|Wednesday, 15 January 2003|
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Freeing public bodies of politics
The Government's ban on Ministers and Deputy Ministers holding office in sports bodies and associations is likely to be warmly received by those sections of the public which decry the politicization of sports and other important areas of national life. Ministers and their deputies, no doubt, discharge important functions but why their presence should be seen as necessary in sports and other non-political bodies could be a cause for bafflement.
That politicians have today penetrated almost every sphere of public life, is a sound measure of the politicization of Lankan society. This process which every right-thinking person today condemns, has assumed such comic dimensions that politicians who are not even remotely connected with certain fields are elected to head bodies and associations of the latter. For instance, politicians who have never engaged in sports are sometimes elected to head sports bodies. Politicians with hardly a nodding acquaintance with the Arts are elected or selected to head some of these institutions. The same goes for numerous other public institutions which require competent, academically qualified persons to pilot them.
We, therefore, wholeheartedly welcome the present decision to ban Ministers and Deputy Ministers from holding office in sports bodies. This could be a welcome first step in the depoliticization of important public institutions. We hope the ban would be expanded to cover other public bodies which serve the national interest.
We do not mean to imply by all this that all Ministers, Deputy Ministers and others of their ilk lack the essential qualifications to hold office in public bodies which are unrelated to their ministerial portfolios or immediate public responsibilities. Far from it. It is common knowledge that we have had Ministers of State, for instance, with very wide-ranging capabilities, who have done Lanka proud.
However, the needless inclusion of politicians in organisations and bodies which are totally unrelated to governance, tends to turn these fora into arenas of stormy political contestation. The sad result is that the ends for which these institutions are created are dangerously subverted. These bodies also tend to be divided, sometimes, down the middle, on government and anti-government lines. Where commonality of purpose is expected, such fora could only end up being bitterly divided houses.
The relentless politicization of almost every area of public life is also a measure of the degree to which civil society has been rendered impotent over the years through, mainly, repressive politics and the steady emasculation of the democratic process. Put plainly - politicians dominate public life in proportion to which the people lose their rights and become less assertive. Such processes pave the way for almost total dependence on politicians on the part of the public. This has been our sad story over the decades.
We, therefore, welcome even the smallest measure which would help in depoliticizing public life. We also call for civic action which would help accelerate this process of freeing the public from the influence of the politician. Accordingly, we urge people's action groups to take up this issue in a big way. The public needs to be conscientized into saying 'no' to the politicians' presence, when such a presence is found to be totally unnecessary. The public also needs to get into the habit of saying 'no' vehemently to the politician's patronage systems.
Much could be achieved by the newly-installed Public Service and Police Commissions. If political considerations are taken out of the appointing and promotion processes, for instance, in the public service and the police, the politician's virtual omnipresence and pervasive influence could be curbed.
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