The Sri Lankan Administration suffers from a political form of Myasthenia Gravis.

R Chandrasoma

In the condition known to medical men as 'myasthenia gravis' the leading symptom is the extreme lethargy of the muscles and their movements. While the patient is alert and his brain functions well, he cannot get about because the commands sent to the 'effector organs' (muscles) are poorly executed due to a defect in the minute receptor organs associated with the muscle cells. There is a kind of political myasthenia gravis that plagues Sri Lanka which shares many of the characteristics of the medical condition mentioned above. Let us start with fuel prices and transport policy. It is agreed all round that (1) Prices must be revised upwards. (2) Luxury travel must be curtailed and gas guzzling vehicles should be heavily taxed. (3) Petroleum dependence must be minimized by shifting to alternate forms of energy such as coal-derived thermal power.

All know this - indeed, we have the sad sight of bigwigs appearing before TV cameras and moaning pitifully that we cannot sustain this pattern of energy usage based on imported high-cost oil.
However, nothing happens. There is no political muscle. On painful issues, Presidents and Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka are known for their masterly silence. While Prabhakaran carries on merrily dragooning innocents to bolster his forces, slaughters his enemies, builds air-strips and violates the so-called 'peace agreement' in a thousand ways, there is a paralysis of governmental response that surely mimics the ailment that some unfortunate individuals suffer from. Let us take something that is more humdrum to illustrate the selfsame point. Thousands are killed on our roads due to speeding and drunken driving by bus-maniacs and others of that ilk. Nothing has been done about it while there is a big ha-ho when a few people die viral myocarditis. Now that we have mentioned a medical matter, is there any reaction from the purported 'governors' of our country to the proliferation of the private medical sector at the expense of the publicly-funded system of health-care? Is there any policy on this matter? Are the poor being pushed, willy-nilly into the clutches of the growing hordes of medical 'mudhalalis' who now dominate the profession?

It is not that there is a reticence on the part of the 'governors' to speak on public matters that is the root of the trouble. The President has denounced rogues and cheats in public service in ex-cathedra style at great meetings of her supporters. Has she dismissed anybody? Has any political rogue been convicted? There is a fatal divorce between diagnosis and action that lies at the heart of the malaise that afflicts our country.

No better example of this tragic mismatch between talk and action can be provided than the fiasco over the distribution of aid to victims of the recent Tsunami. Aid has poured in, the government is eager and willing but countless hordes are shown on TV complaining bitterly that they have received nothing. This tragic-comic farce is possible because button-pushing is mistaken for action by those at the top. A sullen, underpaid and poorly-motivated public service is the equivalent of the disarrayed muscle in the malady described earlier. Orders arrive but are lost in a disjointed and malfunctioning system.

It should not be deduced from all this that the President and the Prime Minister should be held personally accountable for the misfortunes of our country. Governance is a joint enterprise. However, we are justified in censuring them for not enunciating clearly and unambiguously the policy that they have adopted in regard to vital public matters. To give just one example, privatization must not be fobbed off as 'restructuring'. They must also be censured for the indifference they have shown to the exact execution of directives that have received their imprimatur for urgent action by public servants under their command.

Let us close with a reference to the law and order situation in Sri Lanka. A nondescript mishap is usually the occasion for massed battles between the police and the irate public - something that does not happen in the more civilized parts of the world. Gangsters are publicly killed - presumably by police agents - because a funny legal (and penal) system actually protects them from the retributive punishment they deserve. These are among the many glaring societal faults that a leader should address. This does not happen because the 'smart' political leader knows that artfully dodging difficult issues is part of the strategy of safeguarding a vote-bank.



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