Get on with the job, forget Rajapaksa’s deep state

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Deep State is an extremely powerful network that controls nearly everything around you. You won’t read about it in the news because it controls the news. Politicians won’t talk about it publicly. That would be like a mobster discussing murder and robbery on the 6 o’clock news. You could say the Deep State is hidden, but it’s only hidden in plain sight. – Author and venture capitalist Doug Casey.
Is a deep state within the government working for the defeated president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his corrupt cabal?
Listening to the speeches of government big wigs makes one wonder whether there is a deep state, working diligently to torpedo whatever measures the present Government takes to lift the country from the abyss that it has fallen into.
Speaker after speaker at Tuesday’s Lipton Circus political stunt talked about a conspiracy behind the recent power failure and vowed to expose the hidden hands behind what they alleged was sabotage.
We do not know whether the talk about a hidden hand is a fig leaf to cover the Government’s shortcomings in running the country’s affairs, be it the economy, budget making, reform-oriented legislation or law and order.
Look at the Lotus Tower. If the 14-month hibernation of the Chinese-funded Port City project, which is now back on track was because of environmental factors and fears expressed by big powers over its possible military-strategic use by China, then why is there no progress on the Lotus Tower project? Towering over all the high rises in Colombo, the partially built 350-meter tall structure – some 50 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower – stands as a testimony to the Government’s lack of progress in infrastructure development. The cash-strapped Government may say it has its priorities and will not rush complete white elephants which the previous government started with ulterior motives. The longer this project remains as a stem without its flower, the more severe the criticism directed at the Government will be. The imposing structure appears on the horizon not only as a colossus carrying its tale of woe to the people taking the Airport Highway to come to Colombo, but also as a symbol of Government inaction.
With a simple tower project being left incomplete, we wonder how long we have to wait to see a significant movement on the much-hyped-about Megapolis project, the Kandy-Colombo highway, the Volkswagen factory and other projects which the Government from time to time announces, apparently in a desperate bid to sustain the fast fading hopes of the people who voted for it in the hope of making Sri Lanka an economic miracle free of corruption, nepotism and dictatorship. We hear people say that corruption or no corruption, things happened during the previous regime. Colombo and its suburbs were so clean that we started looking for waste paper baskets to throw even a bus ticket. But today, the city and its suburbs have lost their lustre. Uncollected garbage and uncared-for-walking tracks, with the dissolved local councils under commissioners doing precious little, speak volumes about the good governance government’s bad practices.
There may be some validity in blaming the defeated Rajapaksa regime for failures or inaction, but it may, in the long run, not go well with the people.
True, when Maithripala Sirisena was elected president with the support of the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Party, the new setup faced the gigantic task of cleansing the bureaucracy and the judiciary of elements loyal to the defeated strongman.
In one of their first cleaning acts, the new leaders got rid of the then Chief Justice, Mohan Peiris, a Rajapaksa lackey who had no qualms about spending the election night with Rajapaksa at Temple Trees. Some changes were also made in the administrative service, while the diplomatic postings were overhauled. But the new government’s effort to rid the state administration apparatus of ‘deep state elements’ is only a job half done. Although often seen as political victimisation, usually every new government in Sri Lanka has played political games with the top administrative positions in a bid to ensure that officials loyal to the defeated government do not scuttle the work of the new government. This sad state of affairs is largely because Sri Lanka is still not a meritocracy, where the right person is given the right job irrespective of his or her ethnicity, religion, caste or political affiliations. It is not like even India where the bureaucracy’s loyalty is to the state and not to the party in power.
So some cleanup is justified in Sri Lanka. Yet the present administration believes that despite the cleanup, some deep state elements are still extending a lifeline to the Rajapaksa cabal and trying to protect them from prosecution for the crimes they committed while in office.
When asked why there was an undue delay in the prosecution of the culprits who robbed the nation though the Police had completed investigations into more than 30 corruption cases and the special presidential commission an equal number, the Government’s standard answer implied the operation of a deep state within key state institutions. The appointment of Jayantha Jayasuriya as the new Attorney General last month instead of Suhada Gamlath, the most senior officer at the department, shows that the Government is on guard against the deep state.
The deep state, whether imaginary or real, is blamed for the students’ agitations, the farmers’ fury, the doctors’ protests and now the regular transformer blasts that lead to island wide power failures. This was why there was a ‘let-us-govern-the state’ plea at Tuesday’s UNP rally.
Given the Rajapaksas’ deftness at skullduggery, as seen in the allegation that they even funded the LTTE to win the presidential election in 2005, the present Government’s obsession with hidden hands or a deep state is understandable. But it should not be made a convenient excuse to justify lethargy or lack of visible development or progress in enacting progressive legislation such as the Right to Information Bill.
Many thought the business-friendly UNP with its economic acumen would revive the debt-ridden economy within a few months. But its leader now cites the world economic crisis due to low oil prices, China’s slow growth and US interest rate hikes as an excuse. This country, while battling a costly separatist war, has shown resilience during times of international financial or economic turmoil. It survived the 1997 Asian financial crisis with little damage and then emerged largely unscathed during the 2008 global economic crisis triggered by the mortgage scam in the United States.
Recently, Premier Wickremesinghe during a speech in parliament described the economy as a patient in critical condition, but expressed hope that the Government would not let the patient die. But what the people need is action, not mere words or investment forums. The Government must take the warning seriously that its good governance slogan is fast losing its magic.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on March 19, 2016)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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