Doing the right thing | Sunday Observer

Doing the right thing

Historic moments are often bitter-sweet, even to those heroes of the moment. To his ministerial colleagues in government, Ravi Karunanayake did the right thing, at the right time, for his party and, most importantly, for his country.

For his political opponents, the departure from the cabinet of a political heavyweight is opportune advantage and, hence, a ‘victory’. To the citizenry, those who want such propriety, Mr. Karunanayaka’s resignation from his cabinet post was certainly the right thing for the country.

For someone at the apex of his career, giving up a hard-won, well deserved, position even temporarily, may be seen as a sacrifice, but not so if his intentions are to achieve something even better, namely, public trust and honour. To Ravi Karunanayake, this country’s Finance Minister – and one of its youngest – a Cabinet post, especially, one as significant as that of Foreign Affairs, is a natural role for one as accomplished as he is, not only in governance but in the management of his political party.

Mr. Karunanayake did not do as many politicians have done ad nauseam in the past: argued that he is “innocent until proven guilty” and clung to position and privilege. The edifice of abusive power has solidified in this country to the extent that often such continuation in power provides the vantage point from which to block scrutiny and evade justice.

Leaving aside that aspect of further abuse of power to hide previous abuse of power, there is that larger imperative of the constitutionally required protocols of official behaviour, the need for public accountability and transparency by our elected public officers. We pay our elected officials in governance (whether legislative, administrative or, law & order) to fulfil their duty to the nation and not to themselves.

If a public official comes under scrutiny for a serious issue of maladministration of any form, it is proper that that officer vacates that office at least until public trust can be restored in him/her once the issue is clarified. Lesser mortals have been subjected to the practice of temporary ‘interdiction’ from functions or post until completion of scrutiny.

Politicians of even the lowest rung have blithely ignored such protocol. One or two, in the past, may have been thrown out by their leaders wary of voter opinion. This country has gotten used to a political culture in which power is worshipped, minus societal and spiritual goals. The powerful use their power at whim – especially, nepotistic whims – while many in the citizenry are trapped in the related culture of subjugation in which the powerful are legitimized by the mere fact of being powerful.

The corrupt small fry may be brought to book faster – a feature of that larger ethos of abusing of power. But can the powerful get away scot free? In some parts of the world, they have, but not fortunately, in this country. Past initiatives like the Criminal Justice Commission - even if it was also partly a tool of the newly powerful - have helped affirm the non-autocratic spirit of our modern society and state. The powerful have been brought to book in our past and, today, that scrutiny has become both, comprehensive as well as incisively probing, thanks mainly, to the citizenry’s own demand for good governance.

As the many investigations and prosecutions now under way indicate, the nation’s once most powerful and most saluted are now also being subjected to the rigours of criminal justice.

This time around, that spirit of challenging the all-powerful, revived after the worst bout of authoritarianism and plunder in our modern times, has led us to not just a politically targeted redress of wrongs, but, to a comprehensively structured mechanism of redress that covers everyone. While corruption and mis-governance of the immediate past are being probed and prosecuted, current governmental practices have also been subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny.

In no previous instance in our experience as a modern nation has the most powerful of the current government as well as of a previous government been simultaneously subjected to rigorous judicial scrutiny. This is happening now. Ravi Karunanayake has exemplified this strict propriety and new spirit in the best possible way. This new and historic endeavour for public accountability is not an easy one. Political opponents are swift to exploit any misdeeds of the present government unearthed by this mechanism of investigation and prosecution. Interestingly, some of those former VIPs now under severe scrutiny have remained quiet while their camp followers played the role of taunting those current politicians under scrutiny. The citizens, of course, are aware of this irony and are no longer fooled. The very fact that one of the currently most powerful politicians has obeyed his conscience and been sensitive to public expectations of propriety is a demonstration of the strength of the new edifices of good governance put in place by the current government.

India & Pakistan

This month our two most powerful neighbour states, India and Pakistan, celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the birth of their post colonial republics.

Both countries have, in their own ways, remained fiercely loyal to their little neighbour, Sri Lanka, and have been ready to commit both, their citizens and their wealth in helping this country in her times of need.

India, being our closest neighbour, is the most culturally intertwined with us. But, in these times of closely interdependent modernity, Pakistan remains an equally important regional partner as all countries in South Asia seek to better realise the fruits of our combined humanity and civilisation.

The fact that these two nuclear powers have managed inter-state relations – even with episodes of armed hostilities – over the past seven decades without ever having to trade nuclear threats with each other is a testimony to the maturity of these two republics and their leaders. We wish the peoples of Pakistan and India well as they celebrate.