q: Do you honestly feel that the members of the government are honouring their pledges to the public made during their days in the opposition?
A: After being let down by politicians at every turn for many decades, there is a general perception that politicians belong to a tribe that will promise to build a bridge where there is no river. In the matter of a few months, yes, not everything promised has been delivered, but the main issues have been addressed and concrete steps taken.
In this regard I wish to state that when we talk of living up to expectation, we must keep in mind that while the political leadership and the government have the most important role to play, the people and civil society also have a serious responsibility. Eventually, the true test is not when people criticise a government that has been ousted, but consistently challenge incumbent ministers and officials. This is something we are seeing in this country after a very long time. I see it as a positive sign.
Q: You were also in the field of media. Are you satisfied with the manner in which investigations are being carried out into the many issues faced by media personnel under the former regime?
A: The eighth of January is a significant day. This was the day that Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered. He was a man who gave his life for the cause of media freedom. Therefore the Government has an obligation to expedite the investigations into his murder as well all other attacks on journalists such as Keith Noyhr, Upali Tennakoon, Poddala Jayantha and others. Of course there cannot be kangaroo courts as existed before under the Rajapaksas. Due process has to be followed. I believe that the truth will be out but I strongly hope that the process is expedited to the extent possible.
Q: What is the future you see for the good governance administration?
A: The future will to a large extent depend on the success of the reform process, the extent to which the political leadership keeps the people on its side by listening to them and keeping them informed at all times, and concrete steps to replace the culture of cronyism with the firm establishment of meritocracy. The government needs to get people with solid track records who are qualified, tried and tested in their respective fields involved in the decision making process.
A country is finally judged by how civilised it is, how people are treated, whether or not the laws are just and are exercised for the betterment of all, and where a people have and cherish a sense of collective belonging. I believe the correct steps have been taken in the right direction. The walk is long, no doubt, and it must be remembered that we cannot move at snail’s pace.
by Camelia Nathaniel