Colombo, Elections, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

“Believable Change” with unbelievable contradictions: Sarath Fonseka’s manifesto

[Authors note: Please also read Part 1 of this article, “Believable Change” with unbelievable evasiveness: Sarath Fonseka’s manifesto]

The much awaited manifesto of General (Rtd) Fonseka the Common Candidate launched on 7January which proves the Opposition Alliance is too loose to offer the people the “Believable Change” its campaign leaders are promising on platform, is now gearing its campaign on other popular promises, far outside those that need to be actually addressed and akin to that ancient promise of “rice from the moon”.

This presidential election has turned out to be one of promises, rhetoric, mud slinging and evasive politics, the voters are also comfortable with. Calculations for the extra vote is based on simple arithmetical equations where the Tamil vote is considered decisive. That if the Tamil people feel they have reason to go to polls in choosing one from the two who are responsible for the war that left a human tragedy on top of unsolved, long standing Tamil political issues. That with both candidates leading the fray not committing anything for the Tamil people, except going to the Nallur Kovil in Jaffna.

As previously reasoned in part I of this article, leaving Rajapaksa and taking the alternate Common Candidate offered by the opposition alliance, Gen (rtd) Fonseka’s manifesto that consciously avoids the Tamil political issue despite his signed, sealed and delivered promises to the TNA, with the UNP and the JVP having serious differences in understanding the ethnic issue, is equally empty and ambiguous on how it would take on the economic and development issues of this country.

With no commitment given to the Tamil people, Gen (rtd) Fonseka’s manifesto could only turn to the Sinhala South, with promises. There are plenty of promises offered by now, with more possible in the next 02 weeks to come. Already on campaign platform there is a Rs. 10,000 salary increase for the State sector, a salary increase for the Estate labour, (a promise no president could give as estates are privately managed and any increase in salaries is one that has to be agreed between their management companies and the Trade unions), a special living assistance for the 60 year plus senior citizens, an increase in pensions and Samurdhi allowances, all promised personally by the General (rtd) himself at the meeting he had with UNP trade union activists on 09 December, at “Sirikotha” even before he was officially nominated as the Common Candidate of the opposition.

While on the campaign trail, there were other promises made including a drastic reduction in diesel and kerosene prices with a promise to do away with government taxes on fuel that may reduce the price of petrol also, subsidised fertiliser for farmers, redress to all who have fallen prey to fraudulent finance companies and may be many more for those who followed his promising trail.

In his manifesto there is a promise of a monthly Rs. 2,000 dole for youth between 17 and 25 years with a promise of an additional Rs. 3,000 for unemployed graduates, a promise to increase the purchasing price of rice to Rs. 35 – Rs 40 per kilo and fresh milk at Rs. 45 per litre.  There are other promises of high welfare measures to families of security personnel that would also require financial allocations monthly.

Interestingly, the manifesto partially retracts on the promise of a salary increase for estate labour, saying, “I will follow up on the negotiations to increase the salaries of estate workers to Rs. 500 and take action to improve their living standards.” (p / 10) So now, that may come or may not come for estate labour.

All these promises that involves hundreds of billions of rupees additionally each year, is backed by promises to eliminate “corruption”. The argument is that the loss from corruption [“Using 2009 projected figures this loss amounts to anywhere between 350 to 400 billion” (p/03)] siphoned off during the past few years when saved, could foot the extra cost of increased salaries and welfare budgets. Unfortunately, that money was siphoned off and no more, while the JVP voted continuously in parliament with Rajapaksa’s budgets that included monies for Mihin Air, taxed heavily on fuel increasing petrol, diesel and kerosene prices and financed the mega load of ministers they are now frowning upon.

It was also the JVP which voted during the first 46 months of this Rajapaksa regime in establishing a State that is run with emergency powers. Thus creating the political environment leading to an arrogant regime questioned by none and left unto themselves, thus providing a license to rob and plunder.

Unfortunately too for this country, with promises to cut down on taxes in a country that can not collect anything more than 37% of the budgeted tax incomes, the argument to foot extra costs on additional salary increases and welfare, falls short of any possibility of honouring the promise, if there is no recurrent fraud and corruption every year to eliminate and save money. That then belittles the promise to eliminate fraud and corruption as the second most important promise (p/09).

On top of them all, there are many wholly new commissions, task forces and agencies promised like the “powerful agency to combat fraud and corruption, independent commission to audit public money, an independent parliamentary ethics commissioner (p/11), a powerful committee to look into small and  medium businesses (p/12), Task Force to establish credible exams and equitable system for Grade I admissions (p/13) Task Force to help women headed households (p/16)” in this country that has a very amusing history of “commissions, committees and task forces” that both Chandrika and Rajapaksa as presidents used, to evade issues and postpone problems.

All of it boils down to the simple unbelievable answer that there is no far sighted programme of development for the future of Sri Lanka despite all the nice words, adjectives and phrases that one come across often in this manifesto for “Believable Change”. There is no mention of how this country would be developed and what the direction of the economy would be in turning trade capital into productive capital for growth in creating employment. There is no mention of where and how we would be positioned within regional economic growth, with China and India becoming growth centres.

All promises of dignity in agricultural households, paddy farmers without a rice mill mafia, proud fishermen, growth for small and medium businesses, poverty alleviation for real poor with real help, etc., etc., can not be achieved without a robust plan that integrates a market economy with planned and regulated State interventions and broad based democracy, is what we have to learn from around us in the region.

Such planning would have to be different to the failed model of economic growth the World Bank and the IMF worked on in Latin American countries and different also to the path that S.Korea and other Asian Tigers trekked in achieving economic growth without democracy. Different again to the Chinese model of having a bureaucratically centralised Communist Party with a dictatorial rule running a gradually opening up economy for market forces.

This leaves us with a serious discussion on the Indian model of economic growth in a pluralistic society with diverse ethnicities, tribes and castes and with divergent cultures within a market economy, kept together through broad basing democracy. The approach has been and is in providing more and responsible participation in their geographical area governance for people in the peripheries and at the bottom of the social pyramid. Strengthening of Gram Panchayaths affected through Constitutional Amendments 73 and 74 were for such democratic participation of communities.

What is seen in General (Rtd) Fonseka’s manifesto is pretty different with NO offer of devolved power even to the extent of implementing the 13 Amendment in full. Democracy already promised by the Constitution and waiting to be implemented that would broad base democracy at peripheries and promote ethnically diverse local rule in the provinces. Corruption can only be effectively avoided and minimised with  power sharing in a devolved State. That being ruled out, the promise of a fraud and corrupt free country on a development path would be a far cry.

Worst is when all these political parties themselves are anti – democratic in their own decision making process and finances. No political party allows the membership to deliberate in decision making. The decision to have Gen (rtd) Fonseka as their Common Candidate proves this beyond doubt.

Raising funds for elections has proved it beyond doubt too at all elections and this time too. Who is the party member or for that matter even party central committee member who could tell how his or her party collected funds for election campaigns and from where and whom ? Who is the Central Committee member of any political party who could say they were provided with audited accounts of party election funds ? These are all dubious deals only the highest in the party hierarchy would know and have access to during elections and all political parties are corrupt to that extent, in billions perhaps.

We thus end up having an alternative candidate backed by political parties that have no programme for development, no programme for democracy and no programme for reconciliation and are also into corruption, both while in government and as political parties.

We therefore end up at this presidential election having no alternative to choose from and not wanting to know we would be voting for the same mess, may be dressed and packaged better, but wanting others to believe its a change. This is Gauthama Buddha’s land, after all.