The stuff of governance is turning away from the challenges of political debate and rhetoric to that of real governance. If the recent islandwide blackout due to the power breakdown gave an important alarm signal, there are other matters being revealed that are an exposure of the record of bad governance in the Rajapaksa years, much better than the exchanges in the field of political debate.
The divide within the SLFP continues, with President Maithripala Sirisena certainly gaining the upper hand, in his ability to still keep with him those of the SLFP who have joined him in the government of consensus, despite all the noise and so-called strength shown by the Joint Opposition (JO) and the pro-Rajapaksas at Hyde Park.
From the booing at SLFP Ministers in government, and media allegations of some switching to the UNP, there are new tactics being used by the anti-Sirisena group, in their efforts to get some official position to a Rajapaksa, if not Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, in the high ranks of the party. The goal is that of party Chairman for MR, but for those with knowledge of inner SLFP politics this seems a truly distant dream. The Rajapaksa struggle for a hold on the SLFP, and a close to corruption hunts will continue in more ways to follow.
The JO has pushed itself into a situation of a political farce by the arrangements to send a delegation to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, to complain about what they say is the unfair and undemocratic treatment they receive in parliamentary affairs.
All this time, from the March 2015 UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka, which was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, "Geneva" has been the dirty word in the politics of the JO and the pro-Rajapaksa groups. It was the place that personified the image of pro-Western, anti-Sri Lankan policies, by those of the international community, which those in the JO see as the most dangerous opponents of Sri Lankan sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in the post-conflict developments in the country.
Sure, the JO team is not rushing to the UN or the UNHRC in Geneva, but they are recognizing Geneva as an important centre that is concerned with democratic governance, and is not an unquestioned threat to Sri Lanka, as they have been trying to make all this time. If they have their eyes and ears open at the IPU, they will certainly learn much more about democracy, teaching them how to participate in better democratic governance and parliamentary practice once they return, whatever decisions the IPU takes on the complaints they make.
Light from the dark
The opportunity that the recent islandwide power failure, due to the breakdown at Norochcholai, and the transformers at Biyagama and Kotugoda gave the JO to attack the government has been wholly lost, with the light that has now been shed on what in fact caused all that darkness in the country.
The report of the German company - Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen GmbH (GR), is far worse in substance than all of the political slogans of corruption and fraud that has been used against the Rajapaksa regime.
While keeping the searchlights on crime, fraud and corruption trained on the Rajapaksa family and catchers for the huge losses caused by their corruption, and where delay in legal action has given them some reason, though unsubstantiated, to claim revenge on the once ruling family, the power crisis has exposed a dangerous aspects of misgovernance, which cannot be shaken off by any simple explanations or allegations of revenge.
It is now seen that as far back as February 2009, the German company has recommended proper maintenance of Biyagama and Kotugoda, which had not been carried out. They have constantly reminded the need for such maintenance on a priority basis, which advise was not carried out. The explanation given is "lack of funds". It is the clear statement of the German experts that had the recommended maintenance work been done, the explosions that led to the March 22 and 23 blackout would not have occurred.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was rightly angered by this report, which was a glaring exposure of the stuff of failure and incompetence among those responsible to maintain a proper power supply to the country. It is now known that here are from 30 to 40 transformers, throughout the country that need proper maintenance and good upkeep, to ensure a smooth power supply. The situation will not ease under the prevailing weather conditions, and will pose a major challenge to the government.
Lack of funds
The ready explanation for this situation will be to pass the blame on to the officials concerned for not carrying out the necessary work. They do have a considerable share of the blame, and it is necessary for the government to take necessary action to prevent such bad functioning of important state institutions in the future. But there is also the bigger issue of the "lack of funds". This comes directly from the Treasury, and covers the whole aspect of the previous government's policies of governance and the proper use of finance.
It is not insignificant that the Finance Minister who must have decided that there were insufficient funds for such necessary expenditure was none other than the President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa. It will be interesting to know, through proper investigation in the coming audits, as to what purposes such funds were used, when they were needed for the essential purpose of the power supply. Can those involved in the previous regime point out any special development project of the Rajapaksa regime, which was considered more important than the assurance of good and continued power supply to the country?
Herein lay the issue of crime, corruption and fraud that has been haunting the Rajapaksa regime, and a major cause of the problems faced by the people and country today. We are now realizing that the huge "development" projects such as the Mattala International Airport, the Hambantota Rajapaksa Harbour, Sooriyawewa grounds, and the and hugely over-costly road building projects, and so many "unsolicited bids" for development projects of questionable nature, whether with Chinese loans or not, were done at the cost of assuring the people a good and regular power supply.
In the context of cross-over politics, these exposures of the immense failure on power supply, affects both the Government and the Joint Opposition. There are former Ministers of Power Supply and Energy in both these ranks of politics today, including the ministerial ranks of government and leading voices in the JO. But the overall reality of this substance of failure did happen under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa. We know how weak and virtually impotent ministers were in the Rajapaksa governments, when it came to service to the people. Leading the country into a powerless darkness was certainly a major fault of that regime, and cannot be passed off as allegations by those seeking revenge from the Rajapaksa family. It is a display in sharp focus of the extent of fraud and corruption that prevailed at that time, and gives strength to those who call for action to prevent such corruption and fraud today and in the future.
Another aspect of the stuff of failure of the past government comes from the heights of corruption and maladministration the National Carrier, SriLankan Airlines, reached in the past years. The revelations from the initial inquiry made by COPE are the most shocking, although a considerable amount of this trend was seen in the initial report by the inquiry conducted by J. C. Weliamuna PC, soon after election of the new government last year.
COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti, MP's statement that SriLankan Airlines currently does not have any strategic plan or restructuring plan to deal with its losses is the most damning statement, and correctly calls for the most thorough inquiry into the very functioning of this airline. As reported to COPE SriLankan has made a staggering loss of Rs. 102,000 million for the last five years. In 2015, the Government allocated it Rs. 19,000 million from the Treasury, yet the company incurred a loss of Rs. 15,000 m during that year alone. The question that now arises is whether we do need to have a national career, which is such a drain on the country.
There is a clear call for the most thorough probe into the affairs of SriLankan, aware of the fact that its Chairman for many years was none other than Nishantha Wickramasinghe, brother of Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapaksa, and all those stories of corruption on hiring and flight fixing, as well as questionable aircraft purchases that went on. Such a probe will indeed involve the Rajapaksa family, but that is the reality of corruption that country has to face and get rid of fast.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe certainly has much more to tell Parliament about the corruption of the Rajapaksa days, with the light being shed from CEB and SriLankan.