Leadership must demonstrate vision, action | Sunday Observer

Leadership must demonstrate vision, action

Readers will begin their Sunday as concerned citizens, awaiting announcements about a Cabinet re-shuffle, a significant political action by the National Unity Government in response to the outcome of the recent local government polls. The emerging map of political control of local bodies is an indicator of the people’s political preference. And, incumbent leaders must respond decisively if they are to retain the confidence of citizens.

Elections to government bodies at the lowest rung of political management of a country have no direct bearing on political management at higher levels – be they provincial or national. But, the vote is, nevertheless, an indicator of the political decision of the citizenry on governance. The current Government, sensitive as it is to people’s concerns and choices, has struggled, quite transparently, for the last fortnight to evolve a suitably serious and comprehensive response by a governing coalition comprising normally rival political parties.

Governing coalitions in a democracy are usually of alliances of very like-minded parties with convergent strands of interests and policy. The historic nature of the ruling National Unity Government is precisely its unusual combination of the main traditional political rivals, unified not so much by broad policy convergence as by the overriding compulsions of urgent crisis management after the disaster in governance that was the previous regime.

That the National Unity coalition was a genuine, united response by a broad collective of national interest groups to the crisis situation has been well demonstrated by the range of programs of action along multiple tracks that have been implemented over the past three years. The most orderly and yet, innovative local government elections conducted a fortnight ago is but the best example of the implementation of the ‘good governance’ promise of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime.

The conduct of elections in the most transparent manner in the glare of unprecedented news media coverage is another example of that swift action program initiated by the National Unity coalition on assuming presidential power in January 2015 followed by parliamentary power, the following August. The regime’s leadership is right to respond with much seriousness to the expressed political will of voters at local government level, given that that vote is clearly one that expresses dissatisfaction with performance.

Government is about successful management of the political order and that ‘success’ ultimately is measured by those governed, namely, the citizenry. The national leadership will now roll out its considered response in terms of plans of action and revamped ministerial management of the national effort to implement these plans. The severity of the rap on presidential and prime ministerial knuckles by the voters means that the revamping of the political managers must match the various strands of the plan of action if this government response is to be credible.

Efficiency is a pillar of good governance and any mismatch of political experience and skill with ministerial portfolios will certainly not ensure efficient delivery. We saw enough of that kind of mis-governance during the last regime when the people got tired of having to deal with the same set of family allegiances at whatever level of governance, and worse, level of justice and policing as well.

The first three years of the National Unity coalition have clearly shown that the country has moved quite far from that monumental mess left behind by the Rajapaksa regime. At least, some of the fundamentals have been addressed.

The renewed efficiency of economic management and the refinement of policy have won us record export earnings. Sri Lanka’s exports in 2017 reached an all-time high of $ 11.4 billion, 10 per cent higher than 2016 and topping the previous best of $ 11.1 billion reached in 2014.

The enforcement of rational decision-making that is based on contextual realities rather than nepotistic personal interests is ensuring an economic recovery, the future of which is only clouded by that gigantic debt burden left for the nation by the last regime. What the nation financially lost may perhaps be seen by the lavishness of the political campaigning of the current political opposition, undoubtedly the richest in our history.

Thus, citizens will acknowledge that the government has, indeed, delivered on some of the fundamentals – at least in terms of the economy. In addition to the trade success, the inflation rate remains under control although under pressure from looming debt. The balance of payments shows an orderly surplus, thanks to the managerial efficiency of the relevant agencies in government, including the Central Bank. The bureaucracy’s improved professionalism is a clear indicator of the relatively freer conditions in which they work – free, that is, from political interference, nepotism, mis-directed resource and, the drain of qualified personnel.

The relatively positive economic turn-around not only demonstrates the return of proper governance but also the possibilities that are opened up by bold reform whether it is economic management or political re-ordering. The revamping of the political management must include the generating of new programs and policies that address the interests and needs of those sectors of the population who may have been overlooked and, perhaps, whose vote was indicative of that felt marginalization.

The revamped leadership, and, hopefully more refined policy package, must crucially impress not just the citizenry but also the international community, especially, the global business community. The quicker the Government builds that public and international confidence, the quicker that all sectors will respond and enable full implementation of programs. Reform is needed, along with an attendant care of all social sectors. 


Having a Vision and Mission is important. But it is absolutely necessary to monitor the performance of the ministries effectively and steer implementation of all development programmes and projects by the PM and the HE. We have seen 100+senior staff participate in performance review sessions with the HE often. This kind of gathering of a large number of personnel in Colombo is actually an unproductive exercise at enormous cost.The HE must allow each minister to conduct reviews of each ministry regularly and the HE should get the outcome from the ministers to provide support and guidance where deemed necessary. PowerPoint Presentations in nice technic colors are being used with false information often to avert criticism by the minister and HE. As such, ministers must conduct drop-in visits to key projects with the active participation of concerned contractors, consultants and beneficiaries. If this were done, we should see sub-standard construction works resulting in public protests throughout the country. Particularly, the rural infrastructure development activities must be visited often by the MPs and ministers as most of the corruption involving substandard and incomplete projects are often found in this area. It is prudent to appoint Oversight Committee for each ministry with adequate authority to conduct an independent review of the programmes and projects and to apprise the ministries. The Oversight Committees could comprise of retirees of the engineering, accounting, and sociology fields to get an appropriate insight of each site. The individual consultants appointed in each ministry are found to be clock-watchers as they prefer to remain calm.The cost of the operationalization of the Oversight Committees would be a fraction of maintaining of ineffective individual consultants. Let the HE try this as a pilot for 1or 2 ministries first and replicate it if found suitable. Breast-beating at public gatherings would not yield anything productive other than exposing the weakness of the ministers and the HE.